La Niña Barro in Riveramento

After crowdfunding through the 24-Hour Trilingual Poetry Marathon, we managed to fund our mini tour of La Niña Barro to Brazil and Uruguay. As a thank you to the community of my hometowns of Rivera and Santana do Livramento, we did one free performance of the show at the old Livramento railway station, no longer used.

The railway station building dates from 1910 and is a gorgeous example of the architecture of that period. The station was an important link along the international railway connecting Sao Paulo to Montevideo and Buenos Aires between 1943 and 1954, but as a result of the Brazilian railway crisis in the 1980s, the station was one of many being deactivated.  The derelict building was restored in 2012 and re-opened as a cultural centre, hosting films, exhibitions, and music gigs, but it had to be closed again at the end of 2014 due to water damage. The roof was being re-done while we were there and the top floor wasn’t the safest space to be with a large group of people, but the council agreed to let us use the main hall for the performance.

They were also kind enough to let us rehearse at the station during the week and lend us lights and ladders. Throughout the week, in-between rehearsals, we were going to TV and radio interviews on both sides of the border to promote the show. I got increasingly excited and anxious as the week progressed, as this was going to be the first time my family and my birthplace saw a piece that I directed. I mean, we had done Fronteiras Explorers two years before, but that was a different kind of project.

The day of the performance arrived and we were good to go. I was really unsure what to expect… we had a list of confirmed guests put together via facebook, but I wasn’t convinced everyone would turn up. It was a rather chilly night and we didn’t have a foyer/waiting area, so we closed all doors and as Alex and Eli used the last half an hour before the show to get ready and focus, I went outside to wait for the audience. The first person to arrive, very early for our relaxed standards, was this sweet elderly man. He travelled there by taxi and I helped him get out of the cab when I noticed he had a zimmer frame. He was alone and I couldn’t possibly leave him outside waiting in the cold, so I explained that the house was not open just yet, but he was welcome to sit in the security guard’s office near the heater. Other people began to arrive in their own cars, and following the true tradition of the border, when instructed to wait until we could let them in, remained in their cars drinking their mate and chatting to their friends. A nice long queue began to form, and before long, it was clear that we would have a full house.

We opened the doors to an audience of around 80 people, some of whom had to stand in the back or sides, as we didn’t have enough seats. We did not turn anyone down at the doors, but once we closed them and started the performance, there was a handful of latecomers that could not come in. If I had known that the event would be so popular, I would have considered doing two nights.

The number of people attending wasn’t my only pleasant surprise. The reaction was actually incredibly positive. I wasn’t sure how this audience of non-theatregoers would receive a piece which had been censored in Edinburgh and was very different from everything they were used to. I heard complete silence during the piece and saw many tearful eyes at the end. We offered a post-show discussion and were there for another hour. It was so refreshing to have a mature audience (I reckon the average age was later 30s to mid 40s) of regular punters – apart from a couple of arts teachers and local theatremakers, the majority of the people there were not involved in the industry. There was a blind woman who was very touched by the performance, as well as a lovely girl with Down’s Syndrome who told us during the post-show discussion how much she’d enjoyed it. My siblings and my mother were there and were also moved. But the one unforgettable comment, of all the comments and questions we had, was of that sweet elderly man who’d arrived before everyone else and stayed until the very end. He approached me and said he had followed the 24-hour poetry marathon on the radio, as he did not leave the house much due to his mobility problems. When he heard that we had managed to bring the show, though, he said he knew he simply could not miss it and found a way of getting down to the station to watch it.

These are the moments that will always serve as anchors for me to keep doing what I do. It is hard, it is incredibly frustrating at times, but then something like this happens and it suddenly makes everything worthwhile. Thank you Riveramento for this experience.

 

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Studying in the UK, the Tier 4 Saga – Part 1

Quite often, I get asked about the procedure of applying to study in the UK by non-EU friends who are considering doing the same, so here’s a post about that. First of all, bear in mind that it’s quite a long process, you’ll need to plan almost a year in advance, particularly if you’re thinking of trying for a scholarship too. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but back in 2006 when I applied for the first time to do my undergrad, the visa part was really quick – I posted all my documents to Rio on a Wednesday and got my passport with the visa back on the Saturday after that. The timeline of events was roughly the following:

  • February 2005 – began looking for drama courses in Scotland, found out about the (then) RSAMD, requested information pack
  • April 2005 – received prospectus, decided to apply even though the only option was Acting. Signed up for a video audition
  • June 2005 – sent application with shit DVD audition
  • August 2005 – got rejection letter
  • September 2005 – realised there were other courses and other universities to consider. Found about about UCAS (all by independent googling)
  • November 2005 – applied through UCAS to five universities: Queen Margaret University, University of Glasgow, Strathclyde University (all in Scotland), Aberystwyth University (Wales), and one in England that I can’t remember for the life of me
  • January 2006 – got unconditional offers from all 5 unis
  • February 2006 – after much deliberation between Aberystwyth and QMU, accepted the latter (big mistake, but that’s another story)
  • July 2006 – applied for visa, booked flights
  • August 2006 – moved to Edinburgh
  • September 2006 – started course

So you see, that spanned over a year, and this was when things were simpler with the Home Office and not taking scholarship applications into account.

