This week we sat down with Guillermo Calderón, the playwright and director of Villa, to discuss how theatre can be used to explore tragic events.
Villa opens March 1 at The Wild Project. For more information, please visit: http://playco.org/plays/villa/
So, what was on your mind when you sat down to write Villa?
I want to write, in general, about my, how my country remembers the dictatorship and how that is such still an open wound. And scattered all over the country they have people [that] have been able to organize around sites. And every single sight becomes a problem for the people who are basically organizing around that sight in order to make them sort of … turn them into places that can symbolize something bigger. Sometimes they emphasize the victims, sometimes they emphasize the possibility of thinking about a new future. Like more a democratic, open, prospective future. And sometimes these places become a platform for discussion. And the Villa is, it’s one of those places. And it’s personal to me because it’s not far away from where I grew up. So, basically I spent some time there, and I even worked writing the audio guide.
Oh you did?
Yeah, yeah. I wrote it.
So did you grow up in Santiago?
Yeah, I grew up in Santiago. Yeah maybe just a mile away from the site and then, eventually, well I knew some people who work there, and they offered me the possibility of writing the audio guide so I did. So I had, I knew the history of the Villa and all the, sort of, how it worked. I mean, how the, how it was designed, the whole, idea behind it. How it worked and how it didn’t work. And all the conflict of, that has to do with the Villa being now a park. Which is beautiful in the summer, and people, sort of, are a little bit confused by that because they think, and not the people in, I’m saying a lot of people, think that a site like that should basically be a site that shows history of the place, and that history is of course … sad, ugly, violent. So how come the site of this horror becomes a beautiful park in the summer? And that of course is the core of the conflict.
So when you were writing the audio guide, were some of these still happening, these arguments, and the bureaucracy?
Right, because, It’s interesting, because, I got to, sort of, visit the place, of course, many times and listen to what people had to say about the specific, sort of, different monuments inside the Villa and why did they decide to do this or the other thing. And, of course, everyone says, “Yes but we had a big discussion over this. Oh we’re still discussing.” So, in a way, the place sort of reflects the discussions that these people are already having. And some of these discussions are very academic. They stay, sort of, inside academia. And some of these discussions are basically the daily, sort of, life of the organizations who run these kind of sights. So, I wanted to, sort of, reflect that.
As theatre is a transient art form, how can it work to preserve memory?
[Pause] Well, it’s … “memory” of course is, it’s a big, it’s a big word. But basically, the way I understand it, memory is something that is always redefining itself and you’re always, sort of, discussing it and you are re-elaborating the idea of memory. Memory doesn’t always mean monument. And it’s sometimes, it’s even the opposite of history. History is basically documents and how you can write down a narrative of what happened in the past. But memory is something active, something that you forget, that you remember, that you rearrange, that you fictionalize. So it’s very much an ongoing process. So the play is not setting things. So it’s basically, motivating, or maybe, sort of serving as [pause] as the beginning or a starting point about conversation that becomes the act of exercising memory. So for example the play discusses the issue about this one site which has become a park, a “park of peace,” in a sort of, maybe erroneous way or maybe debatable way. And once you understand that … or maybe once it’s discussed in the play, you can actively think about different sites or your own history in a more, sort of, rich and sophisticated way, hopefully, and that’s an act of memorializing. See because now you’re going to look at this other site in that way, maybe you’re going to remember history of your family, history of your community in certain ways. So, in a way, it’s transient, but … the process that it spearheads is really active. So, the play sort of lives on in the overall project of memorializing the country’s history.
You’ve worked in both film and theatre; do you feel either form is more useful to affect tangible change?
I feel that … there’s nothing like the sense of community that happens inside of a theatre with actual live actors. There’s something that, it’s not passive. You’re very much aware that seeing this with a sense of community in front of people who are actually alive on stage that creates this special way of thinking that it’s not dreamlike, like in front of a screen. It becomes more of a, how as a group we experience this piece of theatre. And for that reason the experience becomes a little more [pause] collective. And that collective experience, even though it might be a discussion and full of contradictions, it becomes more deep and active. It’s not about dreams, it’s more about reality and experience.