Bashed on the Head: Global and Local Tensions in the Life of an Artist

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Flavia Domingues D’Avila, Artistic Director and Founder, Fronteiras Theatre Project, Scotland •

:: Click to play the video produced by 47Film Director Andy Cameron's presentation below ::



Fronteiras Theatre Lab is an Edinburgh-based theater company that aims to develop international collaborations and transcultural work, focusing equally on research, professional development and productions. This paper will focus on a three-week residency along the border between the cities of Santana do Livramento (Brazil) and Rivera (Uruguay). During the residency a multinational group of performing artists worked together, exploring the cities and the border itself and absorbing and exchanging cultures, knowledge and skills. The project also included guided and independent field activities, workshops and “barters.” There was also a parallel project developed with local students from both sides of the border, which focused on encouraging them to respond artistically to the idea of a border.

Performers Gwendolyn von Eisendel and Sarah Cagossi on the borderline

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Sogorb
Performers Gwendolyn von Eisendel and Sarah Cagossi on the borderline

Summary of the Session

The goals of the session were:

•To tackle the border as a social reality (Durkheim, 2007), as a passing place or place of transition (Spivak, 2000), as a location of adventure and violence (Turner, 1982) and as a world of possibilities and of construction (Chiappini, Martins and Pesavento, 2004).

•To identify the border as something situated in the margins, something which breaks with centric structures (Derrida, 2001) – not only as the object of the actual research, but also as the site of the unusual exchange between the participants' native cultures.

•To create an opportunity for exchange between these countries while at the same time shifting the activity away from central domains such as capitals and large cities and creating a bridge between Europe and rural southern Brazil and northern Uruguay; and, in doing so, to see the border as a subversive place.

I am a native of Santana do Livramento and Rivera. I left my hometown(s) at the age of 16 to pursue my studies and am now artistic director and founder of Fronteiras Theatre Lab, an Edinburgh-based theater company. My role in the Fronteiras Explorers project1 was that of producer and director. I was joined by a team composed of six performers from Scotland, England, Italy, Spain and the USA, with a background in diverse theatrical traditions ranging from classical theater to live art and opera. Two Brazilian drama students participated in some of the main group workshops and a separate educational group of Brazilian and Uruguayan pupils (aged between eight and 16 years old) took part in the final piece. The main participants kept a record of their impressions on a blog throughout the three weeks of the project (Fronteiras Theatre Lab, 2013).

The greatest challenge for the company was to create a bridge that the diverse cultures involved in this project could pass across without overtaking one another. A syncretic ⎼ or “borderly” ⎼ method of working was sought to enable the artists to let themselves be exposed to new ways of thinking that would result in more complex and substantial creative processes than the ones they were used to. I like to claim ⎼ and please feel free to disagree ⎼ that “syncretism” differs from “transculturalism” in that the former is a seamless type of fusion, the result of which may feel more “genuine.” 

The first field activities consisted of guided walking tours of Santana do Livramento and Rivera so that the European-based artists could grasp a little of the historical context of this unique border area. We wanted to move beyond merely exhibiting the two towns, their people, and their customs as pieces in a gallery or as tourist attractions. Instead, we wanted to give them a chance to voluntarily show themselves, their daily rituals, their behaviors and their characteristics, and to become both object and subject of our research. John Emigh (1996) observes that cultures do not create performances; it is the individuals who live in complex cultural circumstances who do. It was then up to locals and the group to choose what part of their own culture and their artistic manifestations they wanted to showcase. They chose how much to give and how much to take and decided how to shape newly-received definitions to create their own hybridisms. This is an organic process that happens intuitively among the inhabitants of this border area every single day of their lives. Sociologist Fábio Régio Bento observes that, "instead of a typical national ethos originating in the centre of a state,” the citizens who are born and bred in this place “manifest a different ethos; a binational, borderly ethos of integration.”

“This is a unique quasi-state parting from two other states, Brazil and Uruguay,” Bento writes, “with a larger number of inhabitants than the world's smallest city-state: the Vatican."2 It is in this open space, this porous border, where that multinational group of artists faced their task of looking for a syncretic performance.

During the first week, the focus was on iconography as a starting point for the process as well as an introduction to syncretism, border concepts and aesthetics, street performance techniques and the folkloric rhythms of Brazil and Uruguay. Geographically, the work concentrated on the place where the two towns meet along the central part of the borderline, between the International Park – the only public square in the world belonging to and managed by two countries (Moreira, 2012) – and Cerro do Marco (“Borderpost Hill”). This space comprises the central and commercial area of the two towns and is, therefore, where the largest movement of people occurs every day.

The second week's work focused on generating material and on the educational arm of the project, in which specially-tailored workshops were offered to twelve pupils selected from local schools. While the pupils worked on drama, improvisation games and small barters, the professional performers developed their field activities further.

Armed with all the material and new skills resulting from the first two weeks of research, the Explorers started their final week with the aim of creating a scratch performance to show to an audience on the last day of the residency.

This was the final activity of the project, a unique experience for the performers involved and border locals alike. The amount of material generated during the first two weeks of the project and the techniques that participants had worked on enabled the creation of a piece full of representations which could be easily grasped by all, regardless of any cultural or linguistic barriers between the performers and the audience. The project was considered a success as a collaboration and an exchange, and an important step forward in our research on syncretic theatre and performance.

>People holding hands at a Barter session at Club Uruguay

Image Credit: Juliana Freita

Barter session at Club Uruguay


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[1] This project was kindly supported by a Creative Futures bursary from Creative Scotland, the Federal University of Pelotas (Brazil), the Centre for Integration of the Mercosur, and local businesses in S. do Livramento/Rivera.

[2] Translated by Flavia D’Avila.