Interview by Mauricio Fuentes for Interdram.
Translation by Cristóbal Pizarro Schkolnik.
Ago, 7, 2020.
"People can't stand it when the play's structure unleashes violence. Partly because of that shitty motto about condemning violence, "wherever it may come from." Fuck that".
I remember something Marcelo Leonart said, which he mentioned when I interviewed him years ago, for the disappeared (or kidnapped) Sal Marina magazine. He used the expression "until the blood reaches the river." This statement refers to his role as a novelist, particularly in his novel Lacra. Today, we can apply it to his stage writing and stance as an author in front of Chilean society. Leonart does not have a lukewarm approach to writing and directing; those who saw Mapuche Night can confirm it. Leonart had already told me that one of his favorite plays is Tony Kushner's Angels in America. He feels great admiration for the North American playwright Edward Albee (Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?). In this new interview, we were able to talk about other inspirations for his writing. He also tells us about the reactions Mapuche Night caused. In the play, he uses the recording of Vivian Mackay's voice, before her death, calling the police. The call took place on the night of the confrontation between a Mapuche group and a couple of estate owners and colonists: the Luchsinger-Mackays.
1.- In All tomorrow's parties, we can appreciate the cinematographic aesthetics of a particular time, and references to North American playwriting. The play is from 2008, and it shows a contrast between two worlds: set in a hotel room, a couple, and the ambient sound of a party taking place in the main salon of the building. At what point in your authorship were you when you wrote this play, and how does it relate to Chile's social context of that time?
2008. Other times for Chile. Before the earthquake. Before Piñera. The Penguin Revolution (Revolución Pingüina: an unprecedented student uprising movement) had just taken place. We were going through the hangover of a party, the nineties hangover, filled with money and cocaine (for those who were partying). At the time, I was working in TV. And I have to say I felt a bit like Julia and Mateo in the play: invited to a play not everyone had access to. Invited to a party where I, supposedly, was getting food. That phrase was repeated a lot in that time. You had a job, and you had to be thankful for the job that "put a meal on your table" That phrase has always seemed to me like a way of humiliating people. "Don't bite the hand that feeds you.." That's how I felt in 2008. Before, I had written a play where anarchists blew up the city's wealthy district. With All Tomorrow's Parties, I wanted to talk about those infiltrators that become cannibals, making that little phrase true. It was the first play where I experimented more with a situation than with a plot: a state where you can treat a subject more than a story (even though the play is full of narrated stories). Before that, my plays used to be much more cinematographic. In fact, we did the exercise of turning Grita into a movie. More than in Gringos (because of the couple and how they treat each other, it could be a bit Sheperdian). I was thinking of Miss Julie with All Tomorrow's Parties: a celebration, a couple is talking inside their outsides. But here, the characters are two class foreigners, at a party they don't belong to. Even though they are wearing fancy clothes, class otherness is outside. And they can't stand it. The only possible way out seems to be violence.
2.- Not long ago, you told me that you think most of Chilean theatrical productions' biggest motivation is "resentment"—notably, social resentment. Chile stands out for being one of the most socially unequal countries in the world, and also as an extremely classist country: a society of ghettos. What happens, with creativity and audiences, when resentment is shown, in any possible way, on stage?
I think we have a mighty resentment school. From Acevedo Hernández on, if you want to. Egon Wolff's characters come from the other side of the river, Radrigán's pariahs or indigents. Isidora Aguirre's working-class plays. Those are all characters that speak from their wounds. And their wounds have been caused by the bourgeoisie or the ruling class. Today, I see it in Calderón, Barrales, Alexis Moreno, and Carli Zúñiga's plays. Or in newer playwrights like María José Pizarro or Macarena Araya. I must say, though, I don't see that resentment as a negative thing. I see it as a profoundly creative and Chilean artistic attitude. It's Violeta Parra; it's Jorge González. It's about going head-on. It's expressing options, not from a hygienic moral that puts washed-down judgment on the spectators' hands. Obviously, it isn't the only option. Still, I believe theater reflects the miseries of society, like Chilean society – and that somehow these miseries are a motor that keeps itself undoubtedly alive.
