Brazilian actor, Catharina Conte writes about being a migrant actor in 2021, having to return to her place of birth and its barbaric inequality during the pandemic and her hopes for the sounds of not just English RP accents on big London stages.
“All the greatest actors are in the UK,” my father would say. Shakespeare, the first world, multiculturality, quality of life, safety, space to dream: that’s what the UK meant to me.
The ‘first world’ seemed to be another
dimension with an invisible order in the architecture of everything, like a
choreographed waltz. Developing countries look more like a resistance test: the
last one standing takes the prize.
I’m from Brazil, a country in which inequality amplifies barbaric living conditions in the population. The culture is reduced to almost nothing due to a lack of investment. Then a neo-fascist comes to power and I understand that it’s time to take advantage of my privilege and… escape.
In the UK, the words in my mouth danced to a choreography of which my body was still unaware. Between serving tables in South London, being patronised, surviving the harassment from customers and co-workers – “I love Brazilian women” – paying rent on time and not spending the rest of my money on pints, I tried to be an actor.
A Latin American actor.
Oops, a white Latin American actor.
You’re not white.
I am also not as marginalised as women from Africa and Asia often are. I have a nice little red passport from Italy that ensures I can stay for a few more years and ensures that you won’t treat me as badly as you did when the woman in the hijab sat next to me on the bus. You’ll still treat me like a piece of uneducated meat and a walking fetish as after all, my mother tongue has a dance of its own and you don’t know how I dare to move so freely.
After several rejections, I got a role in a show by a women-led (!), all-migrant (!!) company, interested in doing disruptive theatre (!!!). LegalAliens Theatre gave me a chance and put me on stage when I joined the cast of CLOSED LANDS, which debuted at the 2020 Vault Festival. The piece was about migration and I had found a space where I was valued – and celebrated! – as an artist. At the same time, I joined the group of young directors at StoneCrabs Theatre.
Debuting on London’s stage making fun of Donald Trump (I did a cheap imitation of him in the play) and bringing light to relevant issues was the fulfillment of a dream. That time, I would sit on the balcony of my apartment in Greenwich, looking at the squirrels and thinking that life was actually pretty good.
Then COVID happened.
Any farewell is an encounter with the unknown. Fearful of not finding ways to stay in the UK during isolation, I returned home to Brazil. When would I go back? Would I? I returned to the womb to experience the torture of identical days. Like a baby, I stayed inside, listening to the noises of inequality and the neglect of a genocidal president while crying and kicking at the edge of my world and thinking: when will I be born again?
In the face of almost 130k deaths, does it still make sense to be an artist? Does it make sense to make art in this new world? I was trying not to go crazy.
Becka McFadden’s and Lara Parmiani’s
invitation to join the digital project Things
I Am Not came at a good time. The podcast series consisted of ten
monologues by artists from ten countries that lived in the UK and I would
interview them on Instagram live. I heard artists from Korea, Iran, Israel,
Italy, Zambia, Lebanon, Greece… I discovered that there is a piece of me in all
their stories and that though each trajectory has its specificity, there is
something that unites us: a feeling of a certain inadequacy. Or maybe it’s just
my reflection on them.
Some of us are more oppressed than others and each immigrant leaves for a reason. Not all migrate by airplanes and for some, migrating is not a choice. It is survival.
When we move, we have to make room for a new self to be born. Finding spaces of support and understanding in this new birth is essential to survive. The resulting question is inevitable:
“Who would I be if I had stayed?”
The stories of the migrants I interviewed have been a breath of connection with the world.
They saved me many times over the past few months.
In a couple of months, I will return to London. Which one will receive me?
The London I met, or the one that doesn’t exist yet?
I’ll find a post-Brexit UK, an
environment in which the provision of care is increasingly rare, in a world
where COVID-19 has put more than ten million people into poverty.
But I haven’t given up on telling stories. I believe more than ever that stories save lives.
They saved mine.
What stories are worth telling now? Is it relevant to tell stories that are not multicultural?
A director once told me that in the 1990s it was rare to listen to different accents in theatre. RP was mandatory and accents from different regions of the UK were not recognised. This changed in recent years, and today we see a little more diversity of British accents in theatre.
I dream that one day I and my accent will be onstage at the National Theatre. I’ll be listening to Latin, Asian, and European accents alongside me. I’ll meet a rising migrant actor on the way out and I’ll tell her “did you know that in my days there was no internationalisation on this stage?” I hope to see in her eyes the innocence of someone who has already met a different world. London gave me space to dream, and now, I do.