In episode 2 of the Petri DISH, Ema Zivkovic interviews artistic team Camilo Quiroz-Vazquez and Ellpetha Tsivicos on their project RUMORS OF WAR, a new multi media project that explores the harsh realities of war juxtaposed against the beauty of homeland.
To turn on video captions, click the button marked “CC.” For the full interview transcript please read below.
Ema: Okay. Hello everyone. Welcome. So let’s start. My name is Ema and I’m interviewing y’all. How about you tell me about you and how you started working with the TEAM? How you started working together. Yeah, go ahead.
Camilo: My name is Camilo.
Ellpetha: My name’s Ellpetha.
Camilo: We started working with the TEAM on Primer for a Failed Superpower. Ellpetha was working as a producer on the project.
Ellpetha: I was the associate producer.
I oversaw, there were a bunch of interviews with activists that played as videos. I was coordinating all of those and the team wanted a documentary made of the entire project. So I hired Camilo to do that and he made the documentary, but that’s not how we met.
Ellpetha: Or started working together.
Camilo: Working together long before that.
Ellpetha: Yeah. In college, I guess.
Ellpetha: Yeah. We both wanted to leave housing and we weren’t friends at all. Everyone in my acting class was very theater-y and I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, but everyone liked talking to me. Camilo was sitting in the back of the room, not speaking to anyone, but making funny jokes. I was like, I’m going to go talk to that person. Which was like, “Hey, do you want to move into an apartment? I really have to get out of housing.” And he was like, “Yeah, my roommate really smells, and our beds don’t fit in the room.” It was much cheaper to live in an apartment than it was to live in the stupid dorms.
Camilo: And 12 years later, here we are!
Ellpetha: It’s 12 years later and we still live together.
Ellpetha: So we are artists in residence, always.
Ema: Wow. I love that. That’s incredible. Wow. I want to be in your pocket and see what happens.
Ellpetha: You can come be in our living room whenever you want.
Ema: That’s probably better than a pocket
Camilo: More spacious, but only slightly.
Ema: Yes. Okay. Amazing. It’s funny because, as I’ve been moving, I’ve been telling people, “I do theater, but I’m not loud.” I don’t talk all the time. I swear, I don’t. Anyway.
Back to the point. Amazing. So always artists and residents. Do you want to tell me about your project? You can start wherever you want.
Ellpetha: It’s called, right now, Rumors of War. You can talk.
Camilo: It’s still very much an exploration. We’re working a lot with the script that we worked on our senior year at NYU. So real throwback. Which kind of touched on a lot out of the traumas of war and the residual traumas that come with being from a war-torn country, and having family that are refugees. So we wanted to dip back into that and start interviewing, particularly, our fathers, who both came to the United States, because of very traumatic and violent situations in their home countries of Mexico and from Cyprus. And start to research and explore that, and find a way to talk about it in a way that wasn’t so dark and heavy, but used elements of our culture, like of music and poetry and these things that we’ve always used to move beyond these things, to explore a really difficult topic.
Ellpetha: Yeah. It’s part of both of our identities so much, and a lot of our work is very celebratory and joyous and colorful. These things are not separated from those aesthetics. The thread is very difficult to find and articulate. It’s touching on a lot, lot of different topics of a Western saviorism of the wars, or the conflicts in our countries and how there’s this ideology that they need to be solved by people other than gay, indigenous people of those regions. This idea that the trauma needs to be taken off of us, but that’s ours. It’s not necessarily a miserable thing. How to separate those things and mold them into something that would not be unpleasant to watch.
People love going to Mexico. People love going to Cyprus. It’s beautiful in both of those places. It’s incredible. The people are amazing. The culture is amazing. The food is amazing. And everything that led up in our history to the current moment is factored into those things. But there are very, very ugly parts of the past. It’s figuring out how to hold space for those things, but also share them.
