Interview by Mauricio Arturo Fuentes for Interdram.
Translation by Bruce Gibbons Fell.
Sept, 21, 2020.
“…For a long time, I felt that I didn’t count with the necessary credentials to write,
(…) as if obtaining my degree in engineering had shut down a part of my brain. It was very unpleasant. I had impostor syndrome all the time. It went away as I began to write.”
Mónica Drouilly by Sebastián Utreras.
When I read Mónica Drouilly’s plays, I can’t help but remember the contemporary European playwriting festivals at the Goethe Institute about a decade ago. I especially remember a play that really impressed me due to its novelty regarding form and content: King, by Michel Vinaver. The author is French, with a Russian background. He worked in finance, and today is a renowned playwright. Mónica began writing narrative fiction and then tried playwriting and has even experimented with plays for children (just like Vinaver).
Drouilly is a civil engineer and a writer, an unusual mix in Chile, but not in other parts of the world. Drouilly is here to dismantle local stereotypes and diversify the theatre scene with a gaze that, taking a stroll around Europe (she’s passionate about new European authors), places an unusual focus on our society. Drouilly is a necessary author, with talent. She began writing plays not long ago and has already won important festivals. Beware!
1. You come from the math world; you’re a civil engineer. However, you decided to become a writer at some point, as if the other side of your brain developed integrally. How did that process work?
It was a gradual process. My university had a fantastic library, and the year I became a student was when the boom of broadband happened. I had everything at hand and wasn’t going to let a curriculum get in the way of my education. In parallel to civil engineering, I studied a B.A. in Aesthetics, specializing in Literature, and spent many years auditing Literature classes. It’s not like I woke up one day in 2016, thinking, “alright, from now on, I’m a writer.” What changed was the perception I had of myself concerning the symbolic and cultural property. For a long time, I felt that I didn’t count with the necessary credentials to write, which was monumentally stupid of me. I also had a sort of suspicion that came from my interest in literature and theatre, as if obtaining my degree in engineering had shut down a part of my brain. It was very unpleasant. I had impostor syndrome all the time. It went away as I began to write. I tried playwriting first; then I tried narrative fiction, where I believe I found a voice. Then I went back to theatre, which seems to be where I had always wanted to be in.
2. You made a pretty quick jump to playwriting when you won the Muestra Nacional de Dramaturgia festival competition in 2017 with your play Querido John: Take a Chance on Me (“Dear John…”). How that experience like, and how did it change your life in general and your craft as a writer?
It was a beautiful experience. That year was a busy one when it came to writing. In the first semester, I published Retrovisor. I also had the privilege of participating in the Lab that Muestra did the year before. It was there that, from having this idea about a woman writing e-mails to a faraway boss, that I effectively began to write the play, get feedback, try things out, make revisions, and listen to the text in other people’s voices. This is not very usual in narrative fiction, which was what I know most about at that moment. The following year, I had the chance to see a staged reading of the play by La Otra Zapatilla in Concepción, and the production in Santiago, directed by Luis Ureta. It’s a luxury to be able to see two interpretations of the same text. I really enjoyed that. At the same time, thanks to the production, my work became more visible, through which I got to meet the people I currently work with. In that sense, the Muestra Nacional de Dramaturgia was a turning point in my path as a writer. I moved from writing alone at home to writing in a constant dialogue, whether it’s with a director or a team. It’s a shift that’s been very beneficial in terms of trying out forms and ideas.
3. You work in the world of finances. You can somehow speak with complete authority, though your plays, about how Chilean Capitalism works. Do you feel the responsibility to share how this world works from the inside? Do you feel like a “fish out of water” immersed in the world of theatre, or simply as someone who has come to contribute, with another point of view, and diversify the scene?
I don’t believe I have a responsibility to write about that world. Undoubtedly, being closer to it gives me other tools to create conflicts around the topics I write about or create multidimensional characters. It’s something I wanted to delve into with Querido John, and that I continue to explore at this moment, to an extent, with Newsroom of the future, the play I’m developing with Nelson Valenzuela Cárdenas and Drama Club (the date of its premiere is uncertain, due to COVID). I’m very interested in probing the relationship between identity and the working world. Indeed, my experience is often different than most people who work in theatre. Now, if either a feel like a “fish out of water” or not, I’d tell you that this year, I don’t. I’m working on three theatre projects simultaneously, two of which are written by me.
