'Go Forth' ponders the mysteries of mourning and mortality around the world

A Q&A with theater artist Kaneza Schaal

Kaneza Schaal's "Go Forth" is a multimedia performance piece inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the 3,000-year-old funerary text that gives the soul instructions on how to navigate the afterlife. The performance, which involves photography, film and dance from a diverse range of cultural influences (from African and African American sculptural traditions to pop songs) to portray seven burial vignettes, ponders "how we create space in our lives for the presence of the absent." Schaal will bring "Go Forth" to Stanford University's Bing Studio on April 26 and 27.

Q: What was your inspiration when coming up with "Go Forth"? Have you always been interested in mythology and ritual?

A: The performance is inspired by my own experience of ritualized grieving with my family in Rwanda. I am interested in how humans process and perform death, from the Black Lives Matter movement to ancient burial traditions. "Go Forth" considers the intimacy between black people and death around the world.

Q: How are you able to weave traditions from different cultures into a cohesive whole? What was the biggest challenge when putting together the piece?

A: I believe that stories build the world. The stories we tell about ourselves and each other build architecture, and policy and our social and political fabric. Great storytelling requires speaking many languages -- aesthetic, formal, creative languages as well as cultural, historical and experiential languages. Social practice is inextricable from creative practice. The diversity of my lexicons is fundamental to my pursuit of artistic excellence. The strongest tool of an ensemble is the culture of the group. I would say the biggest challenge and the biggest reward is setting up the team of artists to build a work.

Q: What do you hope audiences will get out of the performance?

A: I hope audiences will reflect on the presence of the absent in their own lives. "Go Forth" paves (the) way for its audience to reflect on their individual and collective mourning processes. I hope they will laugh. And trust themselves.

Q: Have you performed at Stanford/in this area much before?

A: I grew up performing in Northern California and I went to summer camp at Hidden Villa, just across the way. This will be my first time performing in "Go Forth." I built the piece when my father died. In many ways the work itself was a burial ritual for me. Performing in the piece, performing the piece in California where I grew up, and completing this iteration of the work from both sides of the stage is quite poetic and meaningful to me.

What: "Go Forth."

Where: 327 Lasuen St., Bing Studio, Stanford.

When: Friday, April 26, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 27 at 2:30 and 8 p.m.

Cost: $40-$50.

Info: Stanford Live.

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