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Gabriela Flarys: There She Is

By | Published on Friday 24 May 2019

We’re always on the lookout for the new and unusual stuff when it comes to covering the Fringe, and it sounds like ‘There She Is’ definitely falls into that category. It’s a recently developed piece with a rather quirky central conceit – a whale being beached on the London underground – that tackles themes of migration and displacement.

It’s the work of talented multi-tasker Gabriela Flarys. I spoke to her, to find out more.

CM: Can you start with the content of ‘There She Is’? What story does it tell..?
GF: The story begins when a whale becomes stranded on the rails of the London Overground, abruptly throwing all of London’s transport into chaos. The story then grows, as one character becomes many, all with different accents and personal stories, but nonetheless bound together by their sense of displacement, and their wonderful desire to reach their single destination: ‘The Better Place’. As the show unfolds, the surreal incident seems to become an invitation to change paths, not only in the sense of taking a different route, but to embark on a process of recreation of oneself. Maybe I can say that it tells a story about embracing the unknown – where something feels stuck, there is always an invitation for a change.

CM:What themes does the show explore?
GF: The show certainly focuses thematically around the idea of the foreigner – understanding what it means to be foreign, not only to a country but to oneself as well, exploring the idea of a foreigner as ‘the other within oneself’. While creating the show I was often reminded of something that the philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva had said about the subject: “How could one tolerate a foreigner if one did not know one was a stranger to oneself?” It is from this basis that the show approaches migration, displacement, language and untranslatable words as sensations. Begging the question, what happens to the words we’ve lost? The sacred untranslatable ones. Do they cease to exist? Does the part of us that loved them cease as well?

CM: How would you describe it in terms of the style of performance? It sounds like it’s pretty physical…?
GF: It is indeed very physical, but all theatre is physical, isn’t it? I find it quite tricky to classify. I chose to put it within the genre of Theatre as there is text through the whole piece and I am playing different characters. However, as a sub-genre, I placed it as physical theatre and comedy. The text informed the movement as much as the movement informed the text.

There is a certain style of performance that emerged from my creative processes and that resulted in a range of movements that are not exactly quotidian, but sometimes strange when played together with the text. I think the show lies in between dance-physical theatre and spoken word. I think that this juxtaposition, the push and pull from within the structure of the show itself, embodies the theme of the lost foreigner very well. I often find myself asking if ‘theatre’ isn’t already the right classification to embrace it all.

CM: It’s a really interesting premise – what inspired it?
GF: Since I moved abroad, about five years ago, I started to reflect on how the experience of being displaced had changed me. I began to find myself pondering on what made me feel like a foreigner and how much of an affect I had on my surroundings, as well as how much of an affect my new surroundings had on me. I like to think in metaphors and the whale came as one. A mammal that is by nature always in transit, migrating, a hybrid existence – reminding me of the process of diaspora. Existing in this middle plane, between the sea and the air, not entirely belonging to either. But what happens if this mammal gets displaced – beached – how catalytic can it be? A stranded whale activates microdynamics; people cannot move her, and they instead need to change their journey around her.

This is where the other side comes in, the experience of commuting in London, of which everyone can share stories of confusions and chaos – why not have this beached whale as the one who challenges transitions in the city? Life can often be, and often is, rather surreal, one may notice this if they are willing to pay attention and accept it, instead of allowing such oddities to be thrown underneath the blanket as invisible facts. To me it seems that it may take something as big as a whale on the tracks – something so big that it is impossible to ignore – to get people to acknowledge what they are so eager to reject.

CM: How did you go about putting the show together? What’s the creative process?
GF: It was a long process that began during my masters at Trinity Laban, where I was researching and crafting an energetic training practice for actors – developed from Grotowski’s principles, Lume Teatro and Andrea Maciel’s practice. This training was the main focus within the general investigation of movements and spoken-words in motion.

At the same time I was doing a research on the subjects of displacement and migration and the creative process for this show stems from the desire to hear people’s honest experiences as a foreigner. I began to do interviews with people of different nationalities currently living in London and speaking English as a second language. I asked them about their personal stories, their sense of belonging and words from their language that have a strong meaning for them but can’t find the genuine translation into English.

The show was starting to come about when I took these stories to physical training and improvised texts with movements – always attempting to find the sensation within the discourse rather than focus on the meanings. Within the energetic training, I can experience different qualities of movements, exploring different sensations as well as states of exhaustion that lead to authentic ways of moving.

