Beatriz Pizano

Looking Ahead

Tanja Tiziana

Joe Szekeres

Near the conclusion of our conversation, Beatriz Pizano talked about the passion she recognizes in emerging artists and how important it is to nurture it, especially as we look ahead and move forward out of this pandemic.

I must say that Beatriz herself is one deeply passionate lady about her work and craft. I highly respect learning more about her and the work she has accomplished over the past twenty years through Aluna Theatre.

Beatriz Pizano (Actor/ Director/Playwright) is the founder and Artistic Director of Aluna Theatre. Over the last twenty years, she has built Aluna into an international company recognized for its unique approach to creation, its daring political work, and its experimentation with multiple language productions. Her bold performances, in English and Spanish, are marked by a distinct theatrical language drawing from the heritages, cultures, and languages from across the Americas. Aluna’s original productions have earned them 29 Dora Mavor Moore nominations and 11 wins.

She has received a number of prestigious awards including the John Hirsch Prize, the Chalmers Fellowship, K.M. Hunter award, 100 Colombianos and Colombiano Estrella. She is the first Colombian actress to win the Toronto Critics award and a Dora for her performance in Blood Wedding. She has been recognized twice by the Colombian government (President Santos and President Duque) for her work as a promoter and a mentor to the Latinx artists living and working in Canada. In 2019 she was named of TD Bank’s 10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians.

We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thank you so much for adding your distinct voice to the conversation, Bea:

It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level.

Well, to tell you the truth, Covid has been difficult in some things but at other levels for me, I was craving a pause. I haven’t had a rest.

After running a company for 20 years, I needed to think where we are going now. There are changes that needed to happen. We struggled so hard as a diverse company. I was exhausted because as a tiny company we don’t ever get the funding needed to run. For example, I only have one full time person in twenty years, which is me, to run the entire company. The rest are all contract workers.

That instability because with me just running Aluna and having to do everything for the company was challenging. I was working seven days a week and I was very tired.

Before the pandemic, I was very lucky to get one of the Canada Council Grants, the New Chapter Grants, which was a large amount. I’ve never seen that amount of money before to fulfil my dream of working in a piece called ‘The Solitudes’ inspired by ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
It was the first time I fulfilled my dream of working with a collective of women for an extended period of time. We worked over two years, working several times a year for a month, then another three weeks in building that beauty of process. So, after this experience, I felt like I couldn’t go back to a period of three weeks and go, go, go again.

So, for me, it was a much-needed time of reflection personally. I love being home. I have a garden and working in it. I’ve made gigantic personal changes in my life, so I needed time to just sit.

I also travel a lot with the Festivals as a presenter. I travel six months of the year and was always going, going. So, suddenly, for someone like me who has a personality of constantly being on the quick move all the time, I was at home. It was great at the beginning, but for me it has been an important time of reflection personally on who I want to be as an artist, and where do I want to go from now as a more mature artist.

I’ve done all these things, and now success and all those things do not matter to me in the same way. I’m looking for a deeper soul now, what do I want to speak about now. I want to now move into the art of living. I’ve written so many plays about things that were important to me. I’ve started a new project, but I don’t know what it is I want to say yet so I’m going slowly.

For me, the pandemic has given me this opportunity to reflect on how to implement these changes, how they are going to manifest, and how will Aluna deal with these changes.

With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed?

Theatre will never disappear, but it needs to adapt and speak to the times. Digital theatre will never be going away, but how is it going to evolve moving forward? As theatre artists we have to be in the here and now. Technology is the world of the new generation coming forward. These digital tools will not go away. If something is introduced, it will become part of the medium that we know.

Soheil Parsa is directing ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ next year, fingers crossed (and I’m crossing my fingers too because I want to see this production). When we look at this piece, this Lorca piece is so deep and profound as it’s about intergenerational trauma among the women. We’re not doing the ‘Bernarda Alba’ that everyone does.

The company was very important because it coincided with the cries for social change and equity and being a part of that conversation in seeing how we move forward from now on. When I began the company there were five of us who are Latinx artists no more than 10 and now there is a beautiful community of artists who are very strong and emerging.

I’m thinking now as I move forward, and I begin to think of whoever wants to take over the company. I accepted the role of Artistic Director when I took over the company 20 years ago, and now when it’s time for me to move forward, I’m now thinking about strong Latinx artists who can take over. I want to leave a home of strong artists, that was my dream. I want to leave a world full of strong opportunities in this company for a community of artists.

As a small company, Aluna does not always think in terms of ticket sales. Instead, we see the audience as part of the process and in communion with the actor. That is so important. I’m known to give tickets away to those who cannot afford to see theatre because it’s important to introduce as many as possible to the theatre.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate the artistry from the personal side because my work for 20 years was focused on Aluna. I was once asked if I had any hobbies, and I couldn’t state that I had hobbies. Everything I did was my art, and I wasn’t able to separate between the two. At times, it’s hard to separate the two.

