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«By Julie Ann Ward A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Hispanic Languages ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

Self, Esteemed: Contemporary Auto/biographical Theatre in Latin America

By

Julie Ann Ward

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the

requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

in

Hispanic Languages and Literatures

in the

Graduate Division

of the

University of California, Berkeley

Committee in charge:

Professor Francine Masiello, Co-chair

Professor Candace Slater, Co-chair

Professor Natalia Brizuela

Professor Anne Walsh

Spring 2013 Abstract Self, Esteemed: Contemporary Auto/biographical Theatre in Latin America by Julie Ann Ward Doctor of Philosophy in Hispanic Languages and Literatures University of California, Berkeley Professor Francine Masiello, Co-chair Professor Candace Slater, Co-chair In this dissertation, I argue that contemporary auto/biographical theatre questions, on the one hand, the concept of the self as an individual with clearly defined borders between “I” and other and, on the other, the very possibility of representing reality onstage. Contemporary Latin American theatre is saturated with auto/biographical plays in which onstage actors play their real-life selves and family members, representing events from history as well as their own personal stories. Looking at 21st-century plays from Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, I also note that auto/biographical representation in the theatre allows for an understanding of the life story as a collective endeavor rather than the work of a lone individual. This type of dramatic representation positions the theatrical work as one among many sources of truth.

By insisting on the reality of portrayed events, auto/biographical plays ask the theatregoer to accept the “true” nature of the content and, simultaneously, the fiction of the theatre. In the opening chapter, an overarching theoretical introduction, I draw on auto/biography studies, testimonio criticism, documentary film theory and the concept of postdramatic theatre to examine the relationship between director/author and actor/witness. The actor, by playing the role of him- or herself, creates an autobiography through the signs of the theatre: voice, gesture, language, etc. However, the director/author (often one and the same person) plays the part of biographer by arranging the actor’s words and designing their activity onstage. Over the next four chapters I analyze the strategies employed in contemporary plays – including works by Argentine, Brazilian and Mexican playwrights (Lola Arias, Márcio Freitas, Christiane Jatahy, Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, Gabino Rodríguez, and Vivi Tellas) – for creating new auto/biographical pacts between spectator and play.

By placing the biographied actor onstage, the plays ask the spectator to believe that their version of the truth is, in some way, unmediated. The fact that the onstage body is the same one that experienced the presented events gives the production immediacy and a sense of being “true”. At the same time, however, the theatrical apparatus as a whole forces audiences to recognize the hand that the directors and authors have in relaying that “truth.” Directors and authors often interview their subjects and use their exact words, in an edited form, as the basis for their scripts.

Similarly, spectators must recognize the collaboration that occurs in any theatrical production between various crew members, actors, director, and the audience itself. The very nature of the theatre precludes the possibility of the unmediated autobiography that tantalizes the audience.

Chapter two deals with the treatment of the concept of truth in documentary theatre, by looking at various critics’ use of the term “truth” and its role in Jatahy’s play A Falta Que Nos Move.

Chapter three demonstrates the way that so-called verbatim theatre fetishizes testimonial language, separating the original event from the language used to speak about it, with Freitas’ Sem Falsidades. Chapter four examines the representation of performers’ family members in auto/biographical plays, focusing on Lagartijas’ El rumor del incendio and Arias’ Mi vida después. The final chapter considers the ethics of the representation of the real, analyzing Rodríguez’ Montserrat. By putting the actor/witness onstage and forming a pact with the audience in which truth and fiction coexist, these plays sketch out new ways of understanding authorship, auto/biographical authority. The possibilities of theatre itself -- what it can potentially represent and how it interacts with reality -- are expanded in contemporary Latin American auto/biographical theatre.

i To the memory of Aline Jackson.

ii Table of Contents List of Figures

Introduction

Acknowledgements

Chapter 1: The Artisans of Aura: Authorship in Auto/biographical Theatre

Chapter 2: The Truthiness of Documentary: How We Talk About Truth in Theatre.................. 17 Chapter 3: The Problem of Verbatim: The Fetishization of Language

Chapter 4. The Limits of the Self: Performing Family

Chapter 5. Dissecting the Truth: The Responsibilities of the Real in Contemporary Culture.

.... 77 Conclusions

Bibliography

iii

List of Figures

Figure 1 Vivi Tellas..

Figure 2 Graciela Ninio, Vivi Tellas' mother, and Luisa Ninio, her aunt.





Figure 3 Posed photographs of actresses of Sem Falsidades

Figure 4 Slide from Sem Falsidades depicting the betrayed actress, her castmates and Freitas as the angry director.

Figure 5 "Revolution is not a dinner party, [...]”

Figure 6 Mariano Speratti’s father, 1966.

Figure 7 Liza Casullo’s parents, 1981

Figure 8 Ana Amado and César Masetti..

