Talking About a Revolution
Photo By: A. Chaparro
Colombian independence was constructed by men and women who strived for a country free from the shackles of Spanish imperialism. The movement brought together disparate personalities, one of whom was the widely respected intellectual military leader Antonio Nariño. But Nariño wasn’t only a revolutionary, he was also a politician, journalist and the translator of the Declarations of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which signaled a monumental paradigm shift in South America. Actor / writer Fabian Zarta has taken inspiration from this most inspiring of men and presents the multi-faceted leader in a monologue, aptly titled Nariño, enjoying a limited run in Bogota.
Bogota Brilliance spoke with Zarta about his inspiration, Nariño’s relevance today and working between New York and Bogota:
BB: What interested you in creating a theater piece about Nariño?
FZ: Nariño has a quite interesting dramaturgy when you trace his life, a gigantic courage but still a very sensitive human being. I think he had wanted to enlighten the entire Hispanic-America by translating into Spanish the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, think of the time 1789/90s. Subsequently, the French Revolution. Many countries were under the regimen of Spain and the Catholic Church was the pinnacle in Latin America, none of them wanted "Americanos" (Yes Latin-Americans were called just Americans back then) to embrace a new thinking that would set up ideas for freedom and equality. The Viceroyalty "el Virreynato" would tumble down.
I have decided to work on a parallel between that time, and our current times. It feels right, we have to learn about our history so we can understand our present better. Nariño is not only about Colombians or La Gran Colombia (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, some historians say, North of Peru, North of Brasil (parts), and parts of Guyana), somehow South America. He is a universal character. I am interested in Nariño 'cause he had so many values that a leader needs in today's world.
Ideally, we can wake up little Nariños in every person that experience or learn about his work and legacy. I think Latin-America needs to learn more about its history from South to North and vice-versa. Sometimes it seems that history repeats itself, and we need to do something to change that direction; theatre and films are my mediums for expression.
BB: Did you discover anything surprising about him?
FZ: Every time!!! Nariño has all the element for a book, a novel, a play, a movie, a poem, a song or a monologue ;)... I particularly like a sense of ritual he had (I am not saying he was a warlock), but rather his commitment and passion, he gave up all (he was part of the aristocracy/half Spanish, half Colombian) for his ideals of change and independence from El Virreinato. But Nariño is timeless, especially for Latinos living around the globe, and I dare to say the entire human population.
BB: What kind of research did you do when writing the piece?
FZ: I am still researching. For almost a couple of years, I have had an idea, I traveled to Colombia back in 2015 to explore Nariño's life, places and people's perceptions about him in today's society. I have walked around Bogota, visiting museums, libraries, meeting with historians, visiting close by towns where he spent time. I visualize Nariño in every part of Colombia I have visited, from cities like Cartagena or Barranquilla to Departments like Boyaca or Cundinamarca. Or even when I am in NYC. This particular need to tell this story was really inspired in New York City; the place that has become my other home.
BB: How did Nariño differ from his contemporaries?
FZ: Realness! Even though he belonged to an aristocratic circle he found a voice that spoke for thousands and thousands. His works not only focus on self-enlightenment, but spreads widely.
BB: Why is he relevant today?
FZ: We need more Nariños, that's why I am bringing his ideals back, not that he was perfect, but there is a fascinating life experience in that man. He really reached for wisdom.
BB: What can audiences expect from the show?
FZ: Just come by, we will find out together. It will be fun, in particular, if you like critical thinking, I'd be all yours.
BB: How have audiences been reacting to the piece?
FZ: It is still a new piece to tell, but so far it has been amazing. I have different influences when it comes to theatre, I think there is a sparkle from all theatre-makers I have worked with from legends to non-professional actors. I also try to use that idea that I had had about theatre before I even started to do theatre, so I keep some identity somewhere. Of course, you start to do your own research, and come out with your own conclusions, but I am still young, so I am “in the process.” Some people may say what's going here. It is hard to say how people may take the piece.
