As part of Her Side of the Story, a conversation about the female perspective on stage on May 13-14, Imago Theatre will be profiling Canadian theatre artists and companies that are promoting the female perspective and diverse voices in theatre.
This profile is for Carmen Aguirre. In 2014 Imago produced a staged reading of her play Refugee Hotel in conjunction with Teesri Duniya Theatre for the Have We Forgotten Yet festival. We will be hosting a masterclass with Carmen in October, 2016 (details to come)
Carmen Aguirre is an author, actor, and playwright who lives in Vancouver, BC. She was born in Santiago, Chile, where her parents who were teachers and activists. In 1973 her family moved to Vancouver as political refugees. Carmen returned to South America to work for the underground resistance movement against the Pinochet dictatorship. In 1990 she returned to Canada to begin her training as an actor at Studio 58, a prestigious theatre program in Vancouver, to train as a Shakespearean actor. However, once she graduated she found that the roles she was being cast in were limited to maids and sex workers. One role in particular, Mexican Hooker #1, the name which became the wry title of her newly released memoire, informed her decision to switch her focus from acting to writing and directing.
“It’s so reductive, this character doesn’t even have a name. The only way to deal with the situation was to create my own work.”
From CBC Radio 1 Interview – See interview here
Her first play, In a Land Called I don’t Remember, premiered at Studio 58 in 1995. It was a largely autobiographical play about two girls on a bus, representing her dual identities as a Chilean and Canadian citizen.
(Since then) Carmen has written and co-written twenty-five plays, including Chile Con Carne, in which she explores exile and internalized racism through the eyes of an eight-year-old girl, The Refugee Hotel, about the first batch of Chilean refugees to arrive at a Vancouver hotel in 1974, The Trigger, about a violent childhood rape, Blue Box, which interweaves two stories, one about being hunted by the secret police when she was in the Chilean resistance, and the other about chasing an unavailable man, and adaptations for the stage of Eduardo Galeano’s, Jorge Amado’s, and Julio Cortazar’s work. She founded The Latino Theatre Group in 1994, made up of non-actor Latino/as from the local community, and co-created over twenty-five Forum Theatre pieces with them over the next eight years, including two full-length plays, ?QUE PASA with LA RAZA, eh? and Spics n’ Span. Her plays have been nominated for twelve local and national awards, and The Refugee Hotel won the 2002 Jessie Richardson New Play Centre Award. Currently she is working on three new plays, Broken Tailbone, Anywhere But Here, and The Trial of Tina Modotti.
As an actor, Carmen has worked extensively across North and South America, with over eighty film, television, and stage acting credits to her name.
From Carmen Aguirre’s bio on the Playwrights Guild of Canada – Read bio
She continues to be a strong advocate for racial representation in theatre by challenging shows that fail to respect race when casting – especially when casting for stories that are tied to race and regional identity – as well as arranging formal conversations about representation of race in Canada. She believes that the country has come a long way since the 1990’s, when many of the shows were about white men in texts imported to Canada from the England and the United States, but thinks there is still further to go before we see representation from more diverse perspectives on stage.
Much of her work is informed by her teenage years as a freedom fighter, having returned to South America to assist the resistance, as well as having been raped when she was 13. The first, her years in the resistance, is the subject of her first autobiography, Something Fierce. Her second book, Mexican Hooker #1, which is released this month, follows her experience healing from the rape, and transforming that process into her career in theatre.
The healing process, she describes, culminated when she and a few other women who were raped by the same man, met with him in prison. She felt it was important that they have the chance to meet him on their own terms, and to have a discussion as equals.
The words he whispered to her when she was 13, “don’t run away,” could be said to be her mantra for the way she approaches art – directly and head on. It is consistent with her belief that tragic events can be metamorphosed into greater strength and empowerment.
“I have accepted that (the rape) will always be there; that one indeed does not ever completely get over childhood rape but rather that one learns how to integrate it.”
Why I Faced My Rapist, Interview with The Guardian – Read Article
To people who find that their voice isn’t being represented on stage, and are struggling to find work in theatre due to ethnicity, she offers this advice:
“For newcomers of any ethnicity who aspire to careers in theatre, Aguirre adds that the only way forward is to create one’s own opportunities. “If you don’t want to write your own plays, then find plays by diverse writers that interest you and produce them yourself,” she says. “Sign up for the Fringe festival, go bang on doors with ideas; don’t sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. If theatre really is your calling, you will find a way to make your dreams a reality.”
From a profile written for Canadian Immigrant – Canadian Immigrant interview
For more information, visit the D&Q site here – Drawn and Quarterly events