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Release: Feb. 4, 2000

RAT Conference gathers theater groups from around the world at UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa department of theatre arts will be the site of the RAT Conference, "Theater and War: Uses of Art," an ad-hoc gathering of out-of-the-mainstream theater companies and artists from around the globe, Feb. 17-20 in the UI Theatre Building.

The conference will include two free public performances in Theatre B of the Theatre Building: "Documents of Time" by Dah Teatar from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18; and "The End and Back, Again, My Friend" by globetrotting American solo theater artist Kathy Randels, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19.

Although admission is free, donations of non-perishable food items will be accepted at the door.

In addition, the public is welcome at the "Rat Cafe" open-performance events, 10 p.m. to midnight Feb. 19 in Theatre B, and possibly also in Mabie Theatre if enough performers decide to participate.

Other participants in the conference with include theater artists and companies from the United States, Argentina and Northern Ireland. The artists from Buenos Aires, Derry and Belgrade will explore the means of sustaining life and art in the face of war and atrocity.

For further information about conference events, call the theater department at 319-335-2700.

The bombing of Yugoslavia threatened to destroy Dah Teatar, and its members were dispersed for some time in Yugoslavia, New Zealand and the United States. Under the motto "Destruction and violence can only be opposed by the creation of sense," the company now collaborates in Belgrade with international artists to build a new theatrical and social future in a country that has lost many of its most educated people to war and emigration.

Dah Teatar director Dijana Milosevic has written, "To be an independent non-government group in this country during the last seven years already signifies a very definite political attitude. The members of Dah Teatar are not members of any political party but with their work and lives they have strongly opposed the war and violence and the official political attitude of the ruling party.

"To stay, live and work in this country despite the fact that thousands of young people of this generation have emigrated also presents a definite political attitude. That position can be formulated in a few words: resistance to chaos, because Dah Teatar has chosen to stay and welcome those who will one day return."

Randels is from New Orleans and is a graduate of Northwestern University, but has been working with Dah Teatar. In "The End and Back, Again, My Friend" she combines music, movement and her own poetry and prose with materials including "The Odyssey," the Samurai warriors' code, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Meredith Monk. This work has been produced at sites including San Francisco, Slovenia and Denmark.

The RAT Conference grew out of 1993 articles published in theater journals, and the subsequent exchange of communications between small theater companies and fringe artists that create adventurous theater on small budgets. One of the prime movers in developing the RAT idea was Erik Ehn, a visiting faculty member at the UI.

In an article titled "Toward Big Cheap Theater," Ehn wrote, "Theaters that choose to operate under radar, below the market -- the pushcart robbers, the fools for God's sake, the creeps, the busted alchemists, the trolls -- have crisis, not continuance, built into their missions. . . Experimental theaters, geographically and financially isolated from one another, struggle separately when they could be struggling together -- not in less pain, perhaps, but in a common and revivifying pain."

"We need to share the work -- the labor and the ways of laboring. We need to distribute the consciences. We want an engine, outside the marketplace, built low enough to the ground and out of such measly materials that repairs are worked in a wink."

Ehn organized the first conference at the UI in 1994. Various names for this informal organization were toyed with, including "Art Workers' Hostelry" and Ehn's phrase, "Big Cheap Theater."

But the name and image that eventually stuck for this loose affiliation of artists without membership requirements was RAT. RAT suggested various acronyms -- perhaps Regional Alternative Theatres, Raggedy-Assed Theatres and/or Rogues in American Typecasting -- but it was the rat metaphor that became the rallying point.

Mary DeDanan wrote in American Theater magazine, "Alternative theatremakers across the nation easily identified with the image of the rat: wily, indestructible, pestilent, squeezing through impossibly tight places, sneaking into the xerox room at the day job, using up all the toner, then sneaking out. The rat doesn't seek to change or reform the dominant structures and forms, but to infest them."