F.I.N.D. #14
When Humour Is Corrosive: A Play That Won’t Change the World

by Joseph Pearson

11. April 2014

 With the final weekend of the F.I.N.D. festival ahead, I met the director, Marco Layera, of the Chilean La Re-sentida theatre group, to speak about his play »Tratando de hacer una obra que cambie el mundo« (Trying to Create a Play That Will Change the World). The work is about a group of idealistic actors, who go underground to work in splendid isolation. They believe they will create a theatrical masterwork that will change society. The problem is that, when they are cut off from the world, a transformative government comes to power that abolishes social injustice. What role is left then for their play? Layera’s work is a searing critique of political theatre.

Joseph Pearson: Why did you decide to produce a play on this topic?

Marco Layera: I was inspired by the play »The Just Assassins« (Les Justes) by Albert Camus. That play is about a subversive group that plans a terrorist act against a Prince. We started working on it, but as we rehearsed it, we found it was naïve to do the play too literally and historically. We started searching for a way to make the story more contemporary and concrete, in relation to our own times and our generation. So we brought it down to earth, changed it to a group of actors, who are also collaborating and working together almost like a group of terrorists. Instead of making a bomb, we are making a play. To do this, we needed to isolate ourselves from society. This is a metaphor and a critique of art: if we are isolated from society, enclosed in a basement, how can we change reality? We come from a tradition in Chile of socially engaged art and theatre, and here we question that tradition. We ask ourselves – and this is ongoing in the play – whether political theatre is useful. Are we useful? Or is this just for a group of snobs: the audience who comes and claps.

Why do you choose to approach the subject through comedy?

Because we are from a theatrical tradition that is very dense and serious. I think there are other tools that are more corrosive: like humour, sarcasm, absurdity. These tools are much more powerful and corrosive than seriousness or straightforwardness. It is a good thing to laugh, and especially when someone realizes he is laughing about something that he shouldn’t be laughing about. This play is actually the »nicest« play we have. The other plays are more insolent. It’s not a dichotomy to laugh and seriously reflect on something.

What role has political theatre played in Chile, in the years since Pinochet?

During the dictatorship, theatre had a very important role in Chile. It was a space of resistance – everything that was done in the theatre was done against the dictatorship. What happened with the return of democracy is that the enemy became more ambiguous. It doesn’t have the name: »Pinochet«. There is a huge sense of emptiness. The new generations realize that the left-wing political group that recuperated democracy is now officialised. They turned their backs on everything we were taught, what we were supposed to do. They only administrated the leftovers of Pinochet. There is lots of disappointment with those people who made this pact with democracy who said a lot of things but when they came to power they did nothing. Now, theatre in Chile is able to critique that generation which overthrew the dictatorship and assumed power. Because the time for thinking about and recuperating democracy is past. Now we have to demand a real and true democracy that does not exist. The government that assumed power after the dictatorship was untouchable because they had done a good thing. Now, it’s been more than 20 years, so we can demand what they haven’t fulfilled. We are considered a very disappointed generation.

In what ways does your theatre engage with the disappointment?

The play is pessimistic. It starts with a premise, that we are part of the generation that hasn’t had a lot happen to it. Our rights are pretty much safe, we are not in a lot of danger, we have access to wealth, the internet, drug democracy. Nothing suppresses us too much. So we are a comfortable generation. There’s a line in the play that they left us »orphans, satisfied and living in a country that does not belong to us«. So, yes, there is disappointment and critique in the play. Not only regarding the political generation we are talking about, but also regarding the arts. We self-critique: what are we doing? It is very easy to talk about human misery and bad conditions in Berlin drinking champagne after the performance. I feel I am a coward. We are all cowards. If we were truly brave, we would be at the front-line fighting. Instead, we are here on a stage made of cardboard, where the bullets are fake. So today, to do art is almost to turn one’s back on the world’s problems. I recognize myself as very bourgeois. I don’t have the strength of my convictions, to fight on the street, or go to the south of Chile to fight for the native people, or to work in a local school. That would be more effective than what we are doing here.

If you are disappointed with what theatre can do, why is the audience there?

First, I am not anti-social. Or else I wouldn’t do theatre. What I am is disappointed about theatre. But it is the only thing I know how to do, medium-well. And I love what I do. That doesn’t mean that I am not conscious that what I do is not very useful, and doesn’t change the world. What I do think is that theatre has a power on self-reflection, and a subversive power that can be recuperated. The effect of theatre is very narrow, but I think we can broaden it. But maybe I am demanding too much from theatre.

If theatre cannot change the world, what can it do to be less narrow?

I believe that theatre is a space where you can transfigure and question reality, to construct and pose new questions, and those are questions that are not asked elsewhere. Planting that seed is interesting. I believe very much in the tool of active provocation, and to defend what someone does not think. So people do not agree with what I am saying. This generates a motor, something that is more interesting than having others agree with you. In that sense, it would be interesting to produce a show that questions the democratic system, knowing that the democratic system has been the best friend of neo-liberalism. These are interesting questions that can be posed in theatre. Because if you question democracy, you are a fascist. Just not when you do it in the theatre. 

Tratando de hacer una obra que cambie el mundo
Der Versuch ein Stück zu machen, das die Welt verändert

Gastspiel aus Chile
von La Re-sentida
Regie: Marco Layera

Premiere war am 11. April 2014