December 6, 2013
Claudia Piñeiro, writerTuesday, October 22, 2013
‘Theatre gives me a breather’
1960, Burzaco, southern BA suburb
Degree: CPA (Certified Public Accountant) from UBA, 1983 Profession: novelist, playwright, screenwriter, newspaper columnist
Author of: Tuya, Las Viudas de los jueves, Elena Sabe
Novel Award, 2005; Fundalectura-Norma (Colombia) Children’s and Youth Literature Award; ACE Award for Best Argentine Playwright, 2007
Play currently on stage: Verona
Last book published: Un comunista en calzoncillos
Writer Claudia Piñeiro sounds ecstatic: it has just been announced that Alice Munro has won the Nobel Literature Prize, cited for her extraordinary exploration of the female world that she turns universal. It’s a good day, definitely. Perfect for an interview.
You are mainly known as a novelist, and your stage play Verona is now getting a rerun. Which are the main differences between writing narrative and writing for the stage?
As a novelist, considering that a novel may be several years in the making, writing a play gives me a breather. Narrative is more time-consuming than theatre, there are constraints in narrative. In the theatre, on the other hand, there’s more freedom as regards space and time, because it’s not a long-term project for the next three years. Also, theatre allows you to use certain resources which you can’t use with the kind of naturalist literature I write.
Which resources would they be?
Theatre, I believe, is closer to poetry. It has more affinity with searching for words which, in a naturalist novel, would sound strange. Theatre allows a different kind of language, more poetic, I would say, than the type of narrative I write.
Where and how do you find the language spoken by your characters, be it a play or a novel?
It’s a complex exercise. I studied playwriting with Mauricio Kartún, and I recall that he would send us out to the street, notepad in hand, for a bus or subway ride, or to sit alone at a bar, jotting down the dialogue spoken by the people around us. This is very useful because when you start writing dialogue, you mentally set the words in grammatical order, with no syntactic mistakes. But real life dialogue features false starts, unfinished sentences, overlapping, pauses, gender shifts, because dialogue is like a sweeping whirlwind. Kartún called this a “ready-made” exercise, perhaps in reference to Duchamp’s urinal, that is, moving something to the least expected place, like a gallery. That’s art.
As for theatre, the words and the language you pick up in the street, unchanged, making no grammatical corrections, may become art. It happens very frequently to me, this thing of finding myself suddenly paying close attention to the way other people speak.
You must also pay attention to the visuals...
That’s one of the biggest differences between narrative and play writing — in my case, I have more affinity with the visuals than the aural. Therefore, when I write narrative, the images come naturally to me. First I perceive the images and then I try to find the words to speak about them. The theatre is much more aural, I think, I do need to listen carefully, because there’s actually a person coming on stage for one hour, one hour and 20 minutes, to speak words which ought to have an impact on the audience and elicit a reaction from them. Finding the right words for a stage play requires much more exhaustive research than narrative.
In your novels and plays, you focus mostly on women. Why is this?
I think it’s inevitable, as a woman it’s easier for me to get into a woman’s head. The opposite was the case with my third novel, Las grietas de Jara. The protagonist is a man, even if it is not a man’s first-person narrative.
Would you be able to write about a male-centric universe?
As a mother of two sons, it’s a world I’m not unfamiliar with. My house is constantly filled with the male friends they bring in. While in the process of writing Las grietas de Jara, I wanted to find out what turns men on. I asked a lot of them, but all I got was promises, never an answer! I came to the conclusion that women and men are turned on by the same things. There’s a cultural thing that, fortunately, is gradually changing: if a woman reads a story about a father-son relationship, she doesn’t think, “This is not for me.” Men, on the other hand, when they come across a mother-daughter bond, tend to think, “This must be for women,” and discard it right away. Conveying a universal message from a woman’s standpoint is more difficult because we are used to thinking up things from a male perspective, but I think many radical changes are going on, I know a lot of men who read Alice Munro. As for myself, it may well be the case that I write from a woman’s perspective, but this doesn’t mean my works cannot be read by men.
How does the digital revolution affect the reader-writer interaction?
It’s really impressive. Social media allow you a closer rapport with readers; this was not very frequent before the digital age. Today, anyone who’s read your book is able to get in touch with you to express their feelings about it. Before, it was only possible at a book launch or a lecture. The social media allow writers and readers to get in touch. An author, however, is never there, at the precise moment somebody is reading their book. In the case of theatre, if you attend a play’s performances you’re right there and immediately perceive what people think about it, you can see for yourself whether or not they cry, laugh, or remain indifferent.
What about circulation and copyright issues?
When somebody tells me a book of mine has been uploaded illegally, I tell myself there’s not much you can do. The paradigms of production and reception have changed, it’s a problem that must still be solved. It happens with movies, with music. A solution must be found, because we all deserve to be paid for the work we do.
Do you have friends or colleagues who read your drafts?
I happen to be friends with other writers. We get together to exchange views and opinions, but writing is basically a solitary task. That’s why I sometimes turn to theatre, because it’s real team work. If you speak with the directors and the performers, if you get their feedback, a text may change, because you realize that it doesn’t always work.
Is creating a breakthrough more difficult for a novelist or for a playwright?
Getting an editor to read your novel is like mission impossible, and if they do and they like it, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be published. Self-publishing, which some writers resort to, serves no purpose because you end up stacking up the books at home. The opposite happens with theatre — there are always lots of companies around, and if you’re lucky your play is picked up by a company, however small. I always bear in mind Fontanarrosa’s attitude: he never said “no” to a company interested in adapting a short story of his for the stage, because it’s all about your work finding a reader or a viewer.