Meet The Team Behind ‘La Niña Barro’

La Nina Barro
Image credit: Sandra Navarro

Fronteiras Theatre Lab’s La Niña Barro explores the thoughts and feelings of a woman made of mud. Written by Marta Massé, the show uses spoken word, physical theatre and Mbira (a traditional Zimbabwean thumb piano) to investigate how she feels about herself, life, nature and love. The Indiependent spoke to the team to learn more about this interesting production.

The Indiependent: What is the premise of your show and how did it come about?

Director and producer Flavia D’Avila: La Niña Barro is a poetic look at what makes us human, taking a very raw approach to the old dichotomy between nature and nurture. I met Marta [Massé] all the way back in 2012, when we both worked for one of the walking tour companies in the Old Town of Edinburgh. One day, we were talking about our creative work outside of the tours and she told me she was a poet. I asked if I could read some of her work and she sent me a link to her blog. There was a lot of material there, but this recurring character of a girl made of clay really spoke to me. I found those poems in particular had a visceral quality, they really hit me in the gut. But it wasn’t until a while later that it occurred to me to do something with them. I had just finished working with Eli [Sogorb] on a bigger project in South America, and at the end of that, she told me she wanted a passion project to work on, preferably something that would challenge her as an actor. At around the same time, I was invited to a poetry reading club in my hometown, on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, and decided to read some of Marta’s poems to the group. That’s when it really hit me, when I first read them out loud. I asked Marta if it would be okay to explore the idea of staging them and sent her blog for Eli to read. She immediately fell in love. Originally, we thought it would be a solo show, but after an initial conversation, I tasked Eli with finding a musician to work with her. I said I wanted someone who could play an unusual instrument. A few days later, she got back to me saying she’d met this girl who was primarily a visual artist, but played the mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano) and I said, “go get her!”. That’s when Alex [Rodes] joined the team, and the rest is history

It has been a decade since La Niña Barro was first shown at the Edinburgh Fringe. How has the show evolved since then?

Artist and musical performer Alexandra Rodes: I think the show always follows us like a shadow wherever we go, because that which has to do with thoughts, identity, and mirrors keeps manifesting and giving us that subtle outlook on these themes. Eli, much like the clay girl, took one look in that mirror and chose to change, reshape something in herself: her body. Four years ago, she went under the knife for a bariatric surgery, and embarked on a weight loss journey that has been slow, long, and required a lot of sacrifice. We now have this transformation to consider and reflect upon. We have the different meanings of coming to terms with yourself, but also defying a society that imposes restrictions, demands, and judgments on every individual and being.

Actor Elizabeth Sogorb: I have scars now that I didn’t have last time we performed. I am smaller, lighter, I see my belly, my breasts, my skin, differently. I have seen my skin change colours between blue, purple, red, but most of the battle is internal for me. I constantly ask myself so many questions. This is why I want to cover myself in clay again and speak La Niña’s lines again, because she takes me back to that cave, the beginning, silence and contemplation, and helps me see what is really important.

Flav: I think it will feel like a re-birth. I am very curious to see how Eli’s new body will behave, and how it will feel for Alex to touch this new shape that she hasn’t touched before, how it will look for Pedro [Vera, lighting designer] under the lights. It’s such a big part of the show, it has always been.

Why do you think shows that cover feminist topics such as yours are important?

Eli: Because they usually go beyond feminism and touch on what it means to be human in our essence, which can easily get diluted in a wide range of labels these days. This show takes us back to being born, so it’s about being alive. You find that a lot of feminist work is really about the right to be alive, to belong and have a voice in a society, a collective, etc.

Writer Marta Massé: And because despite a lot of progress, our culture is still mostly patriarchal. We are often still invisible and that needs to change.

Alex: I don’t actually see the show as a feminist show. It was made by an all-female team, and as such, there are themes and concepts that are present for all of us, but I’d say it comes less from a militant place, but more from a reflexive place in terms of our bodies and our identities. It’s not a flag that we actively wave, but it’s there, inevitably. But I also don’t want the word to be forgotten, I think that the world is going through a delicate moment, and it’s good to… simply care for it, tend to it, you know?

Flav: I think there’s something to be said about showcasing a diversity of feminist, or female-oriented themes as well. It’s interesting for me to note that although the piece deals with creation and it has a lot of imagery associated with childbirth and motherhood, that is not necessarily the focus of it. All four of us are, in fact, child-free women, so it’s not about defining womanhood in any of these terms. It really is much more focused on finding that common ground that binds us together as humans.

Do you have a favourite part or moment in the show that you would like to share?

Marta: The ending. Goosebumps every time, I tell you.

Flav: I agree with Marta. I love the ending, but no spoilers.

Eli: I have too many favourite moments! I, too, really like the ending, how you see her awareness and learning, but also how she doesn’t want to fully let go of her roots. Personally, I also love this moment when I sing into a metal basin. I find it very moving and also very intimate. I’m the only one who knows what I can see down that well. There’s this other moment when all the lights go up and La Niña is caught there, and she accepts her vulnerability and tries to erase what is left of herself. There’s a crucifixion picture that I really like, too.

Alex: The crucifixion is a special moment for me. Eli stands there with her arms wide open, I begin to wash her, and she sings a lullaby. It’s not what it represents, but it feels very personal to me. I feel at once really present, but also like I’m not there.

Is there any Scottish theatre coming up this year that you’re particularly excited about?

Flav: I honestly think the grassroots is where Scottish theatre is at its most exciting just now. Framework Theatre are doing great things, F-Bomb Theatre are on fire. The Edinburgh Horror Festival is growing from strength to strength, a definite highlight of my year. Always worth checking out what collectives like Some Kind of Theatre, Tandem, Pretty Knickers and Untie My Tongue are up to, and folk like Sanjay Lago, Ruxy Cantir, Jen McGregor, Matt McBrier, so many…!

What do you hope people will take away from your show?

Eli: Questions. Doubts. Challenges to their own preconceptions and opinions.

Flav: An appreciation for wherever they are in their lives.

Alex: I’m not big on lessons and teachings when it comes to art; I don’t think it’s very useful to think that way. What we offer is a perspective, or rather, the result of a collective work and feelings coming from various perspectives. Of course, I welcome people’s opinions, but more than that, I want them to experience sensations. That’s what I think the show is, an experience.

Marta: I want them to allow themselves to be overcome by their feelings. I hope they can look inside themselves and find La Niña there, that they can see that we are all little clay people that are built and destroyed every day with our own hands in this world that often seems very strange to us all.

What’s next for you?

Flav: We are looking to continue the 10th anniversary celebrations with performances in mainland Europe. We have a couple of nights booked in Alicante in May and are in conversation with other [European venues]. We are also working on getting a book published with Marta’s original poems, photos of the show throughout the years, and some essays by the whole team on the artistic processes, which will probably be out in early 2025. Other than that, a few of my solo shows are on tour: for those who enjoyed hearing some lines in Spanish, the show I directed for Crested Fools, The Rotting Hart, is going to Dublin, Birmingham, and Buxton, and might make another appearance in Edinburgh. Those who are into their female-perspective storytelling can look out for Debbie Cannon’s Green Knight in Leeds and The Remarkable Deliverances of Alice Thornton in Buxton. There will be more, but I can’t announce those yet (wink).

La Niña Barro will be performed at Assembly Roxy (Roxy Upstairs) from 7-9 March.

Words by Ellen Leslie

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