Helena de Crespo is on her way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with her one-woman-performance of “Elective Affinities” by David Adjmi. The play is often staged in a beautiful home, featuring Alice Hauptmann, full of charm and charisma.
In 2012, De Crespo performed the piece for an invited audience at Stan and Maurine Mazor’s chateau in Ashland. In 2011, “Elective Affinities” was performed by Zoe Caldwell in the Soho Rep’s site-specific production in an Upper East Side apartment in New York City.
De Crespo and I visited as we drove through heavy traffic to the Portland Airport.
EH: What is the Fringe Festival?
HdC: The Edinburgh Festival started at the end of World War II. Europe had been so wracked with horror and suffering. Edinburgh wanted to do something positive at the end of the war, England was tremendously bombed, and so was Scotland. They thought they would invite a few stellar performers, like a symphony orchestra, and have a gathering of the arts to generate good will. A few entrepreneurs in Edinburgh gathered a dance company, a symphony orchestra, there were about three or four exclusive activities.
Other artists heard about it and were furious. They said, “It’s not enough. This is just for the wealthy who can afford to buy tickets.” And so, artists began gathering and had a street festival. It was like an explosion of arts that became known as The Fringe. It was around the Edinburgh Festival. Then, it became so big, that The Fringe was held at a different time of the year. We’re going back now, 40 or 50 years.
This year, the Fringe and the Edinburgh Festival are happening together. It’s the biggest arts festival in the world. It runs for a month. We got an invitation to appear.
EH: How did you wangle an invitation?
HdC: We described what we were doing, and that we were working for indigenous artists threatened with extinction around the world. We described our mission.
EH: You’re also going to be raising money for your organization, Save World Art?
HdC: Save World Art is a not-for-profit organization based in Portland that works to find support for indigenous art that has been threatened with extinction, such as the Bassac Theatre in Cambodia.
EH: Tell me about Alice Hauptmann in “Elective Affinities.”
HdC: Alice is conditioned to get what she wants when she wants it. She has become very isolated by her wealth. She is totally dedicated to the people that she espouses, and anyone else, especially anyone who can threaten her way of life, can easily be eliminated. With all her charm, that’s the woman we meet.
All the great annihilators have been very charming people. Hitler in Germany and Cambodia’s Pol Pot were incredibly charming. How do you explain such people who get such strong followings? Although Alice espouses a democratic philosophy, she believes that it’s perfectly okay to negate her philosophy, with the intention of upholding that philosophy, if it is to maintain her way of life. In other words, “You can do what you want, and if anyone threatens you, just kill them.” Not that she’s ever killed anyone, but that’s her philosophy.
In linking “Elective Affinities” to work benefiting the arts in societies, that have been nearly annihilated by dictators, where the culture and the art of that society have usually been the first elements to go, “Elective Affinities” is very relevant to Save World Art.