Friday, August 11, 2017

Spotlight On...Sanaz Ghajar

Name: Sanaz Ghajar

Hometown: Burlingame, California

Education: New York University, Tisch

Favorite Credits:  I have developed works nationally and internationally with New York Theatre Workshop, The Civilians, The Drama League, BRIC Arts | Media House, Ars Nova, Three Legged Dog, Clubbed Thumb/Playwrights Horizons Downtown, Prelude, HERE, Red House Center for Culture and Debate in Bulgaria, Prague Film and Theater Center, Goldex Poldex Gallery in Poland, and others. I’m also a DJ.

Why theater?: I love making art in all different forms. What I find the most exciting about theater is that it is a highly collaborative medium. To create new multidisciplinary art, we need others, and as someone who is obsessed with other people (working with, thinking about, and studying them), I am most drawn to theatrical spaces that nurture the human impulse to generate new work together. For me, theatre is a practice, meant to wake us up. Artaud described it as an awakening of our "nerves and heart," through which we experience, "immediate violent action," that "inspires us with the fiery magnetism of the images and acts upon us like a spiritual therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten."

Tell us about Danger Signals: Danger Signals is a collaboration between my company Built for Collapse and writer Nina Segal. The show is a multidisciplinary fantasia about monkeys, brains and how we deal with our problems. It’s about women and men and war and how pain is processed in the brain. It’s about arctic ice rifts and trauma and America.

What inspired you to create Danger Signals: About four years ago I read a book about Doctor Walter Freeman, who popularized lobotomies in America back in the 40s and 50s as a ‘cure’ for mental illness. A few months later, I got into a major a car accident, ended up in a coma, and woke four days later strapped to a hospital bed. The doctor told me a drunk driver had slammed into my car at seventy miles per hour and I had been airlifted to the emergency room. The collision caused severe internal bleeding in my brain and major damage to my frontal lobes. In short, I had a traumatic brain injury. “Oh.” I said. “That’s interesting. I’m working on a show about brains.” When asked what recovery was like, I tend to say, “the brain is a mysterious thing.” What I have learned is that the beauty, terror, and drama of a deeply distressing or disturbing experience is often the fuel we need to brave the making of life changing choices. It's scary. It's exciting. It's freeing. I strive to bring people together to create a space of hope and possibility within trauma.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I often draw inspiration from visual references and am constantly invigorated by absorbing other artists’ ways of working. We begin every rehearsal process by collecting and sharing images with each other in response to the subject matter we are working on. These images inform the narrative and physical life of the piece and as the work develops we integrate sound in the rehearsal room to lend new insight to the world of the play. While the results of our process vary greatly depending the content we are working with, it is always highly emotional and expressionistic in style. Other artists who constantly inspire me include writer Virginia Woolf, choreographer Pina Bausch, and Doug Wheeler, pioneer of the “Light and Space” movement that flourished in California back in the 60s and 70s. I’m drawn to how each of these artists wrestles with memory, perception, abstraction and love.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Andrew Schneider. He’s a friend, so I hope he reads this, and then I hope he is inspired to help me make this happen.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Doll’s House Part 2

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Probably a duck, a really friendly and fierce and emotionally unstable duck. It’d be called: "I’ll Put My Pants on When It Gets Dangerous" … that bit is a long story involving a full moon and a waterfall.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original Broadway production of Cabaret. It’s a little surprising to say out loud, but ya, honestly, that’s the one.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Oh man I’ve seen Bridget Jones’ Diary over a hundred times. I imagine most things involving Hugh Grant are guilty pleasures.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: An astronaut. That’s what everyone says, right?

What’s up next?:  We are Archive Residents at the New Ohio Theatre (a 2 year residency in collaboration with IRT), and the Ice Factory is the first step towards our full premiere of Danger Signals in Spring 2018! On that note, we desire post-show audience feedback. Your brain thoughts are going to be very important for our future brain show! I intend to go out every night after the show to a bar down the street, to hang with audience members and write down feedback in my fancy notebook.

For more on Danger Signals, visit