Interview by Mauricio Fuentes for Interdram.
Translation by: Bruce Gibbons Fell.
January 3, 2020
“I grew up considering the Mapuche as if they were cousins of some kind, somewhat close and somewhat far. You share with them, however, the winkas’ force you to think differently about yourself. That imposed difference is what motivated me to get close to the Mapuche since I was a boy”.
Eduardo Luna by Sebastián Utreras.
I met up with Eduardo Luna a few months before the 2019 protests in October. We went to a small room in the institute where he was teaching, right before our meeting. Our conversation lasted for over an hour. It felt like a true masterclass about the art of making theatre, through Eduardo’s experience and that of his company Lafamiliateatro.
Eduardo transforms when he talks about his occupation. There are no gaps in his discourse. A few months before, I attended Painecur, a production that I was struck by, not only due to the indisputable quality of the show from every single angle: text, performances, staging. I was also struck by the mysticism this production brings, where the author-director disappears or hides to give the play fullness and a life of its own. The mysticism in the staging is also complete because it takes on a taboo topic for Chileans: Painecur fills those silent spaces or voids created by cultural identity and gives them meaning, trying to fill them. The final interview came after the protests began. It was hard because we were all alarmed and mobilized until we could finally bring it to light. It was truly worth it.
Tell us a little about your evolution as a playwright in Lafamiliateatro, from when you wrote plays collectively until you took over the playwriting.
We starting working on our first play La Condena (2004) a year before its premiere when we were only in our second year studying at Universidad de Chile. Hence, the dramaturgical resources were very scarce. Conscious of our limitations, we embarked on a process that included a long period of improvisation. Since the technological resources in the year 2003 were not the same as the ones we count with today, two classmates registered absolutely everything we said. After every rehearsal, we’d order and set the text. It was a process where we were accompanied by intuition: that mysterious element that still walks with us.
Given the nature of the text’s origin (through improvisation), we embraced the idea that those words coming up spontaneously would then become words on a Microsoft Word document, which was more organic when it came to saying them out loud on a stage. In regards to this, after we opened, we even wrote a methodological manifesto that tried to order the whole process step by step (we were so proud of our creation that we thought we had discovered a methodology that actually many had already experimented with).
The year after opening La Condena, I was fascinated with Friedrich Schiller, so I proposed adapting Mary Stuart. It was our final year and La Condena was also touring, so the time we could put in the creation process wasn’t the same as for the previous play. Hence, it was clear to us that this new process needed to change its work methodology. Coincidentally that year, I suffered a facial paralysis (I suffer from autoimmune disorders since I was 15 years old), which meant I had to miss theatre school for two months. The paralysis was the perfect excuse to generate a pause in everything we were doing, so I could stop and focus on only writing the play. Since then, I write for Lafamiliateatro. However, the sediment of the previous process, which was participatory, collective and thought for the stage, is a quality that accompanies us until today, constituting one of the fundamental principles of the theatre we make.
Your writing has had an evolution: You’ve gone from writing texts that, according to you, had a tendency of being very experimental and somewhat cryptic, to your most recent work that formally possesses a discourse that is more direct. Do you now feel more committed to a discourse that has the need to get to the audience in a more immediate way? Are there other reasons?
I believe that in my first stage of writing (2004 to 2008), which includes four plays, I tried to accept the fact that living was painful to me, which is why death (particularly suicide) was present in an insisting way. Then in a second stage (2009 to 2012), which includes three plays, I had already accepted that living hurt me, and I tried to explain to myself why living hurt. This second stage is probably the most cryptical because I was seduced by the ideas fo Jacques Lacan about the prison of language. At that moment, I considered that every one of his seminars (because he didn’t publish texts, only his seminars were published) gave us the keys to understanding our constitution as subjects (and, most definitely, the keys to understanding pain). Reading Lacan is not easy, which is the reason I wanted to translate his work theatrically, but the result was still very academic, in the sense there was a lot to interpret. In my current stage (2014 to today), after having explained to myself the “whys” of the previous one, I’m trying to create from and for a society that has trouble recognizing its misery and contradictions. Having said this, it doesn’t mean I want to present myself as another playwright or that I have abandoned my own feelings of pain or fracture. Precisely, psychoanalysis (or Lacan) doesn’t teach the overcoming of pain or fracture. It teaches how to identify and live with them. It’s because of this that my characters now have a profoundly painful and complex dimension, but without splitting off from their place in society.
On another note, in my previous stages, I worked more with words than with the architecture of the piece. I think that I’ve gradually been learning to combine both elements in the best way possible, noticeably influencing how the plays are perceived.
Your play Niña Astronauta revealed a shift in your work as playwright and director. What did you have to abandon and what did you win from this shift?
Niña Astronauta (2014) was the inauguration of a methodology that has accompanied us up to today. Inspired in the research processes that Isidora Aguirre carried out, particularly for her play Los que van quedando en el camino, we decided to focus on the revision of historical events that allow us to think about ourselves as a society today.
The creation of Niña Astronauta involved a theoretical, journalistic and territorial investigation that brought a series of questions which coincided with other questions we were having at that moment. Precisely (for us), that’s what is revenant from a piece that begins with research: it vibrates as if we were working our stories, our own questions and contradictions.
This identity-related phenomenon makes us feel comprehended and accompanied because a particular story is also our story and probably that of many others. That’s what we probably gain: company and comprehension in certain ideas we have, in the pains we feel… I think that, from Niña Astronauta forward, we created a theatre that makes questions, that places you as the protagonist of the story you’re watching, inviting you to reflect about your place in it.
