The British Council invited our Artistic Director James to the EDEC conference in Santiago to met Chilean playwrights and see LUNGS make its Latin American debut. Here’s his tour diary.
Santiago from the top of San Cristobal
Monday 28 September
This morning I watched the sunrise on Orkney at the end of EVERY BRILLIANT THING’s Highlands and Islands tour. Tonight I’m at Heathrow heading for Santiago as a guest of The British Council at Encuentro de Dramaturgia Europea Contemporánea – a conference bringing together European and Chilean theatremakers to discuss contemporary European theatre and showcase plays from across Europe. I’ve never been to Latin America so this is exciting.
Tuesday 29 September
The approach to Santiago over the snow-peaked Andes is sensational. Chile’s capital lives in a big bowl of a valley stretching 50 miles across with mountains all around it. The blanket of smog makes it look like the crater of a volcano until the plane ducks underneath to reveal the sprawling city. My host Alex – the British Council’s international projects manager here in Chile – meets me at my hotel and whisks me straight to Santiago staple Emporio La Rosa, voted one of the top 10 ice cream parlours in the world for a quick introduction to Chilean theatre and a delicious introduction to Lúcuma ice cream.
The opening event of the conference sees critic Jürgen Berger give a talk on current trends in German theatre, which is translated into Spanish and then very kindly by Alex into English for my benefit. Everyone repairs to a beautiful roof garden for wine, canapés and speeches to officially open EDEC 15. Cameras flash as the culture minister turns up to make an address.
Ana López Montaner who is directing the reading of LUNGS on Saturday invites me to join her at The Clinic, a bar famous for political debates. Ana’s excellent English makes up for my shameful lack of Spanish and we set to discussing Duncan’s wonderful play.
This way for my workshop, apparently…
Wednesday 30 September
I’m running workshops at the beautiful Universidad Católica – a huge old monastery with trees and fountains adorning courtyards and cloisters surrounded by lecture halls and art studios and rehearsal rooms. Playwright collective Interdram has invited playwrights from across Chile to attend the conference and meet delegates. It is fascinating to hear experiences from top to bottom of this huge and varied country (Chile is 2,672 miles long), and to discover the obstacles and anxieties writers face here are largely the same as at home. We focus on politics. What makes a play political? How do the personal and political coexist in great plays? It’s a fascinating discussion here where the scars of the Pinochet dictatorship are still so clearly seen. And it’s a tough workout for my heroic translator George who simultaneously translates the discussion as everyone contributes.
Thursday 1 October
Today my workshop focus is on LUNGS, or rather PULMONES as it is in its Spanish translation. The group has read the play and really love it. It’s exhilarating to be part of a passionate debate about a play in a different language and culture, sensing how well it translates and how relevant and poignant its themes are even on the other side of the world.
Ana invites me to see a production of Camus’ LOS JUSTOS. I don’t understand a word but I’m struck by the very European aesthetic – big, bold, physical, colourful and expressionistic storytelling. It’s staged at the home of Theatrocinema who I’m excited to meet. Their productions of THE MAN WHO FED BUTTERFLIES and HISTORIA DE AMORE have wowed the Edinburgh International Festival with ground-breaking fusions of film and live performance, so I’m thrilled to get a peek behind the scenes of their super cool converted cinema home.
Friday 2 October
This morning I’m accompanying Alex at a meeting of the Arts Council and artistic directors of regional theatres. Once again I’m struck by the similarities in the discussions here and at home – a desire to see more work tour, a frustration at city hotspots attracting money and talent at the expense of the rest of the country.
Then we meet a group of playwrights who had been part of the Royal Court’s workshop programme in 2012, culminating with their plays being staged as readings in London in 2013. The experience had been transformative for them and it was great to get their take on the state of Chilean theatre. The common theme is the lack of producers, or producing infrastructure, which means writers often have to produce their own work. In fact, they quite often produce, direct and perform in their own work, and tear the tickets at the door.
This evening I’m at GAM, a magnificent modernist arts centre – Santiago’s answer to the Barbican – to see a dance piece EMOVERE which sees performers hooked up to sensors which trigger music to match their physical movement.
Saturday 3 October
I have some spare time today so I climb San Cristobal hill which looms over central Santiago and offers panoramic views of the city from the huge white statue of the Virgin Mary at its peak. I push through the crowds and marvel at the colours and aromas in the city’s two vast markets La Vega and Mercado Central before tucking into delicious ceviche and chowder.
Then it’s back to GAM for the reading of PULMONES which Ana has staged beautifully with the two actors reading the play from iPads and each scene assuming different relationships with two chairs on an otherwise empty stage. There are around 100 people listening and they love it. I know the play so well that I can follow it even though I don’t understand word-by-word and it is thrilling to hear big laughs come at exactly the points I hoped and a silence descend on the room as the play bewitches its audience just as it does back home. Proof that great art is truly universal.
We repair to an incredible wine bar called Bocanariz that serves tasting glasses from its vast menu and toast Ana’s production and Duncan’s wonderful play.
PULMONES on stage in Chile
Sunday 4 October
I spend my last morning in Santiago at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, a museum dedicated to remembering the victims of the Pinochet regime. It’s a stark, powerful evocation of Chile’s dark recent history and a deeply moving memorial to the many who lost their lives.
It’s been an honour visiting this wonderful country and meeting so many talented, passionate playwrights. Muchos gracias particularly to Alex and Ana for being such generous hosts. Our hope is that this trip is just the beginning of an ongoing relationship between Paines Plough and theatremakers in Chile that will foster the exchange of ideas and see plays like LUNGS/PULMONES cross continents.
Now, I’ve got 48 hours to get to Bristol to see another Duncan Macmillan play. Here goes.