In Conversation with Samara Hersch

Photo credit: Ponch Hawkes

Ahead of the start of rehearsals for Dybbuks, Chamber Made’s Communications Manager Emilie Collyer caught up with lead artist Samara Hersch to talk about some of the themes and interests informing the work. Here’s what she had to say:

1. What does the dybbuk mean to you?
In Yiddish the word dybbuk comes from the verb ‘livdak’ which means ‘to cling’. For me, the dybbuk is perhaps the repressed, invisible often silenced forces that cling to us and in unexpected moments speak through us.

2. When imagining this work how do the notions of speaking, sounding and song resonate?
When I first encountered The Dybbuk story by Ansky I was captivated by the image of a woman holding her throat, strangling herself as if someone was trying to speak through her. I found this idea of being spoken through very poignant in terms of its politics, but also in terms of the way culture, history and inheritance manifest through the body and voice.

My mother and sister and I would often sing Yiddish and Hebrew songs together after Friday night (Sabbath) dinner and those songs will always stay with me. I think the act of singing generates so many memories and can powerfully initiate someone into a practice or community. Similarly I was always uncomfortable during my Orthodox Jewish education by the way that the female voice was unable to be heard publically as it was considered to be a temptation or distraction towards male prayer. I guess it comes back to the fact that the act of speaking and sounding are political acts and acts that I believe performance can subvert and reclaim.

3. A key aspect of the work is about voicing or giving voice. Who is the listener, the interlocutor and where are they placed in relation to the work?
In my current research I am very interested in the role of listening and the intimacies it can produce. This work is an invitation to listen and of course that can be very difficult! I would like to place the audience and the performers as listeners, both to ourselves and to each other.

Similarly there are those who are not present in this work that I also feel are part of this dialogue – the dead, the invisible, the imagined, the desired. It is a conversation that tries to give voice to a vast array of ways we try to communicate and be together.

4. What does it mean to be possessed?
Possession is an energy, a state. I don’t believe in devils or demons but I do believe in the possibility of reaching states of ecstasy via activities such as trance, dancing, singing, breath, prayer, meditation, repetition etc. Through these states we can connect to a far greater experience of being human and transcend the limits of our physical beings.

5. How does desire feel in a private context versus a public context (such as a theatrical performance)?
When it comes to desire, I think the private versus public debate centres around shame, and the inherited shame we carry when it comes to our personal desires, fantasies and pleasures. I think creating space and acknowledgement of desire, particularly female desire, is extremely important. Certainly it can create discomfort and raise all types of perceived taboos, but I think theatrical performance allows us to be with our desire and our shame and to question it and come to terms with its potential and vitality.

6. After your own death, if you were to come back and haunt someone or something what and how might that be?
Haha –  I dont know about haunting but I would certainly try to speak through someone with great power and influence who I feel is absuing their power. There are unfortunately a few too many people that come to mind and I hope I outlive them anyway!

7. What is there to fear?
I think silence is something to fear. In particular, ‘the silence’ that is taking place in Australia with regards to the humanity crisis in Nauru and Manus Island, this is to be feared.

8. Do men and women inhabit the dead or haunt the living in different ways?
I can’t speak for men and I am suspicious of ‘essentialism’ when it comes to gender, but as someone who identifies as a woman I am aware of my closeness to life and death via the very basic functions of my body. For example, menstruating each month is a profound confrontation with my body’s way of cycling through life and death. Similarly when I have spoken to women who have given birth they often talk about the closeness to death they feel at the moment of bringing forth life. I am curious to hear from other genders about their relationship to inhabiting the dead.

9. Can you describe your relationship to the work at present, in this time just before heading into the maelstrom of final development, rehearsal and public presentation?
There are so many threads to this work: the performers, the bodies, the singers, the musicians, the designers. I am just so intrigued at this moment to come together in one room and see what our various perspectives and voices can produce.

10. What is one image that keeps at you in regards to this work?
Two bodies trying to become one.

Dybbuks has its world premiere at Theatre Works this August.
14 – 26 August 2018 

SALON EVENT: Language, Voice and Desire
Samara, along with lecturers Yoni Prior and Hinde Ena Burstin, will be in conversation with Chamber Made’s Artistic Director, Tamara Saulwick, at a special Salon event co-presented with the Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre, Wednesday 1 August. Click here for more information about the event and click here to book.