An Interview with StoneCrabs
StoneCrabs herald from Brazil & are bringing a cutting piece of interactive LGBT theatre to Britain this summer. The Mumble had a chat with the company’s Franko Figueiredo & Inês Sampaio…
Hello Franko, so first thing’s first, where are you both from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Franko: I’m from Brazilian mixed heritage and Inês is from Portugal of Angolan Heritage. I now live on the Isle of Wight and Inês lives in Nottingham.
Hello Inês, so can you tell us about your theatrical training?
Inês: I started engaging with theatre back in Portugal in 2009 when I joined theatre O Bando for weekly workshops. It was a sort of Young people’s company led by extremely knowledgeable theatre practitioners who had been developing their own school and approach to theatre that was extremely stimulating and challenging. This got me excited to learn more, and so I attended East15 (2012-2015) and completed my degree with a 1:1 in BA(hons)World Performance. The best way to describe such content rich course is to tell you that I had the pleasure to join an around the world trip in 3 years, with the privilege to experience a taste of the culture, art, approach to theatre, rituals and essence of all four corners. This course not only trained me in acting and multi-media but also in various styles of dance and music forms/instruments from all over the world including; Butoh, storytelling, African dance, Bharatanatyam, storytelling and masked performance and mask making. As well as traditional theatre performance, I have also received training in directing, scriptwriting, research, devising and production skills. The range of disciplines acquired enables me to create and apply myself confidently to new visceral work.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Franko: Since my childhood, I’d say. Though the passion was more about storytelling, being with other children gathering around a bench in the town’s square, at dusk, hearing locals tell stories, and re-telling those stories at home.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Inês: Passion, wit, engagement and a lot of hard work. Good theatre ultimately entertains. I am a big supporter of theatre as a platform to educate, inspire and provoke, but nonetheless is has to entertain. There is a formula that makes theatre good, and I am learning more about it, just as I read “Strategies for play building” by Will Weigler, which gives you five main ingredients for a successful theatre show. I love theatre that celebrates multi art forms and embraces world theatre techniques, when appropriate.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
Franko: There is a special connection in theatre, the collective energy that we exchange, the reminder that we are not alone. The shared risk and the immediacy of it is unlike anything else, it can make it for a very special, charged experience.
What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Inês: I love the romantic idea of curtains going up! I breathe in through my nose and push my right hand forward, as I exhale on various sounds like “s” or “sh” or humming I bring my left arm forward and the right arm back. This helps me keeping my vocal cords active without being too loud, helps me calm my nerves with the breathing and keeps me distracted as I focus on the arms (right arm represents my belly as it expands forward and my left arm the sound coming out). I also jump and say “You got this, this is gonna be good, this is gonna be great, it will be what it wants to be and I trust.”
You’ve got three famous writers from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Franko: Probably Octavia E. Butler, James Baldwin and Yukio Mishima. I’d serve smoked salmon pancakes for starters, Brazilian moqueca with manioc flour, rice & beans, and dessert would be apple pie and ice cream. I’d go straight into my overdraft and serve plenty of wine
Can you tell us about StoneCrabs & your role?
Franko: StoneCrabs is a small BAME, LGBTQ Theatre Company which I co-founded back in 2002 with Tereza Araujo and John Heyd, when we were ‘post-dramatic’ political theatre. Later in 2006 Kwong Loke joined us and we share the role of Artistic Directors. As we welcome new members to the company, the work changes and we start developing our theatrical language further; we are particularly interested in intercultural political theatre and right now experimenting using ‘gaming’ techniques and interactive play strategies when creating new theatre work. We also deliver lots of community and educational projects. Like most small companies, I have a chameleon role of producer, writer, director, facilitator, fundraiser, you name it. We are a small registered charity and I am helped by a wonderful board of trustees, my colleagues and company associates, who are all freelancers like myself, meaning we oscillate from getting paid on a project basis to being volunteers.
What is the theatre scene like in Brazil?
