Interview by Mauricio Fuentes for Interdram.
Translation by Cristóbal Pizarro Schkolnik.
July, 3, 2020.
"His prose rides at a long stride, between a ramada zamacueca and a chimba tune. His pulse definitely has a creole iambic nature, and its dialectic is emphatically libertarian." On his play “Yo, Manuel" (“I, Manuel”).
Cristián Ruiz by Cristián Navarro.
I remember seeing “Yo, Manuel"(“I, Manuel”), with my friend Elvis Polanco, an Afro-Dominican actor and stage director. It was very interesting for us to be spectators of a story that focuses on one of the most important, controversial, and beloved characters of Chilean history and its independence. Manuel Rodríguez is a popular hero. He lives in songs, murals, poetry, and, on this occasion, a theater studio. Elvis saw it as an opportunity to come closer to the history of what today is his country. I saw it as an opportunity to confirm that identity or, trying not to sound like a fanatical patriot, confirm that sense of belonging we know is immanent in ourselves: a sense of belonging that can escape us or become diluted. Maybe it's because of globalization, or the weight of what "being Chilean" means. This sense of belonging seems so necessary when, amid a social crisis, we seek to re-signify the present. Manuel Rodríguez is a symbol of the Chilean people's drive to find spaces of freedom, and in consequence, dignity. Cristián Ruiz delivers the tools to reencounter memory and the echoes of our history. He does it rigorously, throughout all the stories he tells.
1. In Chile, we are used to calling a one-actor show a "monologue," regardless of how many characters the performer plays. Nevertheless, there is a difference between a monologue, a soliloquy, and a monodrama. Many of your plays are monodramas, a term rarely used in Chile. Tell us what a monodrama is, why have you chosen this form, and how you have developed it in your plays.
The monodrama is a one-person show, developed at the end of the 18th century (Rousseau's Pygmalion) and beginning of the 20th century. In monodramas, a single character explores intimate motivations and a variety of subjectivities through the interpretation of other characters, facilitating an acute dialectic. The more I studied Rodríguez's biography, the closer I came to him: his extremely strong-willed personality, his absolute determination, and the pain he felt after being cowardly stabbed in the back a few months after becoming a father. As an epiphany moving in time, I was able to see his shadow avoiding many obstacles to be present in the secret pact of his only child, a child whose surname was banned by the Supreme Director of Chile. Manuel Rodríguez's radical libertarian spirit overcame all the limits imposed by his former allies, those who could not endure his rebelliousness and abandoned him. For these reasons, I understood that “Yo, Manuel" had to be staged from a lonely place. I crystallized that helplessness he breathed during his last years by circularly returning to the moment of his murder, where he would resurrect, repeatedly, asking about his descendants. On the other hand, Casandra, the protagonist of “Recuerdos incompletos de un reloj” (“Incomplete memories of a watch”), needed to go back to specific episodes of her life, where other people and tragic characters interfere, to find the keys that can lead her to accomplish her self imposed objective. What better way of staging this than a through monodrama?
2. In many or most of your plays, the "absent father" is present as a theme. It's either the central conflict or the opposite: this absence can be naturalized to the point it isn't even questioned. These issues are present in plays that take on the colonial era, like “Yo, Manuel” to others set in present-day Chile. The "absent father" is studied by different anthropologists, historians, and writers to reconstruct our national identity, and in some cases, even Latin-American identity. Where does this "absence" come from in your plays? Do you think you devise this narrative in your writing starting from this topic?
To be honest, the "absent father" is not only a recurring topic in my work. Paternal absence, or a dislocated parental presence, or whatever this degree of privation is, I consider it a universal theme, present in most of stage, literary and cinematographic narratives. It happens so much that if it were explored explicitly or implicitly, every storyline's point of attack is always supported, to some degree, in this kind of causality trampoline. Besides, it isn't a mystery that playwrights, consciously or unconsciously, get creative resources from their filial biographic backups. By default, we intertwine plot threads from, or in the shadow, of our own emotional footprint. What speck of my work isn't crossed by my history as a son and/or as a father? If the storylines in which my characters debate have a conflict condiment in terms of a paternal presence, it is also true that these micro-stories are encapsulated as a big parachute in a social co-narrative, where a rebellion is about to take place. Or maybe amid momentous events that, as if fulfilling the function of a hyperbole, amplify this topic to link us transversally to the almost atavistic belief that that state/father, either during a war or a pandemic or a social crisis, can't give itself the right to, the luxury of, and the audacity of abandoning its citizens/children. That policy is not part of the social contract.
3. How did you construct Manuel Rodriguez's voice for your monodrama “Yo, Manuel" Did you use texts from that time, letters, history books?
To create “Yo, Manuel”, I used Rodriguez's epistolary record. I consulted biographic data and did research on the history of his intervention in Chile's independence. This material was kindly provided by the lawyer, historian, and musician Juan Pablo Buono-Core. I will never stop thanking him for having suggested this generous, creative adventure, and providing me with all he had collected. In this diverse forest of words and information, I clearly heard the voice of a leader that decided to become the protagonist of his people's history. In his letters, I could feel the whisper of a spirit that licked his wounds in secret. In his actions, I could perceive the clamor of a heart where a survival instinct and a wild desire to change it all crashed against each other constantly. In his biography, I began to question everything. At the same time, I was able to grasp the answers from the most radical rebel in that mythical Chile. His prose rides at a long stride, between a ramada zamacueca and a chimba tune. His pulse definitely has a creole iambic nature, and its dialectic is emphatically libertarian.
4. In “Recuerdos incompletos de un reloj” (“Incomplete memories of a watch”) you devise a narrative from the perspective of a criminal from Pinochet's dictatorship. You explore his intimate world, to talk about an absent father and the weight of carrying with an enormous and ominous stigma. To carry out this process was a bold choice, considering how delicate this subject is, but it was very well received once it opened. Why did you choose to submerge into this world?