As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry?

Rehearsing in person. I’m about process. I work in a style of process, improvisation and discovering until you find things and throwing myself in the room.

I’m a very physical actor. To embody the human body with the text is so critical in the process. It’s not the same on Zoom to feel and to connect with another actor. I need to be in the room with others.

We were in rehearsal for ‘Bernarda Alba’, but I was turning the character into a stereotype because I was not in my body. It’s so hard to make that connection with another actor through Zoom. I never abuse the moment when the actor is in communion with the audience or with another actor. If you as actor can make the audience breathe with you, that is magical.

I miss breathing in the same room with other actors and audience.

Oh my God, I miss a lot of things.

As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it?

People.

Artists need to be paid well and people need to be compensated really well. After Equity removes fees etc, sometimes actors are left with $12, $13, $14/an hour and I’m thinking, “Seriously?” There are actors who have been working for 20, 30 years and they’re earning below minimum wage? This doesn’t make sense. This is inhumane. This has to stop. Let’s compensate people well.

I don’t know who created this system we currently have in place in the theatre. Over the years, we work people to the bones for opening night. When the actors leave, the director, crew and designers stay. Creation is such an act of opening the soul and I don’t understand why people are staying around when the actors leave. That can’t be justified anymore. For instance, some companies have implemented there must be at least two weeks of technical rehearsal in the theatre. When I work with Soheil, he has at one week before previews of tech in the theatre.

When you don’t have a lot of money as many smaller theatres may not, you cannot do that. At Aluna we give at least one week of tech in the theatre because it moves the play faster and better for the actors.
For me, I don’t know how I’m going to do it as a producer, but that practice of working people to the bone must end. Let’s compensate people adequately and fairly. Throughout this pandemic we have been paying people way above scale. People need to be paid daily rates because they work so hard.

Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry.

I don’t think it has changed, but there must be an awareness that the system we have been working with was not working for a lot of people.

The work ahead is really hard. It will also be very exciting because there is a beauty in the multiplicity of artists and voices that we will soon hear. It’ll be hard because there is the unknown ahead, but with this multiplicity and diversity of voices, Canada will become an exciting artistic place. Canada already is because I’ve travelled to other places, but we need to come out of these boxes.

Theatre has become a business on behalf of this illogical thinking because for some people it’s not a business. For some, theatre may be a social movement so we cannot put it under the same thing because it is looked at differently by many people.

The conversation is changing but we have a lot of work to do. I don’t believe anything has changed yet.

This is a process.

Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry.

Oh my God!

I don’t know why you’re making me so emotional, Joe. (and Bea and I share a laugh)

So many things. On a personal level, I’m still striving for so many things as an artist, and that’s making sure I have the time to prepare and to put it in my process. In this urgency to get things done, I don’t take short cuts, and I don’t respect the sanctity of the art form if I did that. It requires time through dedication through playwrighting and acting.

I also want to learn so much more about directing, about playwrighting, about acting. The only way you learn is by doing it with opportunities.

What I want to do is make sure I can create those opportunities for others as well, especially in the diverse and marginalized communities that have had very little opportunity to work. You don’t get better if you don’t work at it. That’s the reality.

With every project I take on, I have this saying: “All I knew today. Tomorrow I will know more things.” If I can go to sleep at night and say, “Yes, Bea, you did everything you knew today. The reason why I didn’t do anything different is because I didn’t know it yet.” But tomorrow after completing that project, I will know more because I will have learned more.

Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre.

I’m actually avoiding anything that talks about Covid.

No. I don’t want to write about Covid at all.

I think what people will crave is truth and connection as audiences. I do think works have to be very truthful. There may be pieces that go against the conventions as people love these interactive pieces today. My desire is the opportunity for theatre to return to truth and not fabricate stories. People want connection.

Have the guts to go and perform in a park without the comforts and lights. That is breaking things down.
Audiences will be demanding a lot from the artists when we return, and I think that’s great.

The industry has to remember and allow that it’s not about tickets. We may have to do theatre in very unconventional places as we, the audiences and artists, return and emerge into this new understanding of the world. I’m looking forward to be challenged as an artist and audience member.

So no, I will NOT go and see anything that deals with Covid.

As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you?

That I believed deeply in everything I did to the bones. I cannot do something that I did not believe in. Hopefully people will recognize my complete commitment with every cell in my body what I’m doing, how can I pretend for others to join me on the journey.

To learn more about Aluna Theatre, visit www.alunatheatre.ca; Facebook: @AlunaTheatre; Twitter: @AlunaTheatre.

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