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.

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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.

Couchsurfing

About a week after I came back to Brazil, I journeyed back to my hometown of Santana do Livramento, on the border with Uruguay. My mum and my sister were going to Rio on holiday and I agreed to house and pet-sit. I was quite looking forward to having the house, the dogs and the cats to myself – it would feel like a much needed break. I’ve been freelancing as a translator since I left Scotland in 2012 and although I’ve travelled a fair bit during this time, my life has been so erratic that it’s easy to forget to simply have time off every so often.

Staying at home in Livramento in the summer now doesn’t have the same feel as it did when I was younger, though. Most of my old friends have moved away and the entertainment options are very limited. I tried to organise a group reading of a play, the South American version of a project run by my Edinburgh peers, but no one turned up. It would be a long month, even though it was February.

Then it occurred to me: my couchsurfing profile had been on the “I can’t offer you a couch” mode for a while – what if I turned it back on? I switched it to “yes, I have a couch for you”, thinking no one would request to stay there. People who can locate Livramento on the map are generally just coming from Porto Alegre or other parts of my home state to buy cheap booze, cosmetics and clothes in the Uruguayan duty free shops – not really the couchsurfing type. To my surprise, I received a request a couple of days after that, from an Australian dude.

This poor lad had probably met someone with a wicked sense of humour while visiting Buenos Aires, for this person recommended Rivera/Livramento for a fabulous Carnaval experience. You see… my border isn’t exactly famous for its Carnaval festivities. In fact, we were not even going to have a street party this year. You can imagine why, exciting as it was, his request confused me. I told him he would be welcome, but tried to warn him that he’d be underwhelmed.

It wasn’t a complete disaster after all – Freg was an awesome guy, really easy to chat to, involved with art, theatre and politics. As it happens, Rivera had a bit of action to offer and we managed to see some of their street party with samba and candombe groups. I shipped him away to Rio to see the real thing after a few days, and he drew me this lovely thank you card, showing a pair of candomberos and a funny numbat eating a golden butterfly:

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Transculturalism at its best

Then the requests kept coming in. I never thought Livramento would be this popular. One of the many things I like about couchsurfing is that it attracts the artsy community. So after my Aussie friend Freg, I hosted a pair of lovely Uruguayan backpackers: Alicia, who was just getting started with her travels, and Kobe, a tango dancer and excellent baker. They only stayed for one day, but had great chat.

A few days later and already into March, I got a beautiful birthday present: couchsurfers Rodrigo and Gabriela (no, not those ones), two talented filmmakers based in Curitiba, in the Brazilian state of Paraná. I remember the moment I spotted Gabriela’s big smile outside and (cheesy at this may sound) knew we would become good friends. Again, the time they spent in Livramento was very short, but the hilarity was immense. Rodrigo and Gabriela overlapped with Cristóbal, my last couchsurfer of the season. A music producer hailing from Chile, Cristóbal had been travelling around South America collecting data about each country’s folk music for his Latiendo America project. He’d been to Argentina and Uruguay and decided to enter Brazil through Livramento. I helped him contact local musicians and took him to a radio station to be interviewed about the project, it was all rather cool. He moved on, travelling across Brazil all the way up north and as I type this, he’s on his way to Paraguay.

Some people are a bit suspicious of couchsurfing, but I’ve only had good experiences with it, both hosting people and being hosted by them. I have made new friends, learned about their countries and others they had visited, and have encountered a handful of interesting journeys and projects. In spite of the surprising popularity when I switched my couch back to available, the practice is still not widespread in Brazil. My friends from Curitiba have recently worked on a documentary about their own experience, which might help people trust couchsurfing a bit more over here.

I left Livramento after that month and went back to being in a different place every couple of weeks, so I’ve turned the availability of my couch off until I have a more permanent base again. If you’ve considered using it at some point but weren’t too sure, go for it. It’s a great way of making new connections and expanding horizons.

