Studying in the UK – part 02

I flew to Sao Paulo the day before my interview.

Getting to the place where I needed to hand in the documents was fairly easy from where I was staying. UK visa applications are not handled by the British Consulate directly anymore, but by a third-party contractor, which I am sure is one of the reasons why the process is longer and more expensive now (incidentally: there seem to be a lot of people making a good deal of money out of this whole thing, like legal firms and other companies and freelancers offering specialised visa application services). This company is located in a highly posh business area of Sao Paulo called ‘Brooklin Paulista’, on the ‘United Nations Avenue’, adjacent to a designer furniture shopping centre (I don’t know why I find all of this kinda funny).

I checked in at the reception desk on the ground floor, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the office until my specific appointment time, so as I was about 20 minutes early, I went for a wander around the shopping centre to see things I will never buy. When the time came, I went back to reception and was given a visitor’s pass and allowed to go up in the lift to the 18th floor, where the VSF Visa Application Centre is. There were two offices there, one processing visas for Canada, and the other, for the UK. I walked into the latter, where a nice lady at the door in security uniform asked to check my appointment confirmation and then instructed me to take my documents out of my bag and leave bag, phone, and all other personal belongings in a locker (at least this one was free, unlike the ones across the street from the US Consulate). Following that, I was ushered to a bright, smaller room with two attendants sitting behind bank clerk-like desks and a line of chairs. I was told to sit down and wait for my name to be called.

I stood up and went to the attendant who’d called my name and gave her my documents – a hard copy of the application form I’d completed online, a copy of my CAS statement, a letter from my bank manager confirming I had the funds to support myself for the first year and its translation, and my passport. She asked me whether I had booked my flights yet and I replied that I hadn’t. Then she asked me when I was meant to start my course, I said induction was scheduled for the 21st September (exactly a month after this day). She scribbled some things down, ticked some boxes, and asked me to take a seat again and wait to be called for the interview.

About 10 minutes later, she emerged from behind her desk and asked me to follow her into an even smaller room with a desktop computer set up with headphones and a mic on a small table. The attendant left the room and I sat down, put the headphones on and said hello to the lady on the screen, speaking to me from one of the Home Office cubicles in Sheffield. She introduced herself and explained that this would be a short interview, then asked me to confirm that I was in good physical and mental health and fully aware that my answers would be recorded. I did so, and without a smile or any small talk, she began the interview. She asked me to confirm the name of my intended place of study and when I said the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, she looked puzzled. Cue her faffing about for a couple of minutes, presumably trying to find information about the place, asking where in the UK this ‘conservatory’ was. I wondered if whenever they get someone who isn’t aiming for London, they get confused. She eventually found it on her list and proceeded to ask me why I’d chosen this course. I began: “well, I attended Open Days at other…” and then she interrupted me, saying she didn’t need my life story, just straightforward answers. Taken aback by the sudden rudeness, I replied that I wanted to pursue an academic career and develop my practice further. Her next question was whether I had considered other places of study, which made me a little bit angry and I started my answer with, “as I tried to tell you 30 seconds ago, yes… I attended Open Days at other universities”. I don’t think she liked that. It might have been stupid to give her backchat, but come on…

The interview went on for another few minutes with more roundabout questions such as how this course would benefit me and why it had to be this one. She concluded the chat and asked me to leave the room. I sat outside again, with a terrible feeling that I’d fucked it up. Clerk girl came back and ushered me into another small room, where she took a picture of me and my fingerprints. She explained that everything would be sent to the UK Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, where all South American applications were now processed, and I would be getting emails informing me of the progress of mine. After that, I was done. I collected my belongings from the locker and left.

I was feeling tired and discouraged, but on the way back to my friends’ flat and to Porto Alegre later on the same day, I tried to not think too much about it and focus on La Niña Barro, which was going to a festival in Uruguay in a few weeks’ time and I would only get the visa decision after that.

 

 

 

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No place I’d rather be

Back in 2005, when I started planning my escape to Scotland, my first plan was to go to Glasgow and study at the (then) RSAMD. My first attempt was neutralised by a rejection letter after a terrible audition tape – bitter as it may sound, I didn’t fancy myself as an actor anyway and only applied to that because it was the only course I had knowledge of at the time. The good thing about being rejected was that it prompted me to expand my research to Edinburgh, which led me to a course that sounded more like what I was after (and turned out to be pretty shit, but that’s another story). I also found out I was allowed to apply to up to 6 courses through UCAS and spread my wings across Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberystwyth and somewhere in England that I can’t remember. Second time round, I get unconditional offers from all of them. I quickly dismissed most of those, giving myself a couple of weeks to decide between Aberystwyth and Queen Margaret University, and although the Welsh course sounded more convincing, I accepted QMU’s offer because of Edinburgh. I had never been to Edinburgh before in my life, I didn’t know anyone who had lived or been there, but I had a good feeling about this place. Also, I’d read about this Edinburgh Fringe Festival thing, “largest performing arts festival in the world”, and for someone wishing to pursue a career in theatre, it just sounded like it was the right place to be.