Now, I’ll be honest with you – the way things are turning ugly in the UK with its increasingly xenophobic policies, I do not recommend studying there at present. I have told some Brazilian friends to consider other European countries instead, particularly because most of them are interested in postgraduate courses, and you can find find those taught in English across Europe. In addition, some countries (like Germany) offer free postgraduate courses, whereas in the UK you are looking at forking out around £15,000 per year as an international student, and considering they have banned things like the Post-Study Work Visa, it really isn’t worth it for newcomers. The only reason I insisted was because I had already had a life and a professional trajectory in the UK. If I were assessing the possibility now, I would choose elsewhere to go.

But let’s say you are as stubborn as I am and want to go ahead with this idea – here’s my latest timeline:

  • November 2014 – while on a tourist visa in Scotland, decided to do a postgraduate course. Attended an Open Day at Edinburgh University/Edinburgh College of Art. Didn’t like the options offered by either. Googled other universities, decided to get over my rejection trauma and write to the RSAMD, now RCS, again. Asked to meet with the Drama PhD coordinator.
  • January 2015 – applied for PhD at the RCS and MSc at Glasgow Uni (these applications were done directly to the respective institutions through their website, UCAS only handles undergraduate applications),went back to Brazil
  • February 2015 – received unconditional offer from Glasgow
  • March 2015 – invited to skype interview for the RCS
  • April 2015 – accepted offer from Glasgow just to be sure, had skype interview with PhD panel at the RCS
  • May 2015 – received unconditional offer from RCS and institutional research studentship, deferred offer from Glasgow
  • August 2015 – applied for Tier 4 Student Visa

Now here’s the catch. As you know if you have been following this blog, I couldn’t apply for the visa sooner as I desired, so this was already a bit tight. And unlike the glorious days of 2006 when everything was simpler, now the procedure is much longer and more twisted. So, after paying a deposit of £1,000, I was finally sent my Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) by the RCS, halfway through August. You won’t receive this any sooner than 3 months prior to your course starts and then you have to use it within 6 months. I was obviously in a hurry, so I logged on to the UK visa application website as soon as I had it to fill out my lengthy application (seriously, I had to list ALL the countries I’ve visited for the past 10 years, with dates – thank fuck for saving my old passports and keeping track of bookings on gmail), pay for the visa application (USD 515.00), plus the new NHS health surcharge (USD 840.00). Once that was all done, I had to book my appointment to hand in the documents and attend an interview in Sao Paulo and book my flights (another R$ 870.00, plus money to spend on local transport and food in SP – thankfully, I have excellent friends there in whose couch I could crash). I sent the application on the 13th August and booked my interview for the 21st (so this stage alone took longer than my first visa application).

Like I said above, if you really want to do this, bear in mind that it is a long and rather expensive process. So much so that there are loads of businesses making a mint out of handling applications and selling guidance – the whole UK visa application thing has become quite a lucrative enterprise across many levels, considering you don’t even deal with the UK consulate anymore, it’s all done through a third party, which I’m sure is partially responsible for the added bureaucracy and hike in fees.

Scholarship-wise, most institutions will have some programme to offer (like mine), but you might want to consider your own country’s government (CAPES, in Brazil’s case, for example, which you are unlikely to get at PhD level without a track record of academic work done in Brazil) or the British Council’s Chevening programme (which applies to restricted fields of study and is only available for Masters level). Generally speaking, though, you will have to have been offered a place at your chosen university before applying for a scholarship, so plan accordingly.

I shall update you on how the rest of my application process went on another post, but I hope these tips have been helpful. There are loads of other websites with information on studying abroad, you just need to take some time to read through them and have a clear idea of what you want.

 

The 24-Hour Trilingual Poetry Marathon

It’s June 2015. On my way back from Sao Paulo to Porto Alegre, I get two pieces of good news:

  1. I have been accepted on the Drama PhD at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, studentship included, and
  2. La Niña Barro has been invited to perform at Perimetral, a showcase of international theatre in Uruguay.

I will write about the PhD on a different post, this one is to focus on item 2 above.

After an eventful opening at Edinburgh Fringe 2014, we have been trying to get the show to as many places as possible, and this was a great opportunity for a wee South American gig. Only problem was, the festival would cover accommodation and food, but not the flights. We wouldn’t receive a fee for the performance either, so we needed to find the cash to offset the travel expenses. Think quick, what can be done?

Our timescale was very tight – only a couple of months to raise the money. This means that we wouldn’t be able to apply for any sort of public funding, in Scotland, Spain, or Brazil. My first idea was to try and find a private sponsor. I feverishly wrote to as many organisations with links to Spain as I could think of in southern Brazil and in Uruguay and finally got a reply from one – the Basque Association of Rio Grande do Sul. I was invited to one of their board members’ office and had a lovely long chat with her about the project. She seemed open and excited about it, but she said the Association itself could not afford to sponsor us. To her credit, she fired some emails around to other friends seeking help, but unfortunately, we didn’t get anywhere with that. Two weeks lost and back to the drawing board.

