by Carmen Aguirre
Carmen Aguirre is a Vancouver-based theatre artist who has written and co-written 20 plays including Chile Con Carne, The Trigger, Blue Box, and The Refugee Hotel. Her plays have been nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award (Toronto), four Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards (Vancouver), and The Siminovitch Prize (national). Her first book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter won CBC Canada Reads 2012 and is a national bestseller. Carmen has over 60 film, television and stage acting credits. She is the recipient of the 2002 New Play Centre's Best New Play Award, the 2011 Union of B.C. Performers' Lorena Gale Woman of Distinction Award, and Langara College's 2012 Outstanding Alumni Award. Ms Aguirre presented the keynote address below on the theme "Speaking Of Change" for the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Annual Conference on June 27, 2013 at Simon Fraser University.
Stupid things included but were not limited to going to the theatre. It was okay to go to a mainstream performance of say, Mary Poppins, because the probability of the secret police going to Mary Poppins to look for dissidents was quite low. But to attend a performance that could have been considered in any way alternative was absolutely, strictly prohibited. The cops, the military, the secret police, were more likely to show up at an alternative performance and sniff around for possible subversives. And if you happened to be there, and if they happened to discover who you were, you'd be dead if you were lucky. Most likely you'd be tortured to the point of no return.
“Come if you dare”.
For the next two non-stop hours these four performers told us the history of Peru from the time of the Spanish Conquest until that very moment in time:
May, 1986, the civil war. They told the story with their bodies. No text was spoken. Sounds emitted from their mouths, but not a single word. They created image upon image upon image and a sound scape with their voices and breath periodically punctuated by the sounds of curfew. The images were of genocide, rape, slavery, starvation, and, ultimately, resistance: a celebration of life; the history of that country from the point of view of the oppressed-slash-freedom fighters.
Innocently, arrogantly, I thought that I would not have to experience risk, terror, and failure again. Because I thought that the artistry behind good storytelling was about pretending convincingly. I had yet to learn that a well-told story is most effective when there is no pretension at all, that a story moves us to the core when the storyteller unmasks herself and seeks the truth in every moment, and that truth-seeking is by its very nature risk-taking, and that risk-taking often leads to failure, and that all of this can be terrifying.