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LAist Interview: Director/Adaptor of Voices from Chornobyl, Cindy Marie Jenkins

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While searching for a one-act play to direct at an upcoming director's festival, playwright, dramaturge, adaptor, and director Cindy Marie Jenkins stumbled across a collection of interviews from individuals affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Deeply moved by the stories of these survivors, Jenkins immediately began adapting the interviews for the stage. Voices from Chornobyl premiered at Open Fist and was later showcased at L.A's annual theatre festival, EdgeFest. Now in its third incarnation, Voices from Chornobyl will be a part of the Empty Stage's New Voices Series Sept. 30th and Oct. 14th.

What was it about the stories of these individuals that compelled you to compile them into a play?

CMJ: There was such poetry in their descriptions. Conflicted feelings about being interviewed, about their land, and ultimately radiation. They are tied to their land and their homes in ways that I had never experienced. The beauty in their horror and how they went on living their lives. How they were treated. Who knew what. Also, before I read the book, if you had asked me about Chernobyl, I barely would have been able to mumble out "nuclear-something-or-other." I wondered how many other Americans knew little about the event? How many Los Angeles residents knew where the nearest nuclear plant or landfill was? I sure didn't. At that time, the misinformation about the WMD's was uncovered, so the themes of leadership and ignorance rang true in me.

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On a purely theatrical side,I love working with a play like an orchestra, and storytelling through sounds only. Then opening my eyes and matching the physical environment with the words,all in a very close collaboration with the actors and designers. When I'm processing a new adaptation (we're on Draft 13 and 3 fully-produced productions), I re-read the entire book and find a unique way of record-keeping, which sounds very clinical, but I need to process the entire book again before finding the new voices for a new adaptation.

What is the overall theme of Voices from Chornobyl?

CMJ: Living. How do you live within radiation? How do you live away from home? How do you live in your home when the earth betrays you? Survival of the mind and of the body. The subtitle is "Chronicle of the Future" and that is really the theme - how do we survive in this world we've created, and how will our children survive?