“New Mony” is a new play by Maria Camia that was performed at NYC’s Dixon Place live with a virtual viewing option. The imaginative show featured puppets, multimedia effects, and stars a six-member all-Asian cast.
The play takes place in the distant future on a Utopian planet called Aricama. There, a girl named Allimah works at her family’s cloning business as a technician. When she does not receive an invitation to the annual Science Convention, Allimah decides to create and kill a clone. Yet her heart prevents her from going along with the killing and she calls on her ancestors on Aricama for advice…yet things do not go according to plan because her ancestors are tricksters addicted to abundance. Meanwhile, Allimah’s coworkers are creating an army in her image which they are using to conquer alien species. When they find out that Allimah is, in fact, related to them, they demand that she reconnect to homeland. Finding a way to transmute the darkness inside of her, and her family, into light becomes Allimah’s mission.
Maria Camia is a visual theatre artist who is known for creating science fiction plays with a spiritual twist. Puppets, illustrations, comics, costumes, and social media all play a role in her works which are created with the intention to globally inspire through healing and play. Maria is a 2020 Jim Henson Workshop Grant Recipient and a participant in Dixon Place’s Puppetry Residency Program; “New Mony” is her first full-length puppetry production and it features more than seventy puppets (created between 2018 and 2020) and hand-drawn illustrations.
Maria recently discussed her career and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in the theater and how did you break into the industry?
Maria Camia (MC): I became interested in the theater when I joined the Filipino American Coming Together Student Organization at Virginia Commonwealth University as an undergraduate student. We performed a Culture Night theater show at the end of every school year and I thought this was a great opportunity to lead a big group of talented people. So, for my junior and senior year, I was part of the committee that led the creation of the show. It was so fun to make and care about something beyond regular classes! Also, I got my braces off in sophomore year of college and finally learned to speak up which transitioned my work from solely visual to more costume and performance.
Various events led me to where I am today: Interning with Basil Twist and HERE Arts when I first moved to New York in 2013, apprenticing at Bread and Puppet Theater, obtaining a masters Sarah Lawrence College, working with Dan Hurlin, Jeanette Yew, Concrete Temple, Target Margin, being in the Object Movement Residency and performing my own puppetry pieces at Dixon Place and La Mama must have done justice. It’s funny because the people who were interns with me are now the ones having full-length shows. Maybe being kind and respectful to the higher ups and the puppet community are important too.
MM: What was your childhood like and how much did it inspire you creatively?
MC: My childhood graciously NURTURED my creativity from the beginning. My older sister, Jenny Camia, suggested I color with glitter crayons which won me first prize in a coloring contest in kindergarten, making me the art kid. Honestly, growing up in a Filipino family, I think because I won a money prize at age five made my family believe in me! I grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and got into a special art program once a week at The Old Donation Center for the Gifted and Talented from elementary to middle school where they taught everything from shading, drawing still life to art theory and history (this is where I got my bad art out of my system, haha). My mom bought me sketchbooks and all the art supplies with the 50% coupons at Michaels and took me to the library where I was inspired by Amelia’s Notebooks, Snoopy, and Garfield. My eldest cousin introduced me to Sailor Moon and other Japanese anime not shown on basic television programming and I watched all the PBS Kids shows like Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, Sesame Street, Pappy’s Land, and Arthur. I also grew up knowing Jim Henson and I shared a birthday and Dr. Suess passed away on the exact day I was born, which ignited all the confidence in this little Asian girl with glasses and braces. I later went to The Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School where I started my clothing brand, MARICAMA, in ninth grade where I hand designed shirts and shoes for classmates. My childhood was also busy with other activities- Catholic classes on Monday, piano lessons on Tuesday, Girl Scouts on Wednesday, piano theory on Saturday morning, and playing viola for church choir on Sundays. I also did step team in middle school alongside playing in the orchestra. From my childhood, I understand why I can’t choose one medium since I always did everything!
MM: Why are puppets such a draw for your creative muse and how did you learn how to make so many different kinds?
MC: I love puppetry because it allows my illustrations, writing, and music to come alive! When I draw, gravity does not play a role, which translates over into so many different kinds of puppetry. I enjoy making the impossible a reality. Because I start from the drawing or idea, the physical world never limits my imagination. What I do need to work on is making sure the puppets are long lasting.
MM: When and how did you first think up “New Mony”?
MC: NEW MONY! first started as an application proposal to develop the world I created in 2013, Aricama, the land of practice play and healing. It was just a general application with the intention to look at ancient Asian traditions: “With this new play, I look to create new ceremonies (“new mony”), mythologies, and group healings for all who participate / attend. From the past, I imagine and create the future.” I didn’t get into that program but fortunately, I got to make the show! — I was also interested in how to make my art practice my primary focus so NEW MONY! is also a play on ‘new money’ but instead a ceremony into my truest abundance.
