Vértice Brasil: "The Magdalena Experience"

LAB Theatre with Claudia Contin
Claudia Contin's workshop
Geddy Aniksdal's workshop

Andrea Ariel reports on attending the Brazilian Magdalena Festival in July 2010.

On July 12th, at Auckland Airport, with ALFONSINA packed in a few bags and a team of six of us ready to embark on a 47 hour plane ride to Brazil, I could not help thinking back to the day when Pedro Ilgenfritz invited me to start a theatre company with him and two more actors, both women. Back then, VÉRTICE was only a dream goal.

The simple concrete reality of getting on that plane was already tremendously overwhelming, without even knowing or imagining what was to come in the two weeks we were to spend in Florianópolis. And I have to thank the festival for their invitation and trust in us, and UNITEC, for being our sponsor and believing in our dream from day one. Being Argentinean myself, this trip was the opportunity to not only experience for the first time what an international festival encompasses but also to be able to take back what I have learnt these past four years to the land where I first discovered my passion for theatre, South America (even with an Argentinean character!).

After a few days of relaxation at Pedro’s parents house in a quiet neighbourhood by the ocean, we moved into the festival hotel in the vibrant centre of the city. We went to the opening ceremony, and to Claudia Contin’s performance in Arlecchino e il suo doppio (Scuola Sperimentale dell'attore, Italy). I got to the hotel that night feeling butterflies in my stomach; there was no doubt that there was going to be a before and after VÉRTICE BRASIL.

There were over 80 people participating in the gathering. It was a tight schedule with performances, demonstrations, workshops, talks, routes, dinner, lunch, hotels, transport. I cannot imagine how complicated and chaotic it must be to organize an event of this calibre, yet all I felt was a great atmosphere for exchange from day one. This was possible thanks to the hard work of Marisa Naspolini, Cleidi de Oliveira, Barbara Biscaro, Gláucia Grigolo, Monica Siedler, and the rest of the organization team who made VÉRTICE BRASIL happen. Every mistake was seen as learning, there was no room for frustration only for sharing and collaboration. This year the festival focus was crossing, which generated an immense will to give and receive. I was ready to cross that border which represents all borders. I was ready to travel to others and within myself.

What does it mean being a woman in this profession? It is a question that has always meandered underneath the surface of my work. Even before I knew what Magdalena was about or even before I knew what I was actually asking myself. In this company, we are young- literally young- and this is the very first time we participate in a Magdalena Project festival. Taking part was a great way to find an understanding of what the question even entails. And it opened my eyes to comprehend that this is something that is part of my personal journey but that it is still present in my work as a member of LAB: Research Theatre Company. Listening to Julia Varley talking in the launch of the Portuguese edition of her book Pedras da Agua (Stones of Water), made me think about the fact that I’m part of a research theatre company and that I should therefore document all my work. This documentation, journey and investigation in the art of theatre that I share with Pedro and my two fellow actors, Genevieve and Katie, should be definitely recorded through the uniqueness of my woman eyes as I grow and find my identity.

We had the opportunity to perform ALFONSINA twice. We had toured the show around New Zealand a couple of months earlier and it was a success. But, performing in our first international theatre festival for a mainly non-English speaking audience, with a show that is based in Auckland and mainly in English, made circumstances a bit different. We decided to provide Portuguese subtitles and tell the story as it was. On of our aims when we created ALFONSINA was to make a piece that was universal. Yet, we had not been able to prove this, and performing at VÉRTICE was our first ‘experiment’... it is!

We had the pleasure to work with Geddy Aniksdal (Grenland Friteater, Norway) in Crossing Frontiers. The workshop concerned the actor abilities to be their own dramaturge through the exploration of gesture/voice relationship. It was a highly rewarding work as it is part of what we are investigating in LAB. To then see Geddy, in her seamless solo performance, My Life as a Man, was a privilege and a pleasure that I will never forget. It made me ecstatic.

We also participated in two of the four days of Arlequinno Claudia Contin’s workshop: Hey, it’s not me anymore – the mask and the visit to a ”sculpted” body/character experience. The proposal consisted in getting to know some famous Commedia dell’ Arte masks. We looked at how and why they are built the way they are and the importance of physical rigor. It was the most detailed and precise window ever opened to me to the craft of a theatre form that I considered a beautiful artisans piece. Having the opportunity to network with her wound up my momentum and gave me inspiration to continue my work, as she is on a journey similar to the one we just started to walk on with LAB.

We were going to take part in Jill’s workshop, but due to health problems she could not be with us in the festival. But, as I said before, this did not break the spirit! Technology came to the rescue and we managed to have a Skype talk to her from Wales.

By the second week my brain, my body and my heart were about to explode with excitement, pain, knowledge, exhaustion, love, passion and inspiration. I now had a huge bag of questions next to my pillow, and a few answers.

All women that belong to this collaborative network are full of talent, generosity, heart, humility and wisdom. Each one has given me a part of themselves, which I take with me to give back later. They all left a mark in my heart and brain.

From day one, for the very simple fact of being a young woman dedicating my fullest to theatre, I felt supported and welcome to the Magdalena Project. It is an intricate and beautiful web with thousands of threads that started to be woven the year when my mother didn’t even know a theatre devotee was growing in her belly. Today, I look forward to keep on knitting.

The very last performance I got to see was Semillas de Memoria (Seeds of memory), performed by compatriot Ana Woolf and directed by Julia Varley. It was a magnificent piece of theatre, which particularly touched me deep in the heart for being Argentinean. It opened something very special in my soul. I could feel something that started ticking inside me.

That night we all went to a bar to relax. I looked at the long, long table of women (and a few men!) who I shared the past two weeks with; all talking loud, sipping on caipirinhas, dancing around and I knew that I’d changed and that that initial thought was true: there was a before and after in myself as a woman in theatre thanks to VÉRTICE BRASIL 2010 and all women involved in it.

Andrea Ariel
Auckland, New Zealand.