Get To Know: Xavier de Sousa
Xavier de Sousa is an independent performance maker and producer. Having grown up with Europe’s oldest performance art festival, CITEMOR (Portugal), he's been working solidly in theatre, dance and live art since graduating from Kingston University in 2010. We caught up with Xavier to talk about POST, a solo performance which celebrates the migrant experience, delving into the construction of national identity and the notions of borders and nationalism in a changing socio-political climate.
Hi Xavier! So, what can we expect from POST?
Hi guys! My pleasure entirely.
POST is a performance that invites you to the dinner table, to eat some yummy Portuguese food (both meaty and veggie), drink potent Cachaca (or you can also have juice if you’re not into alcohol!) and to have a frank discussion/argument about what we perceive as national identity, really. It is also a place for the representation of dissenting voices and the questioning of how we learn history and what we consider ‘community’ to be. But I want us to have fun whilst doing it, of course. I want people to feel welcomed, represented and respected in the room.
You had us at Portuguese food! Okay, so what led you to devise this kind of performance? Where did it all start for you?
About three ago, when UKIP gained a shit load of seats to the European Parliament and the discussion, nationally and online, became extremely toxic towards migrants. I was wanting to explore how we, migrants, can regain some respect towards that word, re-appropriate it and to shed some light on how the fuck we got to where we are now. You know, with people being killed, beaten up or harassed because of how foreign they might be or might not be.
At the same time, I started to really take in how much being a migrant from the EU really affected my standing in this country. How much privilege we have, that is about to be taken from us. I hate that this is happening because I don’t think this should be a privilege at all. To be able to travel should be a right. Yet, people from outside of the EU have gone through massive hoops and jumps to get here and also have little to no representation.
And I wanted to understand why this xenophobia, which is inherent and systemic, is unchallenged. So I became interested in the history of both this country and the one I was born and raised in, Portugal, so as to put current affairs into perspective and context. I was astonished about how much of what we are told is our history is actually poetised and shaped into a discourse of protectionism that only benefits the wealthy, never the poorer or the masses.
So this idea of ‘national identity’ creates a false sense of community, right?
For me, it signifies a branding of a group of people for the benefits of the few against the rest of the population. Most of our national identities across Europe were built on colonial Empires and oppression of other communities, some of the symbols of our national identities are direct appropriations from our old colonies into our branding (anyone fancy a cup of tea?!). And it seems pretty silly to me – can you really create a brand that accurately represents 60million of people? No, of course not. So you create a brand that is representative of a very small group of people, that looks at a past through bias lens, and use that to teach ‘your ’people through those lens. It is a very powerful tool to ensure social control, and allows for the creation of racial and nationality bias against dissenting voices. Thus creating a notion of ‘us’ and them. Melisa Aronczyk’s book on National Branding is excellent to explore how the branding of nations and communities has been a stable of capitalism and social control for a long time, for instance.
That is not to say that I don't find different cultures appealing - I do, and that’s one of the main reasons I love to travel. But imagine what we would be like as a world without borders - the differences and multiculturalism would be fascinating, I believe. And no, I'm not an advocate for Globalism, that’s just another branch of capitalism which I despise.
We seem to have more of an idea of the dark side of British 'national identity' since the onset of Brexit-induced chaos. What do you hope to achieve by presenting POST in the UK at this moment in our history?
There is distinct lack of acceptance to the platforming of migrant communities when we are the ones on the line. During the Brexit debate (before and since the vote), how many migrant voices were actually platformed to be heard? Hardly any. Everyone who got platformed was British-born. This is intensely problematic because then you are not really advancing the discussion or expanding the knowledge employed during that discussion. Surely hearing from the people who will most directly be affected should be a priority? Instead, we have had now over 3 years of people telling us what to expect, how to feel and how to behave. Enough!
