Carlos Celdrán, photo by Laura Ramos.
Before my awakening to the theatre, my teachers were already there. They had built their houses and their poetic approach on the remains of their own lives. Many of them are unknown, or are scarcely remembered: they worked from silence, in the humility of their rehearsal rooms and in their spectator-packed theatres and, slowly, after years of work and extraordinary achievement, they gradually slid away from these places and disappeared. When I understood that my personal destiny would be to follow their steps, I also understood that I had inherited that gripping, unique tradition of living in the present without any expectation other than achieving the transparency of an unrepeatable moment; a moment of encounter with another in the darkness of a theatre, with no further protection than the truth of a gesture, a revealing word.
My theatrical homeland lies in those moments of meeting the spectators who arrive at our theatre night after night, from the most varied corners of my city, to accompany us and share some hours, a few minutes. My life is built up from those unique moments when I cease to be myself, to suffer for myself, and I am reborn and understand the meaning of the theatrical profession: to live instants of pure ephemeral truth, where we know that what we say and do, there under the stage lights, is true and reflects the most profound, most personal, part of ourselves. My theatrical country, mine and that of my actors, is a country woven from such moments, where we leave behind the masks, the rhetoric, the fear of being who we are, and we join hands in the dark.
Theatrical tradition is horizontal. There is nobody who may affirm that theatre exists at any centre in the world, in any city or privileged building. Theatre, as I have received it, spreads through an invisible geography that blends the lives of those who perform it and the theatrical craft in a single unifying gesture. All masters of theatre die with their moments of unrepeatable lucidity and beauty; they all fade in the same way, without any other transcendence to protect them and make them illustrious. Theatrical teachers know this, no recognition is valid when faced with that certainty which is the root of our work: creating moments of truth, of ambiguity, of strength, of freedom in the midst of great precariousness. Nothing survives except data or records of their work in videos and photos that will only capture a pale idea of what they did. However, what will always be missing from those records is the silent response by the public who understands in an instant that what takes place cannot be translated or found outside, that the truth shared there is an experience of life, for a few seconds, even more diaphanous than life itself.
When I understood that the theatre was a country in itself, a major territory that covers the whole world, a determination arose within me, which was also the realisation of a freedom: you do not have to go far away, or move from where you are, you do not have to run or move yourself. The public is wherever you exist. You have the colleagues you need at your side. There, outside your house, you have all the opaque, impenetrable daily reality. You then work from that apparent immobility to design the greatest journey of all, to repeat the Odyssey, the Argonauts’s journey: you are an immobile traveller who does not cease to accelerate the density and rigidity of your real world. Your journey is toward the instant, to the moment, toward the unrepeatable encounter before your peers. Your journey is toward them, toward their heart, toward their subjectiveness. You travel within them, in their emotions, their memories that you awake and mobilise. Your journey is vertiginous, and nobody may measure or silence it. Nor may anybody recognise it to the right extent, it is a journey through the imagination of your people, a seed that is sown in the most remote of lands: the civic, ethical and human conscience of your spectators. Due to this, I do not move, I remain at home, among my closest, in apparent stillness, working day and night, because I have the secret of speed.
Translation from Spanish by Luis Llerena Diaz
Carlos Celdrán is an award-winning and highly esteemed theatre director, playwright, academic and professor, living and working in Havana, Cuba and presenting his work all over the world.
[FULL BIO] | [OTHER TRANSLATIONS]
Members of Indigenous Direction. From left to right: Larissa Fasthorse (photo by Conor Horgan); Ty Defoe (photo by John Edmonds); Jenny Marlowe (photo by Nick Kiriazis).
It all starts with a sense of place.
Many of us who work in the theater – in and outside of the Western tradition – have long since accepted and absorbed Peter Brook’s suggestion that any empty space is a potential stage – indeed, that a space may be defined by whatever comes to fill it. But (with the deepest respect to Peter Brook) there is a fallacy in this line of thinking – because no space is ever truly empty. Every space – every place – has a history. And that history lives with the space, hovering just beneath the surface – often hiding in plain sight. And so when we come into a space – to occupy it and create within it – our first responsibility is to try and understand that history; to acknowledge it, honor it, and move forward only once we have cultivated a clear recognition of it. This is the work of decolonizing the theater.
What do we mean when we talk about decolonization? We cannot un-tell the story of our past – we can only take agency in writing our future. To that end, however, we can actively try to reclaim what we have lost; and we can center the practice of honoring the things that remain. One of those things is our space. For even when we have moved, or been removed, from our places of origin, the places themselves abide; and those places continue to hold our stories. They may not always resemble the stories we are used to hearing – at first, we may not even recognize them as stories at all. Nevertheless, those stories deserve to be told, and heard.
As theater-makers, and as humans, we are all storytellers. We tell stories to remember who we are and how we fit into the world. As Indigenous people, our stories have helped us survive – after centuries of colonization, appropriation, relocation, forced assimilation, the theft of our land and many of our languages, slavery, disease, and outright genocide, we are still here; and we still know who we are and how we fit into the world. That is largely because we have held fast to our stories – preserved and protected them and allowed them to guide us. Each time we tell, or retell, a story about our past, we fortify our connection to those who came before us by delivering their stories safely to those who will come next. Our stories are an indispensable facet of our resilience; and we celebrate our perseverance by keeping them alive.
That is certainly not to say that Indigenous art is stuck in the past, or that decolonization is backward-looking. We humbly give thanks to the ancestors and legacy artists who have been doing this work for generations, to whom we owe the platform we now enjoy. But like humans everywhere, we also look to the future. Our challenge is to find a way to uphold our traditions – to preserve the stories that have seen us through so much – while also engaging the complicated questions of what it means to live in the world today, as Indigenous people and as members of an increasingly global community of artists.
As a team, we work collectively – and that is also important to our work as theater-makers. The pronouns “we” and “us” are central to our identities as artists. We are Native American artists representing four different tribal nations – but we are inextricably connected to Indigenous peoples around the globe. Many Native communities use the phrase “all my relations” (or “we are all related”) as an acknowledgment that all living things are connected to each other and to the world around us. We all hold our histories, and the histories of the places from which we come – the places where, often, we still live and work – even as those places continue to change around us. To some extent, we all live on that margin – looking simultaneously backwards and forwards, trying to balance the survival instinct to hold on with our inevitable urge to adapt. The work we do is to hold space for stories born on that threshold – not to “make” space, but simply to hold it; so that those stories can be told in their own time, in their own way, and on their own terms.
There are as many ways to tell a story as there are stories to tell – and the more of them we can expose ourselves to, the better we will be for it, as artists and as humans. Today, on World Theatre Day, we invite all our relations, everywhere, to join us in reconsidering the ground beneath our feet – to think first, each time we enter a new space, of the Indigenous people who held and stewarded that space long before we arrived. We look forward by reminding ourselves that there can be no future without a past; and that the past is always with us, part of us, supporting us, suffusing everything we do. We look inwards while reaching out – and always, always remembering where we stand.
~ Indigenous Direction ~
Indigenous Direction is a US-based consulting company for organizations and artists who want to create accurate work about, for, and with Indigenous peoples.
Translations: [SPANISH] | [FRENCH] | [MANDARIN]