An actor, dancer, writer, dramaturg, filmmaker and director in his native Portugal and throughout Europe, Paulo formed Stone/Castro in 2003 with his wife Jo Stone and have been commissioned to direct, create, write and perform contemporary theatre pieces for Australian and European companies and Festivals.
Paulo Castro talks to The Street ahead of the world premiere of Pigman’s Lament by Raoul Craemer.
HOW DO YOU WORK AS A DIRECTOR? WHAT PRINCIPALS DO YOU WORK BY?
I grew up in a theatre system in Portugal after the revolution in 1974 when there was an explosion of creativity in Portugal. There were many angry theatre makers who had not been allowed to do the work of Brecht and other communist writers. Everything was then possible to create theatre around political statements. This remains with me in my work in the theatre in Australia along with a shared sense of dark humour with Australians.
In the 90’s, my directing in Portugal was very political and contemporary and included Red, Black and Ignorant by UK playwright Edward Bond for the Teatro Nacional. In 2002, I formed Stone/Castro with my wife Jo Stone and created a very physical company with professional dancers, alongside my dramaturgy.
My own personal style and kind of theatre is very symbolic. I’m always looking for what is not in the text. I do not follow stage directions and create my own to see how far I can go creatively, imagining and creating exactly what is not in the text. I transform the text without changing it turning the text into something different. My work is fast and immediate and political. For theatre to be contemporary you need to reflect everything around you. If there is violence, then violence needs to be included.
WHY DID YOU ACCEPT THE OFFER TO DIRECT PIGMAN’S LAMENT? WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO THE PERFORMANCE?
It made sense. Having performed at The Street, I was impressed with its professionalism, the form it produces and presents – and capability to realise Pigman’s Lament.
Raoul attended my performance of Massacre and my workshop last year at The Street and we began to talk about his script. He was excited about my show and its symbolic approach to the massacre in East Timor. He was very versatile and ready to perform in my style, very physical, not in a personal drama style like Shakespeare, which I do not support. Brecht talks about collective choirs – the problems of all, not an individual, not one voice. Like Greek drama, this is how I approach directing.
I was attracted to Raoul’s story – the grandfather who served with the Nazis as one side of the story to his early connection to Otto Muehl, very famous for its avante-garde performances in his commune in Germany.
The script was unusual. The text was fragmented with stories not in order giving a lot of space for me to create the order of the show. I worked with Raoul to create text like a soundscape and a performance on a big scale. The story contains fiction but is reality to Raoul and I did not want to expose him. Like a David Lynch film, the audience will not know what is real or not.
This is an avante-garde show, contemporary theatre, very performative, with a very clear and strong story. There are dark humour spaces where audiences can laugh. It is not so literal to underscore the dark side and not leave room for humour. It will provoke and create sensations.
PIGMAN’S LAMENT IS A ONE-MAN SHOW. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR APPROACH TO GETTING THE BEST OUTCOME FROM THE STORY AND STAR?
It is very difficult to direct monologues. My approach is to create non-stop actions in the monologue. Staying still for two minutes is a lot. There is movement all the time. There is so much that is interesting in Pigman’s Lament. There’s a crash, a kidnapping and other scenes that are turned into action. If I go literal, the arguments can be pathetic. Creative actions go to the point.
There are two characters with dialogue between both – two different people on stage. The Grandfather is in the rear window and Raoul inside the apartment. Differences between characters are created through actions that create presence and intimacy such as the voice of the Grandfather projected from the window. The audience can follow all of the actions and think that maybe it was just in the character’s head. Everyone is real but the audience doesn’t know Raoul’s personal story which opens up a different kind of reading to the show. Those close to Raoul will think another way knowing the truth behind the story. Pigman’s Lament landing in another place would take on another form.
When you have two or three in the creative ensemble, it’s easier to create the image when there is movement all of the time. We have resolved the one-man performance in Pigman’s Lament very well with an hour and 15 mintues of action.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO SUSTAIN A CAREER BETWEEN PORTUGAL, EUROPE AND AUSTRALIA? WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE CHALLENGES?
I have a particular style that is attracting audiences in Australia. I am autocratic of my work. It is very easy for me to see if it is not working. Massacre was created in Portugal and came to Australia. Our recent work on My Country by UK playwright Martin Crimp for the Adelaide Festival this year was very exotic and a big success.
Our company Stone/Castro gets funding support in Australia and Portugal and there are different requirements. The countries are well linked in an artistic way, very different in some ways and very distant continents. There are challenges in touring as it is very expensive.
Portugal deals well with political theatre. Australia deals better with family dramas that are full on. Portugal does not deal well with dark style. In Australia, I do more work with European writers like Martin Crimp and in Portugal, I work with Australian writers like Benedict Andrews, but not here. Theatre audiences in Portugal want to see Australian theatre – Australia is exotic to them. There are numerous Australian companies who have found big success and are well respected in Portugal such Ranters Theater founded by Raimondo Cortese and Back to Back Theatre in Melbourne.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A WORK IS READY FOR AN AUDIENCE?
I have worked in a European system that is completely different to Australia. We don’t do first or second developments. Companies produce three or more shows a year so there is no time development.
I come from a school that is very fast and practical with scenes. When we began rehearsal here in Canberra, we already had two weeks of development in Adelaide working on the script and some scenes. I had already imagined a lot of scenes that needed to be cut. I sat with Raoul to make changes. Pigman’s Lament is a personal story and I didn’t want to betray that story. I developed a number of options – three or four plans. This doesn’t mean that in the moment different ideas are not considered and they can be resolved to get the right result.
I found Canberra audiences amazing when I performed here last year. Many in Melbourne and Adelaide had said that I would find conservative audiences for Massacre. Instead, I found them amazing with amazing minds.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
My inspiration does not come from another show or theatre. I read a lot of literature and watch films that inspire me a lot. They stay with me.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I get books in Portugese of Australian and European writers like Submission by Michael Houellebecq Submission A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Filth by Irvine Welsh.
I watch one film on DVD every day. One film which continues to fascinate me is the Ukranian film Tribe by Myroslav Slaboshpytski. Set in a boarding school for deaf children there is no spoken language in the film with visuals and sign language telling the story.