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

 

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.

Moors and Christians

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

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

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

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

Alicante: Politics, Desert and Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spanish Adventure part 1 – flying

The Edinburgh Fringe 2013 was the first Fringe I attended as a mere audience member. It had a good side to it, it was nice being able to see everything I wanted for a change, and not having to stress about flyering, get-ins and reviews. It felt very strange to not be a participant for the first time in 7 years, though. So I decided that despite the difficulties of my immigration status, I would bring a show to the Fringe in 2014. I hoped I would get a new visa and be a resident by then, but I knew that I would need to take advantage of technology to actually put the show together. With that in mind, my friend and collaborator Eli agreed to be directed via internet on our new piece, La Niña Barro.

Eli recruited Alex, another talented Spanish performer, to join the project and we were kindly given a free rehearsal space in the form of an artistic residency at contemporary culture centre Las Cigarreras, in Alicante. For good part of a year, the girls received tasks and notes from me via email or facebook, worked on them in the studio and filmed themselves doing so, dropboxed the videos to me and I would send more tasks and notes each week. We would also have skype meetings regularly to discuss things. It wasn’t an easy task, but an interesting challenge at the same time. We worked like this between January and June this year, and then the time came for me to go to Spain and work with them in person.

Many Brazilians, particularly in the southern regions, have European passports due to their Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and German ancestry (these are the most common ones), so I have often been asked this question by people sympathetic to my visa drama. Although it is quite obvious that I have European blood (being white enough and having a string of Iberian last names), I can’t trace my family tree back to whichever great grandparent would make me eligible for double citizenship. I have, however, done a bit of research into potentially moving to Spain as an alternative to Brazil (where I don’t want to be) or Scotland (where I’m not allowed to be).

Spain would not be too bad an idea – I can speak the language, I have friends and professional contacts there, it’s close enough to allow me to visit Scotland more often, and although I still require a visa/work permit to live there, the process seems to be far easier and cheaper than the UK (€ 160 for a Spanish work permit application that can be done in Porto Alegre X £850 for a UK Exceptional Talent visa that has to be done in Rio or Sao Paulo). I just needed a job offer, and my goal was to try and find something in Spain during the 5 weeks I was going to be there rehearsing with Eli and Alex. And thus on the 22nd June 2014, I travelled in the opposite direction of all those mad keen international tourists flocking to Brazil to celebrate one of the ugliest forms of nationalism shaped as the FIFA World Cup.

It’s funny how traumatised you can get once you’ve had a visa application denied. I now feel paranoid that I will be interrogated every time I try to board a plane or arrive somewhere. At the check-in in Porto Alegre, I had my new passport thoroughly checked by the lady behind the desk. She was suspicious because I didn’t have a visa and my return flight was on the 22nd September, exactly three months after departure. Problem was I would leave Madrid on the 22nd, but have an overnight stay in Lisbon to catch an early connection back to Porto Alegre, and that would mean that I would overstay my Schengen tourist visa for OMG SHOCK HORROR  7 hours. After reassuring the airline attendant that I was well aware of regulations, that I wasn’t actually going to be in the Schengen zone for 3 consecutive months (I would nip to the UK for a bit), that I was allowed to be in transit for those extra hours if I didn’t leave the airport in Lisbon, and that I had no intention of doing anything illegal, she agreed to check me in. And all that was BEFORE even leaving Brazil.

I flew from Porto Alegre to Lisbon, where I had no problems getting my Schengen tourist stamp (see older post on my Portuguese experience) and managed to spend a lovely afternoon with one of my best friends ever (who has also had her fair share of immigration drama) before flying to Madrid. But I’ll leave it there now, as I will expand on the Spanish adventure that ensued in future posts. ¡Hasta luego!