January 2, 2015

Interview with Paloma Pedrero

Here you have an interview with Paloma Pedrero (Madrid, 1957) discussing her play Lauren’s Call…, as well as essential issues such as education, sexuality, relationships, social prejudices, and her next projects. I keenly invite you to enjoy the wisdom of her speech.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Maybe what attracts me most about Lauren’s Call… is the title. Why did you choose Lauren Bacall among all the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age? Did you consider her the epitome of femininity? Or, on the contrary, did you find her ambiguous?

PALOMA PEDRERO: She was very feminine and also very masculine. She had both sides.

SGF: By the time the play was first staged, the power of its language was highlighted. Nowadays we are used to listen to the actors expressing this way on the boards but—by then, was it a daring speech?

PP: In 1985, a woman speaking about male sexuality with a really female look was revolutionary. I think today it is still revolutionary.

SGF: What encouraged you to write a play dealing with sexual ambiguity as not only a personal problem but also a social one? Is it an issue you still find interesting?

PP: Yes, I still do find it interesting, for we still behave under very strong social prejudices. I feel we are educated to be heterosexual. But—what if not? I believe that, if we were freer, we would enjoy many more possibilities in relationships. We could play different roles in the heterosexual relationship and make it more creative. There would also be more bisexuality, which means wide outlooks and experiences.

SGF: Did José María Rodríguez Méndez’s play Flor de Otoño (“Autumn Flower”), premiered a few years before, have any influence when you wrote Lauren’s Call...? In your opinion, what is the difference between your approach to transsexualism/transvestism and Rodríguez Méndez’s play, or any other play of that time?

PP: Honestly, I do not think so. The play by the great author Rodríguez Méndez deals about male homosexuality. Lauren’s Call… raises another issue. It discusses the limits that society puts on human relationships, especially marriage. I think that a couple has to be first and foremost the story of a great friendship…Sexuality should not be the center point, but communication, tenderness, understanding—The acceptance of the other’s differences, even his/her pathologies. In order to enjoy a calm and long-lasting relationship, a couple must create, reinvent itself as something unique. Society is still castrating in this sense, setting strict rules that emerge from old, untrue ideas. For example, the way each sex must behave in the relationship. This leads to continuous failure in marriages.  

SGF: Do you remember the premiere of the play?

PP: Just imagine…My first premiere as the author, as well as the female lead, in a hostile context. I really did not know at the time the huge responsibility I was taking, the risk I was running. Anyway, I think that, if I had realized, I would have done the same. I also did not know play and staging could generate so much controversy. I viewed Lauren’s Call… as a great love story, performed with great affection by all the artistic crew. However, the critics and some part of the audience reacted with hostility towards us. I just could not believe it then. I later understood what had happened.

SGF: They say that it was quite controversial in Spain back then. It has been several decades since the premiere, and the play has still been producing. What is the audience response in our days? Do you think the play is still shocking for the majority?

PP: I think it depends a lot on the staging. If I were the director today, surely it would still be shocking. There are so many things we do not know—dare to face—that we even do not talk about them.

SGF: And abroad? What is the reaction to Lauren’s Call… in other countries?

PP: As I have mentioned before, I think it has always depended on how daring the mise-en-scène is.

SGF: Certain negative criticism the play received on the premiere denotes not so much a problem with your work as a playwright but rather some hostility towards the homosexual issue. The play was premiered in Madrid in the mid-1980s—Would you say that there was still a vast homophobic social mindset at the time?

PP: Yes, and it still does exist. But, as I said before, Lauren’s Call… in 1985 did not focus on Pedro’s homosexuality. Alberto Wainer, the director, made a broader, richer interpretation. Why can’t this couple love each other, as this is the case, and be happy? It could be possible if we accepted love in different ways.

SGF: I consider this play is ahead of its time. So ahead that it seems to me that today’s society has still not absorbed its moral teaching. Let me explain—I still see parents who bring up their little children doubtlessly certain that their sexual behavior will be heterosexual when they will grow up. Boys will meet girls, girls will meet boys—They never think about the fact that their offspring may have a different sexuality since childhood. I think that is the reason why, the time they grow up and come out or admit they feel trapped in someone else’s body, some parents still find it so hard to accept. What is your opinion on this matter?

