Interview by Mauricio Fuentes for Interdram.
Translation by Bruce Gibbons Fell.
May, 20, 2020.
“I didn’t want to humanize her either. It’s probably because, up to today, this woman has not shown the slightest remorse regarding her actions. I don’t address this from a moral point of view, but to have a character that doesn’t inspire me in terms of internal conflict is something quite unattractive to me.” On Lucía.
Ximena Carrera. Photo by Valentina Miranda Vega.
The first time I saw Ximena Carrera, she was performing in her play Medusa, and I fell in love. It was a platonic love born out of seeing an excellent and daring playwright in the form of a tremendous actress. I attended the performance with my parents, and the three of us were deeply moved. Witnessing what can become of three women immersed in hell, made a meaningful impact on my mother. Later on, Ximena was part of a staged reading of one of my plays, and her final comments went straight to the point. We met today on Skype (I’ll be moving to Zoom soon), and we talked about her work as a playwright. I interviewed her from Buenos Aires, a city that was once her own. The first thing she recognized on the screen were the electric outlets.
1. In Medusa, you fictionalize a real event. The play tells the story of three left-wing militant women who, after being tortured and coerced by intelligence officials, become informants for Pinochet’s terrorist dictatorship. The three characters have many different layers, and we can see their suffering and their humanity, despite how heinous they can be, considering their acts of betrayal. Was it hard to enter that fine-lined world and pin down the point where broken human beings begin to act this way? How did the audience react, especially those who were close or connected to the facts?
It wasn’t hard to go there for some reason. The writing process and rehearsals were an act of submerging into the underworld inhabited by these angels of death, but just like in every other creative process, it was still a game. From that angle, always, and for reasons I can’t explain, I was able to visualize them as victims and perpetrators at the same time. I believe their constant duality is what allowed me to take on the process of writing these characters as well as the plot. I admit having my apprehensions as I was unable to see clearly how the play would be received once it premiered. I thought extremist views would absolutely reject it, either from the left or the right. Curiously, that didn’t happen: it was the complete opposite. The staging of the play created questions about what they would do if they ever were in these women’s shoes.
2. Hanna Arendt defines a form of “evil,” where an ordinary person can commit the greatest horrors imaginable, based on the trials against Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. Philosophy argues that this kind of person usually lacks critical reasoning concerning their behavior. These intellectually limited subjects become overtaken by a more extensive system that turns them into mere pieces of the machine. This doesn’t pardon their actions, but it leads to a lot of questions. The dictator’s wife (Lucía Pinochet) made a public comment in 1986, regarding “Caso Quemados.” (In July 1986, a group of military officers intercepted, beat, sprayed with gasoline and burned Rodrigo Rojas de Negri, who died soon after, and Carmen Gloria Quintana, survivor). She said, “Why does this girl complain so much? She hardly got burned.” This quote is in your play Lucía. If we add this to the character’s farcical and vulgar traits, we can somehow see, in the play’s subtext, the ideas Ardendt postulates. Is this true? Was it intentional? Did you feel any pressure to humanize the character?
Though I haven’t thoroughly examined Ardent’s hypothesis, I believe I tried to apply it to Lucía’s protagonist: the dictator’s wife. I carved out a character that has absolutely no conscience of itself. She’s blinded by an unstoppable desire to be a prominent figure and have and exercise power at any cost. Undoubtedly, her comment on this particular case was another indication of a character that possesses an absolute lack of empathy towards another human being. Therefore, my intention was to actually laugh at the monster, as to exorcise it. I didn’t want to humanize her either. It’s probably because, up to today, this woman has not shown the slightest remorse regarding her actions. I don’t address this from a moral point of view, but to have a character that doesn’t inspire me in terms of internal conflict is something quite unattractive to me.
3. You lived in Buenos Aires for a significant amount of time, studying and writing drama. Considering that one’s own country and society of origin are an essential inspiration in artistic creation, what does this radical distance from it mean to you, when it comes to writing plays?
I think that living in Buenos Aires and not somewhere else, meaning a city that's not in Chile, had an initial impact that stayed during the whole time I was there. It’s because I was specifically living in a city known for having a large theatre scene, not only related to the number of productions but also in regards to training. Hence, for someone like me, who writes theatre, having so much literature at hand (countless publications on theory and plays), attending performances regularly, and observing what was happening in different theatre circuits, without a doubt, fed my training and my profession. Now, living in Buenos Aires allowed me to take distance from Chile and see my country from another perspective, which is positive for any creator. However, always, and unyieldingly, I felt I could only speak to Chile. It wasn’t conscious, but I felt that every play I wrote during that time was directed towards Chile. My audience was always on this side of the Andes.