In the meantime, this idea was brewing in my mind. I have certain reservations when it comes to crowdfunding for theatre, but I was getting desperate and therefore becoming more likely to go against my own principles. It was the only thing we could do at that stage, so I decided to risk an Indiegogo campaign to help us fund the project. We needed to offer something extra to make the campaign appealing, though, and I decided to run with my idea of sitting in a cafe for 24 consecutive hours reading poems in the three languages I can speak. The rationale behind this was simple: I’m good with languages and poetry and at staying awake.

Cue a mad dash to find a venue, find someone to stream it online, promote it like mad, and curate enough poems in Portuguese, English, and Spanish to last me one whole day, which was much harder than I thought. I was so happy to see all the support this stupid idea got from friends all over the world, from my family, and from local businesses in my hometown of Santana do Livramento, where I decided to do it. Lovely folk at Costa Café agreed to host me and stay open overnight for the event, and local newspaper A Plateia provided an excellent streaming service and helped me with the PR.

It was a massive challenge, but so worth it. I was never alone during my marathon – there were no customers in the cafe between 3am and 5.30am, but the staff were there and there were enough people watching and interacting online, via facebook, email, and whatsapp. I had well over 1,000 poems in my selection, but I was flooded with requests, which just made it better. I had a handful of poems written for me, too, and some really emotional moments, including special dedications to dear people who passed away (like my dad and a couple of uncles, and my Brazilian literature teacher), and this sweet old lad who presented me with a book of poems that had been gifted to him by his Latin teacher when he was at school in the 50s. There were also funny moments, like the young girl who was incredibly taken with the whole thing and decided to just stand next to me for a good half hour or so, and the “cursed session”, which started roughly at 2am and went on for a couple of hours, with horror and erotic poetry.

I didn’t feel sleepy at any point and my throat/voice were ok – I had been preparing for it for a few weeks, through a vocal and physical exercise routine and reducing my intake of gluten and dairy. I only had two coffees and one energy drink during the event, but I drank LOADS of water. The only thing I didn’t expect was an incredibly sore tongue! All in all, it was such a great experience, which still resonated for days in the community after it ended, and I am grateful for that.

We kept the Indiegogo campaign going for a few more weeks after the event and managed to raise the money we needed, thanks to our very generous families and friends. Finally, I’ll leave you here with some interesting stats:

* Accesses to the A Plateia WebTV live broadcast: 126,000

* Poems read: 426 (233 PT, 109 EN, 80 ES, 3 IT, 1 Tupi)

* Poets read: 238 (170 M, 60 F, 8 Anon.)

* Most popular poets: PT – Vinicius de Moraes/Florbela Espanca ** ES – Pablo Neruda/Gabriela Mistral ** EN – William Shakespeare/Sylvia Plath

24hcafeepoesia

 

A USA Visa in Three Acts

ACT I
scene i

Santana do Livramento. A large living room, Flav sits at the laptop and types.

Typetypetypetypenotaterroristnevertraffickedhumanoranimalswholeorinpiecesnotacriminalneverbeenneversupportednevernevernocheckallthenoboxescheckcheckchektypetypetypesignsubmit.

I do wonder if anyone ever answers ‘yes’ to any of these questions. I mean… you’re kinda fucked either way, aren’t you? If you are, or have ever been, a criminal and you say so, they’re not going to let you in their country. If you are, or have ever been, a criminal and you deny it, they’ll find out you’ve lied and they’re not going to let you in their country.

scene ii

Same. A few days later.

Currency exchange rate win – US dollar down – thumbs up for cheaper fee! Book appointment – they say Brasilia is never busy, but I don’t have free accommodation there. It would be cool to go to Belo Horizonte for the first time (remember that time when I wrote a BH travel guide without having ever set foot in the place? Lol), but again, no free couch. Rio or Sao Paulo, then? Not been to Sao Paulo in a while (remember that friend I keep promising to visit there?), aye, go on then. Booked. Flights. Booked. Ouch.

Facebooks friend in SP.

O hai, remember how I said I would come visit at some point? So how about this date? Yeah, I mean 31st May, June doesn’t have 31 days. Yeah, already booked flights. Oh… crap. Chile, huh? That’s… awesome. Love Chile. Beautiful country. New girlfriend? Oh, fab. In Chile? On the 31st May? Excellent. Ach, well. (surely there will be hostels in SP) Flatmate? Ok. Sorry… but thanks!

ACT II

scene i

Porto Alegre. Big glass building on busy avenue surrounded by corporatey-businessy-type buildings. USA flag, motherfucking bald eagle staring down at you.