3.- National Arts Award Egon Wolff's Los Invasores, could be considered a significant influence for many of your plays. Let's also remind ourselves that Wolff was your teacher and playwriting master at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile when you studied theater. Do you consider him to be a canonic playwright in Chilean theater?
Absolutely. Egon is a fundamental playwright of his time and is also essential to the future. He is a very diverse playwright, with moral dilemma realistic plays, others almost costumbrist, and others fun and terrible, close to grotesque. But what makes him a monument is his social trilogy, key in the history of Latin American theater, a mental and ferocious corpus. Los Invasores, Flores de Papel, and La Balsa de la Medusa talk about a Chile that was going from the sixties to the eighties, with very intuitive and spectacular allegories. A couple of years ago, Teatro UC invited me to do a version of Flores de Papel. In working with his structures and images, I realized we are talking about a playwright that is very much alive. Besides, he was a generous master. I learned from him not only the technique but also the attitude. "Write about your ghosts," he used to say. That phrase, for me, is a beacon. Writing is a game. But not a joke.
4.- Borges said that "dreaming is the oldest aesthetic activity." For Artaud, in his manifest about the Theater of Cruelty, "it is not about suppressing the articulated word, but about giving words approximately the same importance dreams have." When referring to Artaud's work, Derrida holds that in dreams, the word becomes material and turns into a visual symbol. Your play Mapuche Night uses the resource of dreams to articulate several accounts, in different contexts, within the same play. How did you come to use this resource and the value you gave to it, besides the one I am mentioning?
It's funny: it always caught my attention, narratively, the use of dreams. Kundera wrote, "the calling of the dream" is an underdeveloped seam in a novel's story (a course, someone like Kafka had explored it). Always in my narrative fiction, I believe some Latin American fantasy has come as an essential input. But beyond those approaches, I found the best way of devising it while writing Mapuche Night. It belongs to the Wallmapu inhabitant's cosmogony. It is literal in the play, on the lips of Guacolda: "But the dreams, for the Mapuche people, are as real as reality. What a Mapuche lives in dreams is part of his life too. It is also part of his experience. But in a different state of consciousness. When a member of the Mapuche people tells its community about a lived experience, it could have been lived in an ordinary state of consciousness, or transcendental. But he doesn't need to explain to the group in which state he was. The Mapuche people know very well what kind of experience can be lived in one state or the other".
This turned into a kind of poetic for me, right? It provides a space where real, emotional, and symbolic experiences coexist. And allows, like sometimes in dreams, to have a polihistorical experience, which is part of my interest as well: every time lives at this moment. The past doesn't exist. Over and over again, in different scenarios throughout history, we tell the same story. Stubbornly. To understand it, to know it. And sometimes, if it's possible, to change it. Or to avenge it in delicious fiction.
5.- There is an evolution in your work. At first, some plays did not contemplate humor at all, like Grita. Then came others in which it appears as a resource among many. Finally, plays like All Tomorrow's Parties and Mapuche Night contain satirical and cruel humor, as a fundamental element to provoke spectators, and even slap them. How did this process come about?
I think it's about periods. Moments. Intuitions. In Grita (a play that talks about the pacts of silence in the nineties, where torturers and tortures would walk around like souls in grief, in a country that was continually sweeping them under the rug), I had no intention to laugh. None. I wanted to tell, like a catharsis, the horror movie that Chile had gone through. I was like that for a couple of years. And I think it's alright. Then there was liberation through humor: that humor could be used as a sting. Sticking your finger in the wound to annoy those in power. Or to prod oneself, like in All Tomorrow's Parties. Laughter like a way of encouraging, to annoy. In Mapuche Night, this is taken to paroxysm. But time and water under the bridge had passed. I wrote a couple of novels that explored this cruel mockery (like Lacra or Pascua), and directed El taller, by Nona Fernández, which we always thought to be a comedy, despite the tragedies it spoke of.