PP: This is a very complicated issue. We would need a congress to talk about this and would not achieve final results. But yes—I do feel we still have not improved at all. People believe that tradition (the usual…, the learned behavior) is the right thing. The normal thing—And this is false. Mankind has lived and written with crooked lines. What is normal? There is no normality. There are different humans with different bodies, genes, substances, brains—That is why behaviors cannot be the same. For example, how can you find normal that half of humanity has set itself up as superior to the other half? There are so many things that we do not know. We live in ignorance, but delightfully, when the only thing that makes sense in life is making a path of knowledge and consciousness. In order to do that, we must leave opinions and prejudices behind and start by looking at ourselves, with no fear to know us. This is the only way we can see the others, accept them, understand them, and even love them.  

SGF: The play leaves a bitter taste indeed. The understanding and generosity that Rosa displays at the end imply a great sorrow and sacrifice—If you had written this play today, do you think that you would have written the same ending?

PP: I would make Rosa realize that it is possible, that Pedro could go to the Carnival party alone and she could sleep in peace and joy. Or she could also go to the party. In the 1985 version, this is suggested. Rosa, when she is left alone, puts on Bogart’s hat and tries to play and accept. But I still might be unsure by then—as she was—Today, even with the same words, I would make her realize that it was possible she could transform herself.

SGF: Do you see Rosa and Pedro, each in their own way, as victims of strict education on sex roles in the past? Could it be made a political interpretation, taking into account that this play was staged in full democracy after several decades of dictatorial regime?

PP: Absolutely. They are victims of that strict, castrating education. But today’s education has not changed as much as we feel. It is still strict and castrating. I have recently published an article in La Razón[1] in this regard. Here you have, just if you want to include it:

by Paloma Pedrero

More laws, few considerable changes. We always do the same without thinking twice, not daring to let the true thinkers take the reins of such an essential issue. Almost all of us agree that education is the basis on which mankind rises up. The world to come is growing in the school: an ignorant place, seized by foolish power struggles, or a space where its inhabitants are working to become wiser and better. So, to make this path we must teach our children (apart from Maths and English) to know themselves in order to know the others; to leave prejudices behind, to understand and respect other ways of behaving and feeling. For a good teaching, you have to set love first. That feeling must cover the classroom, the playground, the gym—To respect deeply and let the teachers be independent. Practice what you preach. Teaching the hardest thing for the human: being free, thinking by one’s self, running risks, making efforts to find one’s talent. Transmitting your pupils that every joy comes from one’s own effort. Educating is a sublime act, since good people result from good teachers. People who understand that knowledge is a lifetime task. That is why education must be reconsidered from different angles, less materialistic and more focused on vocation.
Science, indeed—But together with Poetry and Spirituality. The school as a place where you can find the gift that allows to give our best to the others and the world. There will be no room for male chauvinism, mistreatment of the different, or the shame of any kind of violence.[2]

SGF: In the original staging, in which you had the leading role, the so-called fourth wall was used as a mirror. According to the play, both Rosa and Pedro get naked before the mirror. I mentioned before the homophobia issue but, what about nudes? The Spanish audience, after the Destape[3] age, was ready to see clothless players on the boards? Or was it a controversial issue as well?

PP: It is always a controversial matter. Nudity is a very touching thing.

SGF: What are your projects? What are you working on?

PP: My play Ana el once de marzo ("Ana on March 11")[4] has just premiered. Now I am doing some research to write a monologue about Mary Wollstonecraft, a British feminist writer born in 1759. Her intelligence and courage were really impressive. Her life was impressive too.

[1] This is one of the most popular Spanish newspapers nationwide, in which Pedrero usually collaborates.
[2] This is my translation into English. You can find the original text in Spanish here.
[3] Destape (“Nudity”). After Franco’s death, the Transición Española (“Spanish Transition”) began, a period of political regeneration resulting in the current parliamentary monarchy. At that time, government censorship became more relaxed, and the Spanish audience could thus see actresses (and some actors) totally naked in films, as well as on stage, for the first time. This trend is popularly known as el Destape.
[4] As the reader can easily guess, this play is contextualized in the 3/11 train bombing in Madrid ten years ago. It was the fiercest terrorist attack in Spanish history.  

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