How the Members of Bonobo Make Sense of the World Through Theatre

Since 2012, the members of Chilean theatre company Bonobo have been creating works that address social issues regarding the way in which the “other” is perceived. What are the tools of democracy that help legitimize violence? How do we let xenophobia and inequality become the norm? These are some of the questions that haunt their pieces. This month New Yorkers will be able to see their latest work Tu amarás, set on the eve of an international medical conference where Chilean doctors wonder how to deal with the recent arrival of extraterrestrials who have settled on Earth escaping genocide in their homes. Directors Pablo Manzi and Andreina Olivari elaborated on the themes that fascinate Bonobo and the dialogues that Tu amarás have sparked in their community.

Bonobo began as a project meant to understand violence towards “the other.” Have you found the answers you were hoping for?

We had to part with many ideas we had about the people who are part of the social and political center of the city, as well as people who have been marginalized and even deemed as “barbarians” through the democratic language. Chile is a clear example of how the new democratic language can be useful to normalize and soften the antagonism between diverse social groups. We’ve also realized the “other” can be dehumanized through inclusive, peaceful and amicable elements. In that manner, these works have brought us closer to the idea that the conflict between political correctness and explicit discrimination in what has been called new fascism is a false conflict that takes us away from the real issue.

What methodology do you use to create your dramaturgy once you know the themes you want to explore?

In our three works so far we’ve used collective work to create the dramatic text. It’s essential for us that the actors become immersed in the themes and issues we deal with, and above all that this leads to different viewpoints within the company. Our idea is to work in situations and conflicts that allow us to see the dimensions of violence, fear and hatred that are part of the social logic we’ve learned. During the first stage of our process we discuss readings that are of interest to us and we share experiences we’ve had related to the issues. After the dialogue we reach to a kind of content map where all our points of view are synthetized. This is followed by a period of improvisation where we rehearse different situations and roles centered around the issue we’ve chosen. We use the material of the improvisation process to create the dramaturgy, which isn’t written collectively, but is born based on the work of the whole company.

How did you realize theatre was the medium you wanted to use to study society?

In our case theatre has been a path to push discussions we find problematic to their limit through fiction. So far, our collective has worked plays as an issue; therefore, the creative process is quite hard. We have to pass severe judgments that help make the discussion more complex. That’s precisely what we try to put into the play.

As technology provides us with nonstop content 24 hours a day, how do you create spaces for audience reflection within your works?

We believe that in spite of the infinite amount of information that surrounds us and keeps us connected, theatre can give us something technology can not. Every time we go to the theater both the artists and audience members experience a community encounter that transcends transferring a message or information. We work to share and transfer an issue that we come up with as a collective and hope theatre can help transmit to our community.

How would you define the perfect audience?

We believe it’s very important and enriching for our work to see how audience reaction varies depending on where we show our work. It’s interesting to experience the response of European audiences for instance, which contrast with Chilean audiences where the political contexts and material reality are so different, one has a history of colonizer, the other of being colonized for example. That’s why I’m not sure we have an idea of what a perfect audience is. What matters to us is that audience members are able to immerse themselves in the issues we stage.

Credit: Marcuse Xaverius

What works do you think best represent this very specific moment in Chilean history following the “Chile despertó” protests?

This movement began about three months ago and we’re still living it, there’s a lot of violence and uncertainty. Therefore we can’t say there’s a play that best represents what is happening because we’re still in the midst of experiencing it as citizens. However, Chilean theatre has always been political, there’s always been a tradition of thinking about the issues in our society. For decades many artists and playwrights showed us the consequences of the neoliberal model that was imposed with bloodshed in our country. 

As the coronavirus gains prominence all over the world, Tu amarás will most likely resonate in a different way with audiences. What are some memorable audience exchanges you’ve had when you’ve staged this play?

It’s curious, we alwys have very long conversations with audience members after this show. It’s hard to think of just one. The work gains meaning when you think it can trigger such a response from community members interested in addressing issues.

What do you feel as Latin American artists bringing your work to a USA that’s going through an era of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment?

These are things we often ask ourselves as a company. That xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments are brutal and more violent if they are normalized. As a collective this leads us to wonder what do we think of as a normal democracy. Is democratic thinking really interested in transforming the dynamic of exclusion, inequality and violence towards “barbarians?” Or on the contrary, have we internalized that to live in a democracy is to accept these issues of violence with empathy? 

For more information on Tu amarás visit: https://bacnyc.org/

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