MM: How did you come up with the outrageously imaginative plot?
MC: This specific story started off in my mind as a film with a girl bored at her job cut to her making out with a palm tree and then becoming a tree in a dream. At the same time, I was organizing and developing the foundational mythology of the Utopian land of Aricama. Later in the process, my dear friend, Eilie Astara, helped me form the story within the Hero’s Journey as I am desperate for well-rounded orchestrated characters with depth and desires. My own interest in sci-fi, extra-terrestrials, cloning, psychedelics, conspiracy theories, and my raunchy humor added to the outrageousness and imagination.
MM: What’s your favorite part of this show and why?
MC: My favorite part of this show was making the puppets of Aricama, like the three Great Grandmas performed with two puppeteers or the flower friends’ puppet where I stick my eyes and mouth through the face mask because I was working within the vibration of play. “What would be the most fun for me and the audience?” led this process. A simple drawing of what I wanted was made but I let my body do the work. Whenever I ignore my micro-managing mind, and let my body do the work, I can get so much work done and it is fun! My roommates caught me giggling to myself when I was making the cardboard slip-on shoes, as they would.
MM: What do you hope people remember most about this show?
MC: I hope people remember their power is all within! And I hope to remember this as well. I also think it is fun if my associations of the potato gods, the brain’s stubborn personality, and the unrelenting love of the heart and body stay with the audience especially in their darkest hours. Oh, and for us all to #SHOPMARICAMA! (Maricama.storenvy.com)
MM: How long did it take you to design all the puppets?
MC: It took me until the week before the show to design all of the puppets. Sometimes I need to see the puppeteers play with what I have first to see how to move forward. Other times, I know exactly how I want a puppet to move. It could take over a month or it can take 30 seconds to make a puppet- just depends on deadline and where I am in the process.
MM: How did you find your puppeteers and start working with Dixon Place?
MC: Two puppeteers I worked with on other artists’ gigs and we kept in contact, one through grad school, another I met at a residency showing where they mentioned that they saw my piece in a puppet slam and wanted to meet me, and my last puppeteer found me through someone’s Instagram story and stated she manifested to work with me! Since I worked with the Filipino Student Organization in undergrad and I saw how most of my talented Asian American friends and colleagues chose a different field from their passion, I am always looking to represent the ones who do pursue the arts. I applied for Dixon Place’s Puppet BloK in 2017 after receiving a masters and I’ve done small pieces at Dixon Place ever since. I’m thankful to Ellie Covan- she continuously allows me to perform in her theater!
MM: How has your involvement with the Jim Henson Company impacted your career?
MC: Oh, receiving a Workshop Grant and an Emergency Covid Grant from the Jim Henson Foundation and Cheryl Henson and Dixon Place humbles me and connects me to the wider puppet community in the United States. It brought in lots of people to watch the show and gave me more funding and time to focus solely on my art. I am honored to have their support! It is a special feeling and a big responsibility for sure.
MM: How did the Covid lockdown affect your creative output?
MC: In the most optimistic way to this unfortunate global pandemic, the lockdown grew my art practice exponentially. All of my other gigs stopped, which gave me the focus to set up a strong foundation to dive deep into this Aricama world. I scanned all of my old sketchbooks, organized my mission statements, playwriting, defined the Aricama Calendar, map, number system, holidays, and set up a Patreon (Support Me on Patreon! Patreon.com/themaricama). As my show started to come up, I had a rush of anxiety because I had so much time to dream and plan in 2020, and now in 2021, I had a real deadline in front of me.
MM: What’s the best fan feedback you’ve gotten about your work so far?
MC: An amazing prolific puppeteer friend, Shayna Stripe, said NEW MONY!, looked like I was remounting an already created play…. She goes on and says even the writing alone was amazing. This makes my ego inflate and then I also get scared to keep it up but then I remember, creation is only allowing genius to flow!
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next five years?
MC: I hope to joyfully thrive everyday creating and globally sharing this Utopian Aricama universe. I hope to have honest people help make this vision a solid reality for everyone to enjoy and in part, learn to cultivate their own authenticity to create from their heart, not the intellectual mind. More breath, more awareness. More fun and more abundance! The specifics are kept in my planner which I’d rather show not say.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
MC: Ahh, again, I’m concerned with saying goals before they happen but let’s say I intend for us all to live in pure fun and pure abundance after lots of soul cleaning / energy clearing / shadow work. I’d say, if my art can change the way a culture / nation lives into a more positive and responsible mindset, then I will be satisfied to graduate from this earth life. I feel the entertainment business holds a big responsibility to the masses as it plays into how people connect or disconnect with themselves and/or another. For this, it is a mission to raise consciousness and to cultivate the imagination by any means necessary. But again, don’t believe me until it happens!
Note: All photos are credited to Richard Termine.