Sunday, 25 June 2017

What I Know about Dramaturgy: Sonia Gardes @ Village Storytelling Festival

Sonia Gardes presents

a brand new commission created especially for the Village Storytelling Festival. 

When political disagreements with her whole family became the centre of her life, Sònia started wondering about that mysterious figure in the story of the family who had gone on exile 80 years ago and who nobody talks about.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

There were some artistic inspirations and some practical facts which all of them together eventually took me to develop this performance.
Firstly, the performance "Ragazzo", by Lali Álvarez and Oriol Pla was a very deep inspirational experience on how to approach political stories about police brutality and those who daily fight back from a point of view which helps any kind of audience empathise and connect with the issue and those who support it.

Secondly, tired of my accent to be an issue, I was really looking forward to develop a performance where it would not only not be a problem, but actually an artistic plus to the story. I don't think it is necessary to have a story happening in Spain for this to happen, though.

While these two more artistic facts influenced what my next project could be like, there was the personal need to research about my Great-Grandfather, as it is explained in the performance. Even though Franco died more than forty years ago, and the Spanish Civil War happened eighty years ago, the law for historical memory is just ten years old, and my generation is being the first or second one feeling still close enough to need answers and emotionally far enough to find them.

The performance includes many other contemporary topics such as how do we as a society welcome refugees, and which are the long term consequences of not doing so.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Yes, definitely. Not the only one, but it is a really good one. Performance doesn't present only an idea or a story, it can present the emotion that makes that idea happen and it can awaken it in people who haven't felt it. The experiential potential of performance is a very powerful tool for that. 

It helps creating bonds based on empathy, and in a world where discussions many times become about proving one's right, it offers a comfortable space to sit down, listen and experience, without anyone judging how you feel about it. After this emotional experience, opening a discussion can have such a different result.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Performance has been in my life from a very young age. As a child, my mum would take my brother and me constantly to see children's theatre, and the three of us loved watching puppets. We also had loads of puppets at home to play with.
As I grew up, I loved going to the theatre and how it would touch me. However, I never wanted to perform. Looking back now, I'm pretty sure that gender restrictions from growing up in a small town where being a visible woman was not well seen had a lot to do with that.

What I did instead was being interested in anything in theatre which would be the invisible work. I studied make-up and hairstyle for theatre, and also costume design and making. In Fine Arts I specialised in sculpture for theatre and giant puppets. 

And in my first professional years in Barcelona I was finding work successfully.

It wasn't until I came to Scotland and lost my safe network that I started considering creating my own work. I had been very active politically, and I had been working with children as well for a long time, so I became interested in developing those ideas and values for children's performance. 

After that, I started becoming more interested in developing adult work, and that's when the project "What I know about what my Grandfather didn't know" started.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

The performance is a commission for the Village Storytelling Festival, and therefore it is designed as a storytelling performance. However, my background as a visual artist and performance designer always ends up appearing.

Since there are so many images that are important to the story I started developing the introduction of life-streamed projections and collage. Gavin Glover has helped me in the process. He's an amazing creative person, and it has been a really inspiring experience.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It does in terms of topic. It fits with the values and topics that have appeared previously. However, it is the first time I do it for adults, so there is a big jump in the way I have approached certain aspects of it. The rhythm is very different as well.

I have also explored very new ways of developing visual arts and visual communication. So I would say it is very new exciting work to me.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I want the audience to connect with the personal experience of a refugee and the impact this choice of survival has in others, specially relatives. I would like them to become more interested in their own past and the importance of historical memory through listening to my discoveries.

And of course the importance of being the ones writing our own history through listening to our survivors, because if we trust those who are writing history we might get a very perverse and confusing point of view. Ultimately, the performance is a shout for hope, which we so much need at the moment.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The introduction of silence to the story has been a key element for that. Communicating through images and giving some time to the audience to connect with their feelings and not only with the verbal information they are being given is a key aspect of it. Collage plays a big role doing it. When doing collage, we are building a fantasy, through merging realities. 

And fantasies tell us so much about fears, hopes and frustrations. Music also plays an important role creating atmospheres and time for the audience to connect to what they have been experiencing.

Considering the audience socially and culturally was another important thing to do. Scotland and Catalonia are territories with many similarities, yet still different territories with different stories and experiences. It has been very interesting to think of a story which has so much of the common cultural knowledge in the history from where I was born adapted to somewhere which has its own history and doesn't necessarily know mine.

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