On Holding it Together

DSCF5622As I walked down the Royal Mile aiming for the fudge shop, it didn’t feel that it was my last day in Edinburgh again. It even felt like it was business as usual later on when my friends and I did a mad dash out to Falkirk to see the Kelpies before I left (which are magnificent, by the way), and after that, when we all had dinner at Toby Carvery in Corstorphine. I wasn’t ridiculously drunk this time and I wasn’t flooding the place with tears, declarations of love and promises to return soon. I was angry, though. I was fuming inside. The however many stages of grief, I suppose. If I keep going back and leaving, it will eventually turn into resignation acceptance.

So I came back to Brazil, I lost and recovered my luggage, I went to the beach for a few days, saw my relatives, etc. And then I had to have a haircut and I freaked out. See, my family and friends are now used to hearing about my struggle with the UK draconian immigration laws, but people who don’t know me aren’t, and the prospect of having to explain the story of my life for the umpteenth time to a complete stranger filled me with dread. Not just having to go over painful details that were now swept under the rug again, but to be seen as a failure. You might say this is not true, but this is how I feel when I start telling the story and people question each one of my moves. I obviously failed as a theatre maker because I didn’t get an Exceptional Talent visa – that means I’m not good at what I’ve chosen to do. I also failed at doing something else because I never got a ‘real’ job that would lead to a work visa – that means I’m not good at anything else. I failed at being a seductress because I didn’t score a British husband/partner that would get me a spouse visa – fuck knows what that means and that’s a different can of worms. I failed at being a smart ass rogue Brazilian and never got a fake EU passport – that means I’m not good at being dishonest. Please understand that I don’t necessarily think those things about myself, but I can see that thought process happening inside the heads of people I talk to.

I still needed that haircut. I kid you not, I rehearsed a slightly different life story at home before booking my appointment. When the inevitable ‘so what do you do’ and ‘where do you stay’ questions came up, I’d tell them I was a freelance translator and lived between Porto Alegre and Livramento, where I often visit to check on my mum. That’s all. Uneventful. I work from home, have few friends, I don’t go out and don’t travel much, only been to Uruguay a few times. Unmarried, two cats. No, never lived abroad, only studied English over here at language schools and then at uni. Yep, that’s it. We’re just trimming the ends today, nothing radical. That’s lovely, perfect. Thanks, bye.

It didn’t happen like that. I can be a good liar, but this whole situation and my angst about it are stronger than me. I ended up telling the hairdresser I lived in Scotland but had to come back for a few months to work on a project. So I managed to avoid the immigration chat, but I couldn’t bring myself to saying I lived in Brazil permanently. Maybe it feels that if I do, I will then be finally giving up and resigning to it. Maybe I just really couldn’t be bothered with the whole saga. In either case, this type of reaction worries me. It probably is only natural in the course to acceptance of a personal tragedy, but it can’t be right for someone to panic because they’ll be asked two ordinary questions at a hair salon. I realise how much of an overstatement that sounds, but trust me, it messes with your head.

I remember a conversation I had once with someone close to me that suffered from actual mental health issues and they asked me what my disorder was, assuming no one is ‘normal’. I said I didn’t have anything, or at least had never been diagnosed, or ever felt the need to be checked over. I have been ‘accused’ by a couple of exes of being ridiculously self-sufficient and aware, and maybe that is an indication of something. I get anxious and sad, but I believe those things happen at a level considered normal – I’ve never stopped functioning as a result of anxiety, sadness or even fatigue. I have no intention of hijacking attention from, or disrespecting people (including friends and family) who really suffer from mental health conditions, and I think I’ve generally been good at handling those (if you are one of my crazies and you’re reading this, I’m sorry if you ever felt I didn’t treat you right, I’m still learning). What I’m trying to say is that, although I didn’t lock myself up at home, I’ve close to having some sort of breakdown a couple of times since this started, and sometimes I’m not sure how I am still holding it together. Maybe self-sufficiency and awareness do come in handy, after all. I’m just not sure if they are everlasting.

Have you considered…?

Yes, I have. I know, I know, you’re just trying to help and I’m being rude. But trust me, I have investigated all possible routes to go back to Scotland legally. No, I have no intention of doing it illegally. I want to go back to continue my work in theatre that I started in 2006 (yes, I’m counting from 1st year as I got involved with extracurricular activities pretty soon), not to hide in someone’s basement living in fear of the racist vans.

