Theatre maker, producer and arts manager Caro Duca founded the arts collective Teatro Latinx Perth now Espacio Latinx Perth to bring together the Latinx community in Western Australia and provide opportunities to for the community to tell their stories through theatre and other art forms.
Caro chatted with Gabriella Munoz about the play Man On! and their plans for the future.
How and when did you fall in love with theatre?
When I was a young person living on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a very small town that had little activities for us to do.
I was very interested in theatre and acting since I was little. My mum is an arts professor, who had also done a lot of theatre. My dad was the Buenos Aires Chief of Police, and did not see any benefit in pursuing artistic activities. At home, there was a little war between the hard sciences and the creative side of things. When I grew up, I understood the need for both to work together.
When I was 12, I was walking through my neighbourhood and saw this big sign of an actress at the radio theatre. I was too young to understand what radio theatre had been in Argentina, but my grandma got really excited because she used to listen to the telenovelas on the radio. That’s where my journey began. Then I started working on voice training and how to tell stories to people that couldn’t see. And it was incredible—paying attention to sound and to pace. Later, I found a group of young people doing theatre in the slums of Buenos Aires, so I joined them, and we did a lot of plays.
‘I decided I didn’t want to wait. I created the space I wish I’d had when I arrived here.’
Being a teenager is difficult for anyone. For me, theatre was the space where I could solve issues I was going through—I was trying to discover my identity. Theatre was that place where you wouldn’t be judged, and also, if you wanted, you could become someone else. In order to become someone else, you need to understand who you are first.
In 2013 or 2014, I said: ‘Dad, I want to go to drama school.’
‘Well, that’s too bad,’ he said, ‘because that’s not an actual career. So, you have got to choose something else. Go think of something else.’
I took up psychology because I thought I could then do psychodrama (working with mental health issues through drama and theatre), but that didn’t go well because to specialise in psychodrama, you must study five or six years of psychology.
I lived in a town that was very touristy, so I became a tour guide. I kept taking drama classes and voice training, because my dream was to study theatre full time.
Through tourism school, I got a scholarship to study in Italy and then in Japan. I also travelled to Dubai and India. I got to see Kabuki in Japan; I went to see an opera in Italy; and I travelled all around the world. There were so many ways in which people were expressing themselves, like Kathakali in India, and that passion (for theatre) never died. I was constantly training until I got to Australia and was old enough to choose my own path.
What was it like arriving in Australia to study theatre?
When I arrived in Perth, I looked for theatre schools to continue my training. I couldn’t find anything, unfortunately—Perth is very different to Melbourne in that sense. There’s some training available for those who want to apply for the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAPA), which is like NIDA in Sydney or VCA in Melbourne. People told me that if I wanted to do theatre here, I had to go to WAPA, where Hugh Jackman and other famous Australia actors had studied.
I prepared two monologues, a portfolio with everything I had done, and gave it a go. After my second audition, I received a letter saying I had got in!
I studied theatre at WAPA for three years, full-time.
Once I finished, I wanted to find my first acting job. But, in Perth, there weren’t many people with an accent or different cultural background acting.
Is that how Teatro Latinx Perth now Espacio Latinx Perth was born?
I decided I didn’t want to wait. I created the space I wish I’d had when I arrived here.
Teatro Latinx was born for people without (theatre) experience to come together.
I’m happy to give participants training in voice and storytelling and whatever is necessary because, even if theatre is not your dream, like it was for me, when you migrate you lose your voice.
Why is that?
You are sort of trying to fit in, trying to understand. You’re listening more than you’re talking, and you are also focusing intently. Depending on the conditions of your migration, you are in survival mode.
So, even if theatre is not your dream, you can still find or rediscover your creativity and voice through it. As a migrant that’s incredibly important for anything you do.
Teatro Latinx Perth got so many people interested in our first show, in 2019. I put a call out for participants and I hired a house, because I didn’t want that first experience to be on a stage. I thought it was important for everyone to feel at home.
