Skip to main content

9 Parts of Desire - Interview with Heather Raffo

9 Parts of Desire
an interview with Writer/Actor Heather Raffo

Continues at Toronto's Theatre Centre to May 23


As an American whose father was born in Iraq, Heather Raffo naturally felt torn by this generation's conflicts in the area, beginning with Bush Sr's Gulf War. It led her to question much, and to wonder how to make sense of both sides of the story. Luckily for the theatre world, it also led to 9 Parts of Desire, a one woman show that has her taking on the personas of various Iraqi women living in times of war.

"I would say the research was multi-pronged," Heather says. "Some was done in Iraq in 1993 when I was there visiting family - before I thought about doing a play. I was curious about my Iraqi roots." The initial spark led to a continued interest in the women she'd spoken with, who'd taken her into their trust, and she kept in touch over the years. "It was a decade's worth of phone calls, just out of interest, not because I had a piece in mind."

Once the idea of a play began to percolate, those long conversations became the starting point. "There was a few years of more earnest information getting," she describes. "When I decided I wanted to write about an artist, for example, I contact the Iraqi arts community." In the process, the drier aspects of research took on a more personal tone. "I was talking with Iraqis that I came to care very much about."

The characters you see in the play are composites, not a depiction of specific people. "It's not documentary theatre," she insists. They are characters that embody the spirit and experiences of the Iraqi women she came to know.

Putting together a monologue play can seem deceptively simple. As Heather tells it, however, it was a long process that continued long after its début. "I had a few monologues done, but putting them together was most of the work as a writer." The order of the monologues and how they segué into each other was of prime importance, setting the tone for what the audience sees and absorbs. "I wanted it to be more than the sum of its parts."

What Toronto audiences see in 2010 is a different version than what premiered in 2003 in Edinburgh, even different than the NYC version that played to sold out houses for 9 months in 2004. "The New York version was close," she notes, "although it isn't the same as what was published - that came together in about 2006."

As events unfolded in Iraq, it changed the play. Heather wanted to heighten or emphasize certain elements. "I want the audience to get the sense of a fractured psyche - of one person torn in many directions. I want them to see the exhaustion of one person as they shift from role to role." Her performance mirrors the conflict itself. "The war is apparent on stage."

Tweaking the play could only happen as she performed it, the pace, rhythm and dialogue between the characters changing along with the nature of the war itself. Unlike many depictions of highly charged material, though, she wanted to envelop her audience in the experience, not confront them with it. "What was more important was making the audience feel like they were there. The audience is very much endowed in the play as a character, like a beloved friend of these women. It's a very intimate conversation - not agit-prop."

In depicting the lives of Iraqi women, it speaks to a sense of the feminine experience of war. "I think that the play is riddled with images that mind us of the necessary balance between the masculine and feminine principles." Nonetheless, you won't find a Westerners typical blanket condemnation of the role of women in Islam. It's not about the clichéd understanding we have of gender issues in the West. "I've found it gratifying that Iraqi men who've seen it have felt the same way as the women," she says - proving she's gotten the stories right.

Photo of Heather by Irene Young

Comments

What Else Is Hot This Week?

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company Spring 2013 Toronto Performances

From a media release:

The new season brings
Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
to new heights and new audiences

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
April 25-28, 2013 - Annual Toronto Season - World Premiere of Portales

TORONTO : Following on the heels of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company's (EESDC) 30th anniversary year where its production Aguas/Waters was named one of the top five dance shows of 2012 by NOW Magazine, the early months of 2013 are full of excitement and possibility for Esmeralda and the company, which brings the finest flamenco and Spanish Classical Dance to Toronto stages.

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
Company dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés perform Spanish Classical dance with the celebrated Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for A Night in Madrid featuring the Iberian flavoured music of composer Luigi Boccherini who made his home in Spain. His work is infused with the sounds of Spanish and gypsy folk music.

