Elisabeth Gunawan, writer and member of artistic collective Saksi Bisou, on Promised Land at the Bloomsbury Festival 2022.
Tell us a bit about your show
Promised Land is a piece that was born in Bloomsbury, that I began writing and developing (first as a concept album of sound and poetry) during the time of the first lockdown. It was borne out of a sense of impotence as a theatremaker in a time when no theatres are open, and as a creator in a time of great destruction. That was when we became curious of this idea; that the last theatre with a light still on lives in our own imaginations. Among others, the piece explores the contradictory ways in which we attempt to live and love in this broken world. We do so through the story of a migrant couple who are barren, and create a child that is a piece of artificial intelligence. When the world ends, this AI child (named ‘Rose’) is thrust into the same experience of exile as her parents, and revisits her parents’ memories in an attempt to decode human existence.
Tell us a bit about you and the company
As an artistic collective, we at Saksi Bisou are curious in exploring the universal experience of journey and exile. We are influenced by lived experiences as migrant people of colour, our work often investigates memory, isolation, oppression, exile and what it means to preserve our humanity. These stories explore the invisible worlds inside of us: the places we were forced to leave behind—that have been cut, mangled and destroyed until only a sliver is left. Our performances are an evocative call for these small broken worlds to take on a new life, and to make our audiences feel seen in the loneliness of their experiences. Our past projects include Stampin’ in the Graveyard (Electric Dreams Online) and Promised Land (Bloomsbury Festival), as well as co-creating Unforgettable Girl (Bloomsbury Festival; VOILA! Festival) and At Broken Bridge (Camden People’s Theatre). Saksi Bisou has been critically acclaimed internationally and produced by the Electric Dreams Online Festival, Bloomsbury Radio and Knaive Theatre.
What’s your favourite moment in the performance?
The moment where I get to wear the entire set as a dress—you’ll have to watch it to find out more :) But there are also too many delicious musical moments to list, beautifully composed by the inimitable Jack Parris and Orest Sharak.
What do you want your audience to take away from it?
A sense of togetherness in this contemporary loneliness, an acknowledgement of our collective grief as a society living in a time of destruction, and a celebration of how beautifully lost we all are :) We are all looking for the Promised Land, and we are all wandering through the desert.
What does taking part in the Bloomsbury Festival mean to you?
Community – I have been a part of the Bloomsbury community since 2018—as a student at RADA and a member living in Goodenough College. This entire piece was born in Bloomsbury. During the lockdown, with nothing to do, I used to wander around St. George’s Graveyard where I wrote the poetry that eventually became my album Stampin’ in the Graveyard and eventually this piece Promised Land. In many ways, as someone who has migrated four times in my life across three different continents, I feel like an exile. But this piece is to some degree my love letter to this neighborhood and community and the beautiful bittersweet solace it gifted me during the lockdown.
Is there anything else you’re looking forward to seeing in the festival?
All of the goodness from the RADA M.A. Theatre Lab community!
Promised Land is presented on 15 October at RADA studios, London, as part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2022 bloomsburyfestival.org.uk/events/promised-land