Figure 9 Passport of Margarita Urías Hermosillo

Figure 10 Vanina Falco with her mother and brother, 1978

Figure 11 Vanina Falco and her brother, 1980

Figure 12 José Rodríguez searches for the tree where Montserrat's ashes were scattered........... 80 Figure 13 Gabino Rodríguez dances during a performance of Montserrat.

Figure 14 Screenshot of Gabino's videochat, posted on the blog.

iv

–  –  –

In the little, black-box theatre Foro Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, on the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, a small audience watches as three actors read from the Mexican constitution, reenact guerrilla actions and government repression that took place forty years earlier using toy soldiers and a fish tank, and recite lines from a woman’s personal archive of letters and diaries. The audience is given to believe that the main character, Comandante Margarita, was a real, live person whose political consciousness awakened from her contact with the teachers’ union in northern Mexico, and who spent time in prison as a result of her participation in guerrilla activities. At the end of the play, Luisa Pardo, playing Margarita, smokes a cigarette and talks the audience through her post-revolutionary life, naming lovers, children, and workplaces.

When she arrives at the name of her daughter, “La Luisita”, born in 1983, my heart stops.

I know that Luisa is the name of the actress playing Margarita, and had taken note that she was born in 1983 when I read the program, because that is the year that I was born, too. Confirming my suspicions, Luisa Pardo makes unnerving eye contact with me as she tells the audience that Margarita died of lung cancer, that she is Luisita, her daughter. I was the unsuspecting, marveled spectator the play was meant to surprise. Pardo made unflinching eye contact with me as she revealed her relationship to Margarita and, I felt, registered my growing realization that what I had just witnessed was not a fiction against the backdrop of reality, but a true-to-life biography.

The sensation upon understanding that Pardo had been playing out her own mother’s life was gut-wrenching, as though I had been insensitive as an audience member, silently watching a reenactment of torture or listening to her private letters being read in public.

I had never seen anything like it, and as I became more and more interested in the questions the play provoked (Is it an autobiography or a biography, or somehow both? Should inherited memories be considered part of one’s own patrimony? How does the play communicate its “reality” to the audience?), I learned of other contemporary Latin American theatre practitioners who are proposing their own answers to the questions: Lola Arias (Argentina), Márcio Freitas (Brazil), Christiane Jatahy (Brazil), Gabino Rodríguez (Mexico), Vivi Tellas (Argentina), Daniel Veronese (Argentina), Mariana Villegas (Mexico), Patricia Zangaro (Argentina), among others. Throughout Latin America the theatre has become a forum for staging life stories, many of which are united by trauma, absence, and loss. The stage becomes a point of contact between the personal and the political, the present and the past, and fiction and reality.

In particular, I became interested in those plays in which an actor plays him or herself, convincing the audience that the events represented are “real.” The mediation of writing, interviewing, researching, and rehearsing is often hidden because the audience makes a one-toone equivalence between the character and the historical person. The actor’s body becomes a site of erasure: erasing authorship, erasing theatricality.

This erasure, however, is misleading. The mechanism of the theatre, with its cooperation between director, actors, and audience and the relationship between text and performance, makes the transmission of one’s autobiography anything but direct. That mediation and its implications v for the representation of the real, especially one’s own personal reality, onstage, are the subject of this dissertation.

Carol Martin defines “theatre of the real” as “a wide range of theatre practices and styles that recycle reality, whether that reality is personal, social, political, or historical” (Theatre of the Real 5). In this study I designate the particular examples of theatre of the real in which the reality being recycled is the personal history of the onstage actors as auto/biographical theatre. The term is problematic because, while the actors may be speaking in the first person about themselves, as in autobiographical narrative mode, their words have undergone a process of edition that strips them from their original source.

In this dissertation, I argue that contemporary auto/biographical theatre questions, on the one hand, the concept of the self as an individual with clearly defined borders between “I” and other and, on the other, the very possibility of representing reality onstage. Contemporary Latin American theatre is saturated with auto/biographical plays in which onstage actors play their real-life selves and family members, representing events from history as well as their own personal stories. Looking at 21st-century plays from Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, I also note that auto/biographical representation in the theatre allows for an understanding of the life story as a collective endeavor rather than the work of a lone individual. This type of dramatic representation positions the theatrical work as one among many sources of truth.

By insisting on the reality of portrayed events, auto/biographical plays ask the theatregoer to accept the “true” nature of the content and, simultaneously, the fiction of the theatre. In the opening chapter, I draw on auto/biography studies, testimonio criticism, documentary film theory and the concept of postdramatic theatre to examine the relationship between director/author and actor/witness. The actor, by playing the role of him- or herself, creates an autobiography through the signs of the theatre: voice, gesture, language, etc. However, the director/author (often one and the same person) plays the part of biographer by arranging the actor’s words and designing their activity onstage. Over the next four chapters I analyze the strategies employed in contemporary plays – including works by Argentine, Brazilian and Mexican playwrights (Lola Arias, Márcio Freitas, Christiane Jatahy, Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, Gabino Rodríguez, and Vivi Tellas) – for creating new auto/biographical pacts between spectator and play.



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