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Isabella Sperotto: Latinx representation in UK theatre and finding inspiration for her play

By Isabel Leask-

Image from The Yellow Traffic Light. Photo taken by Catharina Conte.

From 12-26 of February 2023, ‘The Yellow Traffic Light' starring Brazilian writer, theatre-maker and performer, Isabella Sperotto, will be coming to the Vault Theatre in London. This one-woman show, written by Sperotto and directed by Catharina Conte, has been described as a “thought-provoking, dark-comedy” and is inspired by the story of Sperotto’s family and the rise of the far-right in Brazil. The premise of the show follows the destruction of an iconic yellow traffic light at the heart of a Brazilian town, sparking a chain of events which threaten to unearth family secrets.


LatAm editor, Isabel Leask, had the opportunity to interview Sperotto in anticipation of her play’s release, and find out more about Latinx and neurodivergent representation within UK theatre and arts.


Could you start by telling me about your trajectory as a Latina and a neurodivergent artist in the UK?


I have a BA in psychology from Brazil and BA in theatre from the UK, so my background is in these areas. In Brazil, I used to work as a TV presenter and producer and here I work more with theatre. Being Latina and Neurodivergent really influenced my way of working, even though in the beginning I didn't realise it.


As a Latina, I had a very big shock when I went into the UK theatre industry. I was so used to living and collaborating with many international people and understanding each other's accents in English. When I came into the British industry, my accent was making my work difficult. I would either fit into a stereotype of what a Latin American woman should be like, or I would not fit any other casting type. For instance, I am a Latina who is white, which is not what European people expect. But not just that. For Latina women, the stereotype includes sensuality and strong attitudes as well. This typecasting of being a Latina is something that made me question whether or not there is a Latin American ethnicity. And of course, there isn’t. Latin America is so big, we are a mix of people, and we have different colours, shapes and cultures. I believe those factors made me want to go down this independent path in theatre. I think that's what many Latinx theatre makers ended up doing because you get to a point where you realise that if you don’t go independent, it can be really challenging to be seen and to work in a sustainable way in this industry.


What do you think about the current situation regarding Latinx representation in UK theatre?


I think that when we first leave our countries, we have a certain idea of what the First World will look like, a so-called “land of opportunities”. We can be deluded into this fantasy that this European world is going to give us everything we need, and then we get here and it's nothing like this. You're just the immigrants and you're just the person with an accent. And then you understand that the opportunities here are not for everyone. Having said that, I think that in the UK you do have more opportunities than for instance, in Brazil where I come from, but it's so difficult to access them. So, while I believe that many initiatives are being taken to increase representations of the Latinx community in the UK, at the same time, it's just the beginning of it all. It feels like only now, the Latinx community is becoming more visible. Nowadays, people are more accepting and more educated about different identities. The Latinx theatre community is very active, we do a lot, we just need to keep going and delimiting our space in the industry.


Your new play The Yellow Traffic Light will be heading to the VAULT theatre festival from February 12-26. What was the inspiration for the play?


I wrote this literary text for the DYSPLA theatre residency in 2020 and I made it as one of the eight finalists. This residency was also an opportunity for new and neurodivergent artists to showcase their work. So that's how the whole process for the play started. And then when I wrote the initial text for this residency, I allowed for my neurodiversity to be part of it rather than something that I was trying to cover up. I was allowing the ADHD flow of information to build the narrative of the play so that anyone watching the play can also visualise an ADHD mind.


The text is inspired by the story of my own family. Although the play is fictional, I use this fiction about the story of this family, their views of the world and their hypocrisies to touch on the Brazilian political situation - and play nine characters on stage. The prompt itself is the story of a yellow traffic light in my Brazilian town. When it got demolished, it was an unusual accident, but it really got me thinking and inspired me to write about my frustrations with relatives that were supporting fascist ideas. The yellow traffic light is a symbol of the town as it was the gift from the French government to this Brazilian town and one that residents are so proud of- because in Latin America we are made to feel proud of having things that come from Europe. So, it symbolises the effects of colonisation and I use it as a symbol of something I'm going to destroy during the play.


Image from the Yellow Traffic Light. Photo taken by Beatrice Debney.

What themes are explored within the play? How do they reflect Brazil's current (and very recent) social and political landscape?


It starts with the rise of fascism in Brazil in 2015 and the removal of the president (Dilma Rousseff). From there, I think everything went downhill. Fake news promoted so much disinformation and caused so much damage. Many things were coming out: racism, sexism, homophobia. And this climate led to the election of the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. He's like a Brazilian Donald Trump, but worse. Many Brazilians voted for him, and defended his hate speech, including people in my family. So, there's this whole issue with families and how we deal with relatives who support this agenda. The polarisation got really extreme in a way that relationships became impossible, for example, many families' Christmases are not happening anymore because people just cannot bear each other.


There is a generational and an ideological clash caused by the rise of the far-right and hate of speech. So the main thing that I was questioning when I was writing this play was that, ok, I love my grandpa but he is voting for a president who is making homophobic jokes and being racist. What should I do? Can I love someone who votes against me and my people? And that's the whole conflict in the play. Even after four years of Bolsonaro destroying the economy, culture and communities, and causing mass deforestation, people still supported him and even invaded Congress because they didn’t want to accept a new president elected democratically. We also presented the play (The Yellow Traffic Light) in Brazil. It was very different from presenting it in the UK because whilst in the UK people tend to look at the play’s theme as something more about family hypocrisies, in Brazil people get the political side more.


As a Brazilian writer, performer, and theatre maker, what advice would you give to other aspiring performers from Latinx backgrounds in the UK?


There is not one right way to be successful. So, my advice is to detach yourself from what success means in a capitalist world and find a way to be successful for yourself and do what makes you happy. It is so difficult to be here and be doing what we are doing. So, focus on “small” accomplishments. There are many ways to be successful in what you do. And to be successful, you do not need to be famous. Don't let yourself merge with, or feel the need to fit into boxes. Allow your authenticity and your culture to show, and find people who resonate with what you are doing.


Tickets to The Yellow Traffic Light can be purchased here: https://vaultfestival.com/events/the-yellow-traffic-light/


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