I arrived in Edinburgh for the first time on 31st August, 2006, just in time for the fireworks concert. I did not experience the Fringe until the following year, when I was invited to be stage crew for a couple of my lecturers’ show. I was there for the first 10 days of the festival only, as I had booked a trip to Brazil to attend a cousin’s wedding, but it was enough to give me a good taste of what the Fringe actually was and I promised to myself I’d be there for the whole thing next year. In 2008, I got a flyering job with a company producing mostly Irish comedy shows. That was the year I decided that, no matter where I were living or working, I absolutely HAD TO be in Edinburgh every August and enter this magic interdimensional portal that opens in the city every summer. Cue 5 consecutive years of mad parties, indulging in theatre from all over the world, A LOT of hard work and stress, fringe flings, ridiculous amounts of fun, the best show I’ve seen and been part of ever, very little or no sleep at all, and wonderful memories which will get re-told endlessly until the day I die. And then September 2012 came and, as you know if you have been following this blog or if you actually know me in real life, I was forced to leave the UK and was subsequently refused an Exceptional Talent visa to come back.

When the Fringe programme was out in 2013 and I was in Brazil, I had a huge breakdown. It was the first and only time in my life that I needed to be given tranquilisers. For a week, I felt I could do nothing but sit and watch TV, from early morning to bedtime. I avoided the internet for a few days, as I couldn’t bear my friends’ updates about the Fringe that year. Then, I realised there was nothing preventing me from just coming to visit as a tourist. My best friend from home would get married in Portugal in September that year, and I was one of her bridesmaids, so I’d be travelling to Europe anyway. May as well go a month earlier and experience the Fringe as a mere audience member for the first time (I wrote about that here), and that was actually quite nice. With re-invigorated stubbornness, I returned to Brazil after that, applied for the Exceptional Promise visa and was refused again, but I had such a great idea for a show. Determined to not back down, I started working on La Niña Barro with Eli, Alex, and Marta over skype and email and boom – we had a show in the 2014 Fringe. We had our problems with it, but it felt good to be back in the game.

Fast forward to the Fringe 2015. I wasn’t planning to put on a show of mine, but I offered my services to a couple of theatre companies I know and was very excited to be invited to work with both during their Edinburgh run. Only problem: the new student visa I was about to request would only be valid from 30 days before the start of my course, or the end of August. But I had a cunning plan. If I could get my new visa before August, I would travel to the UK and enter under a Visitor Entertainer stamp to work during the Fringe, then come September hop across the water to Spain/Portugal to check on my girls for a few days and return to the UK once the validity of the student visa started. I wrote to the Home Office asking if this would be acceptable, and they confirmed I would be ok to do that. Sorted. But this is me and nothing would be easy, right?

Right. So, due to a much more complex and unnecessarily roundabout system now, my student visa application was delayed (I will write about this part of the saga on another post), making me miss the Fringe for the first time in 9 years! I can’t even begin to tell you the level of rage and frustration I achieved when I realised this was happening. It wasn’t a sad meltdown like the one I had in 2013, it was an angry one this time. Although the companies I had committed to had been warned that this might happen, it was still embarrassing to have to tell them they couldn’t count on me to help with the run. This is what this immigration policy does, ultimately: it generates angst, frustration, shame, stress, self-doubt. If I hadn’t already received an offer and confirmation of a research studentship at the RCS, this would have been the point of throwing in the towel.

I felt the need to vent about this and wrote a long email that sat in my drafts folder for about a week, as I didn’t even know who to send it to. Eventually, I fired it in all sorts of directions: politicians, journalists, arts organisations, bloggers, education councils… I received two replies agreeing that yes, it was terrible. There, there. That was it. Powerlessness wins.

There is no definite conclusion to this post. I am writing this 8 months after the events and it still makes me bitter. I can only cling on to the ridiculous glimmer of hope and optimism that I don’t know why I still have deep inside that things will change for the better eventually.

 

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.

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.

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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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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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.

Not Talented Enough for the UK

Most people reading this post are friends who already know the outcome of this whole saga. Irrespective of your knowledge of my ordeal, however, I would like to ask you to please read this with a sense of revolt rather than pity.

