En Parábola / Conversations on Tragedy



Conversations on Tragedy investigates the accumulation of political, seismic, atmospheric and spiritual tragedy in Puerto Rico through ancient Greek texts. This documentary-performance film adapts Sophokles’s Antigone with a cast of non-actors residing in Puerto Rico and within the island’s diaspora in the United States, creating a meeting place for these communities to potentially disagree, uncover the spiritual consciousness that emerges from this accumulation of tragedies, and together construct a new archive of their island home’s shared history. 

“ In the last ten years, Puerto Ricans have changed how they ask for food and how they bury their dead” – Anayra Santory

For the ancient Greeks, a tragedy was an encounter with an unprecedented force that was much more supreme than the human. They developed their tragic structure as a spiritual system that could unite the chaotic consciousness of those who went to war and those who remained in the city state under one collective understanding. Embodied through actors who would perform the tragedy before the citizens’ eyes, these forums would culminate in communal catharsis— an internal purification— where grief would be experienced together, as a community. For the Greeks, the experience of the tragedy was non-linear; time would accumulate on itself, events would take place at the same time, having no appreciation for our modern concept of chronological time. 

Puerto Ricans have been facing tragic phenomena of an unprecedented force for over a century. The sedimentation of these tragic phenomena can be easily perceived on the landscape and the infrastructure of the island, but how do these tragedies accumulate on that which isn’t tangible? Conversations on Tragedy is a film that investigates the cosmology that emerges in order to deal with the material conditions of so many cumulative tragedies. This project traces associations between this initial dramatic discourse of theatre in Ancient Greece and the tragic phenomena— atmospheric, environmental, social, economic and political— that have accumulated on the island for the last decade. This accumulation includes but is not limited to the implementation of a colonial Fiscal Control Board (PROMESA),  the aftermath of Hurricane María, the swarm of seismic action that threatens the southwest of the island , the uncovering of rotting unused emergency aid gathering dust in a government warehouse, the #RickyRenuncia movement which led to the impeachment of governor Ricardo Roselló, and the mass exodus of Puerto Ricans to the United States during the past five years due to the economic recession that accompanied the 2016 debt crisis. These successive tragedies and experiences have resulted in a new era of collective Puerto Rican consciousness—one where the effects of a tragedy can resonate beyond the territory, expanding into generations of Puerto Ricans who have never set foot on the island but who claim it as their home. It is reflected in the massive relief efforts carried out by diasporic communities in the aftermath of Hurricane María and by the multiple parallel protests carried out in these communities demanding the resignation of Ricardo Roselló. It is a consciousness that now transcends oceanic borders, one that accepts the chaotic and non-linear experience of time on the island. 

This project is a collaboration between a cast of non-actors from Puerto Rico and in the Puerto Rican diaspora communities in New York City, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando. Because ancient Greek texts deal directly with their characters’ relationships to their community’s history, their collective experience of catastrophe and the metaphysical nature of displacement, they can become catalysts that unlock profound experiences of grief, uncover new possibilities and construct new histories. Through the performance of these texts, Conversations on Tragedy creates a cinematic version of the Greek theatrical forum, where our collaborators can redirect these narratives towards their own relationship to the island’s history.

“ I’m a strange new kind of in-between thing, aren’t I?’ Antigone speaks in her own Eulogy.  Like Antigone, many Puerto Ricans have and continue to live in a state of constant in betweenness, navigating their identity as Puerto Ricans living in the diaspora, yet in a constant state of nostalgia for the island they knew, or the island they have known through the stories of their ancestors. Since most of the learned history of the island has been written by a colonizer, or silenced, or hidden, the relationship Puerto Rican’s have to the veracity of written history is one of continuous questioning, as we actively dig through forgotten archives and consult our ancestors for their stories.  This has created a vast framework of memories, histories and identities that attach their idea of home to the island, and that are part of a broader potential history of the Puerto Rican people. Utilizing Sophokles’ Antigone as a unifying gesture for these multiplicity of perspectives, “Conversations on Tragedy” allows these points of view to coexist and creates a shared archive of new Puerto Rican histories that claims ownership over the fragmented nature of our in-betweeness.

En Parábola / Conversations on Tragedy is currently in progress. It has been supported by the National Association of Latino Artists ( NALAC), El Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP) and the National Endowment of the Arts & Northwestern University through the “La Espectacular” Residency in San Juan, PR.