4. Your teachers in Buenos Aires are an important part of the Argentinian scene: Juan Carlos Gené, Ricardo Monti, and Mauricio Kartun. Tell us about these experiences and how they contributed to your work and growth as a playwright.
The experience of studying under these masters, to whom I must add Verónica Oddó, who with Juan Carlos Gené trained many actors and actresses, and are still an exemplary reference in the Buenos Aires scene. They allowed me to learn different techniques related to playwriting as well as acting, which I hadn’t had the chance to encounter up to that moment. It may be due to the Bueno Aires style, which goes shaping your self in the theatre, your aesthetic, and your vision, taking lessons with different masters that make sense to you. What I mean to say is that they somehow speak of the same principles from different fields, as can be playwriting and acting. This means that what I was learning in acting was in direct dialogue with my dramatic writing, and vice versa. Maybe what I value the most is getting the chance to know, through experience, a technique that has allowed me to take on creative processes from the place of an actor and a playwright.
5. Greta only features female characters, and the world of whales is presented as an inspiration. It brings mythological, mystical, and anthropological meaning to a family that is looking for answers, so they can connect and overcome a painful past. How did you weave the relationship between the distant universe of whales and this family of women?
Greta was commissioned by Javier Ibacache, who proposed a play based on whales and their ecosystem, as part of a program he’s been spearheading for a couple of years now, called “Ciencias + Artes escénicas + Audiencias” (Science + Performing Arts + Audiences). I researched whales from a scientific, anthropological, and mythological angle, and learned that whales, specifically orcas, generally create a survival system inspired by matriarchal culture. In this system, mothers are the ones that support the calves’ lives for a long time, with a complete absence of the male, except for procreation. Even grandmothers are part of the mother's support. This is where the idea of working around a family with a failed maternal bond came from. This bond is in constant dialogue with motherhood amongst whales, visualizing it as an ideal one, compared to the failed motherhood that the mother in the play exercises towards her daughters. This made profound sense to me. In our society, there is a constant social mandate above women when they become mothers. They must be good mothers, and therefore, there is guilt associated with not being one.
6. Most of your plays have female-only casts. Men appear in the distance or in secondary roles, even as an antagonist that represents evil (Medusa). Could we say that what historians and anthropologists call our “guacho” identity (“guacho”: Chilean expression for a child that is not recognized by its father) appears as subtext in your work? Is this deliberate, or does it express itself spontaneously?
Up to the moment, there has been a strong presence of feminine elements in my plays, embodied by female characters. What we know as feminine, not femininity, has something powerfully attractive to me. We belong to a patriarchal society (in Chile and Latin America) where historically, mothers have been in charge of raising their children either due to the absence of the father o the abandonment of his offspring. This could inspire my work from an unconscious perspective, but I insist that it’s not something I have in mind when I’m writing. It’s probably something that appears in a more spontaneous than deliberate way.
7. Some of your plays have been commissioned, with restrictions regarding the number of characters and their gender. This reminds me of writing workshops when teachers ask you to write something based on the instructions they give. It seems to me that the results have been more than positive. How do you take on these prompts? Do you approach them as a creative challenge?
Whenever I write a play under commission, I begin to familiarize myself with the other's wants. I can be facing a topic I would have never thought about working on (like whales), and it presents itself as a challenge that becomes enormously creative. It’s usually a prompt that leads me to a first stage of research where I can appropriate the material. Even though it comes from an external place, I must inevitably make it my own to write about it properly. That said, a second stage usually comes, in which what had presented itself as a “problem” to deal with in the first moment, begins to gradually appear as an excuse to play, to fantasize. Commissioned plays have somehow made me familiar with something I believe we must “grease” when it comes to writing a play. It's about visualizing the beginning of something as a problem that doesn’t need to be “fixed,” but “addressed.” That is to say, that after fondling it so much, I begin to disrespect it (in the best sense possible). This leads me to knead it to the point where it starts to become my own, to become something that belongs to me, and, therefore, can carry my voice. In other words, it means becoming familiar with looking at the problem (the topic to address in a play) not as something that needs to be resolved, but more as a good excuse to get lost in.