As you can imagine from the title and introduction above, I have been deemed not talented enough by the Arts Council of England for the second time, and therefore not eligible for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. I can’t go back to Edinburgh and continue my work there. I will have to run around my friends’ houses to collect my things they’ve been keeping for me and find a way of disposing of them/shipping them back to Brazil. I will have to decide what to do with my Scottish-registered theatre company. I will have to change my plans and my career.

 

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If you haven’t been through something like this, you can’t really know how painful it is. Granted, I’m not a refugee or asylum seeker and there are millions of people out there who desperately need to migrate as it is a life or death situation for them. But with all due respect, this feels a bit like dying to me. It feels like I’ve been removed from my life. You know when you go through a personal tragedy of some sort, but you have your work to focus on, your friends who lend a helping hand, the rest of your surroundings to help you through? Well, that whole network of support is what has been taken from me. You can put things in boxes and into storage, but you can’t do the same with a career and with people.

I’m being punished for not being good enough, and I’m constantly reminded of that when I answer the questions I get almost daily about this. One good thing that has come out of it is that I’ve honed my storytelling and communication skills to perfection, being forced to adjust the register between talking my 30-something friends and cousins who are doctors and lawyers, and talking to my 80-year-old auntie who didn’t go to uni. Oh, and I’ve had to tell the story many times in three languages as well. But I’m not exceptionally talented, so don’t mind me.

 

 

 

Windmills and Visas

(This is not a post about Holland)

In October 2013, the UK Home Office published some small changes to the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa, adding the ‘Exceptional Promise’ subcategory. That gave quite a few of us outcasts a teeny weeny smidge of hope. Instead of convincing the powers that be that you are a BAFTA-winning director, now you have the chance to prove that you have the potential to become one someday. Ok, then. They also split the process in two: first you apply for endorsement from a “competent organ” (in my case, the Arts Council of England), and only if you are endorsed you apply for the visa itself. On the one hand, this made the process a bit fairer, as you only pay half the fee when applying for endorsement (that’s £420 – yes, this is half), and the other half only at the second stage of the application (so you don’t lose £840 in one go, like I did in 2013 when my first application for this visa was refused). On the other hand, the process became longer and slower.

Now, I am stubborn. And I’m a lover of lost causes, someone who functions on high levels of hope and denial. Don Quixote is one of my favourite stories (maybe because we have some stained glass windows depicting Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea in my parents’ house and I grew up looking at them) and I have always been fascinated by windmills and wind turbines. Therefore, although I knew that this would become a quixotesque saga, I decided I was going to try again.

Recapping: I came back to Brazil from my last European trek (Edinburgh > Bristol > Lisbon > Paris > Metz > Basel) at the end of September and then had two Scottish friends visiting and went travelling a bit around South America with them (Buenos Aires > Colonia > Montevideo > Cabo Polonio > Riveramento > Porto Alegre > Cambará do Sul > Torres > Capão Novo). Then I went to Brasilia in December for a residency with my hero Eugenio Barba. It is now January 2014, when I sit down to work on my new visa application.

I analyse the guidelines and what is needed. Reviews, features, anything that shows you’ve been given attention from the media. National and international. This visa is aimed at people who are moving to the UK for the first time, which is not my case. I have media clippings related to my work in Scotland since 2010, already organised. I add clippings from Brazilian newspapers about the project I did in my hometown(s) in 2013. Now, it’s one thing to get national media attention in Scotland, and another thing to get national media attention in fucking Brazil. Scotland is smaller than my home state, and I lived in the capital. Brazil is a gigantic country, and I live in its southern borders, a forgotten place. As cool as my project was, and as much attention as it received locally, it wouldn’t make national news, it’s insane to think it would. So I just added what I had from local newspapers. The only other thing I could attach to make a stronger case was an email exchange with the editor of Performatus, an ejournal about theatre and performance, confirming that our project would feature in a book curated by them about interesting performance pieces that happened in Portuguese-speaking territory between 2010 and 2013. I thought it looked good.

Ok, next: awards and nominations. I just used the same as last time, as I haven’t been nominated for, or received any new awards in the past year. Sorry.

Then: three letters of recommendation. They say these will carry more weight, and one of them must be from a UK individual or organisation. These referees must be carefully selected. Last time, I had lovely letters from ZENDEH and the Forest , but they weren’t considered ‘international enough’, as per my first rejection. So I asked for letters from the Centre for Integration of the Mercosul, which represents the International Relations course of the Federal University of Pelotas, in Brazil, with whom I worked in Explorers; from my friend Jen as the UK individual, an extremely competent theatre director and writer whose studio theatre has been getting a lot of attention in Edinburgh; and from Eugenio Barba & Julia Varley, representing the Odin Teatret, possibly the most global of theatre companies, and who are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a theatre in 2014. This looked like a very strong and promising line-up.