All the stories in that first show were told in different rooms, with different props. We (myself, the artists invited and the participants) held eight weeks of training in puppetry, voice, multimedia and poetry. We had different Latinx artists who were filmmakers and would write scripts for theatre or movies. Other artists wrote books, and there were visual artists too.
We had about 10 people telling their stories. They all chose a different medium. It was incredible.
I thought most people would choose the safe side and write a script, but no, there was multimedia, puppetry and singing. There was an art installation. People loved telling their stories in different ways and reconnecting with their community like that.
After the first show, I was sure this was the way to go. I started talking to the community to see what was next. Many people were worried because, when COVID hit, many in the community were on temporary visas. We had many international students, and people on humanitarian or bridging visas.
Is that how the play Man On! came about?
The primary concern for the community was being temporary; being in a space where you had to just wait, because that’s all we did during the worst part of the pandemic: we were waiting. There was support for some of us, but some other people did not get that support.
‘These are the stories that we [the community] want to tell now,’ I thought. ‘How do we show other people what it’s like to be temporary?’ I don’t know if the same was happening in Sydney or Melbourne, but here in Perth, those stories weren’t being told.
I thought this was a very mental game: you have a visa; you are sharing your life, your normal life, but then it changes. How do we show this to others? How do we show them what it’s like to be temporary? And I thought, ‘well, I’m a big soccer fan and, of course, that’s another thing my parents didn’t let me do.’
‘Man on!’ is what you shout to let another player know there’s somebody from the other team behind them, trying to steal the ball. I thought; this is what it feels like having somebody behind you all the time.
For the show, we hired a soccer pitch and created a show that was a combination between theatre and soccer, where the FIFA would be the Department of Home Affairs—constantly changing the rules of the game.
In the show, both teams are in a situation in which they felt they ‘got’ the game, until FIFA comes onto the field and changes the rules. Both teams have to adapt. You see a group of people running around and trying to score goals in this environment where things constantly change, and you are not really sure if the plan or strategy on the field will work.
There were 15 players, plus the actors playing the FIFA and coaches. The director was also a soccer coach. We had to teach people how to act and some people how to play soccer.
‘Even if theatre is not your dream, you can still find or rediscover your creativity and voice through it. As a migrant that’s incredibly important for anything you do.’
The sociologist, Bernardo Dewey, who studies the lives of people on temporary visas in Perth, was our dramaturg. He would come and say, ‘This is the way the system works, and your show needs to be within this frame.’
There were many other people involved, such as nutritionists and physios, because I wanted this team to be taken care of in the same way the national Argentinian team is taken care of: they eat, they take care of the way they move, they make sure they understand what the game is. This was also an excuse to make sure they were well fed and doing physical activity.
How did you select the talent for Man On!?
Everyone reached out to people in the community, and I reached out to people I knew had the expertise, such as sociologist and soccer players because I already knew who was doing what in the community—the Latin American community in Perth is small, so you know what everyone’s doing.
I also put a call out for Latin Americans working professionally in theatre, either in production, backstage, or performing. I make it a thing in each project to get mentors in whatever interest people have. Whoever came in received mentorship from these professionals. For example, we had two crew members who had never done stage management before, and a visual artist who had never done set design, so they got mentors to work with them.
There were many people that were just here for the acting, or for the food, because in every rehearsal we always put Latin American food on the table. It was open for everyone because it was a six-month process. Every second Saturday we had a three-to-four-hour rehearsal in which people trained in what they needed to learn—from voice, movements, storytelling, soccer.
I wasn’t auditioning people, because we didn’t have a lot of Latin American people going through this experience and able to spend a Monday morning with us. The most important thing was that you had gone through the migration process, and that you wanted to create empathy through storytelling.
We had funding from two streams, the Australian Council of the Arts and Contemporary Arts Network, so we were able to provide food, pay all our facilitators and make it sustainable for the whole team.
Are there plans to bring the play to other states?
