Interviewing Carolina Pizarro and Luis Alonso

In 2018 Odin Teatret landed once again on Chilean ground, invited as main guests at a special edition of the Identidades Festival. We therefore had the chance to meet the two youngest members of the famous international group, Carolina Pizarro and Luis Alonso, both of them Chilean actors who are currently developing their professional career in Denmark. During that month of theatre, we were interested in getting to know the impulses that made them start their adventure abroad, their artistic horizons and their opinion about the recent events that are reconfiguring the theatre landscape.

Carolina Pizarro is a theatre researcher, teacher, actor and director. In 2007 she became the director of Triskel Artes Escénicas. She is one of Lakshman Gurukkal’s pupils at Hindustan Kalari Sangam and Kalari Gram in India. She is currently the artistic director of Ikarus Stage Art, founded in 2017, alongside Luis Alonso and she actively participates in Mujeres x la cultura and Magdalena Project, both projects dedicated to draw attention to the female role in art and culture. Since 2015 she works as an actor at Odin Teatret. Luis Alonso joined the company in 2016, while he was working on several Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium’s specialised projects under Eugenio Barba’s supervision. Before he worked as an actor and teacher in Chile, also teaching in several universities and private institutions.

On Theatre’s Day in Chile we remember Andrés Pérez, what do you think is his legacy to the new generations of actors?

Luis: Undoubtedly all those who worked with him in one of his theatre productions acquired a fullfilling artistic experience, meaning that every time they met the audience it was both a ritual and, at the same time, a constant celebration. During rehearsal, he also shared his knowledge about how to create a character, especially archetypes, gestures, characterisation… among other elements. We can still see these jewels in their performances and productions with other directors or in their own theatre companies.

Carolina: It is hard for me to talk about legacy, of inheritance. I think that word is too weary and tends to be misused. I believe that what artists of any discipline – directors, actors, musicians or other –do, lives and dies with them. I don’t think we can inherit such knowledge, since it is not something material like a house, especially not in theatre, which is impalpable and can only happen in the present time, according to needs of those who perform it and in relation to the circumstances around it.

I think what we can pass on is more inspiration, rather than a legacy. I look at the people I admire as an example while I look for my own path.

Back to Andrés Pérez, his death was a very sad event for the theatre world because he was a consistant human being, politically and artistically speaking. His work was relevant, not only in Chile, since he developed part of his professional activity in France with the director Ariane Mnouchkine.

I did not have the privilege of meeting him, but I often think about what he could have achieved if his work would have been acknowledged in Chile, and his death had not been so premature.

I would have loved to meet Andrés Pérez. I saw two of his plays. One of them was Voces en el Barrio because Andrea Ubal, my movement teacher at the time, was in it. The other one was his last play, La Huida, because I worked with Juan José Luis Olavarrieta in a performance. I noticed something particular in the way both Andrea and Juan José did theatre, something they surely received from Andrés Pérez: commitment, discipline and quick to adapt when facing last minute changes.

When I was studying theatre at the University of Chile, all my teachers spoke about Andrés Pérez. They pointed him out as an example to us all because “for Andrés theatre was the most important thing in life”. However, we never really studied his work as a part of our programme. I hope that today students are learning about Andrés Pérez as a part of contemporary theatre history and that he is finally receiving the relevance he deserves.

My teachers told us he spent a lot of time in charge of the courtains at the Théâtre du Soleil before being given a role and that when he finally got it, he was exceptional, his Ghandhi was marvellous. They also told us about his street theatre interventions in protest against Pinochet’s dictatorship, about how he hanged himself in the air to protect his Matucana 100, how the goverment did not support him and how he ended up dying of sorrow.

I do not know if all that is true, but when I visited the Cartoucherie in Paris I understood his dream for Matucana 100. It could have been wonderful, and it was taken away from him. Knowing how burocracy works and how some people take advantage of you in Chile I can imagine how painful it must have been. Maybe it could have been his legacy.

When and why did you decide to migrate and develop you career abroad?

Luis: My motivation was the political situation, although it all started in 2010 and I did not leave until 2015. I also wanted to keep studying and learning as an actor, since I had been teaching for a while.

When I was in Santiago in 2012, I took part in a seminar with an Argentinian director and teacher based in Spain. After that I travelled to Buenos Aires to participate in another acting workshop and then I realised that theatre was closely linked to the city life and not an isolated world, the way it seemed to be in Santiago. I was then seduced by the idea of living somewhere where theatre was a fully integrated organ within the social-human context.

At the end of 2014 I decided to leave everything. My initial plan was to move to Madrid to keep studying. However, because of VISA problems I could not stay there, so I applied for a residecence permit in Denmark with my partner and I ended up staying there.

Carolina: I believe that, as Roberta Carreri told me once “you don´t always make the choices, sometimes the choices choose you”. Sometimes life is wiser, and we do not undertand it immediately.

