In the end, tragedy

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We had a video call between Ghent and Marabá - which is in the state of Pará, Brazil - with Arne de Tremerie. Arne is an actor from Ghent playing the role of Haemon in Milo Rau's new play Antigone in the Amazon. He's the middle person stuck between two worlds: choosing Antigone and trying to convince his father to do the right thing. In the end, tragedy. During our call with a 5-hour time difference, we discussed the play, his professional career and the challenges of bridging the gap between a Greek tragedy and the contemporary context of the Brazilian Amazon.

What are the primary objectives of the trip to Brazil?

Antigone in the Amazon is a modern translation of the Greek tragedy and we're working in two contexts here in Brazil. On the one hand, you have the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra / Landless Workers Movement), which is a very big social organisation that fights for land rights. If you read the history of Brazil, the Portuguese divided the land among very few landowners. The peasant class doesn't have land of its own and the goal is to fight to own land, to create settlements, villages and schools and to have access to medical assistance. The other context was our visit to many indigenous groups who were driven away from their homeland by large companies.

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You mentioned filming. What will be done with the video footage?

There will be three big screens set up during the performance of Antigone in the Amazon and the performers will have a dialogue with them. We are also creating a documentary about this trip, about how the process is going to create the play. 

What's your relationship like with Milo Rau?

This would have been my first project because in 2020 a group of us left for Brazil to work on the play, right after I graduated. I was there for one week and then Covid broke out – we immediately flew back to Belgium. I did two shows with him; Grief and Beauty and The Interrogation. I know him well and we have a good connection and a good relationship. 

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How important is this play in 2023?

Very important. In Europe, this context is not known. The State of Pará is an agro-business state. It used to be full of Amazonian forests; now you see whole landscapes of farms and only a few trees. It's frankly very sad and quite confronting. The MST also has a very different way of organising society; it does so through self-sufficiency and a collective approach to everything. The fight, the 'luta', as they call it here, this force of resisting... These battles are really life and death sometimes. It makes me think about what our battle is. It's important to give these people a platform, and it's something people should know about.

What are the best ways to communicate the struggle of these people, the MST and the indigenous groups?

We're here to shoot images and we hope that people respond. In the play, we're trying to contextualise things, for people to understand how big it is. It is a really difficult assignment and our main goal is to give a voice to the environment. We're really working on this sense of scale, for example through the use of drone shots of the region.

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What professional aspirations do you have?

I'm not a big future thinker. I try to take things project by project, day by day. I would love to do interesting projects and to keep on going. It's a nice way of living, not thinking too much about the future and seeing what comes on your path. It's what I've been doing for the past 10 years and it's worked out. If it doesn’t, it's not the end of the world.

How do you tap into that voice that guides you?

I think it's a kind of intuition. For example, when I meet new people; I usually don't easily feel comfortable with people, so when I do I know it's alright. It's how I lead my professional life, if there is a kind of click. If there's interesting content or a subject that's great of course, but it comes from a feeling. 

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Would you describe yourself as a political person, as the nature of this play is very political? Is politics a way forward now?

Yes, because it has to do with injustice and injustice is horrible. Of course I'm a political person: doing this is a political deed. Though I don't know what the definition of a political person is – everything you can do is political. This trip also changed me a lot, and this resistance has lit a little fire in me. You also have a different context here in Brazil. Every day at 5 they block the road here as a sign of protest. It's a way of saying ‘no’. There’s always a fine balance between radicality, communication and nuance. It's not one or the other: there has to be a combination. Resistance is really strong here. That's how MST got so big here and acquired land of their own, to occupy and do these things. They are still growing here.

It's always a fine balance between radicality, communication and nuance

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The choice of Antigone as a play, in the context of the Amazon – why is that?

These Greek plays survive time. It's a simple play about resistance, about what is right and what is wrong and which laws one obeys. But there is so much you can do with it. Zizek says Antigone is a terrorist, others say that Creon is a dictator. I describe it in Dutch as a 'kapstok', like a hanger where you can put different contexts on. The Greek tragedy is a monument of Western theatre, a context of its own. It's interesting to work with an antique European play and see what theatre can be in this context. It's a smart choice.

I describe it in Dutch as a 'kapstok', like a hanger where you can put different contexts on

Has it been easy to bridge that gap, to engage with people in Brazil who are unfamiliar with this form of European culture?

We tried to explain that we have a script and we explained the basic structure with the three screens that will be on stage – the basic dialogue as well. Also, Antigone is not a hard story to tell; it's like a comic book and you can colour it in as you like. In 1996 there was a massacre carried out by the military police here. Pará is the state with the most political murders and the most missing bodies. It resonates in a different context, but it still resonates.

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How has the experience been in Brazil since you landed?

Quite an evolution. We've been to indigenous peoples’ villages, to the city of Marabá which is very Bolsonaro. Lots of impressions and not a lot of time to think about it. Now we're nearing the end I'm starting to think about it more. What it means for a white European guy to be here and how we can contribute to help in their struggle. I'm also just a boy from Ghent who is immensely privileged to come here, and that's something that you really feel. Injustice. Not just here but globally. People here have been incredibly warm and welcoming. It makes you feel modest; as I said with empathy before, it's super important. I've spoken with people here and they said that 'yes, you are a foreign person, but it's about making alliances.' Of course, we come from different backgrounds and contexts, but let's come together, let's form a collective.

Of course, we come from different backgrounds and contexts, but let's come together, let's form a collective

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @arnedt </div></div>

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