Sunday, 29 July 2018

Stardust Dramaturgy: Miguel H Torres Umba @ Edfringe 2018

How would define the political content of your work?

STARDUST  is a piece that dissects the journey from the coca leaf sacred to indigenous communities in the Amazons and the Andes to a line of Cocaine in a mirror in the fast moving world we live in; a world driven by an insatiable need to consume.

In the piece we talk about the human and cultural cost that cocaine production, traffic and consumption have in communities in Latin America, the general association that Colombians are by default directly linked to cocaine and narcotrafic, the criminal element that is immediately transferd to us as a result of the stigma and how this allows xenophobic narratives and policies to exist. It questions the role played by the Western world in the history that lead to the growing popularity of cocaine, the voracious demand for the drug, the point in which the whole thing became illegal, the economical reality of the illegal trade and where the money actually goes to, the anti drug policies, and of course  the war on drugs and its impact on the less privileged and marginalised communities all over the world - but in particular In Colombia and Latin America.

Yes, we know... this is an gigantic issue, an extremely complex worldwide problem that has millions of sides to it, and strong interest that drive it – there are no easy solutions.

But STARDUST is not a piece created to just deliver information or to provide answers - afterall, the information already exists and can be easily Googled by anyone. So what the piece is intended to do, is to make the journey a relevant one for the audiences and to be an affecting piece of theatre and  to generate a strong emotional connection with the audience inviting them to actively engage and play an active part in the search for change.

STARDUST departs from the understanding that any real change starts with the individual and that in order to generate individual changes we need to touch people’s inner fibers and invite them to empathise, to care.

As humans it is part of our survival instinct not to engage or care for things that don’t affect us, and why would we?  Everyone has enough things to deal without spending  extra energy on things that they don’t really care for.

If we don’t empathise with something or someone, we don’t care about them - and if we don’t care, then we do nothing. And that is exactly where the transformative powers of theatre play a pivotal role. The shared experience of seeing a group of people – actors - go through live struggles in front of our very eyes,  the intimate relationship that can exist  between the audience, the actors and the show, means that people can empathise with a difficult life situation without having to live it themselve, or have a direct connection to those to it through a family member or friend.

With  STARDUST we aim to deliver information and speak out  about a pressing and complex issue but our main goal is to create that that emotional connection with our audience that we know can transform them into active agents of change.

Are there ways in which your work can engage the audience beyond the immediate emotional rush of the content, and move forward towards further action?

There are many things to be done; the issue is complex and around the world individuals and organisations are working tirelessly to find solutions working to change drug policies, supporting problematic users, supporting farmers in small communities in Colombia, supporting farmers and the use of other coca products like teas, creams and shampoos that is happening in Bolivia and parts of Colombia, defending the lives of social leaders who are demanding state support in isolated areas of Colombia and many more. As a theatre company we are particularly encouraged by the potential of channeling our audience’s response to the work and we direct them towards practical steps they can take. In our previous show ‘Pedro and the Captain by Mario Benedetti’ A play about torture, we partnered up with NGO REDRESS who support victims of torture and we gave the audience three simple actions to take, sign a petition, donate, write a letter to a victim.

With STARDUST the journey to define those exact practical actions is still finding its way. People may think we’ll be telling people to stop using cocaine, but that is too simplistic; the issue is much bigger than that- and whilst that is an action some people might chose to make, we are certainly not telling people what to do and it might not necessarily be the only or actual solution. For this show we have counted with the support of the IDCP (International Drug Policy Consortium, RELEASE (UK), ATC (Col) ANZORC (Col) and others who have informed the piece through their knowledge and experience and who have joined us during the post show conversations we organise with the audience, a space where we invite the audience to talk and voice their opinions - which is the very first step to further action and change.

With STARDUST we are not necessarily looking to give answers or solutions, we are looking to connect deeply with the audience and invite them to join us in the conversation, be part of an open an honest dialogue where we question our relationship with the whole issue, the role we play and our share of the responsibility. This might not seem like much, but we strongly believe that further action starts with an emotional reaction and the urgent need to do respond to that emotion. With this show we have seen how are audience is desperate to talk, to share their points of view and to react. Yes, we have heard of radical changes people make in their behavior regarding cocaine and  the way the see the drug issue, cocaine, coca, Colombians and themselves - which is a testimony to what the impact the work can have. And whilst we will continue to try find those exact actions that we might guide people to take, we are motivated by starting a conversation.

How far do the material conditions of the Fringe impact on the process by which you make theatre for it?

This is the first show I’ve taken to the Edinburgh Fringe and whilst the conditions of the Fringe mean the show needs shrunk a bit to fit the space; and also the length, (the piece originally lasted 65 mins and we had to cut five ... not easy) the show since its inception was created with the idea of it being portable and adaptable. STARDUST was initially R&D’d as part of an Artist in Residence program at CASA Latin American Theatre Festival in 2017 and the full production premiered at VAULT festival 2018, so the structure of fringe festivals has already been taken in to consideration.

The main goal with this show was to be able to take the message everywhere and with that in mind the decision for it to be a solo piece came about, as well as the choice to use a minimalist set. The one thing that been important for the work, is not to let the conditions affect the ambition and quality. I tend to see parameters and creative challenges more than limitations; there is so much that can be achieved when there is little. In a way the game is to outwit the conditions; that in itself is exciting and tickles the imagination, challenging creativity and resourcefulness.

I have had the chance to do excerpts of the show in  places without theatrical conditions, places like small galleries and outdoor festivals - and what is initially a bit daunting, has given birth to new solutions and new details that now inform the show. I am very much looking forward to Edinburgh fringe, I am excited to see what new things will come and how the piece will develops.

Pleasance 10 Dome
August 1st – 27th 4.20pm


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