I remember deciding to quit theatre beacuse I was feeling deeply disappointed with how superficial and competitive this profession was. It was really hard to combine working during the day and attending theatre classes at Facetas school in the evening, I was exhausted and decided to give up. I thought about studying something else. Mario Costa, my teacher at the time, told me that I could not quit because theatre chooses you and it is a gift that comes with a responsibility. I left the school and started a pre-college course. That year Roberto Ancavil offered me the possibility to work with him at the theatre company Viajantes. I do not know why I accepted the offer. That experience filled my life with new inspiration, it showed me a working dynamic that agreed much better with my needs. So I returned to theatre.

After that I studied at the University of Chile. Those were really difficult years. In Chile having a university degree is valued, that’s why I did it. I can honestly say I did not enjoy that process. However, I am really grateful for everything I learned.

During my third year at university I attended a meeting with Julia Varley and Eugenio Barba in Buenos Aires. Deep inside I felt that was the theatre I wanted to make, I saw coherence between what was said and done. Then I realised that I had to migrate because what I needed was not in Chile, but on the other side of the ocean, in Denmark.

The journey began in 2010, starting a new learning path that took me further and further from Chile. I embraced the uncertainty and left behind my comfort zone without really knowing what I wanted, but sure of where to go.

My first learning experience there resulted in a solo performance directed by Julia Varley, Tierra de Fuego, a performnce that took me to many other countries. My wish to find my own personal training took me to India, more specifically to the Hindustan Kalari Sangham and Kalarigram where I could learn from my Guruji Laksham. After that I worked on a perfomance directed by Roberta Carreri, where I shared the stage with Giulia Varotto. I have directed performances for theatres and for the street. I became an Odin Teatret actor in 2015. Life has taken me further away from Chile each time.

What has it meant to you as actors to be part of Odin Teatret?

Luis: It has allowed me to work as an actor, director, creator, technician, chauffeur, cook… but all that in relation to theatre making.

It has meant being able to focus on one only workplace, which makes us travel around a lot of course, but I don’t have to split myself between five different jobs as I had to do in Chile.

In order to make a living out of theatre in Chile either you have a great sponsor, or you have to work a lot. That was an amazing preparation for our current lifestyle, because the work is quite intense and not everone who comes here is able to endure this rhythm.

Being part of Odin Teatret has meant to rediscover myself as an actor and as a stage artist doing what I truly want to do.

Carolina: To be a part of Odin Teatret is undoubtedly a precious gift, but it comes with a huge responsibility. Some people tell me “Carolina, you made your dream come true” but for me it was the answer to a very deep and personal desire to keep on learning, rather than a “dream”. A desire to live among these people who have a huge experience. I never thought I would be one of their actors. For me it was just a place where I could grow, a shelter that protected me from a reality that, most of the time, is quite hostile.

Sofia Monsalve decided to leave the group and return to Colombia, to her father and family. So they asked me if I wanted to be part of the group and be involved in their whole repertoire. But to do this I would have to give up my trips to India, leave my friends and my family in Chile, I would no longer be able to manage my own time and I would have to move to Denmark.

When I received the email, I cried like a child. I was terrified, I knew it would be a very difficult process and I was not sure I could do it well. I knew how hard they worked at Odin Teatret. However, I had already received so much from them… I felt (and feel) a deep love and respect for each and everyone of them. It was impossible to say no. The process was indeed hard, and still is, but it is simultaneously beautiful. It is surprising to see what we are actually able to achieve.

Without the previous years of work and training with Julia Varley, Roberta Carreri, Augusto Omolú or Else Marie Laukvik it would have been impossible to be up to the circumstances and to grow as an actor.

The question that made me start my journey was “would I rather be a big fish in the tank or a small fish in the ocean?”

At Odin Teatret I feel I am a “small fish” that lives among sharks, in between a stormy ocean and a coral reef.

In this big family that is Odin Teatret, what are your roles and commitments within the team?

Luis: For me working at Odin feels a bit like working in a temple whose creative flame has been steadily burning for more than half a century. Each one of us in our own way has the mission to keep that fire alight. Some people come over and they want to take a little bit of that flame to where they came from, so we are there to provide them with tools and help them carry it without it turning into smoke on their way home. But we are all actors within the group and the pandemic caught us in the middle of the process of creation of a new performance.

So there we are, trying to keep that flame alive also for ourselves.

Carolina: At Odin Teatret I am an actor. That is what my contract says. But in practice we all do many things: cleaning the theatre, cooking, driving, coordinating, administration work, helping with the translations to Spanish if we travel to Spanish-speaking countries, teaching actors and children, welcoming and helping out people coming from all over the world to our festivals, meetings, seminars and workshops.

As actors we are currently working on a new performance directed by Eugenio Barba. At the same time we also need to keep the rest of our performances fresh, since we keep touring them all over the world.

