Supporting creative work by women
Playwright Saudamini Siegrist has received three nominations for the Pushcart Prize and has been published in numerous publications, including Forge, Crack the Spine, Salamander, Free State Review, and Zone 3. Saudamini lives in New York City, where she led a team on child protection and emergency humanitarian response, working for UNICEF for over two decades. Her play I Am Antigone is informed by her years defending human rights and a life dedicated to humanitarian action.
I Am Antigone continues performances through September 16th at the Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival.
Works by Women spoke with Saudamini about playwriting, poetry and working for UNICEF.
WORKS BY WOMEN: You are a poet and a playwright. How do these two art forms inform one another and you as an artist?
SAUDAMINI SIEGRIST: Poetry has a dramatic voice that is always at work, and theater is infused with poetry. Both poetry and dramatic writing are present in the language of our world. If you talk about types of poetry, then you can say there is lyric poetry, dramatic poetry, narrative or epic poetry and so on. But the world is a drama, it is the expression of our human condition. In that sense, I Am Antigone is both a poem and a play.
WBW: Tell me more about I Am Antigone. What was the spark to write this piece?
SAUDAMINI: The first time I read Antigone by Sophocles, there was immediate recognition. Antigone carries a force, like a red thread through the center of human history, what we hold in common. In my case, there is also a very personal reason for identifying with Antigone. The play was inspired by my two older brothers, who are no longer in this world. My oldest brother, especially, was my guiding light. He was an activist for peace and social justice. The play is also about that.
WBW: You have a long history of also working on human rights and humanitarian action. How did this come about? What drew you to this work?
SAUDAMINI: I started working at UNICEF in 1995, focusing on the protection of children affected by armed conflict. I had the opportunity to work on the Graça Machel report on the impact of armed conflict on children, presented to the United Nations General Assembly in 1996. Much has been achieved since then but despite those achievements, the brutal impacts of armed conflict on children continue, with their vulnerability often targeted deliberately. Currently 250 million children live in areas affected by armed conflict and violence. Over 30 million children today are displaced by conflict, so there is much more work to do and the work is absolutely urgent. We always say that children cannot wait. Their lives cannot be put on hold.
WBW: How has your work with UNICEF and other organizations influenced your work as a playwright and poet?
SAUDAMINI: My entry point to UNICEF, in 1995, was the impact of armed conflict on children, the anti-war agenda. The agenda includes a focus on grave violations against children, child recruitment and child soldiers, gender-based violence, transitional justice, and children’s participation in recovery, truth and reconciliation. That experience has informed my life, and it has informed the play.
WBW: What is the role of an artist in today’s society?
SAUDAMINI: The role of the artist is to speak up, to speak out. It is necessary in today’s society, as it has been throughout history. The play Antigone by Sophocles has been adapted numerous times as a political statement, representing the struggle of the individual citizen in opposition to abuse of state power. The title I Am Antigone is intended as a cri de coeur, especially now, in our current political situation. The play is about speaking the truth, taking a stand. It is about the necessity for civic responsibility. It’s a call to action.
WBW: What is it like working with director Myriam Cyr?
SAUDAMINI: Working with director Myriam Cyr has been a tremendous opportunity for me, a collaborative and creative experience. She has brought her knowledge and vision to bear and that has brought the play to life. We both identify with Antigone and so there is a common cause, a bond. It’s been very exciting for me to work together with such a high-powered team. All the team is dedicated and there is a high spirit among us.
WBW: What’s the most powerful piece of theater you’ve seen?
SAUDAMINI: I have seen many powerful theatrical performances. Theater is a transformative force. The performance of Shakespeare is an example of theater that is life changing, even shattering. Antigone also has that power. I have seen Antigone performed and adapted many times and each time it changes my life.
WBW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
SAUDAMINI: My poetry mentor once told me “The most important advice I can give you is to keep writing” and that has stayed with me over the years.
For tickets to I Am Antigone, click here.