The Military Dictatorship is a conceited, horrific, and dark episode of our history as a country. It's a stain we can't wipe out without acknowledging the debt we have with all those victims and their relatives. As a society in general, we avoid this responsibility, as if we weren't part of a recent past that bonds us. As most of the perpetrators decided to comply with a pact of silence, we are left not knowing what to say or do. Meanwhile, we can, maybe at least, demand justice supported by chants, lifting up picket signs and at the wing of associations. I choose playwriting to convey my mark. This is my only trench. A stage play isn't going to change anything, I am clearly aware of it, but it can help create reflexive and humanistic thoughts when facing this debt. And as long as it can contribute to having more individuals/spectators assuming this national debt as their own, becoming a critical mass that can generate pressure, my stories will continue to make sense. So far, we have had a great reception in spaces of memory, which is fantastic. But obviously, most spectators attending those venues, either by reaction or election, can already develop a fluid reflection around that social debt. That is why it is now necessary to make those who administrate spaces that are not part of the memory circuits more aware of this: now more than ever.
5. In “Las Dimensiones del Tiempo” (“The Dimensions of Time”) the dramatic action is presented in the context of the student protests of 2006. However, the protagonist is staring at this social movement from outside, from the periphery. You set the core of the story in what would usually be a secondary character. This gives the play a singularity that differentiates it from the usual narrative. Why did you decide to use this character as a point of view, at least in this play?
Taking Daniela's voice, an ordinary employee at a photocopy store in front of the secondary school of one of the girls leading the protests, allows me not only to move the enunciation of those who were left without a voice: it enables me to encapsulate the dramatic action within the student revolution from outside of the movement itself. Daniela is a character that decides to become the bridge between that movement, which she dedicatedly observes, and her own family; her mother and her son. Her mother, the child's grandmother, only lives for this mono parental family and sees with suspicion what happens with these boys and girls trying to skip class. Daniela has to fight against this vision to justify her own project of revolutionizing herself. This way, the struggling forces in the outside, in society, are also crashing in the intimacy of this family. Taking the voice of the leaders of any other character inside that movement would have limited my dramaturgic possibilities. Everything the movement awakes in Daniela, and her son, are much more closer to me.
And I dare to think, closer to many of those who witnessed that historical event. This dramaturgical choice was made because I wanted to reach a broader audience, not only those who are "convinced revolutionaries."
6. Playing with time, sometimes circularly, comes up in several of your plays. What does this device mean to you?
I am not sure if the precise adjective would be "circular." I see it more like the treatment of time in my plays responds to history's pendular dynamics: the pendular pattern of events, social paradigms, and binding events at a civic level of our national biography. And I dare to think, at a world-wide historical level, it also responds to this dynamic. The events/paradigms/events go from one point to the other in time and vice versa. But when they come back, they don't do it in the same way they left. Something has been digested in the outbound journey that transforms them or disguises the temporal trip back. And although they may return wearing different skins, pretending to be new paradigms, they will always keep the same essence, because of this pendular factor.
A story that is well told inside that black box named theater has a unique social reach. An aroma to repeated history, told by characters that remind us of people we all know, maybe ourselves, represented and re-interpreted in front of our senses as a community social mirror. It reminds us that we don't know those characters, but through certain behaviors, we can recognize, suffer tragic or dramatic or comic circumstances that will completely change the way they view life. And maybe, in the near future, when the play has ended, we'll come back and play the same routine, follow the same conduct, but in a different manner. Maybe with a secret Aristotelian hope that that behavior will be repeated with a certain degree of acquired knowledge. A knowledge that, conjugated with that pendular factor, challenges our consciousness.
7. In “Recuerdos incompletos de un reloj,” the text format is very close to narrative fiction. It makes me think of the term "narraturgy," as proposed by Sanchis Sinisterra; you mentioned Novarina as a reference as well. How and why did you use this format? What implications exist when staging a text with this format?
This textual format, which seems merely narrative, brings a certain degree of freedom when staged. It seemed to me that enunciating all of the speakers, at times, was a bit useless. The nature of the dialogue itself reveals the characters. Besides, it forced me to create a delirious and overflowing thought line, allowing the entire spectrum of the character's inner struggle to be revealed. A kind of full interior thought running parallel to her conduct enabling the verb to, concretely and dynamically, become action, front, and in complicity with the spectator.
8. You have directed most of your plays, although lately, you have handed over that role to Coca Duarte, who is also your partner. For many playwrights, handing over a text is very difficult. It feels like handing over a child, so someone else can be in charge of them. How was this opening process, and how has it benefited your work?
That moment was simply liberating. Coca is not a stranger to my creative project. She doesn't need to "study me," or "psychoanalyze me" to stage a play of my authorship. She has accompanied me in most of this new life as a playwright, always as a first reader and editor of most of my texts. What better guardian angel of my writing, to direct it and turn into the mother of these children. Of course, there is complicity, but always from different regard. And finally, that is what adds value to this "creative partnership," complementation: the revealing suspicion of a counterpart that is more like a naughty accomplice with high sensitivity and professional dedication. It is not about "showing off" as a director, but rather about working to make the text and the story itself are the protagonists of the production. She proposes directing strategies that focus on the balance between the shape of the play and the depth of what is being told. It reveals a staging without interferences like "I am showing off with a range of forms so that my talent can be appreciated and my work as a director praised." Her directing work is geared towards providing the best acting, space composition, and telling the story in the best possible way. And this surely relieves and frees from worries any playwright hoping the essence of his/her text reaches each spectator entirely.