You mentioned that when you wrote Painecur, you began with a very concrete collection process where the writing was more rational too. After that stage in the process, you then enter a state where you connect with a flow of information and images coming from a universe we could call mystical or of a certain hidden unconscious in our mestizo culture, lying under the layers of what is evident. Tell us about this process, how it began and what it meant to you.
The writing process and staging of Painecur were (to me) a process of opening towards a different level of understanding how reality is constituted: the everyday events, life, death and creation of course…
Since the moment the piece began as a project, up to its materialization on a stage, a series of mysteries happened, which (to me) became a kind of guide to developing the piece. In regards to how this guide manifested itself: voices appeared, sometimes in dreams or even encountering people that carried a message that allowed us to continue with clarity.
Since the moment the creation process began, up until today, I don’t think any member of the company could say they are the same person… Every one of us accepted the fact that coincidences don’t exist. For example, I was born in Temuco and lived a big part of my childhood in Traiguén (9th Region).
I grew up considering the Mapuche as if they were cousins of some kind, somewhat close and somewhat far. You share with them, however, the winkas’ force you to think differently about yourself. That imposed difference is what motivated me to get close to the Mapuche since I was a boy.
For years I’d been wanted to work drawing from the Mapuche, but I didn’t exactly know from where I should do it. So, the idea slept until the year 2016, when I proposed my students to work on En un Sol Amarillo by César Brie. The play is about the consequences of the Aiquile earthquake in Bolivia. Looking for complementary information, I found a text from 1912 called How Indians behave during natural catastrophes, where it was revealed (to me) that human sacrifice is an ancestral practice of the Mapuche. After coming across that information, I quickly found the case of José Luis Painecur’s sacrifice in 1960. Nothing that I say is a coincidence.
Ultimately, I could say that Pincer “mapuchized” our lives as well as our creative processes.
Do you think Painecur is a milestone in regards to your work as a playwright and also for the company?
It’s impossible to deny it’s a landmark and it’s also impossible to deny that it’s our most relevant piece: for me and the company. I like to think that all the recognition the play has received is not only due to my work as a playwright but also due to the crucial contribution of each and every one of the members of Lafamiliateatro. To have a theatre company is a constant act of resistance in the local theatre scene, where the creation of projects overcomes the idea of creating a collective path as to settle authorship, a recognizable signature.
For me, Painecur is the result of the maturity of a group of artists who decided to create their own dramaturgy in 2004. At first through intuition, then through technique, to finally find a satisfactory combination between intuition and technique.
The play deals with Chile, its prejudices and contradictions that come from an identity that emerges from conservatism and classicism which is a distinct feature of colonization.
The play could perfectly function as an (uncomfortable) theatrical reflection about our current state and the urgent need to transgress the patterns we’ve inherited. We can’t move forward if we don’t recognize that what culturally comes before us, and this is why the play is precisely a portal towards understanding what we’ve historically rejected.
After what people now call the “October Revolution” in 2019: What changes do you think could or should appear in the upcoming Chilean dramaturgy?
I don’t believe I have the authority to determine what should be written after the new social uprising we’re experiencing today, but the question is absolutely relevant in terms of thinking the state we are in.
First of all, I think many playwrights were pushing for a situation like this one or maybe we were showing how soon this moment could come. In that sense, I think we were doing a good job… Chilean theatre had been effectively highlighting the crisis and the legitimate civic demands that are now on everyone’s lips. However, for us to grow as a society, it’s also urgent to give visibility to the things that make us uncomfortable. Offering the audience member something they already know about themselves or the world is not enough: it’s important that we make questions, to reveal what is hidden. Or else, we’d only be echo chambers that wouldn’t contribute to the construction of the Chile we dream of.
Tell us about your next project, Mauro.
Mauro comes from an investigation related to the fight that different communities have held during 19 years in regards to environmental, archaeological, cultural and social devastation that’s affecting them since the construction and implementation of the biggest trailing dam in Latin America, located in the Choapa Valley.
I would like to quote a part of the play’s overview before I continue to speak about the piece:
“…after 19 years of struggle, where the community and their territory are completely defenceless due to the protection of private interests by the State, and also after the announcement of the construction of 4 more trailing dams, the fire of their struggle lights up again in a small group of ex-members of the Mauro community decide to sacrifice their own lives through a hunger strike, convinced it’s the only resort to face the sacrifice of their territory…”
If you were to read the overview only, some ideas about where the play is going could quickly come up, and that’s precisely what we’re looking for with the overview and some scenes from the play: we want to make the audience (or readers) believe that they know the story (or that they know how it will unravel or even how it will end), to then absolutely break their ideas or expectations. With this in mind, our purpose is not to create an artificial effect: we want to reproduce the same sensation the team had during the research process, which even lead us to change the focus of the piece at least a couple of times. To better explain this, I must say that Mauro somewhat follows the same line as Painecur, in the sense that there’s a part of it that’s made up of information, conversations and stories that were gathered in the investigated territory. However, it possesses the difficulty that the struggle is alive and its protagonists are carrying it out at this moment. They have an expectation of visibility of their legitimate demands, which is something that comes naturally. However, we’ve approached the text from a critical perspective. In this sense, the precariousness of the struggle in the face of entities that have a considerable political and economic power, the social dislocation of the territories as a product of the incorporation of financial incentives, the possibility (or not) of sustaining a collective battle in the times we live in and the fight of who struggle against those who struggle (or the poor versus the poor or the black man versus the black man or the indigenous person versus the indigenous person or the precarious versus the precarious) are the main axes of the play.
Read extract of the play Painecur
The Interdram Interviews 2020 are funded by the Ministry of Arts and Culture (Fondart Nacional de Difusión convocatoria 2020).