BWW Interview: Beatriz Pizano On The Personal, Political, And Collaborative Journey To THE SOLITUDES
Beatriz Pizano has had the kind of career many people dream about; after nearly three decades in the Toronto theatre scene, she founded - and is currently Artistic Director of - Aluna Theatre, won a number of Dora Awards, travelled the world to study with masters of the craft, and much more. Her latest project might be her most ambitious to date, though - and it's about to premiere.
Inspired by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez's '100 Years of Solitude,' a novel that changed the literary game back in 1967, THE SOLITUDES is an experimental discussion between women about their own histories and beliefs. As with many things in her career, though, her new work didn't follow the beaten path to completion - instead, she and her co-creators, eight women who've been involved since the first workshop, blazed their own trail and discovered a fair share about themselves and their place in the world along the way.
"It all began as I was re-reading '100 Years...' when I was in Colombia, and I haven't read it since high school. What struck me was the women and their stubbornness, and how when they made a decision there was nothing that would change their minds. I started seeing images and figures in the pages, so when the grant opportunity came up it was a big deal for us [Aluna] as an independent company - so I did, I had an idea, and I sent it in."
"Once we got approved it was like, oh my god, now we have to do it, but how to do it was so clear for me. We [Aluna] had been working with the Colombian Collective Creation (CCC), which was created in the 60s by La Candelaria Theatre in Latin America by Santiago Garcia and other creatives. It was formed at a time where all theatre was European theatre, and they felt that they needed to speak about the reality of the country that they lived in and find a way to tell their own stories. It was politically charged, a very 'by the people, for the people' method - but they have influenced us a lot. You can never adopt a way of thinking about theatre from one country to another, but what we have attempted is our own adaptation of that process.
"The structure that this process has in the CCC is, first of all, that there are limits. You need a permanent group of artists - unfortunately I don't know of anything like that in Toronto; you also need an actual physical space where the group can work; and then the audience, because they believe the audience is the last playwright in the process."
So Beatriz gathered her artists. While not a permanent, for-life commitment, the group would meet three or four times a year in development workshops. THE SOLITUDES is unique because its cast are also its creators, and given Beatriz's history with the Toronto theatre community, she was able to find artists who could do more than just act - they needed to be able to create, improvise, and equally as important, they needed to be vastly different from one another.
"I wanted to be able to hire women, pay them well, and be able to be there creating for an extended period of time. I've also been very lucky that I've been able to go train with masters in other areas, and I wanted this group to get people training them. I feel that I will forever, until I die, be in training. It's one of the things that I love the most in my craft; it's beautiful to go into workshops with older and younger people and say, how are people speaking about theatre, how are the styles evolving?"
"The most interesting thing that happened was the question of how do we develop, as women, our own way of creating? How do we challenge the process with theatre being a traditionally patriarchal form? I went to a women's festival a few years ago and these Welsh creators said "Okay, so what are the oldest works done by women? It's great to have works directed by women, but the only thing that changes with them is that instead of a man directing, it's a woman doing it - where is the female way of telling stories, and how do we want to tell stories?"
"That stuck with me forever. How do women, now that we start to gain more of a voice - and the word voice sometimes worries me - but it's about us being able to sit at the table. Not just about hiring a woman in a position that a man has held before, but it's about us challenging ourselves and how we want to speak. It's not just taking that position, but once we're there, what do we want to do? How do we see the world, what changes do we want to make, and [THE SOLITUDES] is very much about that. How we are starting to heal, how do our bloodlines affect us and what are the archetypes we play as women? And when the other is no longer this unknown person in another place, but they have a name and face and that person is at the table and disagreeing with you? It's about how we talk with each other, which is one of my biggest obsessions right now."
Pizano had her group begin with the novel, each presenting lectures on different sections of the book and then discussing the content. After recording over 200 hours of those discussions and attempting to work with the exact dialogue of the female characters in '100 Years...' she realized that it wouldn't work for what she wanted to create.
"It's a story where the women didn't have a voice, these women who live in a world of men and war. It's a complicated history of my birthplace, Colombia. But in it, there is some - maybe hope is not the right word. But we look at the trauma, not to stay in it, but to move forward. With spaces of victimhood, you need to respect them, but how can we move past? One day I decided, let's do TED Talks in the group. I asked the women what their relation to this land was, and I left them to interpret what land is. Within a week - and I couldn't believe it, these actors are amazing - they came with a half hour talk ready to go."
That's where THE SOLITUDES began to take shape. As Pizano and her co-creators continued to look into their own histories, bloodlines, beliefs, and fears, they found that they weren't reflecting on women as a whole; rather, the work functioned best as a reflection of themselves.
"We were very careful in making it about us. We also went through and changed the dialogue, so whenever we said 'we' like 'we do this, we went there,' it was changed to 'I.' It's all about I. It's about owning these words."
"Truly, these women are revealing themselves - and in writing, especially biographical writing, by the tenth draft your life is a fiction. But [THE SOLITUDES] has come from an honest and truthful place; so, it's a personal and a political piece - maybe the most political, because when you're able to reveal a truth about yourself, an audience member can go 'Oh, I'm not alone.' We could not make it drama, and if we played characters we would go away from the truth. It's about being able to share these stories, and sit at the table with who we are as women, with these voices and these things that we want to say. It's also about the world we want to leave behind - and one of the beautiful things about women is, we have a way of nurturing. I decided at age 10 that I didn't want to have children, and I never changed on that, but life has a way of making things happen. I found myself nurturing a community, a space, for art - so that thing that is in us - wanting to build something that is important, wanting to bring back the importance of community, but also wanting to support the individuals in that community. Because these eight women on stage do not represent women. They only represent themselves. They are unique individuals within that collective, and so we can talk about the women on stage, but we cannot talk about all women."
Given the layers, levels, and details that make up THE SOLITUDES, it's fair to think that something as aspirational and complicated as it is would be impossible to create. And that's true, if only one person attempted to create eight experiences in conversation; but Pizano's dedication to expanding on traditional Canadian theatre techniques and her decades of experience all seem to have led her to this work. It's one thing to adapt a written story for the stage, and it's another thing to use a novel as inspiration. Pizano has instead taken the core aspects of an influential Latin American literary work, brought them to eight vastly different women, and created a discussion that's both personal and political.
"We don't have any answers. As an actor, what you can do is pose that question to yourself so that you can go on that stage and on that creation path; not to try and answer it, because nobody has that kind of knowledge. But in posing the question, you have already opened a world of possibilities for that issue to be looked at. That, for me, is the most important part of the work."
Aluna Theatre and Nightwood Theatre's THE SOLITUDES runs January 7 - 18 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 235 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.alunatheatre.ca/programming/solitudes/
Follow Beatriz Pizano's work with Aluna Theatre online at www.alunatheatre.ca or on Twitter @AlunaTheatre
Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh, courtesy of Beatriz Pizano and Red Eye Media