No queues at all. Really nice, polite people. Open bag, lemme see, rummage, rummage, that’s great thank you, on you go. Metal detector, no beeps. That’s lovely, thank you, on to the first desk, please. Appointment? Yes, everything seems to be ok, would you like your passport posted back to you or to collect here? Collection is quicker and you can do it on Sundays. Postal services not guaranteed. Collection it is. Thank you, please take a seat and they will call you shortly. Shortly. Please, look into the camera – click – thank you for your soul. Please, fingers on the pad – BRIGHT LIGHT – thank you for your identity forever. Sticker on passport, appointment in Sao Paulo confirmed. Kthxbye.

ACT III

scene i

Sao Paulo. Paulista Avenue, outside the Art Museum, phone in hand, confused look, wandering back and forth to the back of the Museum esplanade.

How the fuck am I supposed to get down there to get the bus? Flying?

scene ii

Gets off the bus, follows the various signs indicating ‘American Consulate? Park here’, ‘American Consulate? Take passport photos here’, ‘American Consulate? Have a coffee before you go in here’. Finds American Consulate. Takes a while to find the entrance.

DOOR LADY: Good morning, do you have an appointment?

FLAV: Yes, I do. Here’s the confirmation. Hands sheet with printed bar code over.

DOOR LADY: Great, thanks. You are not allowed to go in with any weapons, lighters, or electronic equipment, including mp3 players and your phone.

FLAV: Can I just turn my phone off?

DOOR LADY: No, you’re not allowed to go in with your phone on you.

FLAV: Ok. Do you have lockers?

DOOR LADY: No, sorry.

FLAV: Right… I can’t go back home and re-schedule this, so what do I do?

DOOR LADY: There are lockers outside that you can rent.

FLAV: Fine. Where can I find them?

DOOR LADY: Sorry, can’t tell you.

FLAV: Fantastic. Turns around in despair and sees the parade of ‘American Consulate? Rent a locker space here’ signs across the street. Chooses one of the garage spaces, places phone inside a mini locker and pays R$ 10 to the girl at the makeshift table with a card machine.

scene iii

FLAV: I’m back. No phone.

DOOR LADY: Lovely. Scans bar code on paper. In you go.

SECOND DOOR MAN: Can I have a look in your bag, please? Ok. Go ahead.

THIRD DOOR LADY: Do you have an appointment? Scans bar code on paper. Thank you, please join the yellow line.

Stands in the yellow line for 45 minutes.

FIRST DESK LADY: Can I have your passport, please? Any other passports? Thank you, please join the security line.

Stands in the security line for 20 minutes.

SECURITY MAN: No jackets, no phones, no jewellery, no phones, no lighters, no jackets, no jewellery, all papers in the plastic folder, no phones, no weapons, no jackets, no belts, no mp3 players, no lighters, papers in the plastic folder, nothing in pockets, no jackets, no phones, no jewellery, no lighters, no weapons, no jackets… ad infinitum

X-Ray. Metal Detector. Clear. Go.

scene iv

A bunker in the back garden of the American Consulate SP.

SECOND DESK LADY: Can I see your passport, please? That’s great, thank you. Please join line number 8.

Stands in line number 8 for 10 minutes, eavesdropping on people’s interviews.

LINE LADY: Please go to window number 3.

WINDOW MAN: (in Portuguese with an American accent) Bom dia! Mão direita aqui, por favor. Sim, direita. Obrigado. Qual é o motivo da visita aos Estados Unidos? Oh, do you have an invitation letter or something? Boston? February? What kind of conference? Art? But the computer says you’re a translator. Hm, ok. What type of art? Theater? What type of theater? Hahaha. Present a paper on what? Oh, that makes sense! How long did it take you to pick up a Scottish accent? I can’t understand it sometimes. Married? Ok. Well, good luck. Your request has been approved and here’s some more information. It will take about 10 days for your passport to be returned.

scene v

Three days later.Still in Sao Paulo. Email pops up on screen.

Your passport is ready for collection in Porto Alegre.

Collect passport with visa a week later. Celebrate. 

THE END

A Trial Run of Curitiba

I had been to Curitiba, capital of the Brazilian state of Paraná, only once before, roughly 12 years ago. Back then, I was at uni in Porto Alegre, studying to become an EFL teacher, and the reason of my visit to Curitiba was a TEFL convention. I didn’t remember much about it, as I was only there for a weekend and spent most of my time at the convention, but the few memories I had were of the good kind. I started paying attention to the city again in the past few years for a number of reasons: a couple of my cousins moved there, their official twitter account is absolutely hilarious (Portuguese speakers only, soz), and they have the largest and oldest theatre festival in Brazil, Fringe included. In addition, it’s famous for having a colder climate than the rest of Brazil year-round and for having a decent public transport system. It sounded like a good place to live in if I ever decided to move back to Brazil, so I thought I would give it a trial run. I got a job as a venue manager at the Fringe and went to Curitiba for a month.

I stayed with one of my cousins for the first week and couchsurfed the rest of the time. I was in charge of Solar do Barão, a gorgeous listed building that houses the Museum of Photography, Museum of Engravings, and a comic books library year-round. This 19th-century manor house was the family home of Ildefonso Pereira Correia, Baron of Serro Azul, whose intriguing story I learned from the staff and some audience members while I worked there. A yerba mate lord back in his day, the Baron once saved the city of Curitiba from being pillaged by rowdy gauchos (my ancestors), but entered a complicated political tangle that got him assassinated on a train en route to Rio. After his death, the Baroness moved next door and donated the manor to the Army. It was used as a barracks until about 30 years ago, when it was passed on to the Curitiba Cultural Foundation.

