Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Mariana Aristizábal Pardo: I Occur Here

By | Published on Monday 13 August 2018

An interesting looking show begins a short run at The Space Arts Centre this week, and as soon as I heard about it, I wanted to see it. It’s a devised piece focussing on four young travellers and their experiences as migrants, and is delivered by an international cast and crew.

I spoke to co-director, Mariana Aristizábal Pardo, to find out more about the show and the people behind it.

CM: Can you start by telling us the basic premise of the show – what story does it tell?
MAP: ‘I Occur Here’ is the story of a journey, based on the life experiences of migrants in a modern metropolis. Four young travellers, from different corners of the world, leave everything behind and embark on a journey with nothing but a burning desire to belong and fit somewhere else. But can reality match their expectations?

The play questions the notion of home, and explores our endless capacity to overcome difficulties and adapt to new environments as human beings.

CM: What are the primary themes of the piece?
MAP: When we started devising ‘I occur here’, we wanted to explore the idea of adaptation, how and why does this process happen when in a foreign environment. We wanted to understand what it means to rebuild yourself in a new country, but during the creative process we realised we could not talk about it without figuring out who we were before we left our home countries, what made us leave, what are the difficulties we have encountered along the way, etc.

In that sense, ‘I Occur Here’ has various themes: we talk about home, about our dreams and expectations in contrast to reality; we talk about linguistic and cultural barriers, and travelling. The play compiles stories of migrants and their journey, our personal stories and journey as migrants.

CM: You’re obviously dealing with a very current issue if depicting the lives of migrants – is there a political element to what you’re doing? Do you hope to get a specific message across?
MAP: Everyone involved in this project belongs to a particular category of migrants. We are all voluntary migrants and we have the option of returning. We are part of the lucky bunch and we know it. At the same time, within this category there are subcategories that determine our level of stability in London. Some of us are constantly dealing with visa applications, and limitations as individuals in society. An example of the instability is my own situation: due visa issues I have had to go back to Colombia and won’t be present in the run.

‘I occur here’ has political dimension, and addresses themes that speak about the reality of a large percentage of people who live in London. It is an invitation to reflect on the other, who is different because of being a migrant.

We hope that after seeing the play, people will be more aware of that ‘other’. We also want to highlight the capacity to adapt of migrants, and we also want to call people’s attention to this urgent matter, which affects the whole world.

CM: What inspired you to tackle this subject in a play?
MAP: When we first started dreaming about this play, Malena and I wanted to address an issue that was relevant for both of us. It became evident pretty quickly: we were both foreigners, from different countries but experiencing similar things in this new environment. Similarly, all our collaborators are foreigners and, although we have had different experiences, we have all faced similar issues when being in London.

CM: It’s described as a devised show. Can you explain the process you went through in creating it?
MAP: This particular process was long and intense. We started with a few open workshops to explore ideas on adaptation. In those sessions, we discovered incredibly talented performers, who are also migrants, and we invited them to devise the play with us. When we first started, we knew it had some personal elements, but we never imagined how personal and deep it would become, once we started digging into our personal lives, our past, our dreams and hopes… we all became really vulnerable and open.

Because of this, at some point in the devising process it became really hard for us to say ‘no, this doesn’t work’ or ‘just this section of your life is good’ because we were all investing our hearts in it. And then when we thought we had it sorted out, when we finally had a ‘script-guide’, we realised that it was even harder to separate characters from personal narratives. We are still discovering this silver line between reality and fiction, that liminal space where we are neither and both, but in order to achieve it we must constantly revise our methodology and how we are doing things as team, so next time we can do it better, for us and our team.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your international cast and crew?
MAP: For this particular show we collaborated with Santiago del Fosco (Colombia) Hanna Winter (Hungary) Nathalie Czarnecki (Poland/Sweden) and Daniela Cristo Mantilla (Colombia). They are all amazing performers, who can speak 2 or 3 languages at least, who have an interest in the relationshop between text and movement and who are extremely generous as performers and human beings.

As for our crew, it started growing when we started generating conversations with other creative people, from different disciplines, who were keen on sharing their knowledge and experience with us. We are currently collaborating with a movement director Christian From, from Denmark, a composer, Francisco Dorado, from Colombia, Alejandro Librero Cano, our producer, from Spain and Patricio Soto-Aguilar, from Chile, who was our photographer.

CM: Who are Oh Dear! Productions? Can you tell us about the company? How was it formed and what are its aims?
MAP: Oh dear! Theatre Company emerged from a shared sense of ‘otherness’: a gap between our environment and us, that is clear in our creative processes, in our accent, behaviour and physicality. Our company is interested in developing a methodology that borrows theatre-making practices from other cultures, and fuses them with our artistic practices in London.

My co-director Malena Arcucci and I are interested in collaborative work, and so for us the basis is always sharing with others, and learning from other cultures and practices.

We aim to create theatre that sits in between our personal lives as individuals, and characters that live in fantastical fictional worlds, relatable and identifiable for the audience. Similarly, we aim to work with diverse and plural voices and a multicultural approach, experimenting with different types of language, either verbal or physical, and working alongside artists from different backgrounds, whose practices range from music, visual arts, clowning, creative writing, theatre and dance. As a company, we’ve committed ourselves to creating shows that celebrate diversity and talk from different cultural perspectives.

CM: What’s next for the show…? Do you have plans to tour it further?
MAP: We have another run at The Drayton Arms, from the 11th to the 15th of September, after that I think we would like to add new voices, which also means developing the work methodology further So those other vices might take some time to come in.

CM: Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
MAP: Yes, we do! We are constantly researching for future projects. Right now we have two in the pipeline, which, although addressing completely different themes from ‘I occur here’, respond to our desire to develop new methodologies of working as a company, integrating different disciplines and playing between reality and fiction.


‘I Occur Here’ is on at The Space from 14-18 Aug, see the venue website here to book your tickets.