After failing twice to get an Exceptional Talent visa, I looked into other categories. Other Tier 1 and 2 (work visas) that I could potentially get included the General/Skilled Migrant and Entrepreneur visas. The General work visa is a massive catch-22 situation: I can’t get a job that fulfills all requirements because I don’t have a work permit, and I can’t get a work permit unless I am offered a job that fulfills all requirements. The main requirement being a £21,000 salary. I love explaining that to friends that work in different fields. Those who work in finance, business management, teaching, etc. don’t think it’s a big deal. The ones in the arts scream in despair that it’s too much money. There aren’t many jobs that offer that level of pay in the arts, and the few that do will have hundreds of people applying. Tough. But what about my other occupation, as a translator? Can I not just get a job doing that? Money-wise, if I dedicated myself to translating full-time for a UK-based agency, I would probably make that in a year. The problem here is that most agencies work on freelance contracts, and the Home Office really doesn’t like that word. That takes us to the Entrepreneur visa. I have a theatre company registered as a business in Scotland, but unless I have £200,000 invested in it (or a £50,000 grant), I am not eligible for this one. Remember that bit about not managing to make £20k a year? Yeah. That’s the Entrepreneur visa out of the picture too.

No, I don’t have a boyfriend, girlfriend, or just a really generous friend who makes £27,000 a year and wants to marry me either. Yes, it is all about the money. I’m not being shallow, the Home Office makes the rules. I’m not comfortable putting such a burden on someone else’s shoulders and the additional stress is too much. I’ve read and witnessed enough stories of people torn apart and to pieces because of this one – epic ordeals, long and expensive legal actions, humiliation, resulting in heartbreak and terrible damage to their physical and mental health. I’ll steer clear from the Spouse/Family/Unmarried Partner visas too, thank you very much.

No, I can’t prove any European ancestry, sorry. It’s quite evident that at some point someone moved from Spain or Portugal to what is now known as Brazil, carrying my family name and white(ish) skin with them, but that was so many generations ago that I can’t even find them. Spanish and Portuguese colonisers weren’t as good at keeping record and sticking to tradition as the Italians and Germans, so it would be almost a miracle to find out which of my great-great-great grandparents came from where. My dad didn’t even have the same surname as his brothers, all born to the same father and mother and I still don’t know why that is. So no, unlike most Brazilians with permanent residency in the UK and beyond, I can’t acquire a funky second passport with a EU stamp.

I’m left with two choices: the Tier 5 – Temporary Creative Workers Visa and a new Tier 4 Student Visa. Biting the bullet and becoming a postgraduate student is very tempting at this stage – not only for immigration purposes, but I’ve been told over and over again that I should invest in further study because it’s the thing to do these days. I need to consider institutions, courses and funding, though. Alternatively, I can try and get involved with a temporary project that will help me get a Tier 5 seal of approval. This is late November, 2014 – still taking advantage of my visitor visa, I decide to stop looking at long-term solutions and buy time instead. To be continued…

Synergy – When the Universe is Stage Managed

I’ve long now stopped being a mystical person or a believer in any sort of dogma – which, contrary to what some might think, has made me much happier, calmer and more understanding. And despite a recurring in-joke that I make reference to in the title of this post, I do not believe in fate or that “things happen for a reason”. I mean, they do happen for a reason, but generally that reason is right here, in our world, and it tends to simply be other people. People make good and bad things happen (well, nature does as well, but we all know by now that people have influenced nature an awful lot). So I’m writing this post about one particularly good week I had in Edinburgh, when some of the good people in my life provided me with much needed positivity at that point.

I was supposed to leave Scotland a couple of days after the Referendum, but considering that my Visitor Visa allowed me to stick around for six months, I decided to change my flight back and stay until January. I wasn’t allowed to take up employment and the money I had brought with me for my time away since I left for Spain in June was running out, but with the help of my ridiculously generous friends and some cash I made from working for a translation office back in Brazil, I managed the extra months (the internet is a wonderful thing). And this week at the start of November made the effort worthwhile, because everything felt normal for the first time in ages.