As cool as the story of the venue is, it has its problems as a place to host fringe theatre shows. Having to create a performance space where there isn’t one wasn’t the issue – building the truss and putting the dance floor down was the easiest part. The hard work included shifting a baby grand piano (which allegedly belonged to the Baron and no one is allowed to touch) and accommodating pieces that involved liquids being spilled on stage. The venue regulations stated that the use of liquids, food, and fire was strictly prohibited, due to the risk of damaging the historical structure. Also, with no accessibility, no trained first aiders anywhere to be seen, no emergency lights, and only one possible exit down a wooden staircase, the venue was a death trap.

DSCF5773

We took a group of 20 blind people and one wheelchair user up and down these.

Thankfully, we didn’t have any emergency situations, but I was kept on my toes throughout the full run. I was also fortunate to be working with a tiny, but very good and attentive team.

What of the result of my experiment? Well, it’s unfair to compare this with the Edinburgh Fringe – it’s unfair to compare anything with the Edinburgh Fringe. Some negative aspects of the festival were the relative dullness (it was way quieter than I expected), unclear relationship with performers (a few of the ones we worked with didn’t seem to understand what a ‘fringe’ was), difficulties with the venue (they have an interesting festival-funded venues system, but it’s full of restrictions), and the ‘Ticketless Movement’, which seemed like a good idea at first, but annoyed me to no end, and could be used in a more productive way. On the plus side, I met lots of interesting people and got a dose of some good acting. As for my expectations regarding the city, it was all lies. I think it rained only once in the whole month I was there, temperatures stayed between 30 and 35°C, and getting a seat on a bus is just impossible (well, having enough room to breathe on buses was a laborious task). It has its perks: it’s pretty, it’s clean, and it’s cheap, but I have stopped considering it as a possible base. I would definitely like to go back to visit, though, and potentially to participate in the festival again.

The #IndyRef, or Fuculloden

Back in 2008, we had a module on devised theatre at university. For our assessment, we had to come up with a scratch devised piece on any theme that we liked. The small group we put together and called “Devised Plates” decided to do a piece on Scottish Independence – incidentally, there was only one Scottish person in the group. The others were my gracious self (Brazilian), a Portuguese/Spanish/English friend and an Australian/English friend. Our working title for our piece was “Fuculloden”, a rather obvious play on words, and it consisted of historical Scottish figures travelling through time and coming together for a conference to debate Scottish Independence. We took to the streets of Edinburgh for a couple of weeks to interview punters of any nationality, hoping to find out how much they knew about Scottish history, who would be the 4 most popular characters to use, and whether people were supportive of an Independent Scotland or not. The answers were hilarious in a few of the cases, but jokes aside, we found out people hadn’t given it much thought back then, some being completely oblivious to the whole discussion. Our top 4 Scottish historical figures were William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots and Robert Burns, who we ended up portraying in mini video biographies (apologies to my colleagues, but I still find these amusing and feel the need to share them with the world). We didn’t get a great mark for our efforts, but we did certainly have fun.

The thing is, if you asked me then, when we did this project, I would have told you I was against Scottish independence. And so were most of my pals. I didn’t see good enough reason for it; my main arguments were that there was a point a few hundred years ago, but there wasn’t one now, and that everyone seemed to be merging forces everywhere, so I saw no reason to divide. Fast forward to 2012 and I was now a little more unsure, a bit more inclined to supporting independence but not entirely convinced by it. Two years on and I became an avid YES campaigner. Yes, my discourse changed radically, but so did the politics in the British Isles in the space of 6 years, and the reasons that I could not see in 2008 were all too evident in 2014.

I wasn’t allowed to vote as a non-resident, but I did engage as much as I could with discussions and campaigns. The energy in the streets was indescribable, despite the inevitable tension. For a few hours, you could feel hope as a solid, palpable thing. The result, however, as you know by now, was a NO win, which was (still kinda is) hard to digest, but not entirely unsurprising. In spite of that, I am extremely happy I was there to witness the run-up to and the referendum itself.

On a personal note, more directly related to this blog, it didn’t mean that immigration rules would automatically be better. It didn’t mean I would have been able to move back and get a Scottish passport right now. But between the hope of more open policies and the certainty of intolerant, xenophobic ones, I will always choose the first.

DSCF0048

A Fringe to Forget

I really look forward to the day when I will come here to write about something good that has happened to me, I do. That day hasn’t yet arrived, though, so please bear with my hopelessness for the time being.