BB: Why is it important to have the audience participate - and what topics are discussed?
FZ: Since I was growing up in Colombia audience participation was important, from Carnivals to the actual work on stages and streets I started to do in Bogota. We studied Epic theatre and other tendencies. My grandfather and great grandfather were merchants who traveled around the country, but when the carnivals and festivals of the villages happened in the region they were from, Purificacion - Tolima, they became The Comedians. As a child I saw that, how the entire 'Pueblo' town passed by our house in a procession to pick up my Grandfather Eudoro, who entertained them and made fun of the hard times. It was a sort of Dithyrambs what we experienced there. When I moved to NYC The Living Theatre, The Public and other companies I have worked with in New York, sort of dig into this a lot with different approaches. I guess I ended it up there not by coincidence.
BB: What are some of the differences between theater in Bogota and New York?
FZ: Bogota has a strong underground theatre scene that I remember, it is still notorious for the little I have seen in my visits lately. New York also does, but what is wonderful about New York is that underground scene in parallel with the mainstream which has created an industry in theatre. I have to say, however, with all the due respect to many amazing works I have seen in NYC, some of the best performances I have seen in my life I saw it in Bogota – those pieces were very organic: using elements such as a pile of fire, sounds from the wild nature, very humanistic performers with such a commitment. Perhaps, it was 'cause of the time being when I was very young, so I guess I possessed innocent eyes... New York is New York, and you can't find such wonderful diversity somewhere else. That access to diversity in stories is just amazing – at least in the underground scene.
BB: What do you like about Bogota?
FZ: There is a strong scene in the arts here. Some people really become good at it, 'cause resources can be limited sometimes, but that is when you prove creativity. I think Colombians, and in general Latin Americans, are great at it. I also see very good looking people around here. All Colombia mingles in Bogota. I love diversity.
BB: Additional comments and thoughts?
FZ: Come to see Nariño. Spread THE love! Colombia has many wonderful experiences to offer.
PLEASE LET'S STOP SAYING THAT LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES ARE THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES/OR UNDEVELOPED.
Sadly, that is the message we are giving to our children and youth that has such an amazing potential. We shall raise their self-esteem. It doesn’t mean there are not serious issues in Latin America, but we need to start changing the state of mind in these people – our people.
I also would like to extend special thanks to:
El Círculo Colombiano de Artistas - CiCA (The Circle of Colombian Artists), El Ministerio de Cultura de Colombia (Ministry of Culture of Colombia) and IDARTES (District Institute of Arts) / Programa Salas Concertadas. My Family, Historian Alexander Chaparro, Fabio Becerra, Maria Eugenia Penagos, Documentarist Alejandro Chaparro, Grupo Rebolu, Kiosko Teatral, Casa Campestre Villa Maria and FolkCOLOMBIA.
4, 5, 11, 12, 13 of August
Teatro Bernardo Romero Lozano
Calle 46 No. 28 - 30
Acting as in Life – Coach Ron Burrus Presents the Present
Do you live in the present or sense and release tension? If you think these questions sound like something a Yoga teacher or meditation coach would probe, you wouldn’t be too far off. Except that the ideas were being reframed by Ron Burrus, one of the top acting coaches in the world, and a disciple of the infamous and revered acting guru Stella Adler. Burrus was in Bogota to conduct an intensive course on auditioning and acting for the camera. Based in Los Angeles and Manhattan, Burrus has conducted classes in Japan, Mexico and India. The knowledge Burrus imparted to our class of international students included far more than angles, body positioning and voice modulation.
“Flying from Lima to do this workshop, has been one of the best decisions of my life as an actress and as a person!” said Peruvian actress Alexandra Barandiaran, “In six days I've learned so much it overwhelms me and makes me absolutely happy, full and satisfied!”
