The Chilean theatre-maker Manuela Infante debuts at Schauspielhaus Bochum

In July 2021 director and author Manuela Infante’s new work Noise is going to premiere in Bochum, a work commissioned by the Stückemarkt of the Berlin Theatertreffen. Infante explores the relationships between noise and sound, voice and body, individual and mass, what is heard in the background and what is heard in the foreground - and what eludes this classification.

What are the soundscapes in the life of this artist, who is one of the most exciting theater makers of her generation?.

Manuela was born in the year 1980 in Chile in the city of Santiago.

Manuela Infante: The rustling sound of flames consuming a bus in the dead silence of the hours before daybreak. It´s the first sign that it will be a day of violent protests against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

She wrote her first text for a university theater festival when she was 21 years old. She had no interest in being a writer. She wanted to be a director. But she could not manage to find a text that would suit her needs. She wanted to try out a devising method that was nothing like what she was being taught in theater school. For that she needed the text to be more of an empty page than a full one. She wanted a text that would leave space for other stage forces, for light, for space, for acting, for silence to infiltrate the show. She basically wanted a text that would get out of the way. So she wrote a text about Arturo Prat, a navy national hero, because that´s what was on the news as she tried to create this text full of empty space.

It was the 21st of May, and the three hour long parade to commemorate this hero was on TV. The beats and drums of the military parade on the TV that no one is watching in the living room of my parent´s house. I thought, this is great, everyone knows this story, it’s been taught to us time and time again in school. If I write a piece about this navy hero, I will not have to spend my theater time actually telling the damn story. I never liked to spend theater time telling stories. It’s too valuable a time.

Prat  became her first theatre show as a playwright and director together with the theatre company TEATRO DE CHILE whose initial formation consisted of actors and theatre designers from the Theatre Department of the University of Chile. It premiered in 2001 in Santiago de Chile.

Seconds before the show begins, the lights go down in the small theater space where Prat is premiering. The dark seconds before the beginning of the show are filled with the sound of the chanting of right wing navy and nationalist protesters on the street trying to stop the show. I put my hand on the light operator´s arm to stop him from starting the show quite yet. His movement freezes. We let the dark stretch a few seconds longer than usual. We can here the screaming on the street, we hear the press, the fights between protesters and supporters of the show. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears.

Rhythm plays an important role in her understanding of theatre – the theatre as a rhythmic space. This might derive as well from her musical background: in 2010 she started to make music with the indie-pop band Bahía Inútil ("useless bay").

The first time I play live the stage fright is agonizing.  As I start the first song, I can barely hear anything but my voice as it resonates inside my head. I am the singer. My voice sounds like its resounding in two caves at the same time, the cave inside my head, and the cave that is the tiny bar. I have never felt more exposed.

Manuela Infante is used to touring with her pieces to show them to an international audience. She has shown her works in the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Singapore, Korea and Japan. In 2019, she won the commission for the Stückemarkt of the Berlin Theatertreffen with her play Estado Vegetal, in which she follows her interest in the non-human-centred-theatre by critically examining contemporary social systems also from the perspective of plants.

Marcela grabs a leaf from the street as we walk to Baryshnikov Arts Center in new York where we are working on the first stages of Estado Vegetal. She brings it into the rehearsal space. I turn on the looper pedal. Marcela puts the leaf to the mic. She crushes it in her hand. She records. The sound of a dry leaf crushing comes out of the speakers. Then she records another layer over that, of the same sound. She does this six, seven, eight times. Another layer, and another layer. When the leaf in her hand is turned into brown dust, as she lets the dust fall to the floor, we all hear with immense surprise how out of the speakers now comes the sound of a full blown raging fire: This is what the leaf had hidden in its layering.

As an artist she is especially interested into a politics of the plural – the being many without becoming one in a political dimension - aiming for a non-human theatre, that extends beyond an anthropocentric perspective.

“10,9,2,2…6,5,4… 10, 9, 8…3,2,1 Happy new… 8,7,6… What?... 4,3,2…” this is the sound of the most caotic new years count down I have ever heard. Millions of Chileans have gathered at “Dignity Square”, the place we have renamed after months of social uprising and protest to celebrate the arrival of 2020. There is no authority in the crowd to indicate when the countdown starts, as there has been no authority or leadership throughout the whole revolution. No one would dare to attempt such a thing. Countdowns begin while others are already hugging, while fireworks randomly explode all over the place and rush into the sky. It's the new year´s count down of the multitude. It starts nowhere clear, it ends again and again.  Time has dissolved into a multitude of times. It’s beautiful, it feels like the real form of time.

In 2019 she came up with the idea for her new production NOISE which will have its world premiere at Schauspielhaus Bochum.

Hundreds of people are lined facing a metal wall protecting the entrance to a telephone company right in the center square of Santiago. They all bang the wall with stones picked up from the street. The cacophony of metallic bangs makes a vary loud sound. I see a close friend banging. I come to him. He hands me his stone. “Be careful, its addictive, he says”. I bang the wall with a hundred strangers for the next two hours. We bang hard. With anger. It´s tiring but nobody wants to stop. When I finally leave, I feel lighter and happier than I have in weeks.

Recorded by Felicitas Arnold

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