Life and Death Stories: A Conversation with Artists-in-Residence Debra Wise & Eliza Fichter

March 27, 2024

In 2023, we welcomed seven Artists-in-Residence to create original works inspired by their experiences at Mount Auburn.

Throughout the past year, Artists-in-Residence Eliza Fichter and Debra Wise have been interviewing people about their relationships with Mount Auburn Cemetery and how their reflections on death have shaped their living. The conversations were then crafted into a series of short audio narratives. Register for their concluding event: Tuesday, April 30, 2024, 6:30-8:00 PM

You are our second artist pair (and our first mother-daughter duo!) to collaborate on a single project. What has it been like to work together this past year? 

Spending this amount of time listening to people talk in difficult and concrete terms about mortality has led us to feel much more comfortable talking about death and dying with each other.

Your residency project is a series of audio stories crafted from interviews with people connected to Mount Auburn that explore how we talk with each other about death. What has the interview process been like? Have there been any notable moments that you’d like to share?

The interview process has been wonderful, people have been incredibly forthcoming, candid,   open and generous with their time. Each interview has been poetic in its own way, informed by the particularities of that day on the grounds woven together each person’s unique story and their relationship to Mount Auburn.

You both have extensive backgrounds in theater. How has that work informed your residency project? 

Our work and experience as theatre artists has informed how we want to explore and share these interviews, using in the audio stories a combination of recordings of the interviewees’ voices and our own interpretation of their words through our voices. 

As you are nearing the end of your residency, what is something you’ll take away from this experience?

We are both humbled by and grateful for the openness with which people shared their stories. We felt an immediate sense of camaraderie with those who volunteered their stories, perhaps because mortality is a universally shared experience. 

DEBRA WISE co-founded Underground Railway Theater in 1979. For 30 years she toured a socially-engaged repertoire to theaters and communities, as well as puppet spectacles commissioned by major orchestras. In 2007, she co-founded Central Square Theater, helming award-winning productions as Artistic Director (e.g. Vanity Fair; black odyssey boston, with Front Porch; Constellations; The Convert) and directing (Christmas Carol, adapted for actors and puppetry). Recent acting appearances include: Angels in America, The Half-Life of Marie Curie, Vanity Fair (CST); Much Ado About Nothing(Commonwealth Shakespeare); Escaped Alone, Dolls House 2 (Gamm); People Places & Things(Speakeasy). She remains connected to CST as CoChair of the Advisory Committee for Catalyst Collaorative @MIT (a science/theater partnership), and was recently named Associate Artistic Director of The Revels. 

ELIZA FICHTER (she/they) is a theater maker and visual artist. Eliza has taught theater workshops across the country in museum galleries, public schools, performing arts centers, prisons, assisted living facilities and military bases, and has worked as a teaching artist with Olney Theater Center, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, The Putney School and New Repertory Theatre. Regional theatre projects include BEDLAM and The Nora Theatre Company (The Crucible), Central Square Theater (The Revolutionists), Underground Railway Theater (Matchless & The Happy Prince), and Olney Theatre Center (Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors, Odyssey). Eliza has a MEd in Arts Education from Harvard University where she researched natural deathcare practices and interviewed dozens of end-of-life care workers and advocates throughout Massachusetts.

Comments are closed.