‘A Year with 13 Moons’ explores identity in flux

The Yale Repertory Theatre’s final production of the season, “In a Year with 13 Moons,” begins on Friday. Director Robert Woodruff and actor Bill Camp collaborated on adapting the script from the original German film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which tells the story of a transgender woman’s search for love and identity. Woodruff will direct the show, and Camp will star as “Elvira.” “In a Year with 13 Moons” will be Woodruff and Camp’s second collaboration to be commissioned by the Rep, in conjunction with support from Yale’s Binger Center for New Theatre and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Their first was a 2009 world premiere adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground,” which Woodruff directed with Camp as the “Underground Man.”

Q: What about the original Fassbinder film “In a Year with 13 Moons” inspired you to bring it to the stage?

RW: Just the story of this woman, this man, that journey. I felt that could be shared through live performance … I think the  element of time is interesting. [Transgender people’s] reception in the world [and] their difficulties have altered slightly. Fassbinder was so ahead of his time at the moment he was working. I don’t see these stories often.

Q: How would you reconcile the show’s depiction of one woman’s search for love with its political implications?

BC: Every time I do it, it’s different. There are things that unfold — every time I do it, I pull a layer out of Elvira. Certain times I do it, different things land harder than others. There are certain ways the story has political relevance, [and] I couldn’t really pinpoint when which is stronger. They’re all strong all the time … I have to be open to all those things, [and] they’re all part of the story. Hopefully they’re always working on me.

RW: I think Fassbinder didn’t isolate love from its economic and social context. The interchange of all those things is primary to his work. I don’t think he would separate them.

Q: Are there special challenges to playing a transgender character?

BC: It’s a great challenge — I’ve never done anything like this before. She sort of starts off in one place: dressed as a man, physically a woman, psychically starting to move into a place of wanting to be a man again. A certain chapter of her life is slipping away. She is never in one gender identity — at times she’s sort of desperately trying to find who she is. [Playing Elvira] is a process, it’s so much about my body, [and] about how I use the things I have available to me as a 50-year-old man, even the things I can do with my voice. I know my limitations, and I try to push my limitations … I’ve never walked in heels as much as I am now. The language of my body has to change, that’s just my job as an actor, to do that, to investigate that.

Q: How did you collaborate in creating this show?

RW: We worked together with a translator to get the text from the original German. It’s been kind of a dialogue that’s been ongoing about what might be possible. The journey gets reshaped, re-framed, re-contextualized. Bill learns a lot on his feet when working through something — it’s something that evolves a lot through movement. That’s just barely begun.

Q: What do you feel the use of live video and projections brings to the production?

RW: We try to use video both as paint and to see deeper into [Elvira’s] life. It’s also a tool for the audience. Live video is just that: live. You really get to capture a lot of emotion. It accents the movement on stage, both physical and emotional.

Q: How does having a live camera on you affect your onstage performance?

BC: It depends on the context in which that camera is being used. There are times in which Elvira is aware of the camera on her. When it’s focused on her, she changes. There are times when she’s lost, and so into where she is at the moment that awareness of [the camera] is secondary. It’s also possible to respond or react to the image being projected in live time.

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