When I walked into rehearsal two weeks ago for Sarah Lawrence Theatre’s first Mainstage production, ARICAMA: A Galactic Landing, the first thing I saw was a space transformed. The dark, wooden black-box-style Cannon Theater floor had been covered with a powder-green carpet and colorful flowers were scattered across the stage. A large set piece resembling a tub of pure water lay stage left, and the yellow lights created a glad atmosphere. The first word that came to my mind was “life,” and that was before I saw any of the actors perform.
Aricama follows Doodly Dalida, an Earthling sent by his home planet as part of a distress call, and Amy Fufu, a newly reincarnated Aricamian native who becomes his reluctant foster mother. As the pair navigate a world unfamiliar to both of them, the members of the Aricamian High Council begin arranging a “Lime Pet”—a ceremony that prepares for Aricamians to travel to Earth in response to the distress call.
So, who are these Aricamians? How do their ways and their world differ from our own? Technically, they are aliens, and at first glance seem to have very little in common with us. But their creator, grad student Maria Camia MFA’17, sees them as something akin to the new and improved version of humanity—without all the negative connotation that might come with that description.
Camia first started considering the concept of Aricama because of the negativity and conflict present in today’s society—which, thanks to news and social media, is more visible and invasive than ever before. “There was a time when I actually got sucked into it, and then I thought, “Oh my God...what do we do about this?” Camia said. “Then I think, Wait a minute...it’s just the love and attention and care for each other, which is a lesson that we are learning through these really intense conflicts.” She felt that the solution to all conflict comes down to a single universal lesson, “[the need for] love, and respect, and appreciation, and cooperation, and unity.”
With that lesson in mind, Camia began to imagine a world populated by the “ideal human,” someone who has experienced enough growth to rise above suffering and embrace joy. She envisioned what that world might look, sound and feel like, and thus, Aricama was born—a planet inhabited by a fully evolved group of people who “vibrate on a higher line of being.”
“[They] can see past struggle, or the physical world,” Camia said. “[There’s] a knowing that from your intention you can make or you can have all that you desire, beyond all the egotistical mind.”
In layman’s terms, Camia’s Aricamians have attained a truly utopian society. Throughout the play, they give thanks to the earth and to each other. They sing, they dance, they live life to the fullest. They express themselves entirely with every movement they make, and they seem to be the happiest when just being themselves. Watching the actors, who embraced the Aricamian mindset with admirable commitment, left me grinning from ear to ear during the entire production.
But according to the actors, adopting that mindset takes time, concentration and a few unusual techniques. Matt Landry-McWilliams ‘19–who played Aricamian native Green and council members, Octet and Ticket– opened up about some of the methods the ensemble used to get into character, discussing the use of meditation as a mind-focusing exercise.
“I’ve never done meditation...in a show before, like for a warm-up, but I find it amazing. ‘Cause even though this new world is a lot more animated and energetic than what we usually are, meditating really helps us get there, for some reason...And it just really helps us get centered, definitely, after a long day of classes and work,” he added.
Miranda Lee ‘19, who played the council’s secretary, agreed. “[The meditation] is amazing, and it makes me feel so happy.”
She shared a story about another unique exercise, which she considered one of her favorite cast moments:
“We played this game where everyone had to walk around all gloomy and stuff, but there were a few cheerful people and you had to surround the person who was gloomy and...hurl compliments at them, and basically just gather until everyone was happy,” she said. “And somehow at the end only [one person] was left and she was...actually putting in effort to run away, and I don’t know how, but everybody started to advance towards her singing the ‘I love you’ song from Barney, and it was actually really adorable.”
Another thing that makes this show so uniquely whimsical is the hand-operated puppets, each a member of the Aricamian High Council. At Sarah Lawrence, Camia initially studied sculpture and extended media, but she admitted that "everything I made always turned into...a costume piece or a performance, or just like a puppet show or puppet video." She took her interest in the subject further by training at Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont, and later with master puppeteer Basil Twist and his New York-based company.
Camia also cited Jim Henson as an inspiration, which might explain the inclusion of both puppets and full-bodied characters in the show’s ensemble cast. Landry-McWilliams, a theater veteran but a novice puppeteer, discussed the differences between puppet acting and body acting.
“The Aricamians have to use their entire body to act,” he said. “They have a very big connection with touch, and they just love to interact with other people in ways that we wouldn’t normally interact, while the puppets...we have to transfer all our energy up into the puppet. You will not be able to see our facial expressions...we have to use a special dialect to make our emotions really shown in the puppet voices.”
Although the utopian nature of Aricama might indicate otherwise, Camia doesn’t eschew conflict altogether. She feels that experiencing conflict is one of the crucial steps to attaining a higher consciousness, and says that Sarah Lawrence professor Cassandra Medley helped her come to this realization.
“[Cassandra] always says, ‘You need more conflict,’ and I would always fight that, I’m like, ‘No you don’t, you don’t need conflict all the time.’ But this way of being is like [learning] to appreciate the lower before the higher, it’s like learning that I need to come down to this lower plane, here, to bring it up.”
Amy Fufu, Aricama’s divergent protagonist, proves this point. As a newborn with a highly ascended mind but an initially selfish drive, she experiences a lot of self-conflict while trying to learn and discover as quickly as possible. “She’s [a] very driven, somewhat anxious young woman who...has lived many lives and had many experiences,” Hallie Riddick ‘20 says of her character. “She doesn’t remember a lot of her previous life, but her power and her drive to obtain a better evolution is still there...Through learning the Aricamian lessons of kindness, and patience, she remembers a lot of the lessons she’s learned in the past life.”
Watching the world of Aricama unfold before my eyes, I found it hard to remember that this play was workshopped over the course of four short weeks. The acting and blocking looked like the product of a much longer rehearsal period, but even so, Camia and her actors agreed that timing was the most difficult part of the whole process.
“This is such a quick process...and it’s only a workshop,” Camia said instantly after I asked about obstacles. “What I come in with is so heavy, because there’s so much set, there’s so much music and costume...there’s so much to work with within such a short period of time, and then also being a student at the same time...it’s this balance that I’m still figuring out.”
But at the same time, there seems to be a burgeoning excitement that comes with so much unfamiliarity. The theater program at Sarah Lawrence is well-known for picking up student-written, never-before-produced shows and letting willing directors and actors make them their own.
“When I got to Sarah Lawrence, I really got to dive into devising, and really developing shows from the ground up,” Landry-McWilliams says. “This is a brand-new show...you have to find these characters by yourself, no...help from the outside, like, to see, ‘Oh, in past productions they did this.’ So we have to find how to do it by ourselves, and it’s such a great ensemble-bonding too, like, we really get to work with one another and find new things about the characters, about the show.”
Clearly, so much cooperation paid off. Everything, from the carefully constructed accents to the lack of an intermission, made it possible and even easy to stay immersed within Camia’s world. Very early on in the performance, I started letting go of outside thoughts and started feeling instead. I was there, observing a world that intended “joy and abundance for ALL.” And I didn’t want to leave.
Peck Trachsel '20