“A Tangible Sense of Responsibility”
By Joe Calarco | May 6, 2014
“The Yellow Boat” is a moving portrayal of a child’s ability to remain courageous, creative, and optimistic in the face of overwhelming hardship and illness. Based on the short yet powerful life of Benjamin Saar, “The Yellow Boat” tells the story of Ben, a young boy who was born with congenital hemophilia and contracts HIV through a blood transfusion. Despite his illness, Ben still found joy and inspiration in the world and channeled his frustration, wonder, and sadness into beautiful works of art.
This Mother’s Day, the Coeurage Theatre Company in Los Angeles will be donating proceeds from its production of “The Yellow Boat” to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). Below, Joe Calarco, the play’s director, tells us why he felt it was important to tell this story:
Putting together a show with this kind of subject matter was no easy task. The play is intended for both adults and children alike, disease is a central issue, and it revolves around a little boy. On top of the typical requirements of simply telling an effective story, I felt a tangible sense of responsibility to honor the realities of these diseases. From the beginning of the process, we were constantly trying to find ways to make extremely serious themes magical for an enormous swath of audiences. Finding the right tone was very difficult, and involved a lot of tinkering, but I think we achieved our goals.
Throughout the process we have interacted with a lot of people, all of whom gave invaluable information and advice. We've talked to several figures from various foundations, interviewed people living with both hemophilia and AIDS, and had lengthy conversations with the playwright. All offered wonderful, unique perspectives, and had a major hand in guiding us along the way. These are opportunities we've never had as a theatre company, and it made our sense of responsibility to this piece all the more acute.
Many other people helped make “The Yellow Boat” artistically successful, not the least of which is the wonderful cast and design team. Everyone involved had a major hand in the final product, and we could not have asked for a more open, giving, and intelligent group. The script, while brief, is probably the most difficult our company has tackled on a few levels, and everyone involved put enormous amounts of time, energy, and thought into the piece. It was a group effort, and it shows in all the best ways.
While I don't want to give too much away about the arc of “The Yellow Boat,” I'll leave you with a quote from one of our first reviews. I hope very much that you'll come see this unique, beautiful piece of theatre, and that you'll enjoy watching it as much as we enjoy performing it:
"[The Yellow Boat] deals with uncomfortable subject matter, treating kids as objects; lessons for adults and mature children alike. It talks up to its audience. And it illustrates why theatre exists in the first place." - Jason Rohrer, Stage & Cinema.
Joe Calarco is the Director of the Coeurage Theatre Company’s spring 2014 production of “The Yellow Boat.” The Coeurage Theatre Company exists to make impassioned theatre accessible for all audiences through pay-what-you-want admission and fresh, challenging productions. For tickets to the Mother’s Day performance of “The Yellow Boat” please visit www.coeurage.org.