After a period of investigation, Andrea Maciel – the show’s co-director and dramaturg – and I thought that it was important to find an event to connect all the stories, a common fact that bonds everyone in the city: an accident? A surreal incident? A beached whale? Yes, but in the middle of the city. After this idea, I spent a while writing the script, adapting each story to the main event and creating the conflicts and connections between the characters. With a script in hand, I went back to the training and improvisation, but this time establishing scores. The script was slightly changing along with rehearsals in direct collaboration with Andrea. I also had a few artists coming to studio and giving precious feedbacks.

CM: How does your relationship with Andrea work? Have you been working together since early in the process?
GF: Andrea was involved in my process from an early stage, firstly giving suggestions and making comments on my first ideas. She also played an important role in leading the energetic training on some occasions, with her own approach, as this practice is also her expertise and she has been teaching it in universities in Brazil, NY and the UK for quite a long time. This was of great value for the process, as she could not only trigger me into ‘creative zones’ but also witness the experience of improvisation with the text in motion.

On a later stage, the rehearsal process was divided into many hours alone in studio, training and creating scenes that I would later show to Andrea to discuss ideas further. It was a co-creation where we both had different perspectives. I was directing myself from ‘inside’ and Andrea could look from outside to give feedback: suggest other paths, elements, and dramaturgical solutions.

Nevertheless, in a collaborative process ideas also emerge not from ‘one person’ or ‘another’, but from the collective middle, and from the discussion itself. There is always a dialogue that evokes creative choices and leads to decisions, a kind of an in-between zone. We found a dynamic way of collaborating, mainly because we shared the same ground of principles for this devising process: seeking for a strong connection to sensation, depth exploration into specific voice and body qualities, centered on the idea of finding actions with clear character’s intentions and objectives.

CM: Is this your first full Edinburgh run? What made you want to take the show to the Fringe?
GF: Yes, and I am very excited about it. I have been to the Fringe before, but performing for a few days only. This show is a project that I have carefully devised and I continue to love performing it. I have done a small version of it – 25 minutes – at a few theatre festivals in London, such as Sprint Festival at Camden’s People Theatre and One Act festival at Stockwell Playhouse, events where I have always received very warm and amazing feedback that has encouraged me to carry on investing on the project.

I feel now is the right time to take the leap of putting this 45 minute version of the show out there and for a full run. Edinburgh is the world’s biggest theatre festival, a great platform where people from all walks of life can get to know more about my work. It is an investment for more professional opportunities in the future.

CM: What expectations do you have of your time in Edinburgh?
GF: Well, honestly, I expect to feel like an athlete, because it will be a marathon. There is so much to take from the Festival that I will need all of my energy to cope with it all. Apart from performing every day, and flyering and promoting, there are so many interesting people to meet and great shows to watch. I want to make time to see all of these, it is an amazingly creative little world. I expect to take this chance as a way of promoting my work, opening ways for future possibilities for this project and myself.

CM: Do you have plans for the show after the Festival run?
GF: A lot of plans, but possibilities are still being opened. I am currently looking for a venue in London to put the show on after the Festival, as well as potentially getting on a UK tour with it.

CM: Can we talk about you for a bit now? How did you begin your career and how did you get to this point in it?
GF: Sure. I began by doing theatre in Brazil – acting in a lot of theatre shows as well as playing in short films, feature film and TV series. I left Brazil to spend three months abroad to get more acting technique and physical skills. I attended to a range of workshops in Poland, Berlin, Denmark, Belgium… and ended up in London doing a masters in Creative Practice at Trinity Laban, where I could develop my own research into physical and vocal training for actors. During my masters, I also had intense training in contemporary dance. I came to a point where I wanted to explore how all this knowledge I acquired on the last years could come together in a devising process of a one-woman show and this piece is the result of it in somehow.

CM: Your past work seems to include acting and dance, live performance and recorded – where do you feel most at home?
GF: I came from an acting background and dance came later on into my studies, so I could say that I feel more comfortable acting, as I have more technique and professional experience. However, in my work I do explore both and feel they are completely connected, becoming my creative way of expression.

Curiously, on the dance pieces I have had the opportunity to take part in, the choreographers invited me because they also wanted me to bring some ‘acting’ into it, such as spoken-words or an approach to movement that can be very peculiar – not classified purely into ‘dance technique’, but a mixture of the different elements of my performance background. So you could say that I am an actress who dances rather than a dancer who acts – does it make sense?

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
GF: My aims are to do more in parallel with my theatre work, to get more jobs in film and TV. I would love to play more roles in films, as this is also one of my biggest passions, and I have always worked in film alongside my theatre work. I also have plans to adapt this show into a movie.

CM: What’s coming up for you after the Festival? What’s the next big project?
GF: I am involved in a few projects in London and in Brazil, but cannot tell much about them yet, they’re still a secret!

There She Is’ was performed at PQA Venues @ Riddles Court at Edinburgh Festival 2019.