I love the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s the reason why I moved to Edinburgh in first place, and it’s an event that has left me with many fond memories before. I was hoping this year’s Fringe would bring me some joy amidst the stress and pain resulting from the latest visa rejection. I was so proud of what we achieved with La Niña Barro so far – I remember sitting on a beach in Spain with my new friend Josep (Ale’s boyfriend) and telling him that for the first time I felt confident about a show. (Please note: if you have worked with me before, this is no assessment of the quality of your work, but of mine). I felt it was good enough to be seen by the “important people” and I was unashamed of sending out invitations to top journalists and industry representatives, as well as submitting the show for awards. I thought this was a real chance of getting enough attention to help me either get a job after the Fringe or more solid recommendations to try the Exceptional Talent visa again.

Now, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe can be a very expensive business. Great part of the cost will come from hiring a venue, and this was money that we didn’t have, so I was happy to go with the Free Festival as I had done a couple of times in the past. There are a few types of “freefringefestival” out there, but I chose Laughing Horse as I had previously worked with them and I liked the experience I’d had. This means we’d be performing in the basement of a pub, slightly off the main Fringe area, with limited tech resources, and we would not be able to charge for tickets, only taking donations at the end of the piece. This also meant we did not have to pay through our noses for a venue and got to meet cool people who share our ideas on what the “Fringe at its purest” is like. That decided, I sent in my application, was offered a venue and then it occurred to me I should ask if there were any restrictions regarding nudity in the piece. This was back in February, when the show was still being devised. The first answer I got from the Free Festival was that they didn’t know, but would ask the venue. Shortly, I received another reply saying that nudity would be unlikely to be allowed. I then discussed this with the performers and we started thinking of alternatives. However, as our creative process progressed, it became very clear that we needed the nudity to make our ideas work. It was not gratuitous and it was not sexual, just organic nudity. When I eventually arrived in Spain, Eli took me to see Paco, a local costume designer, so we could explain the situation to him and see if he had any suggestions. Paco then designed a see-through bodysuit for Eli with a gusset to cover up the “most distracting” parts. Paco did a great job in terms of the general look of the outfit and its flexibility, but as we rehearsed with it, it simply did not work with our aesthetics for a number of reasons:

1) The character was made of clay. The clay was supposed to be gradually washed off her skin until she became “human” and was finally put in a dress, which could be read in a variety of ways. This effect did not work because the clay would not wash properly of the fabric of the bodysuit, and because it killed the contrast of the moment when she finally gets dressed – if she wasn’t naked to begin with, it looked kinda silly;

2) On a visual note, it didn’t look as good under the lights, and the quality of both performers’ movements was affected;

3) It felt like self-censorship. General audience members would probably not care much, but I could tell that reviewers and awards judges would see it as a lack of courage of going all the way.

We went commando for the preview in Alicante. Everything went well, and apart from Eli’s dad and husband, no one felt uncomfortable or offended by the nudity, including the two small children in the audience and their parents.

Photo by Sandra Navarro

Photo by Sandra Navarro

All that considered, I thought it would be worth to have a chat directly with our venue upon arriving in Edinburgh, and that’s what I did. I went in on the day I arrived and spoke to a duty manager, explaining the situation and asking if, seeing as the show would be performed downstairs, behind a closed door, we could put up warning signs on posters and on the door and therefore forego the bodysuit. This DM said he would have to double check with his boss, but he didn’t see a problem with it. Excellent.

I went in the next day to check some tech stuff, and I spoke to another DM about our circumstances. This second person repeated what the first one had said.

Eli and Alex arrived and we went in the day before we opened to do a full run. That’s when the third DM walked through the space while we were rehearsing, saw the nudity and called me outside, in complete shock. I found it rather curious that this one was a girl, whereas the other two were guys. She told me that this wasn’t acceptable, I explained the whole situation to her from the start, and then she relented a little and said she’d have to run it past her top boss. I agreed and waited. Until ten minutes before we opened the first performance the day after, no one had got back to me.

That’s when one of the pub staff came running downstairs to tell me he was just off the phone with his boss and he’d said we absolutely could not have nudity on stage – and this was the first time someone mentioned licensing to me. I pointed out that we were about to open and the performer was ready to go, and we wouldn’t have time to clean her up, dress her, and muddy her up again. He agreed for us to perform like that on that day, but insisted that we have the suit from the second day onwards.

I e-mailed the director of the Free Festival explaining what had happened and asking about the possibility of seeking an alternative venue. This email had no reply.

With a sunken heart, we went on the next day with the bodysuit, but I felt the need to apologise to the audience before the show and explain that the outfit was not an artistic decision, but something imposed by the venue. On day 3, this was picked up by a journalist.

What ensued after the article was published was a week-long licensing-off between me, the venue managers and the Free Festival. I have to say I was really disappointed with the way the Free Festival handled this, completely turning against us. Their website states that “Free to us is not only a price point, it also means creative freedom for performers” and goes on about how supportive a community they are. I found this true in the previous years that I’d worked with them, but I had never encountered a problem that needed support before. So, I sought support elsewhere and found it on fellow theatremakers, other critics and Equity, who assured me we were not doing anything illegal, as the licensing the venue and the Free Festival claimed we were breaching simply did not apply. They were under the impression the venue needed an Adult Entertainment Licence for this, which was not the case, as the content we were offering was not of a sexual nature (i.e. lap dancing, strip-teasing, etc).

