Immigrant Women Entrepreneurs Europe

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Something completely different: late afternoon with Andrea

Last week I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing the sparkling Andrea Gabilondo, a Mexican choreographer and performer who (actively since 2008) runs the performance space, La Marmita, a hidden gem near the riverside of Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.  Under the beams of La Marmita‘s red-tiled roof, to the constant sound of seagulls calling, Andrea gave us a candid and captivating peek behind the scenes…

So, Andrea, just to get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I’m Mexican… and since I was very little I knew I wanted to be a performer. Don’t ask me why;  I just knew it.  My mother was a painter, my father was a composer and there was always music at home.  And I would improvise even before seeing theatre or dance… It was a dream that I wanted to follow.
I went to ballet school (there was one behind our house that was very good)… so I went into dance.  And all of my live I’ve been changing styles: classical, modern, contemporary and now actually I’m doing my own style.  Sometimes it’s more dance; sometimes it’s more theater.  For example, I’m a dancer but I’m a comic dancer and that is not very common…  I tried for many years to be serious, but I could never be serious! {laughs} So it has taken this long road of different style experiences, and working in different companies in different countries to suddenly accept myself… I enjoy comedy and I’m not afraid of being “stupid” – it’s intelligent stupid, to be playful. And so I think I’m much more myself now… I’m discovering myself.
So that’s about me as a creator.

And how did you come to create La Marmita?

Ok, La Marmita …it’s a lot of things.  I was always, since very young too, in a professional company.  Always.  And even when I came to Europe.  In a way, when you are in a theater, you are like… protected.  You have everything.  You want to rehearse –  you have a rehearsal space.  You are paid…  And so I had all my life been inside a theater, and I love the theater, the darkness, the dust… I was happy there.
I left Germany when Robert [Andrea’s husband] came back to Portugal, to Porto this time and I followed him.  But what happened: I was older (I wasn’t going to audition for a company) and I thought it was time: I had for a long time been cooking ideas (I always kept a notebook of ideas), but I was too afraid of really doing it, but I had a need to do it…  So when I came to Portugal with no job, knowing no-one, but no-one (and Robert was working 24hours a day) and I was at home between four walls, getting incredibly depressed {I know that feeling! ~ d*}… That’s when I began to really work one of my ideas that I already had in Germany, and that was my first solo, the solo of the chair…
And what happened is that it was very hard for me to make contacts: I didn’t come from a school; I didn’t have friends…  And also my nationality, I’m just going to say it: I was Mexican – if I would’ve said I was from France or Sweden or Germany: “Oh, she has to be good” – but Mexico…! By now it’s different… But then I had a hard time selling my solos that I’d begun to create.  The first choreographies I would all pay from my own pocket (and Robert’s pocket)…  They were all performed in Teatro da Vilarinha, for which I’m incredibly grateful – it was the only way I could really perform, because everybody was saying no…
I rehearsed at home (some solos were a little square because it was done in a little room) and in 2000… there was this association of artists that had permission to use an old military school here in Porto called Bom Pastor, and between me and a friend that’s also a choreographer, we rented four rooms and we began to rehearse there and to do performances and I had a taste of what it is to have your own space.
And I loved the community thing.  And I said, this is what I want.
And so for three years I was looking for space…. looking and looking and I couldn’t find a suitable space…  it was very difficult.  So I decided to do my Masters in choreography in Holland.  The day I was accepted at university I told myself: ok, now I’m going to concentrate on studying… and then like magic, within a week – I found La Marmita!
It was not easy to decide: I had to study, pay rent, wouldn’t be able to run the space, I’d be writing papers… And so I called my friend in Mexico: I don’t know what to do! If I don’t take it, it’s gonna go away.  And she said: Take it.  You’re going to lose money, but if you don’t believe in this, if you don’t take it, no-one’s going to follow you.  I said: Ok!

What are the challenges of managing La Marmita?

I love to work in a group, but it’s difficult to have a team,  because I do not have sufficient funds to pay them as much as I would like.  And that’s why I feel like I have to do everything (I have to be producer, technician, performer) – I know there’s a lot of people willing to collaborate and I’m incredibly grateful, but it’s something that you can’t be asking people all the time.

So, the money is difficult, how do you sustain La Marmita financially?

Actually from all the work that Robert does and all the work that I do…all the workshops, all the work I do for myself, it never stays for me.  It goes into La Marmita.

But I think, because I’m an optimist, that once I’ve finished paying all these heavy things [renovations] – within the next eight months, also when I have a larger public, that then, I think, with all the hard work, eventually this can be self-paid.  And then, it’s just to find… I need to find someone who knows very well about management strategies, business things, because you have to think that way and an artist never thinks that way.

How do you manage this, how do you bridge the artist and the business woman?

Oh it’s horrible!  For example, if I’m producing, that day I can’t create.  If I’m going to create, I need a day just for that.  Because it’s just another side of the mind…  And I had to learn.  I bought a book, but I don’t  have time to even open it!  It’s a big book about how to learn to be a business person. Because that’s the way I have to go, to think this is not just art – it’s a project that has to survive by itself so it doesn’t close.

What keeps you going?

Passion.  I love what I do.  I suffer a lot as well, but I love what I do.  And because of this passion, I’m very stubborn.  At some things I fail and I cry and I have three days of absolute catatonic depression, that I don’t do anything, I just eat chocolate and watch films, I can watch twenty films in a day, so I don’t think about anything… And then – I wake up again! I say, no way I’ll give up!  And so I keep going.  La Marmita is still part of the same dream [I had as a child].

One last question, what is your wildest fantasy for La Marmita?

Oh, I have a lot of fantasies… {said in a silky voice ;)}
But this is a story I tell all the time – this is really a fantasy, but I imagine…
Some incredible billionaire person makes a bet with a friend and they say: Lets go to Europe, choose a country where there’s less support for the arts (that would be Portugal {knowing laughter}) and if I find certain characteristics in a group that has no [financial] support, that’s independent, that group will have support for the rest of their lives.  And so, in my imagination they come to visit and they present themselves to me as university students wanting to make a documentary and I say, ok.  And they conclude: ok, she does everything; she’s generous with her people; she performs; she creates; she pays everything; she has no support [sponsors]; she has a program all the time… They go through their list (my fantasy list).  And oneday they announce it on TV, like a big contest, and they say: And the winner is …La Marmita! {applause from the audience, i.e. me ~d*}  Then I can come back and work this space and I can have a team, a very good team, and people would have good money to work, and I can invite people to work here!

Aside from this fantasy, I still believe in my hope that if audience and performers of all kinds get together, it is possible to create a community of resources and support.  Lets get together- we’re stronger together!

Yes, lets!  Thank you so much for participating, Andrea, and for inspiring me.  The winner is La Marmita, at least in my book!

*Hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation, do join in – and if you’re in the area of Porto/ Gaia, be sure to visit the lovely La Marmita!

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Filed under: Creating Opportunities, Crossing Borders, Inspiration, Roots&Routes, ,

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