The Invisible Hand Dramaturgy: 5 Fun Research Sources
Research is a key component to creating a believable world on stage. Our Production Dramaturge for Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand, the multi-talented Adele Noronha, wrote this blog summarizing the research she did during the rehearsal process...
My job as production dramaturge on The Invisible Hand was to contextualize the world of the play. It involved research. A lot of research. And a lot of discussion. I always felt like I never knew enough. Sometimes I would get lost in what I call “rabbit holes of research,” where curiosity led me too far into details that it stopped being relative to the piece at hand. So occasionally I needed to filter and contain.
Here’s FIVE FUN RESEARCH SOURCES I got to explore while delving into The Invisible Hand:
THE BIG SHORT
You know what can be dry? Financial talk. Nick Bright (played by Craig Erickson) in The Invisible Hand sure does a lot of it. You know what helps? This 2015 film that was nominated for 5 Academy Awards last year (winning one for Best Screenplay). Nothing like Selena Gomez making a cameo to explain hedge funds to make it more accessible. Thanks, Hollywood ;)
Check out Pi Theatre’s Financial Cheat Sheet for more ways to digest the play’s financial jargon.
THE WAR WITHIN
Ayad Akhtar wrote this film with his Columbia University Film School classmates back in 2005. Akhtar also stars in the film as the lead character Hassan –a Pakistani engineering student studying in the West who becomes radicalized after his arrest and brutal imprisonment. It also stars my all time favorite Anglo-Indian actress Sarita Choudhury, whose deep commitment to complex roles is an immediate indicator of a compelling script. The film offers insight into the question the playwright was exploring at that point in his life, the seeds of compassion and his exploration of the humanity behind a character like Bashir (played by Munish Sharma) in The Invisible Hand.
AUDITING TERRORISM: A PANEL DISCUSSION
This incredibly engaging talk left me genuinely stunned. It explored the connection between the global financial system and terrorism. The panel featured Dr. Adel Iskandar (SFU's School for Communication) and Dr. Samir Gandesha (Director of SFU's Institute for the Humanities).
My brain exploded. My favorite moment came at the very end (around 1:30:48 on the video). Adel Iskandar capped the conversation addressing an audience members admission of “I don’t know how we are going to get out of it” To which Iskander replied:
“..when one contemplates the importance of artistic expression and the role that it plays in awakening, not only people’s senses but sort of speaking leaps and bounds to… the struggle of what constitutes common sense… what does sense mean and what is rational… sometimes it necessitates holding the mirror up to our faces for there to be a collective realization.”
ROUNDHOUSE RADIO: SENSE OF PLACE WITH MINELLE MAHTANI
This radio interview follows up on the Auditing Terrorism panel discussion. It’s a much shorter summation (around 20 minutes). Minelle Mahtani also moderated the panel discussion at SFU and I could listen to her gorgeous radio voice forever.
SERIAL PODCAST: SEASON TWO.
Actor Conor Wylie (who plays Dar in The Invisible Hand), brought this fascinating podcast into the room. Serial follow one true story over the course of a season. In season two, they follow Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier, had been a prisoner of the Taliban for nearly five years. Incredibly compelling insight when it came to contextualizing Nick’s hostage experience.
These 5 sources are only snippets of the research I got to delve into and they were some of the most ‘fun’ pieces of the homework. The real world parallels of pain portrayed on stage were, frankly, hard to look at. A lot of the research was challenging and intense.
Pi provided their artists resources, like a dramaturge to help with research, a deeply informative public talk by academics, and the most valuable resource - time. As an actor of colour, myself, I can attest that when ‘process’ is forced into a tight funnel of ‘product’ people cut corners. It is here where things like ‘tokenism,’ and ‘stereotypes’ are perpetuated. It was deeply inspiring to be invited into a rehearsal room where every person there - the actors, the stage management, the designers, the director AND the administrative team were all deeply invested in engaging with the content of the show.
I hope that these links allow you to delve into the content of the show too. Keep asking questions! Provocative playwrights like Ayad Akhtar give us so much to push up against, as artists and audiences. Dig in!