Finally, and this is NOT a requirement, just something that occurred to me as a harmless thing to do and potential bonus points: I asked everyone who had ever worked with me and wanted to help to write me a short testimonial. Obviously, not everyone did, but I ended up with a good compilation of 20 pages and a really warm heart.

I worked on this application from the first days of January until mid-March, and I posted it (yes, in this day and age we are still using postal services for that kind of thing) on St Patrick’s Day. And then we all waited.

 

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Brasilia comes full circle

It’s July 2006. I’m in Brasilia, capital of Brazil (NOT Rio, but I expect everyone to know that by now), leading a workshop with my mate Marion on how to use drama techniques as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. The workshop was part of the Braz-TESOL (Brazilian Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) annual convention, which we were extremely proud to be a part of as recent graduates. This, however, was supposed to be my last activity as an ESOL teacher, for, as overly dramatically announced by Marion at the start of the workshop, I would be leaving him and moving to Scotland in a couple of months. My mixed feelings of sadness and excitement were only enhanced at the end of the workshop, when one of the participants, an experienced American teacher quite a few years my senior, approached me to say thank you, ask for a book reference, and yell at me: “What the hell are you going to do in Scotland?!”, which was kinda sweet.

This was my first time in Brasilia, and I had made a point of wanting to visit my own country’s capital before setting off in an adventure that would probably take me to many intriguing foreign capitals, so I’d like to tell you a bit about it. It still is one of the most bizarre places I’ve ever been to. First of all, it’s a city that was commissioned to architects and engineers, and therefore especially designed (by the great Oscar Niemeyer) and purpose-built. This means that it didn’t develop organically like most cities and towns around the world, which gives it a sterile and somewhat intimidating character. But maybe that feeling also comes from the fact that it is the Government’s headquarters (which was indeed in Rio until Brasilia was inaugurated in 1960). Another strange thing about Brasilia is that it is definitely not a pedestrian-friendly place. Every time Marion and I asked for directions, people kept asking if we were driving and told us brasilienses were made of head, arms, and wheels. We were stubborn enough to try and walk around, but we ended up sunburnt (it was winter, but the city has been plonked in the middle of a desert and it hardly ever rains there), exhausted and almost ran over a few times. There aren’t even pavements in most areas! Other than that, it really is worth a visit. If you look at it on Google Earth from above, you can see it’s shaped like an airplane. The main Government buildings are built along the plane’s body, with the Congress and the President’s house at the ‘cockpit’, and then the rest of the city (hotels, houses, schools, etc) is methodically distributed over the north and south ‘wings’. And of course, if you are into design and architecture, all of Niemeyer’s work is a must see.

Anyway… as you know, I left Brazil and went to Scotland to study theatre. In 2007, in Bristol,  I met brilliant Brazilian dancer and choreographer Augusto Omolù, who introduced me to the work of Eugenio Barba, the Odin Teatret and the International School of Theatre Anthropology, when I was still trying to figure out the answer to that American guy’s question. And then a whole new world opened up to me, and everything that Augusto told me about his work with Barba resonated within me, like something I didn’t quite understand but felt like it was the right direction to follow. I dedicated the following years of my course to studying Barba’s practice even if it wasn’t part of my coursework, aided by lecturers from a different specialism who had introduced me to Augusto and had also collaborated with Barba in the past. The more I learned, the more interesting and confusing it all got, and I ended up using a lot of this newly acquired knowledge to write my dissertation (an analysis of the performative elements in the funeral ritual of a Brazilian indigenous tribe, if you must know).

A year and a half after I graduated, I had an opportunity to go to the Odin Teatret in Denmark for a 2-week workshop with Tage Larsen, one of their actors. Eugenio Barba wasn’t there, unfortunately, but it felt like some sort of scared pilgrimage to be in that theatre and have access to their library, videos, archives. Cheesy as it may sound, it was a dream come true. That wasn’t my last encounter with the Odin. Shortly after I was forced to move back to Brazil, I had the chance to take part in a short seminar led by Julia Varley, another legendary Odin actress, in Las Piedras, Uruguay. And then, fast forward to December 2013, the cherry on the cake: I was one of 10 Latin American directors selected to take part in a residency with Eugenio Barba himself – guess where? Yep, in Brasilia.

So that’s how it all came full circle to me. 7 years after I had been to Brasilia for the first time, just before moving to Scotland to study theatre, I was back in the capital for an intensive course led by a guy I didn’t even know existed in 2006 but was now one of my biggest role models. It was such a fantastic week, during which I felt like I was finally beginning to understand what I’d been studying for good part of a decade. And I got to sit together for dinner with Barba and Varley and tell them about my own work. Cheesy as it may sound, it was a dream come true [2].

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