My first chat with the pub landlord had been quite decent and polite, but this quickly escalated to an aggressive exchange of emails, in which he refused to come and watch the show but sent me a still image from a CCTV camera downstairs showing one of our rehearsals and saying that a naked woman with her legs spread apart was definitely sexual content in his opinion. I sent him this review and asked if that sounded sexual, titillating or arousing to him (words used in the Licensing Acts being thrown about), and that seemed to be the last straw. As the pub owner, he stated that it was still his ultimate right to refuse our access to his premises, so we had a choice: either to continue performing there with the bodysuit, or find somewhere else to go. At this stage, I reckoned it would be more detrimental to us to change venues, so we decided to yield and stick with it.

There are a number of things that worried me about this whole stooshie, going beyond the administrative. Further discussions could be had about what is regarded as sexual – is a nude woman automatically seen as a sexual object? Did it cause so much offence because Eli is a big girl? Was I treated with disrespect by the top lads because I am a (foreign) woman? (I didn’t want to play the I iz Latin card here, but I was told “you don’t know how things work in this country” – even though I’ve been working in this country for 8 years). However, it was evident that we needed to drop it if we wanted the show to go on.

Unfortunately, we only managed to do another two shows after that and had to suspend and subsequently cancel the rest of the run, as one of the performers’ dad’s illness got worse until he sadly passed away in Spain.

So yes… this wasn’t the Fringe we all had envisioned and hoped for. Fair enough, illness and death are two of the very few things no one has control over or take the blame for. But the one week we did perform was unnecessarily stressful and exhausting. It wasn’t all lost, though. We did have a couple of good reviews (in addition to the previous one, these can be read here and here), and excellent audience feedback.

The show is now touring Spain, around the region of Valencia. It has been performed as part of a small festival of experimental music and performance, and back in Las Cigarreras, where it started. We have gigs booked for January and February too, and are still trying to bring it back to the UK.

 

Moors and Christians

Growing up in the “colonies”, we have to study the history of the coloniser. That means that when you go to school in Brazil, you learn about European history before your own, mostly that of Portugal and Spain. I remember studying the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, and seeing their legacy when I first visited this part of the world back in 1996 with my parents. I was impressed with the stunning Moorish art and architecture of the Andalusian cities, fortresses and gardens.

What I did not know until this visit to Spain was that the tug-of-war between Moors and Christians that extended for centuries is now celebrated with large festivals in Alicante and surroundings, which happen at different times of the year in towns, villages and neighbourhoods. Eli had been talking about it since I arrived and her parents had very proudly shown me photos of their latest participations in their local festival. Paco, who helped out with the costume for La Niña Barro, makes most of his living out of fashioning outfits for the Moors and Christians parades. Everyone that I came into contact with seemed to be involved with these festivities somehow, but I only began to understand them better when I witnessed the Moros y Cristianos parade of San Blas, the Alicante area where our lovely photographer Sandra is based. See, the people behind the festival organised a shop window contest in the neighbourhood and Sandra decided to enter. In order to create an exciting window display for her studio, she wanted to dress up a model as one of the Moors, photograph them and then arrange the photos with props borrowed from the Christians. And this is how I ended up being a Moorish Queen for a day (make-up by Eli):

moros6Sandra came 2nd in the competition and won tickets to watch the street parade from the VIP stands. She would be working, photographing the event, so she gave me and Eli the tickets. We went with Eli’s dad and watched as people paraded their fantastic costumes to the sound of exciting live music, each club, group, and association looking prouder as they went past. It reminded me of the Brazilian carnaval, and I was surprised that I had never heard of something as big. The festival generally happens over two days – one dedicated to the Christians (which we saw) and the other, to the Moors. There are battle re-enactments and a model castle is built to be invaded by the Moors and then taken back by the Christians. The whole celebration is really interesting, not only because of its historical background, but also because of the way history and culture gain new interpretations. You don’t need to have Moorish ancestry or necessarily identify with Christianity to choose which side you want to be on. Instead, people gravitate towards whatever aesthetics takes their fancy, and although there are some clear symbols that must be respected, creativity and imagination are highly encouraged when creating costumes, make-up and floats.

It was yet another enlightening experience of diverse cultures coming together quite nicely, and the use of art to transform a rather gory past into a beautiful and more tolerant present.

Alicante: Politics, Desert and Theatre

I arrived in Alicante, but my suitcase did not. Not a great start. But ok, at least I had made it this far, I was back in Europe and felt one step closer to get things back on track. No stress. I was also lucky enough to be staying with friends that could lend me clothes for the first few days until the luggage arrived. None of that was a problem.

Alicante is an interesting city. Of all places in Spain, I thought it was hilarious that I ended up in the one that kinda looked like Edinburgh, with a similarly shaped castle on top of a rock towering above the city centre:

Edinburgh Castle, by Duncan Smith, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html.

Edinburgh Castle, by Duncan Smith, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html.

