The Venezuelan crisis has been building slowly ever since I was a child in Caracas. It slipped into focus: more kids on the street begging for food, the price of lunch at school creeping upwards, the increased frequency of protests, and the wider spread of barrios (favelas, slums) on the mountains surrounding our city. And more and more, all that people talked about was politics. When I left the country to study here in Montreal, these things continued to get worse….and worse…and worse…until I thought it could get no worse without some sort of implosion, or CIA-backed coup, or civil war. And while I think we might finally now be close to one of these options, the crisis continues still, seemingly impossibly, to worsen. I read an article recently that commented, ‘There’s no rule that says that a miserable situation has to end, just because it’s too miserable.’
A couple of years ago, I was talking with a friend about making meaningful theatre. She offered that I should create a show about the Venezuelan crisis. I thought, no, I would have to be braver, know more, feel more confident about my cultural identity, or have struck a goldmine of creative inspiration to propel me into this project. Because whatever theatre I created on Venezuela would have to be perfect. I told her that I would do it when I was ready.
What a silly word. When it comes to all things important and challenging in my life, I’ve never been ready to start. More often than not, I’ve forced myself to launch in head first to avoid “paralysis by analysis,” in my partner’s words.
In 2013 the crisis exploded (imagine – starvation, skyrocketting inflation, record homicide rates, guns everywhere, fear, hate…). In 2016, spurred by the severity of living conditions in my home country, I asked Cristina Cugliandro, (Odd Stumble’s Artistic Director and one of the directors of Imago’s upcoming Her Side of the Story: Revision to Resist festival), to direct what would become Elsewhere.
When we started working in October of 2016, all Cristina and I knew is that it would be a show about Venezuela. It wasn’t until March of 2017 that we had the template – a mask piece offering a glimpse into the lives of six Venezuelans experiencing the crisis in different ways.
In Elsewhere we meet Venezuelans struggling to maintain positive dispositions under rapidly worsening conditions, some succeeding more than others. While the characters are mostly able to find the hope and love they need to make it from one day to the next, it becomes clear that the energy to hope and love, for some, is finite.
As we approached show time I was afraid of so many things:
I imagined all the Venezuelans who would come to see the show, all of whom would be dealing with the loss of their country, would cast me aside for
– not being Venezuelan enough / being too Canadianized;
– not having included enough Spanish in the script;
– creating characters that they didn’t recognize;
– not getting the historical facts right;
– not putting the Venezuelan flag on the promotional material;
– misrepresenting the severity of the crisis;
– not having worked with a Latin American director, or designers, and most importantly,
– for telling the story of a crisis that I had never personally experienced.
While I believe certain of these insecurities to still be valid, instead I found the response from audience members was overwhelming; I have never felt more appreciated, or more loved by strangers than from those Venezuelans who came to see the show. They showered me with with their honest sadness and broken hearts, and I offered them mine. They asked if they could connect me with their friends in Ottawa and Toronto who could help me tour the show to those cities. They posted emphatic reviews of the show on their facebook pages, urging their friends to come to witness the story. The ripples of the show continued – Risa Tsukushi, who came to see the show, ran a personal marathon to raise funds to send food supplies to Venezuela. I would have never thought it possible that our storytelling could move someone that deeply.
The show finished and I was on a high that lasted months. In fact, I was slightly manic in my intensity to move Elsewhere forward and pursue opportunities to perform it. I had to slow down to not stumble over my own ambitions and ego. Breathe, I tried to remind myself. Slow down, was the response from collaborators and mentors. Move forward with thoughtfulness and intention. Right.
Odd Stumble then won Most Promising Company for the production of Elsewhere, which offers us 40 hours of workshopping time in the Segal Centre’s rehearsal space. It’s the perfect award considering that the plan has always been continue to develop content bring Elsewhere up to date with the evolution of the crisis (yes indeed, it has gotten worse). Elsewhere will have another life here in Montreal and hopefully a tour. Details TBC.
This notion of being ready was a total barrier to entry that I’m glad I did not heed.
– Joy Ross-Jones