To begin with, I got to direct a short piece for Collider, an event organised by fellow theatremakers at Discover 21. I hadn’t planned on taking part, but I was asked to stand in for a friend who was ill, and I had no idea that a short, simple thing would make such a big difference. It was so refreshing as well, as I hadn’t worked with scripted theatre for a couple of years and it was great to flex those muscles. A couple of days later, I was invited to participate of the audition panel for Charioteer Theatre‘s upcoming show, A Bench on the Road. Again, it was something I hadn’t done for a while and it was incredibly gratifying – particularly because I got to meet dozens of talented Scottish actresses of all ages. Finally, I had a special friend visiting from London at the weekend and we had a great time out and about in Edinburgh, during which the photo below was taken. This is relevant because I posted the photo to facebook and it was my all-time most liked picture there, with many comments stating how happy I looked. It’s just a photo of me drinking a cup of tea, but I think facebookers were right – I did feel very happy then, and I think it just showed.

Choosing to stay a little longer in Edinburgh was the right decision. I spent a lot of time at the computer working on my translations, which I could have done back in Brazil, but there is a massive difference in being able to do it while Jen throws Jaffa Cakes at me and Mark makes endless cups of tea, and then signing off to go meet Pam and Jenni for dinner and cinema, or Dawn and Leila for drinks, or Julia for coffee, or drop by Fiona’s work, you get the gist. Synergy is when different parts combined achieve an effect that is greater than the sum of their separate effects, and that is definitely what I experience when I am in Edinburgh with these people.

 

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What now, José? Joe Gets the Job

What now, José?
The party’s over,
the lights are off,
the crowd’s gone,
the night’s gone cold,
what now, José?

(“José“, by Carlos Drummond de Andrade)

I counted. Between January and November 2014, I applied for 39 jobs (2 in Brazil, 7 in Spain and 30 in the UK). I was only called for 1 interview. I’m still jobless a freelancer.

The Brazilian job market is weird. There are so many rules and regulations that do not benefit either the employer or the workers, only the government. It’s hard to find a job with a good career plan in Brazil, yet people tend to be tied to strict contracts – freelancing is still a reasonably new thing and part-time jobs are practically non-existing. Flexibility isn’t a thing in the land of Carnaval.

I didn’t spend enough time in Spain to have a better idea of how it works there, but they are still trying to crawl out of their big economic crisis and there aren’t that many jobs going – and the few vacancies that you might find will certainly go to Spanish people, they won’t be hiring foreigners at this time.

My UK job hunt met similar obstacles. HR people can swear as much as they like that nationality does not count, it’s only your CV that gets assessed, but I can’t shake off the feeling that the moment I tick the ‘non-EU’ box, that’s my application chucked in the NO pile. I can’t blame them, with all the restrictions imposed on employers as well, it is much easier to hire someone with a similar experience to mine, but who won’t require all the immigration faff.

All that said, I am aware it sounds like an easy way out simply blaming the political and economical context of countries for my lack of a job when the answer could simply be my own incompetence – which could mean either lack of knowledge/experience required for jobs I’ve been applying to, or bad CV/applications writing skills combined with weak powers of persuasion and inability to suck up to the right people. I thought back to the days when I was looking for a teaching job after graduating from my first degree in Porto Alegre and how hard it was for the first couple of months – despite an awesome TEFL CV. I realised I kept telling people at interviews that I was planning to move to Scotland within the next year or so, so they obviously didn’t want to invest on someone about to run away. Once I stopped saying that, I started being offered jobs and ended up working at two good schools (well, there was the Catholic school that rejected me because I revealed my atheism in the interview).

The thing is, I can’t quite figure out what I am doing wrong now, which is where my skepticism of HR neutrality comes from, particularly when I’ve had two near misses, both in Glasgow, when the people on the phone sounded mad keen to have me working with them right away, but were disappointed to find out I wasn’t a EU passport holder and therefore could not hire me due to the Home Office restrictions.

This whole experience reminded me of the story of José Zamora, who was having trouble finding a job in the US until he changed his name to ‘Joe’ on his CV and started getting loads of offers. Paradox, paranoia or coincidence? Open to debate.

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.

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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.

