Toronto is a goldmine of world cultures and international perspectives presented to a local audience. Alameda Theatre is a company that was created to give opportunities to Latin actors and playwrights to engage in and refine their art, and carving out a space for audiences to connect intimately the human experiences that we all share regardless of cultural backgrounds.
They are in the middle of a production run of Carmen Aguirre’s Chile Con Carne at Factory Theatre that is ending this Sunday April 14th. Told through the perspective of a young girl named Manuelita who is growing up in Vancouver in 1975 with her refugee parents. The play like many of Carmen’s works mixes “the highly personal with the political”.
We’re excited to share with you another double Q&A with Carmen Aguirre and Artistic Director Marilo Nunez. Read on to learn more about their passion for theatre and telling the stories that too often go unheard!
Tell us about yourself. What sparked your interest in theatre in general and Latin theatre in particular?
Carmen: My name is Carmen Aguirre and I am a Vancouver-based theatre artist. I’ve been working as an actor, playwright, director, Theatre of the Oppressed workshop facilitator, and teacher for twenty years and my work has been seen across North and South America. I found my calling (the theatre) when I was three years old and my parents took me to the circus in southern Chile. I am not particularly interested in “Latin” theatre. I am interested in theatre in general. Having said that, I am a visible minority in Canada and opportunities have been slim. Hence I’ve created my own work and told my own stories. I don’t consider my stories “Latino” stories, I consider them universal.
Marilo: I am the founder and Artistic Director of Alameda Theatre Company. I studied theatre (acting) at Ryerson University and was a working actor for 15 years. I have helmed the company for the past six years and have not been able to return to acting. I’m too busy writing grants and creating programming for Alameda! I have recently found my calling as a director and I have to admit, it is where I have had the most enjoyment as an artist. I feel at home in this position and I look forward to doing more directing. I write plays as well, and even though it is the hardest of the theatre arts, it is also quite amazing!
What inspired the founding of Alameda Theatre? What need is it addressing?
Marilo: I founded Alameda Theatre Company in order to let the next generations of Latino artists in Canada have an easier time to just BE ARTISTS. It gives voice to the stories that have, for far too long, not had the opportunity to shine.
I know that it is not an easy road to be an artist of colour in this country. The opportunities are so few and far between. We need to create our own opportunities and a company like Alameda Theatre Company is slowly beginning to break down the barriers. Hopefully one day, there won’t be a need for a company such as this, but for now, I am proud to say that we are making a difference in the lives of our artists, our audiences and the youth.
What are some of the activities and events that Alameda Theatre is working on?
Maril0: Our most important program is our annual “De Colores Festival of New Works”, a dramaturgical playwright’s unit and festival giving our writers the opportunity to create theatre. We also have our youth program, “Nueva Voz: A Latino Youth Initiative”, which gives our youth the creative opportunity to put on a show, in their own words, using their personal stories.
Currently we are developing four plays to be part of the 2013 De Colores Festival, and they include: The Trial of Tina Modotti By Carmen Aguirre; Marine Life By Rosa Laborde; Solaz By Jefferson Guzman; and Have You Lost Something? By Flavia Hevia.
Can you tell us more about “Chile Con Carne”? What audience do you hope to draw out to see this show?
Carmen: Chile Con Carne was one of the first plays I wrote. I wrote it in my mid-twenties, shortly after my graduation from theatre school, and I created the play in order to provide work for myself and to tell a story that I had not yet seen on a Canadian stage: a complex, funny take on exile from a child’s point of view. I would like the audience to look like the people I see walk by me every day in any major Canadian urban centre: people of all colours, people from all walks of life.
Marilo: We hope everyone who is interested in great theatre will come out to see Chile Con Carne! Even in it’s specificity, the play is universal and will touch anyone with a heart.
What do you see as the main challenges for the performing arts in general, and theatre in particular?
Carmen: It depends who you ask. I suppose the big challenge is always how to get the audiences out; however I have faith that audiences will always want to see a live person on stage, telling them a story in the here and now. As far as I’m concerned, absolutely no other medium can compete with that.
Marilo: I agree with Carmen, getting people out to see theatre is one of the biggest challenges. We’re now competing with Netflix, movies, DVDs…basically people want to stay home and not be challenged. What I love most about theatre is that the experience challenges you. Once inside the theatre, you are face to face with the humanity of it all—a live performer, breathing and speaking right there, in your face. You can’t escape it or turn it off. You have to face yourself every time you go to the theatre. I too, believe in the power of live art and have faith that there will be resurgence in the need for it, on a mass scale!
What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?
Carmen: I was given all kinds of good advice. I just didn’t listen to it because I was young, arrogant, and terrified of failing. So it’s not about what advice I wish I’d been given, but more about what advice I wish I’d taken, which, succinctly, is this: go for it. And go for it NOW.
Marilo: You are good enough. You are talented enough. Now go and do your work.