We have two things in the works: there’s a trailer for the show and we also have a documentary in the making.
We’re doing a second development this year, but it’ll be intercultural. We’ll be working with artists from Afghanistan, Vietnam, Kenya, and the Philippines to engage their communities in a similar process. And, because this is not something exclusive to Latin Americans in Australia, we are going to do a remake and a bigger version of Man On!
People, at least in Perth, are going to be able to watch Man On! again.
We’re really keen to take Man On! to other places, such as Melbourne, Sydney or Darwin. I’ve thought about this before and would like to partner up with organisations that already engage with their communities and make it again from the ground up.
Espacio Latinx Perth has organised free skating and archery events, amongst others. What has been the response of the community to those the events?
In the case of the hula hoop, for example, it had to do with one of our goals as an organisation, which is to be the bridge between Latin American cultures and other cultures here in Australia. We (Espacio Latinx Perth is now a team of seven) partnered up with Pasifika Womens Perth and did a dance exchange. We taught them Argentinian folk dances, and they taught us the hula. It was an all-women workshop, and it was a beautiful way to connect.
We also got the feedback that people would like to get to know us before they come in and share their stories. So, we started with these social events that had nothing to do with theatre once a month, so people can see who we are and what we do. In each event, we share food, talk about what we do, the projects that are coming in terms of performance and upcoming workshops.
We are building a community around us that meets every time because we also want to make sure people know that there are other opportunities besides the events to learn lighting or sound. We want to make sure they know you don’t have to be a performer to come and join us.
Can you tell us about being Latinx in Australia? How do you think Australians perceive us?
I feel like I am a bit more comfortable talking about Perth (than about Australia as a whole). But, in terms of artists who have some recognition, I think our representation is growing.
In Australia as a whole, I’ve seen a few comedians. I’ve seen a bit of representation in that show that everyone likes, Married at First Sight, where one coach, Alessandra Rampolla, is from San Juan de Puerto Rico. I’ve seen many Latinx writers get published, as well.
We’re a small community compared to others and have a shorter history (here), compared to other migrant groups. But I think we’re growing, and representation is becoming bigger.
I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us. In places like the United States there’s already a clear stereotype that you have to fight against, but in Australia, because there’s not a lot of knowledge (about the Latinx community) the stereotype hasn’t been formed. There’s a lot of opportunity for us. We can write our own history.
What advice would you give to a Latinx creative who’s just arrived in Australia?
It’s a cliché, but ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. If there’s something that I really like about the Australian culture is that openness, a sort of horizontal hierarchy, so you’ll be able to contact many people through LinkedIn or other social media.
Go and have a look at the works that are being made in your art form. See what you like and see what artists you’d like to connect with and send them a message. Go out for coffee. Get to know people There are lots of opportunities.
‘Get out of your shell as soon as you can,’ I would say. I know it’s hard: you’re in a new place and don’t understand. You need to learn how to take the bus. There are a lot of things that you’ll need to figure out; and that’s okay. But networking can be done at the same time.
Most of the time, artists are big-hearted people, so get out of your shell in a way that you find comfortable.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
In September and October, I will work on a performance that touches on the dictatorship in Argentina with an Australian-Argentinian artist based in Amsterdam. We’ll be making new work and showing it at the Perth Institute for Contemporary Arts (PICA).
There are other things that I have applied for, but I’m waiting for those to be confirmed.
What Latinx plays do you recommend to Puentes readers?
The year I was born (El año en que nací) by the director and dramaturg Lola Arias has a lot of urgency. The last iteration was with 11 Chilean performers, and used photos, letters and clothes to reconstruct their parents’ stories in order to discover who their parents were when they were born. It’s incredible to see how many versions of the dictatorship years are there. (Editors’ note: Chile was under military dictatorship from 1973 – 1990).
Arias got performers from all walks of lives and from different families that have different opinions of what happened, and created this beautiful work where you can see all the colours, all the opinions, different ways of living together on the same stage, without killing each other. It’s a masterpiece.