I believe everything depends on the material. And about the moment you find yourself in. We don't always want to laugh. Now, I believe laughter must be used as a weapon, and never as a mere balm. Only uncomfortable laughter is liberating.
6.- In Mapuche Night, Matías Catrileo's case is mentioned. His murder, the trespassing –on the fifth anniversary of his death- by a Mapuche group, of the Luchsinger Mackay estate. An event that ends with a couple of colonists' death. In the staging of the play, you used the original recording of Vivian Mackay's voice when she called the Carabineros (Chilean Police Forces) asking for help. This documentary, theatrical resource, brought quite a lot of questions from certain academic and critics circles. How do you take these comments, and why did you decide to use the real archive for the mise en scene?
Playing and making visible the archive is part of the play's device, and its effects talk about how the device triggers the spectator. It's still curious, depending on the receptor. To start, it's important to mention that the piece was born as a spinoff of my novel Weichafe. Halfway through this fiction, based on violent events happening in the south, there is a part that drops in, just like Matias Catrileo's archive case and the Luchsingers' death. Even though Mapuche Night's story, situation, and device are different, to me, it always clear that in the third act, after dreamy delusions and stories deployed in their ferocity and wackiness, the play decants into an archive, in all of its toughness. The facts that are told in that third act, Matias Catrileo's back murder and Luchsingers' death on the fifth anniversary of this crime, are rigorously real. It's just as they are told in the novel.
I took the archive of Mrs. Mackay's voice from a public record, and it's on Youtube now. It was profusely disseminated in social media and news broadcasts during prime time. It's not stealing any intimacy. I remember when we were rehearsing and discussing with the cast if it should be just read or including the audio. If we just read it, the text came out ridiculous and mocking from us. Ineffectiveness in the face of a woman's desperation seemed like a situation taken out of a comedy. We decided to try the audio in the background of a low intensity reading support something real, something that, after all, was the account of an archive. The result was ferocious. Obviously provocative. There is no ingenuity in it. But avoiding it would've been coward. And there is no worth in doing theater if you're a coward.
What's extremely curious –and accounts for the audience reception on it- is the following: the play takes place during 110 long minutes, among mocking, comedy, and racist jokes. There is a series of abusive acts: against a Mapuche tenant (Juvenal), a Lakota community massacred by American colonists ("the Wild Feather tribe") and then the brutal lynching of a black person (Thadeus, literally based in Jesse Washington's lynching), ending with the murder of weichafe Matías Catrileo.
Those are, as we said, long 110 minutes. And nobody says anything about themThose who panic, only panic with what we stage about the Luchsingers'.
Why? Is it that Mapuche people, Lakota people, or Black people don't matter?
What is the difference between using that and using the picture of Jesse Washington burned to death?
Or the bombing of La Moneda? Or the never-ending image of a protestor being run over by a police anti-riot vehicle in Plaza Dignidad?
I believe the problem is that people can't stand it when the play's structure unleashes violence. Partly because of that shitty motto about condemning violence, "wherever it may come from." Fuck that.
It doesn't hurt to say that we never speak about the Luchsingers' death.
The last thing we say about this situation –which is mentioned in the cases' files- is that Werner Luchsinger fires and hurt one of his attackers, probably in the back.
The spectator, of course, knows what happened before. And what happens afterward.
Being scandalized by that, and not for everything else that happens before that, seems like a scandal to me.
Whatever. We can all be racists when seeing, with our perspective, the spectacle of violence.
7.- You are a rock music lover, just like me, which is why I am going to make this question. One can tell the influence this musical genre has on your work. For instance, you title one of your plays as All Tomorrow's Parties, referencing The Velvet Underground's mythical song. In what other way does rock appear in your writing? What is the importance you give to this musical genre when it comes to your work?
To me, rock (even though I could say music in general), is about a live attitude. To stand up on stage and to flow. Performance. It's a primary stimulus I try to forget when it comes to writing and directing. Theater and writing are not only intellectual exercises to me. Without a rock attitude, the theater would seem to transform into an overrefined show. I think Brecht and Bowie would agree.