 

A Spanish Preview and a Nervous Flight

We reached the end of our rehearsal period and scheduled a preview of La Niña Barro for family and friends at Las Cigarreras, to run the show in front of an audience before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe. After much negotiation with the venue and a tad stressful tech run, I’m happy to inform it went rather well. It also went very fast. I think we were all inevitably anxious about test-driving this piece we’d been working on for months, working through broken limbs, family illness and immigration problems, and all that bottled up energy suddenly came out on stage and the girls rushed a bit. It still went well.

The day after our preview, I was even more of a nervous wreck. I would be flying to Edinburgh that afternoon, a few days before Eli and Alex. I also spent an extra £90 on my flight to go directly from Alicante, avoiding a London stop. You see, all the horror stories I’ve heard happened at London airports, so I avoid them if I can. In my experience, Edinburgh immigration officers are much more polite and understanding (i.e. they will treat you as a human being). Besides, if I have any problems in Edinburgh, I know all it takes is one phone call to have half the city at the airport to help me (I’m not being smug, I just honestly know A LOT of people).

Despite taking measures to curb my anxiety, I can’t help feeling massively nervous every time I fly to a different country now, and I think this feeling will linger for a long time. But flying to Scotland, back to Edinburgh, is so meaningful to me that it provokes butterflies akin to those you are meant to get at the most special moments in your life: your 15th birthday party (if you’re a Latin American girl – if you’re not, wikipedia explains what this means), getting your exam results, your graduation, your wedding, that sort of thing. So I am in this state of mind when Carlos and Eli drive me to the airport in Alicante, on a very warm Sunday afternoon.

I’ve done the online check-in but need to take my suitcase to the counter. Before they can check in my luggage, however, I need to go to Jet2’s sales counter so they can start verifying my authenticity before I even leave the Schengen zone. The attendant asks to see my reservation and my passport and then, flicking through the pages, asks me: “just to confirm – you don’t have a visa for the UK?”. I say I don’t, but that I’m coming as a tourist, so I don’t require one. He looks me sideways, types stuff into his computer, looks at my passport again, asks me how long I’m going to the UK for. I reply that I will be there for 2 months and offer to show him my return ticket from Madrid to Porto Alegre, explaining that I just haven’t booked my return from Edinburgh to Madrid yet because I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of events I might be attending. He finally agrees to stamp my boarding pass and let me finalise my check-in. Eli just shakes her head in awe that I have to go through this.

I say goodbye to Eli, go through security and finally board the plane, but the pressure on my chest only gets worse. The plane lands and there I am, completed landing card, passport and my folder with a stack of paper to prove that I have no intention of illegally settling in Scotland. The queue wasn’t too bad, I got to the counter much more quickly than the last time – maybe because this time I arrived a few days before all the festival malarkey kicked off. Now, I wasn’t sure whether my passport would make the alarm bells sounds or not this time. My old passport expired at the start of the year, so this was a new one. I’d been refused a visa on my old passport, but I didn’t get to apply for the actual visa on this one, having only been refused the Arts Council endorsement. Turns out the refusal is actually attached to your name, not to your passport. The lady who served me at the immigration desk looked at her screen for a few moments while flicking through the pages and then smiled and asked if this was my first time in Edinburgh. I said no and proceeded to telling her my potted life story and visa saga, showing documents as they were mentioned, including the letter from the Fringe office confirming I was bringing a show this year. This allowed me to ask for an Entertainer Visitor visa, which differs from a Tourist visa only in the sense that I was allowed to take payment for the performances we did at the Fringe. She took all the paperwork from me and went into the back room, asking me to wait. She came back in less than 10 minutes and stamped my passport, explaining that I was allowed to stay for up to six months. She then asked me if I would be looking for a job during my time in Edinburgh and I said I intended to, but did not have ay interviews lined up yet. She stressed that it would be fine for me to go to interviews, but I was not allowed to take up employment on this visa, I would then need to change to a Tier 2 or Tier 5. I reassured her that I was well aware of that and had no intention of working illegally. She gave me my stamped passport back and wished me luck with a smile.

NB: Preview and pre-flight nerves aside, this was a fast and pleasant experience, if compared to last year’s visit, or to this story of a Malaysian photographer who was in a very similar situation but wasn’t so lucky – arriving in London two days before I arrived in Edinburgh this year

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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.

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