March 20-24 …

Polina Semionova to Appear as Guest Artist with American Ballet Theatre

From a media release:

POLINA SEMIONOVA TO APPEAR AS GUEST ARTIST
WITH AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE
FOR 2011 SPRING SEASON AT METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE

New York - Polina Semionova, a principal dancer with Berlin State Opera Ballet, will debut as a Guest Artist with American Ballet Theatre for the 2011 Metropolitan Opera House season, it was announced January 14, 2011 by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie. With ABT, Semionova will perform Kitri in Don Quixote at the matinee on Saturday, May 21, opposite David Hallberg as Basilio, and the dual role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake on Saturday evening, July 2, opposite Hallberg as Prince Siegfried.

Born in Moscow, Semionova studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School before joining the Berlin State Opera Ballet as the company’s youngest principal dancer. Her repertoire with Berlin State Opera Ballet includes Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, Nikiya in La Bayadère, Marie in The Nutcracker, Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Swanilda in Coppélia, Kitri in Don Quixo…

Lithuanian Rock: Robertas Semeniukas - Backstage Stories (Independent / November 20, 2019)

Robertas Semeniukas - Backstage Stories
(Independent / November 20, 2019)
Stream it on Spotify
The Album "Backstage Stories" 2xLP & CD

Robertas Semeniukas is a great find if you like your rock with a hard edge and a strong groove. Naturally, guitar reigns supreme, with a sound that ranges from snarly to fluid and melodic, and virtuosic chops to keep everything interesting. You don't have to understand Lithuanian to enjoy the well-crafted songs and polished musicianship.

Of the 20 tracks, 8 are instrumental. This is rock in what you'd call a classic vein, heavily influenced by 1980s and 1990s bands, but with a modern gloss to it, and a sense of musical experimentation that isn't often associated with that era in Western pop music. Robertas wrote or co-wrote all the tracks except for one cover, the blues composition You Gotta Move by Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Within the rock/metal genre, the prolific composer, singer and musician mines a variety of moods. So…

So You Can't Go: Six Ways To Travel Virtually

So You Can't Go:
Six Ways To Travel VirtuallyTravel is limited for most of us in the world these days. For Canadians, it depends on the province you live in, but with the border to the US still closed, and other options limited at best, virtual travel from the couch can provide at least a view with a difference at a time when you may well need it most. Google Cardboard – VR On A BudgetYou don't need a lot of cash to get into travel via virtual reality. Google Cardboard is a line of VR viewers that are, well, made of cardboard, and are priced starting at $12CAD.If you check out this link, you'll find out how to download the software to your smartphone.At this link, you can get yourself an actual Google Cardboard for a hands-free VR experience. Google Cardboard apps offer a variety of ways to experience our beautiful planet, including Google Earth itself, which can take you anywhere, along with apps to view museums and cultural artifacts, and more.Ascape VRAscape has a huge l…

Blues/Rock: The Cole Patenaude Band - Are You Happy Now? (Independent / 24 July 2020)

Blues/Rock:
The Cole Patenaude Band - Are You Happy Now?
(Independent / 24 July 2020) Buy the CD Big vocals and infectious grooves make up this release from The Cole Patenaude Band. It's modern blues with a classic sensibility, anchored by solid musicianship and upbeat songwriting. 
Keyboard player Dean Thiessen and Patenaude on guitar trade off solos and melodic lines to keep it interesting through a range of bluesy style, incorporating rock and country, with a pop song sheen on songs like For the Money. Would You Be Mine is more Elvis-esque rockabilly, while How To Love is an acoustic song with folky storytelling lyrics and feel. 
Compromise is a standout track, with a snarly guitar line and a churchy organ swelling underneath a nice bluesy beat. Horns aren't credited in the notes, but I swear I heard some on this and a couple of the other tracks. 
As a husband, father, and full-time mechanic based in Langley, British Columbia, finding the time to make his music was a challenge…