I don’t want to go see theater that makes me feel terrible, because life is very hard. I think there’s a place for those things and it’s totally okay if you make work like that. Everyone does something different, but for me, the arts have been a way to heal or explore healing and joy and imagination. I don’t want to make something that is miserable, but I can’t…
Ellpetha: I can’t sugarcoat violent wars.
Camilo: How do we have interviews with people who experience these things firsthand without pushing them deeper into any kind of trauma that they’ve already have worked so hard to move past? How do we do it in a way that’s healing, not just for whatever audience is experiencing it, but for the interviewees themselves?
Ellpetha: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of them haven’t had the opportunity to heal, or maybe they have band-aids all over their psyche from it. Offering them this experience as a way to heal and documenting all these different perspectives and making this catalog of information that we can then utilize to make a multimedia project. It’s been interesting because it’s the first time we want to work on a project for several years and develop it before we want to share it. I don’t know about years. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before it’s something.
I’ll say we’ve been wanting to focus a lot on the narratives of women because we think of war and we literally think of a male soldier. The women were there for the whole thing too and experiencing war and fighting. I’m sure in very, very interesting ways. Making sure that, that’s very much a part of this storytelling.
Ema: Yes, absolutely. I am so psyched about all of that. I’m very interested in all that myself as well. Well, that sounds layered in a really tough process, but joyful as well.
Speaking of process, do you have a favorite part of the process so far, or is there something that you’re planning that you’re really psyched about? Whether that’s interviews with specific people, or something that’s not interviews? Do you have anything that you’ve done that you’re really like, “Oh, this has really worked. We want to do more of that.” Or something like that?
Ellpetha: I think one thing was connecting it with this script that we had written in college after we had had the Petri meeting and everything. We were like, “Whoa, that script is innately attached to this narrative.” Okay. We were 22, but a 22 year old wrote it. I wonder what it would be like to integrate parts of that script. Use that as a beginning place or just use it as something. That was a really exciting thought.
Camilo: Yeah, definitely.
Ellpetha: We’re going to spend two weeks devoted to just working on this project, with the funding from the Petri project. I have 20 jobs and I’m never doing just one thing.
Camilo: Getting to focus is really exciting.
Ellpetha: I don’t even know what that would be like, cause I literally never had the opportunity to just do one thing. That’s going to be a big exercise with this. That is our job for two weeks exclusively. That might not yield anything. It could be like, wow, that didn’t work for us. We’re better when we’re doing 20 things, or it could just make a really strong foundation. So we’re excited about that.
Ema: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I’m terrified myself. I’m like, “Can I even do that?” Word, word. When are you planning on taking up those two weeks? Are you planning on spring, or before the new year? What are your plans with that?
Ellpetha: I think sometime in the darkness of winter, we’re planning to do this.
Ema: Good. Good.
Ellpetha: Yeah. Yeah. Sometime in the winter, we’re figuring it out. Some point between December and March.
Ema: We love a winter. Winter hibernation slash art making.
Ema: Good stuff.
Ellpetha: Good, good.
Camilo: Seems like a good time.
Ellpetha: To have a purpose.
Ellpetha: You know?
Ema: Oh yeah. Oh definitely. I think we’re almost at time. It’s been lovely talking to you. I’m super excited about whatever you end up coming up with in two weeks and the future of this project. I think it’s super important. What you’re talking about as far as joy and joy in theater, that also has some heavy stuff behind it.
Well, thank you. I don’t really know how to wrap things up, but thank you for talking to me.
Camilo: Thank you.
Ellpetha: Thank you for interviewing us.
Ema: Anytime, can’t wait to come to your living room.
Ellpetha: There’s currently a three-foot by three-foot papier mache skull in the living room. So there truly is always something…
Camilo: Something going on.
Ellpetha: Something going on here.
Ema: Thank God.
Camilo: Yeah, it’s quite large.
Ellpetha: The skull.
Camilo: The skull is large, not the apartment.
Ellpetha: Not our living room.
Ema: All right.
Ellpetha: Okay. Bye!