La Niña Barro in Riveramento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 24-Hour Trilingual Poetry Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24hcafeepoesia

 

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:

380

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.

The City of Lights

Don’t you just love it when you find a well-hidden gem in a familiar place? Well, I had one of those discoveries a couple of months ago.

I’m telling you, one of the best distractions when you’re waiting for important, life-changing decisions, is visits from friends. This time, it was Sophie who came to visit from the US. I first met Sophie back in our beloved Edinburgh in 2012, when she was out busking with her smokin’ squeezebox. I loved her rendition of Lady Gaga and Queen songs so much I invited her to perform live as part of my Fringe show that year. As it happens, both Sophie and I had to leave the UK shortly after that, going back to our respective native lands. But another thing we both have in common is the complete inability to spend long periods of time in the same geographical position, so I received an email from her saying she was planning to travel around South America  for a few months and would like to come see me. Yay!

So after trekking across the continent from Ecuador to Peru to Chile to Uruguay (apologies if I’m missing out any countries you’ve been to), Sophie arrived in my border hometowns for a few days of relaxed fun. I’ve got an already established tour route to show people round Livramento-Rivera, but I always try to find something new and exciting (which can be really hard sometimes). This time, I thought we could just tweak the route a bit and take her to a vineyard that no one in the family had been to yet. We have quite a few vineyards around here, so there are plenty to choose from. After doing a bit of research, my sister and I opted for this small, family-run place on the Uruguayan side.

We had a quick look at the map, shoved Sophie in the car and set off. And this is how we found out that the FlavNav does take wrong turns occasionally. The road signs were unclear, and we got to a dirt track ending at a crossroads. I suggested going left, we did. After driving for a few miles of nothing but empty fields, we spotted something to our right side. We were driving right on the border line and this thing was on the Brazilian side of the road. As we approached, we could see it looked like some sort of newly-built condo. It was fenced off, which wasn’t surprising as it’s a common thing to do around houses and flats here. What was unusual about it was that each corner of this isolated area was *ahem* decorated with a red spike with a cow’s skull, also painted red with black horns, on top. We slowed down to have a better view of the place. We passed a few houses and a small gatehouse with something written in German across the top. We continued on until we saw a large gateway with a futuristic-looking tower flying the Brazilian flag, and an arch which read “City of Lights” in Portuguese (Cidade das Luzes). The strangest thing was the last big building we saw near the other end of the fence, which looked like a temple, or place of worship. Its architecture seemed to mix and match Islamic and Judaic characteristics, but it also featured a cross in there somewhere. And outside on the porch and all around it, there were hundreds of garden statues of everything you can think of: gnomes, happy frogs, Snow White, saints, Orishas…

Anyway… we figured out the vineyard was NOT there, took a u-turn and eventually found the right way. We got there and woke up the poor owner’s son, who had decided to hide in his car for a siesta and was startled by seeing three random girls wandering into his wine-making sanctuary (he’s probably trained to identify alcoholics), and ended up giving us a lovely tour. Word of advice: book your vineyard tour in advance if you’re ever in these parts. People like to be prepared for visitors.

No, we never found out what the “City of Lights” actually was. Not even after the wine. Suggestions on a postcard.

From Basel to Rivera

When I was last in Europe, my sister was there with me. She’s a big fan of tennis, Roger Federer being her favourite player. She’s also a bit of a stalker (love you!), so we ended up renting a car and driving from Paris to Basel as she wanted to visit Federer’s hometown. Now, this is relevant because this is where “The FlavNav” comes from – we are cheap and decided to forego the rental car’s satnav, resulting in me yelling directions that had been googled the night before and jotted down on a notepad at my sister while she drove. As perfectly sensible people would do. It is also relevant because Basel sits on a triple border, and this theme has been recurring in my life and inevitably influential in my work.

I found it fantastic that I could say I’d walked from Switzerland across to Germany, then to France and back before breakfast. It shouldn’t have impressed me much, as I was born and grew up on a border town, Santana do Livramento, in southern Brazil. It is joined by the hip with Rivera, in Uruguay. There are no bridges, no rivers, no border control stations here. The two towns are one, and everyone can move freely between them. Now, in addition to the physical differences stated above, our Mercosul doesn’t quite work as well as the EU (as much as they try), and politically and economically speaking, Uruguay and Brazil are 100% separate countries. People turn a blind eye to A LOT that happens here, endless allowances are made because the place simply can’t be regulated like the rest of both countries. Yet, bureaucracy always manages to get in the way. I could go to school in Brazil in the morning, for example, and then to my English class in Uruguay in the afternoon (which allowed me to say for years that I studied English abroad, much to my own amusement), no problem. If I wanted to set up a business in Uruguay, however, I’d need to go through a silly amount of paperwork. Things like that, you get the picture. The freedom of the border is rather unique nonetheless. So much so that locals say the border means nothing to them – we don’t realise there IS a border until we’ve been to other places.

So last year I had the chance to bring my theatre company over and explore this border, its features, peoples, languages, relations. We were supported by Creative Scotland, a Brazilian university and many other local organisations and companies both in Brazil and in Uruguay. We had an excellent time and I’m very proud of what we achieved. We’re hoping to release a documentary about it this year, and will also feature in a book about performance pieces that happened in Portuguese-speaking territory between 2010 and 2013. If you want to know more about this project, please check out our blog on that.

Anyway, the point is, to this day I struggle to wrap my head round less amicable borders. Brazilian writer Donaldo Schüller said that “beyond a border, there’s threat and seduction”. I’ve spent most of my life being seduced by the other side, but now after the experience of the past few months, I’ve started to get a taste of the threat. I confess I would like to visit some of the most extreme bordering areas in the world so I have the whole spectrum. This was the idea of Fronteiras Explorers (the aforementioned project), but now my own border-crossing has come to a standstill, when I’m no longer allowed to hop over to the other side where I used to live.

Tomorrow I’m speaking at a local university in Santana do Livramento as part of a panel discussing the construction of a border-specific culture and art. Maybe part of it is to fully exploit this tension between the threat and the seduction. I’m sure it will be a thrilling debate.