I want to advance the discourse from this whole Brexit thing being about the EU and actually talk about the real issue at play: racism and xenophobia. The moment you close borders and enforce control of who is coming in, you are not only profiling people in the name of creating an ‘optimum type of person’ who is allowed in the country, but you are also profiling and conditioning a whole community. This is incredibly problematic and frustrating to be honest.
On a more selfish note, POST has allowed me to experiment a little with theatrical devices that I have become interested in. Concepts such as ‘hosting’, ‘borders’, ‘co-existence’ and power/privilege play a lot in the form of this piece.
…and your crossing literal borders by taking POST on tour. Do you think audience reaction will be different from county to county?
I am so excited about taking it to places like Poole (super Tory, conservative area) and Blackpool for instance. Both areas with extensive pro-Brexit history and post-colonial social structures that seem like the perfect places to take this show to. I want different voices in the middle of the show, I want people to bring their histories and their views to the table.
The show’s Second and Third Act are area-responsive, and I make sure we have local context mixed in to the conversations so that we have as broad a discussion as possible. And when I say local context, I mean local history, local social-economic events, and how the local area is represented. I also mean in terms of different types of voices that we reach out to. It is very important to me that we reach out to both migrants (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th generations, refugees, etc) and British-born individuals, even if they have never left the country.
The London venues Toynbee Studios and the Marlborough Theatre will feature post show migrant takeover parties in partnership with the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group and TRAMFRAU. Sounds great - tell us more!
I'm so fucking pumped for these! We have such amazing artists and activists such as Rachael Young, Riccardo Matlakas, Johanna Lindsey and Local Foreigner, all of whom are from very different backgrounds and artistic practices, but who all came together to experiment how they could all co-exist and compliment each other in a space like the Takeover is trying to crate.
When I was making this show, it because very apparent to me the privileges of access to funding and platforming that I have. So why not use those platforms to create room/space for other artists and activists?
I really wanted to create a space that was not only platforming our voices, but also expanding on the idea of what ‘migrant’ is, beyond the notion of passing a physical border. It will hopefully be a space for collaboration and representation of various heritages, diaspora and foreignness. . In each space, the events will be very different. All artists and activities live locally but have experiences of migration or heritage that involves migration. The London one is quite performance focused, whilst the Brighton one is more a party with durational and periodic performances, whilst the ones in Blackpool will be a bit more a mix between those…
UKLGIG is a fantastic organisation that supports queer refugees seeking asylum in the UK, which is an initiative that needs all the support we can give them. Currently, the UK Government is deporting various queer refugees that held in detention centres, abused and then sent to their potential deaths. And we do it in the name of keeping our national identity intact. UKLGIG are taking part in the Takeover event in London and will be on site to provide info on their work and talk support for these communities.
TRAUMFRAU is a Brighton based queer organisation that promotes and produces queer events in the city, being one of the biggest in the region, and providing safe spaces for queers of all kinds. Their Takeover will focus on migrant identity and representation in the local queer communities.
...and now for the quick-fire questions. What was the last show you saw?
Everything Fits in the Room by Simone Aughterlony & Jen Rosenblit at FIERCE Festival 2017 in Birmingham. I was loving it so much that I kept catching myself jamming to the action.
What’s the one song that’s guaranteed to get you ready to perform?
For a show? Depends on the show – this one has to be 'A Guitarra' by Madredeus as some of the mood of the show and my intensions fit well within that rhythm I think.
For partying? Ooohhhhh LCD Soundsystem 'Call The Police' is currently on my mind as well as ‘Wet Dollars’ by Tazer & Tink. But ask me again next week and it will change ah.
For karaoke? 'Stop' by Spice Girls. Any. Fucking. Time.
What’s your favourite thing to read?
Currently very much in love with graphic novels with political themes/narratives. The last great one I read was Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar – it made me really think about my history, my parents history, Portugal as a country and this idea of how a nation brands and positions itself in the World vs the reality of its history and current affairs.
People, places, or things?
Monologue or dialogue?
Dialogue. But my Queer, do I love a good monologue as well!
Photo: Rosie Powell