Another student, professional Colombian musician and aspiring actor Juan Angulo added, “Ron has given us a new perspective not only for acting but also for living. He gives us methods and exercises to practice in our life every single day.”
Even something as fundamental as accessing vocabulary stems from a prior understanding of what words to use when. In acting, however, the past is secondary and the actor must understand that they are experiencing the character’s journey through the scenes as they play out (presently) before an audience. Colombian presenter / actress Maria Laura Quintero reported that she learned how to forget about the past and to live in the present without judgment.
Argentinean actor Santiago Garcia Rosa travelled from Buenos Aires to attend the workshop, told me, “The best thing about Ron, is that everything he teaches, he is, you see it, you don’t see somebody talking about being present, etc. You see him being present.”
The actor must always be clear on how he or she prepared, being careful not to get stuck on an “instant performance” and own the mantra, “I am here to solve problems in my acting that the writing can’t solve.”
“The inner life of a character,” explained Burrus, “on stage is expressed through the body and on camera through the eyes.” In either case the experience is of the moment as it resonates with other actors and viewers. Burrus considers himself lucky to still be inspired, after more than 40 years of teaching, to continue. “Ron is not just an acting teacher. He understands the human condition and helps you understand it and put it into action in your acting,” said Colombian actor Sebastian Eslava (who organized the workshop at the accommodating 93 Luxury Suites with Colombian model / actress Tatiana de los Rios).
In a Word
Over the week we redefined words, and indeed, reality as it pertains to the craft. “Acting is a lifestyle,” Burrus told us, and warned against putting life pressure on top of work pressure but instead to “sense and experience the vibration.” A great deal of acting is repetition under pressure, and skill is applied when the words are repeated by the actor, they are spoken as if for the first time by the character.
Technique, for example, now means “an in depth understanding of cause and effect.” This is critical for actors as they create a cause that produces the effect of dialogue. It is through an action (physical and / or emotional) that the text is given life. Talent, a loaded word indeed, was distilled to its purest essence by Burrus: Talent is connection. This clarity is both profound and troubling for the actor in the sense that it demands the actor truly be present at all times. So, perhaps, the observation “Leonardo DiCaprio is a talented actor,” might be rephrased as “Leonardo DiCaprio creates believable connections.”
The definition of “judgment” was also called into question. For actors, as could be said of most people, this word carries a lot of weight and can be poisonous. In its new form, judgment is “imposing your point of view on something or someone”; which is what actors are called on to do when creating a character. But, it can also be toxic in the sense that if we are judgey about fictional characters, then we risk (and often are) judgmental about the people and instances in our real lives. “Mental habits have an appetite that you feed through reactions,” Burrus advised. “Awareness is the ability to see what is without the need to do something about it.”
Each time they need to do another take or run the show again, an actor is called upon to make the viewer believe that what they are seeing has never happened before. This is no easy task and requires the artist to employ not only his or her training, but one of the most powerful tools we all possess: Imagination. For the actor “Imagination is a powerful preparatory tool with strong rules,” instructed Burrus, but it is a skill that required work, like a muscle. Imagination is particularly useful to help actors withstand the reality of repetition under pressure.
However, this tool should not be used to literally imagine how a character might feel something, “Don’t lay feelings on the scene, the feelings come from the scene,” advised Burrus. And, the specific reaction might change given the dynamics of any particular moment. That said, he guided us through the concept of applying specific emotional actions to any given response. over time the actor should create a library of these actions, always written in the “ing” form such as convincing, shocking, shutting, etc. so that they can be accessed as needed. “Ron's ability to convey thoughts and actions is extraordinary. Listening to him makes you forget about a bathroom break! He is a master indeed,” surmised Colombo-Brazilian actress Nathalie Murillo Toro.
For me, the time with Burrus and the other students was stimulating, provoking, illuminating and fulfilling. He is a true master, and one that we were fortunate to have visit Bogota where this level of training does not exist.