CASA Festival - Arts Festival of the Year 2014

CASA Latin American Theatre Festival is a voluntary organization that brings the best Latin American theatre to the UK audience and engages with the Latin American community through theatre. From a humble festival performed in a London crypt it blossomed into a splendid event - the winner of LUKAS Award for Arts Festival of the Year 2014. Read its story!

¡Buenos días! Bom dia!
My name is CASA and I am almost 7 years old now (my birthday is in October this year, you should come!). I am from the UK and from… well it’s a bit complicated. I’ve got family in lots of places, especially in Latin America, from Mexico to Tierra de Fuego. So I guess I am very much Latin American too? But then my dad has French origins as well so…

I remember the first year when I was born. It was in a crypt in Holborn. There was a bunch of people performing Latin American plays in English, it was fun.

My dad went to Argentina in 2001 and was mesmerized by the variety and power of the theatre he saw. He came back to the UK and promised himself to bring the best of Latin American theatre to London. And here I am! I started by providing a place for UK performers to explore Latin American text and ended up hosting international artists at the Barbican and Rich Mix, chatting with the community, making theatre with them and eating empanadas while we learn from the artists who come to visit. And from those who live here as well, there are lots!

I guess that more than any single figure, every artist that I’ve worked with has shaped my understanding of what theatre is, how it is made and who it is for. When my dad came back from Latin America, more than 10 years ago, he thought that there was social engagement in Latin American theatre that there wasn’t here and so he felt there was a need to create a dialogue between these different conceptions. Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t other amazing festivals here in the UK. I’m always learning from my big cousins as it were.

I really enjoy welcoming the incredible artists who come to visit us from Latin America - it’s such a joy to be able to help them share their amazing stories with UK audiences. We spend ten fantastic days together each autumn. And there are so many people dropping by as well, from experienced theatre-makers to people who love international theatre, from the community coming to see a show from their own country to all the kids that rock up to our Community Day to make masks or dance like gauchos. What I love is this possibility of learning from each other, travelling together to wonderful places through the simple act of stories being told each night in the theatre. That you can create a space with no boundaries or borders where everyone recognizes themselves is what’s magical about theatre and why I love inviting people into my home!

I guess what I really like is how open people are to discovering new things and how ready they are to engage if you invite them in. That’s something I really like about working in London where there is such a mix of people and ideas. The thing I dislike perhaps it’s that sometimes people lose sight of what’s important and get tangled in other logics, logics driven by money, power, competition…

A big difficulty is to balance what you want to do (everything!) with what is possible (not everything!) and to never lose sight of what is most important to the people you work for and with. I’m still a work in progress and this is what growing up is all about: finding your identity, making your mark and giving back to the people who support you or look up to you. I’m looking forward to being eight and nine and seventy!

Uff… I remember some of our Latin American artists wanting to come and perform in the UK but it looked like they couldn’t because there were problems with their visas… That was the scariest moment of my life! It was so scary because there was so little we could do. In the end, lots of people helped and they did come after all.

As for a breakthrough, I had one last week. In my head that is. I reckon it will be really fun to organise an all-nighter for young people to debate, play and engage with the Latin American culture. I say it’s a breakthrough because it’s an entirely different way to engage with the politics and the societies of the region. We’ll be buzzing with ideas, chatting, dancing, playing and learning ALL night one night in September! Isn’t that just genius?

How do you find the UK audience for what you do compared to others. How have you found British society and their attitudes towards you and what you do?

I think people really look forward to get toknow more about Latin America, outside the typical clichés. And because there is quite a theatre tradition here it’s kind of a win-win situation. If you know what I mean. Brits have been awesome coming down and playing a big part of the CASA story so far. I look forward to visiting places outside London and making new friends. I think we’ll get along pretty well with places like Manchester and Edinburgh and Liverpool and Birmingham and loads of other places too. They’re all on my to-do list!

What has kept me driven is the immensity of the talent in Latin America but also here, in the UK. Knowing that people are coming up with ever so mind blowing work and fantastic stories keeps us alive. It’s like having an endless fuel to enable us to keep doing what we do.

I am very happy when I see artists, audiences and participants sitting together, discussing life, art and love, or just having a meal and an animated conversation debating what they’ve just seen or done. There is something wonderful of having all sorts of people under one roof, being moved or provoked by someone else’s work. That exchange is why we do what we do. What makes me less happy are the difficulties to get to this stage, that sometimes people are suspicious and reluctant. But by fighting prejudices and being as open as we can be I hope this will be less and less important of a barrier.

I really have a crush on Teatro Da Vertigem, an amazing Brazilian company who do crazy massive outdoors events. Can you imagine they actually blocked off a square kilometre of São Paolo for one of their shows? Now can you imagine doing this here?! Boris and his bike would have to be sent on diversion...

The good thing about being a festival is that even if I’m buried away I won’t disappear. So my funeral song will actually be the opening song of the first Latin American play performed in London after my death. And each sound of that play, each word of that work will still be a celebration, a tribute to the virtuosity of that theatre!

Even if I’m only 7 (in festival years) it’s almost like being 16 - yes, I’m still quite young! So I’m organising a big “Fiesta de 15” ( a Latin American sweet sixteen if you like). I’m doing it with some Colombian friends of mine. It’s going to be called “Como quieres que te quiera” (How do you want me to want you) and it’s going to be a big party with theatre, a dinner and music. You must come! I’ll tell you where very soon...

I would like to travel more and meet more people, in Latin American and here in the UK. I would especially like to go on a tour around the UK to share the brilliant Latin American theatre with audiences outside of London. And in London I want to organise a big event outdoors so even more people can join and enjoy the home we’ve created.