Elaine Avila: When and why did you found Saudade Theatre?
Filipe Valle Costa: The impulse came to me three years ago. In the US, the Portuguese often tend to fall in a place of ambiguity. As a Portuguese artist in New York City, I was having a hard time finding where my voice belonged. I voiced my uncertainty with friends and family. We discussed the meaning of the word “Saudade,” how that could translate into theatre and storytelling. Saudade is a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is uniquely characteristic of the Portuguese. For me, theatre at its best is exactly that—the intimate study of what we long for as a community. Hence, Saudade Theatre was born. Diogo came on board a year later. His enthusiasm and dedication to the project has made Saudade a tangible reality. I love the team we have become. It is our mission to explore the politics of love, compassion, and revolution through the lens of the Portuguese consciousness.
Elaine: What is your background?
Filipe: I was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal. I had dreams of becoming an actor from a very young age. At seventeen, after working for the Grupo de Teatro de Letras in Lisbon, I came to the United States through a tennis scholarship at Graceland University in Iowa, where I obtained my BA in Theatre. I then earned an MFA in Acting from the University of Florida. During graduate school I applied for the Diversity Visa Lottery, which is made available to 50,000 permanent resident visas annually and aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States. Unbelievably, I was selected, and after months of working alongside an immigration attorney, I was finally granted a green card and moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting full time.
Diogo Martins: I was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal, to a family of storytellers as loving as they were loud. On Sundays, gathering around tables where lunches very easily turned into dinners, my love for hearing and telling stories was born. My artistic aspirations brought me to New York, where I have resided for over eight years. I received a BA in Cinema and Cultural Studies with a minor in Theatre Arts from Stony Brook University and a MFA in Acting from the Actors Studio Drama School. I am also a proud member of the LAByrinth Theater Intensive Ensemble 2014 and of The Artist Tribe.
Elaine: Maria Inês Marques, your resident dramaturg, is getting her MFA at Yale, with many other Latinx and Portuguese artists and leaders. Can you talk about your collaboration?
Filipe: Maria Inês is one of those godsend gifts we could not have planned for. A little bit after Diogo and I became a team, Maria Ines reached out to us with some of her translated work. She sent us her translation of Mickaël de Oliveira’s Boris Yeltsin, a beautifully strange play. Maria’s precision and sensitivity as a translator reinforced our mission. She is also currently working on her translation of The Constitution for our fall production.
Elaine: Both of you are frequently cast in Latinx roles, which provides the opportunity for a unique solidarity between Portuguese and Spanish speakers in the “New World.” How did you find these experiences?
Diogo: I speak Spanish. Latinx characters naturally live in me. An integral common thread connects all Latin culture. A cultural exchange exists between us, in our language, our traditions, and our religion. Portugal left a lasting imprint on the cultural landscape of Brazil and South America—by way of force—but an imprint nonetheless. I was in an amazing immersive Tennessee Williams show, a piece called Moony's Kid Don't Cry. Nothing specifically says this character is of Portuguese, Puerto Rican, or Mexican descent. Why can't he be? If I create a backstory for myself that Moony's parents immigrated from Portugal, that automatically brings us closer together from a basic human standpoint. I’m Portuguese. I bring that to every role. I cannot distance myself from my cultural identity. I use it fully. That is who I am, and that is hopefully what makes my work unique.
Filipe: When I play Latinx roles in the US, I come from a place of respect and responsibility. I take joy in immersing myself in the specificity of other ways of seeing and experiencing the world, representing them with all the dignity, sensitivity, and passion I can muster. At the same time, I also feel that there is a truth within me that enables me to connect with the Latinx experience in an honest way. This is because we have very similar roots and our cultures hold many of the same values and beliefs. We find joy in community. We love to be the life of the party. We greatly value physical connection, human connection, and most importantly, family. However, sadly, we also often come from countries dealing with a certain complex of inferiority, for different socio-political reasons.
Elaine: You’re working with a great ensemble.
Filipe: We are a company of twenty-one members who came together through auditions and Saudade Theatre events. Our company includes artists who hail from Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. We are actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs, writers, and musicians.
Elaine: What are the impulses behind the Table Reading Series?
Filipe: Our Portuguese Table Series was a time for us to play and listen as a company. Once a month, we met to explore a Portuguese play. The event served two main purposes: 1) An opportunity for writers, directors, actors, and non-actors in NYC to experience Portuguese writing, stories, and anything in between that relates to the Portuguese consciousness and identity and 2) A search for a play that inspired us so completely that we’d have no choice but to produce it and introduce Saudade to New York City.
Elaine: Diogo, you are quite politically articulate. How does this inform your work?
Diogo: Art is always political. I'm interested in constructive impact, political urgency. You may or may not agree with the story I'm trying to tell, but if it affected you in some way and brought you to think critically and actively about some aspect of your humanity, then I feel like I did my job. I make work that affects you viscerally, confronts you, forces you to think a little more critically about the things you take for granted, and ultimately hopefully compels you to become a bit more compassionate. We live in complicated socio-political times, dominated by prejudice, fear, and a rhetoric of hate. We dissociate from each other. Art is an antidote. Theatre is the haven for a different kind of politics—the politics of compassion, the politics of love.
Elaine: Tell us about the play you are producing next.
Filipe: We have established a relationship with Mickaël de Oliveira and are producing his newest play, The Constitution, the story of four actors who are called to write a new constitution during troublesome political times. The actors are locked away by the government and are given six days to finish it. In July, we are flying Mickaël out to NYC to work on an adaptation of the play specifically developed for our company of actors. It’s a co-production with Horse Trade Theater Group, who have been so kind to take us in. We’ll run August 30th-September 10th at the Under St. Marks Theater in Manhattan’s East Village. We will have original music composed by Portuguese pianist, Renato Diz, and Alexis Forte, also from Portugal, will design our costumes. We have gathered an incredible creative team. We can’t think of a more relevant piece of work given the socio-political context we find ourselves in.