To some extent, I found a space to develop my writing and found work partners to take these plays to the stage (or screen). I feel I operate more as a diversification factor in a field where professionals are relatively homogenous in their training and experience. Now, if you had asked me the same question in 2017, I would have probably answered yes, that I did feel like a “fish out of water.”
4. In your writing, we can find an influence of contemporary European playwriting. What European authors inspire you or have given you tools to write? What Chilean authors have done the same?
I am deeply influenced by the works of René Pollesch and Falk Richter. I’m always reading and re-reading their plays. I’m very interested in Dea Loher and Elfriede Jelinek’s work too. These are the plays I go to when I have questions about how to continue writing. In Chile, the work of Alejandro “Chato” Moreno Jashés and Manuela Infante’s research processes really stand out to me.
5. You wrote a play for children called Mopi Mops. This text won the “II Concurso de Dramaturgia para Niños y Jóvenes Jorge Díaz” (for young audiences). Do you believe the theatre is “in debt with” young audiences in terms of productions and, particularly, playwriting? What are the challenges when it comes to writing plays for children?
I don’t believe I’m qualified to answer if we are in debt or not. I’ve seen very little theatre for young audiences. Most of it has been by Tryo Teatro Banda, and I think it’s fantastic. I began writing Mopi Mops as narrative fiction. I wanted to write something that I would have liked to read when I was a girl, took some autobiographical elements, and got to work. My intention was to create a text that wasn’t condescending. There’s nothing more unpleasant than that paternalistic attitude some adults exhibit. My idea was to explore from that place, so I wrote a sort of long story that took the shape of a dramatic text overnight. The trickiest thing about writing for children is their honesty. Children aren’t going to pretend that they liked a boring play. They’re ruthless. Hence, there’s no space for fillers or lazy moments. Besides, an eight-year-old person today has had access to all the imaginable fictions, so you can’t recur to a final twist. Under that scenario, I chose to delve into the relationships, and a very tender text came out. It surprised me.
6. Your play No abrigo odio por nadie (I harbor hatred against no one) seems like or could be a poem. Maybe it’s a way to make its theme, the coup, less painful. I believe poetry always comes from a state of mind that persists for a given time, precisely to write from that place. How do you encounter poetry in theater?
In the case of No abrigo odio por nadie, the writing was thought for the stage from the beginning. It was meant as a monologue for an acrobat, and I thought about which would be the best way for a demanded boy to communicate the text. So, instead of recurring to long paragraphs (which I like very much and enjoy writing), I decided to write a shorter text, where every word had weight. In parallel is what you say: the coup is a complicated topic that has been written a lot about, and very well. The question about how I fit in that tradition was also present. Beyond encountering poetry in theatre or, furthermore, searching for a poetic form in the theatre, what happened with this text is that the questions that guided the initial research and writing process had this seemingly more poetic form as an answer. The form didn’t come deliberately: it was the result of that search.
7. We know you are working with Teatro La Puerta. Tell us about that experience.
Indeed, I’m working on Tsunami with La Puerta. My role in the project is more theoretical. Mauricio Barría and I are in charge of methodology. It’s been a very particular process. We were two weeks into rehearsal when quarantine began. From that moment on, our meetings have been on Zoom. Fortunately, the first part of the project was related to more theoretical topics like, for example, the concept of sustainability and some notions from economy and ecology. After that, we reviewed the 36 plays that La Puerta has staged in its 30 years as a company. This last part has been something remarkable, at least for me. Luis Ureta keeps an incredible archive of the company’s work: many photographs, press clippings, reviews, archival footage of their presentations, and also of their rehearsals. It’s been incredible to have access to a part of Chilean Theatre’s recent history, as well as the recent history of the nation and its institutions. Beyond analyzing the archive, there’s the team. I’m collaborating with people I admire, people whose work got me interested in dramatic writing. It’s like a wish come true.