Moreover, when Luis and I started working here, Eugenio asked us to develop our own project. We created Ikarus Stage Arts, which is an already three-year-old international group and cultural platform. With them we do indoor and street theatre, workshops, barters, theatrical concerts for the community and some social projects within the refugees’ centre and the women’s protection centre among others. We have several performances, like Te Duele, a piece that we already premiered and is touring now, directed by Luis and myself, with Yessica Alvarado and John Velasco, both from Colombia. There are also the concerts by Gonzalo Hernández and Rodrigo Contreras. We are also at the end of the creation process of the performance La Mujer Esta, a solo performance where I direct the Chilean actor Gabriela Arancibia Villagra and on top of that we are now beginning to create a new ensemble performance.

It is altogether very intense, since we divide our lives between Odin Teatret, Ikarus Stage Arts and out child Eloísa, who is already three years old.

How do you deal with distance in relation to your families and your friends in Chile, especially during this time that is turning out to be so unsettling socially speaking?

Luis: I don’t think you can really “deal” with it. Not unless you are there. I can say I keep myself informed about what’s happening, that’s all I can do. And one of the reasons why I left Chile was precisely this social numbing, which by the way happened because it was politically planned to happen so.

But in spite of people being murdered, mutilated, threatened and raped there are still those willing to fight to stop all this abuse against the masses, the people who are the nation and also the foundation of a society that has everything necessary to live with dignity, everything but public leaders who are up to the circumstances. Chile woke up… I think.

Sometimes I believe that waking up is not opening your eyes and opening your eyes is not waking up.

Caro: Personally, I do not miss Chile. I miss my closest friends, my family and my mother’s food. It is also hard to raise a child abroad, far from your closest social core. On the other hand, this process made us both grow a lot. With Luis I was able to combine maternity and career development, both really important things for me.

The good thing is that technology allows us to be in touch and that Eloísa can get to know her family in Chile.

Anyway I feel “saudade” for all the people I love, a beautiful Portuguese word.

Distance has been difficult to cope with lately. The political situation in Chile is quite worrying and the virus is making it worse. We are going through a very hard time. Some of our friends got infected and another friend of ours who lives in Belgium recently lost her father. Distance hurts us deeply right now, but our work makes us resist and we also have to take care of our daughter. She gives us strength to carry on.

How do you think theatre will manage to keep itself “healthy” under the current circumstances?

Luis: The thing is that theatre in Chile was never healthy, so now it is going to have to start from scratch or less. Artists and people involved in the cultural landscape have always been able to reinvent themselves, it is what they have been doing all the time.

Carolina: I think a lot has been said about this topic lately. We hear about a worldwide crisis. The goverment in Chile has always supported only a handful of artists. I do not think we can expect real help.

The situation is critical and uncertain. But somehow art has always been in a vulnerable situation and that has also been its strength.

I believe each group will find their own way to survive.

In Chile there are huge social, political and cultural problems. I hope at some point it will be possible to make a proper living out of any profession in Chile.

Which role do you think the State should have within this situation?

Luis: Regardless the situation the role of the State is to take care of its society and not only of those who have more at the expense of those who have less.

Carolina: I think in every State there should be duties and rights. Not only within this situation but always.

But in any case, the basic citizen’s freedom and rights should not be taken away. Much less violate the Human Rights as Chile has been doing during these past months.

A State that keeps its economy healthy, away from corruption and political influences; where taxes are meant to guarantee the citizens’ life quality: education, health and proper retirement policies; a State that raises awareness among its inhabitants, instead of threatening and repressing them.

This is not impossible. It is something I have seen in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia, for example. Places where capitalism and neoliberalism are not as fierce as they are in Chile.

Could theatre help in restoring social well-being in Chile?

Luis: I think it has been doing it for a while already. We can go back to Andrés Pérez, who as a director nerver forgot that theatre is partially entertainment and also a space to create, condemn and remember what has happened in the past and to show what could happen in the future, in order to take care of our present.

I think it is because of performances like La Huída or the documentary El botón de nácar that our sea no longer has to witness the human tragedy it had to endure.

Now that we mention the sea, it was in 2001 when Teatro de Chile premiered his performance Prat, questioning the role of the “heroe”. When we were there performing at Identidades Festival in Antofagasta in 2018 I found it shocking to see how on October 12th a parade of Chilean carabineers where paying respect to the Spanish Crown.

And look at how because of the current circumstances there is a question mark over everything. Theatre and art in general help us reflect and the political authorities and their actions do not contribute a lot in this matter.

Carolina: I do not know. Sometimes I am a bit skeptical and think that theatre is not helpful when it comes to changing or restoring anything. I think it is a space of personal challenge where we change ourselves. Hope is given or taken away from me by people, the spectators, our colleagues or by other theatre group’s performances. The individual and collective challenges, rebellion and how each one of us develops their own strategy to carry on. Our current actions will give us the answer. For now, the question remains unanswered. In the future we will know if theatre was able to contribute in any way.

Periodista: Lorena Alvarez Chávez

Traducción: Pablo Lara

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