Inês: For the new government art has become less of a priority and artists are being fed with passion (literally, no money) and the Arts and Culture Ministry is now extinct. I have just finished a tour of an opera show for families which was part of SESC festival, an absolutely incredible programme and an honour to have been part of, and off course, I have experienced some of the most exquisite classical music shows, but very little theatre. All theatre I watched was kind of underground, off the radar, done with very little resources. And I met far too many talented people who explained that the funds for theatre were so scarce that they were no long fighting for the cause, which has really sadden me. Poverty in Brazil is not like the poverty here, thus I am afraid their priorities lay elsewhere and theatre is left, sadly, for the few, who can afford it.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Inês: My perfect Sunday afternoon will have direct sunlight onto my skin, a fresh diet coke with plenty of ice and lemon, the cold Atlantic sea on my feet and family and friends around. But if we are talking about an english Sunday I would have to say that a nice trip to the park, a good (on budget) meal with friends, a trip to the theatre with some boardgames afterwards seems like a pretty good day! (and there I am, over booking myself!).
You are currently touring a new play around Britain, can you tell us about it?
Franko: The Trial is a interactive play about identity, equality and justice. The audience is transported to rural Brazil and is invited to play Jury to a case brought to trial by Tieta. Tieta is a young man who was shunned from their small town for being queer, years later Tieta returns as a trans-woman and set the challenge to the townsfolk (the audience) to find her justice. As the Trial progresses and the Jury learn the facts, circumstances and evidence and must reach a final verdict to the case brought to court. I wrote The Trial as an attempt to bring to light some of the issues the LGBTQ+ community is going through in Brazil, Inês and Almiro also brought in authorship to the text, and what we ended up with is a post-dramatic interactive show that uses rakugo (Japanese storytelling form), dance, live music and audience interaction.
How have you found working with your Brazilian colleagues, Franko & Almiro?
Inês: Franko is an absolute inspiration for me. Ever since we worked together at East15 when StoneCrabs came to direct my showcase I was in awe with their craft. Franko is an incredibly supportive director who encourages my creative input and this for me is very important. I trust them as a director and feel very grateful to have the honour of working with them. The true source of my nerves when performing The Trail is not that I may make a fool of myself, but that I may not make justice to Franko’s work. Almiro is a very kind artist with an excellence in dramaturgy that is beyond compare. Always very attentive and caring, bring a light and inspiration to our working space.
How much of this play is fed by your own experience?
Franko: The rural setting is definitely from my growing up and there are moments of the Trial that borrows from a personal universe, for instance being an immigrant, having left Brazil at the end of a military regime that created a very oppressive society. Like the character of Tieta, I was very conscious, from a young age, that I was different, that I didn’t conform. When I came out as gay (the word queer was not in use yet), there was no tolerance. When I was given the opportunity to leave Brazil I didn’t hesitate. Arriving in London to the tune of Bronski Beat’s song ‘smalltown boy’ playing in some of the LGBTQ bars was both welcoming and challenging, in different ways. I went back to Brazil last year, soon after the new president took power and I probably experienced more hatred now than I did all those years ago, this has also influenced the play.
Does Tieta encapsulate the main themes of the play?
Inês: Tieta is a complex character; although she goes through a lot of changes, her journey is full of ups and downs. She represents a fight for equality and human rights, and in that sense I believe she is the most suitable person to do so, and The Trial is a call for arms from Tieta.
How did the start of your tour go in Nottingham?
Inês: We had an amazing response, the audiences were with me, and with the show, all the way through. They were fully responsive and incredibly provoked. Their final verdict was mind blowing, I can’t tell you more without spoilers. I feel very grateful. We couldn’t have had a better start to the tour.
Do you think the Brazilian mesh of poverty vs wealth & greed, social exclusion vs fight for equality will resonate with the British in 2019?
Franko: Perhaps, Britain feels so divided right now, there is the element of populism and far right thinking that seems to be dominating the stages. I was recently in Liverpool, and we just played The Trial in Nottingham. I couldn’t help observe the amount of homeless people on the streets, years of austerity has left us morally bankrupt and it is really scary. There’s seems to be a huge lack of education and respect, people just seem to think that it is okay to shout abuse at one another, it’s ugly. I’m very interested in the verdict the audiences will deliver with in the performances The Trial? Will we still base our choices/votes in ingrained patriarchal ethics and ideas?
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Brighton, what would you say?
Inês: This is an incredibly fun interactive show that will make you experience the whole spectrum of emotions. If you love music, you need to watch it. If you like stand up comedy, you need to see it! If you enjoy story telling, this show is for you! If you are interested in the concepts of equality, identity and justice, than come and watch this show! Witty, SO ENTERTAINING, unexpected.
The Warren: The Blockhouse
May 28-30 (20:00)