Castillo Santa Bárbara, Alicante, by Juan Carlos Soler, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html

Castillo Santa Bárbara, Alicante, by Juan Carlos Soler, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html

The two cities are also about the same size, even though Alicante has a slightly smaller population but looks slightly more like a big city with its shiny shopping centres and beach resorts. Alicante is also a popular spot for Brits, so it’s common to hear English spoken on the streets and see English menus in bars and restaurants. Similarities end there, and the biggest difference is: it NEVER rains in Alicante!

In fact, when you get out of the city and go to the surrounding towns or villages (like the one I was staying in, San Vicente de Raspeig), what you see is a desert with dunes and mountains of red earth that are much more akin to a Moroccan than to a Scottish landscape. It is still beautiful, in spite of all the problems caused by the constant state of drought in the region.

Politically speaking, Alicante is part of the Generalitat Valenciana, and therefore somewhat removed from Madrid-centered politics. Most of the people I spoke to were very much in favour of a Spanish Republic, a feeling strengthened by the recent abdication of King Juan Carlos. However, there didn’t seem to be an organised enough pro-Republic movement there, and even less so a movement for independence like in Catalunya. Curious thing I learned: Valencian and Catalan are pretty much the same language (which I can sort of understand when spoken and written, but haven’t learned to speak).

So it was in this new context that I was reunited with Eli and first met Alex in person, the two performers working on my (now itinerant, but still officially Edinburgh-based) theatre company’s new piece, La Niña Barro. Sociopolitical and cultural contexts shaping artistic creation is a rather obvious thing, but less discussed and perhaps more intriguing is to analyse how a geographical context can influence devising a piece of theatre (that is not site-specific). We hadn’t thought about that until the three of us got together in real life – Eli and Alex were born and bred in Alicante and therefore stopped noticing their surroundings. I had never been there before and therefore couldn’t have a clear idea of what the place looked like. Inevitably, the sensations gained from long, warm, dry afternoons spent on the porch of Eli’s house gazing up at the mountains and arid land of red clay around them, made their way into the aesthetics of the piece and helped us define colours, movement and sound.

This might be the best argument against the digital/virtual, theatremaking that we initially used, flagged by a few peers as a potentially detrimental thing to our art, and something that could easily become a good excuse for the issuing of even fewer artist visas. There are, of course, many successful theatre productions that make use of technology, and in our case, it was the only possible way of getting the project started, but I agree that it shouldn’t be seen as a suitable replacement for presential work. After all, this is theatre/performance’s “unique selling point” against film – it is the live experience that makes it so special.

The absurdity and the magic of borders

A few weeks after my latest visa rejection, I was invited to a meeting as a guest member of my hometown Cultural Policy Committee. The Brazilian government are trying to implement some big changes to cultural policies nationwide, and it’s meant to start locally, with each council electing a Cultural Policy Committee, which is meant to act as the midfielder between the official Cultural Secretariat and the citizens. As you will know if you know me personally or if you’ve been reading the other posts on this blog, my hometown sits on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, so in addition to the local Committee, border towns should also appoint a Bi-national Cultural Policy Committee. Ours is a bit all over the place, but that is not the point of this post.

The point is that I was invited to integrate a small group of representatives travelling to another border town further south for a 2-day seminar on the cultural integration between Brazil and Uruguay, which was very interesting. Lots of relevant issues were discussed and it was enlightening to hear about projects going on along the border line. One of the most intriguing aspects of the exchanges, however, was to notice how things function in a different way within one single stretch of land. The Culture Secretary of Jaguarao, the town that hosted the seminar, told us how jealous he was of Livramento, my hometown, for having a much easier time organising their book festival. Because Livramento and Rivera (Uruguayan side) merge together and share the International Park, where the festival happens, there is no red tape to go through regarding book sales. Uruguayan and Brazilian publishers can exhibit and sell side by side without any import, tax or exchange faff. Now, there’s a river between Jaguarao and Rio Branco, and a checkpoint on the bridge, which makes it a hell of a lot harder for the Uruguayan booksellers to go through and take part of the festival on the Brazilian side. Instead of just walking up to the spot and setting up shop, they need to deal with paperwork, licences and documents months in advance to be able to cross the bridge with their merchandise, which has resulted in some people loading their books on a dinghy and rowing across to the other side and back, unnoticed under the bridge (but I didn’t tell you that).

That sort of thing made me think of the arbitrary element of borders – the difference a river makes. We are talking about the same two countries here with their respective policies unaltered, but a completely different way of functioning on different spots along the same land boundary. That’s why the relevant agents have been calling meetings like the one we had in Jaguarao: to try and find ways of making our exchanges easier by listening to logic and negotiating.

I agree with Brazilian sociologist Fabio Regio Bento’s argument that a “world without borders” is a utopic and romantic notion, which isn’t necessarily better or more exciting than the world we currently live in. He says that most human experiences happen on the threshold of something – like the ultimate one, between life and death, for example. Liminal places never cease to amaze me, I just would like to see what they can do with fewer restrictions imposed on them.

seminariojaguarao

Livramento reps at the seminar

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