Here's an extended version of the interview the Mercury conducted with Lola Arias, whose excellent show The Year I Was Born has one more showing tomorrow night. - eds
MERCURY: The show you are bringing to Portland, El año en que nací (The Year I Was Born), tells the recent history of Chile and Pinochet’s dictatorial rule through the personal stories and family artifacts of the eleven performers themselves. But before this production, you toured the world with Mi vida después (My Life After), a show based on a similar concept about six young artists growing up under Argentina’s dictatorship and political turbulence. Did The Year I Was Born evolve from, or expand upon, My Life After?
LOLA ARIAS: My Life After was a play that I did in Argentina based on the story of my generation. I was born in 1976, when the military coup took power, and like others from my generation, I was born under this dark cloud. In My Life After, the performers reconstruct the life of their parents with personal documents (family photos, letters) and also memories. The protagonists take the role of their fathers and mothers to do reenactments of their parents’ stories. The idea was to have two generations looking at each other, like a mirror between their youth and our youth 30 years later. I had six protagonists who were chosen because of their family stories. I wanted to have people with different backgrounds: people whose parents were in the guerrilla or in the police or were indifferent to politics.
The Year I Was Born uses the same concept, but because it reflects a different society and a different history, the play is totally different. The most obvious difference is that in the Chilean version there are 11 people with completely different backgrounds (a daughter of a guerrilla woman, a son of a leader of the extreme right movement, a son of a policeman, a son of a marine, the daughter of intellectuals who went into exile, etc.) and they don't agree on how to tell the story of the country. That's why I incorporated discussions which were not present in the Argentinean version. This discussions are a transcription of what they discussed during the rehearsals. I think the Chilean version is more more polemic, more rude. In the discussions of the group, you can hear how Chilean society is still divided on how to evaluate what happened, who to blame, how to judge…
Did you develop these performances specifically to tour globally, to tell these untold stories to foreigners who may not have experienced anything like that?
No, these are not pedagogic plays to tell the stories of our country to foreigners. Both plays were very important in their own context. We performed My Life After for 4 years and we always filled the house, the same with The Year I Was Born. Both plays were really strong in their own context because they created a lot of discussions in the audience. In both societies, there was a need to discuss what happened during this time, what it means to us now, how we deal with the consequences of these times. After the play, we always have people coming up to the performers to tell them their own stories, to discuss with them, and people also stay in the hall of the theater discussing what they experienced.
How is performing multimedia theater in South America different from doing the same show in the USA or Europe? Do the politics of each region affect the reception you get? Is there anywhere you would not be able to perform this show?
The piece is very moving for the people who experienced the dictatorship in Argentina or Chile because they could remember and re-think their own past, and also get many other perspectives from other stories in the play that they don't identify with. In other countries the audience gets to know something from the recent history of Chile or Argentina, but also it makes them reflect about their own society, their own history, their political position, the difference between the seventies and present times.
Of course, the audience members reflect on different things depending on their own politics. In the audience once at an international festival, there were some young artists from Belarus who said they would like to take the piece to their own country because they’ve been living under the dictatorship of Lukashenko since 1994. They said the piece reflects how life is under a dictatorship and that they felt very connected to the piece, but I guess we will never be invited to show a piece like this in this context.
You have released a couple albums of original music, and The Year I Was Born has a strong musical component. Did you compose original songs based on the stories of this cast, or how did that come together?
I’ve worked for many years with a musician called Ulises Conti. Together we made two albums of songs and he also worked on the Argentinean and Chilean versions of the play. Music is a very important thing in my work, and most of the time I work with live music performed by the people on stage.
Sometimes we compose songs thinking about the biography of the people, like the song of Liza in My Life After. Sometimes we work with the performers to develop some musical identity. In the case of The Year I Was Born, Ulises Conti worked with Alejandro Gomez (who is also a musician telling his story in the piece) to create all kinds of atmospheres with electric guitars. And at the very end of the play, all the performers play electric guitar together and it feels like your brain is going to explode.
Is there any historical context that would be helpful for an audience to know before they see the show, that might make it easier to follow along?
You don't need to study Chilean history to come to see the piece! Just come with your eyes wide open.
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