Interview with Ana María Bovo, actress/storyteller, creator of the Escuela del Relato

Escuela del Relato, Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 2003

Carla: I’ve heard mentioned the notion of the “Argentine Storytelling School.” What is the position of the Escuela del Relato in terms of this idea?

Ana: That idea…I first heard about it while out of the country…in Spain. And it caught my attention, because the storytellers that [the Spanish] are familiar with from Argentina have very diverse styles. Perhaps [the Spanish] have noticed, in the works that they have seen, greater rigor in the work than they are used to seeing from Spanish tellers. But I think that there are fairly significant differences between…the storytelling here. And it seems to me that the Escuela del Relato is occupying a space of great professional consciousness of the work. And great consciousness of the necessity of preparing oneself for the stage, of having a theatrical preparation in order to present this model of the spontaneous storyteller onstage. The people here at the Escuela acquire a consciousness of the increasing difficulty of this task….

Carla: And do you think that this aspect of the difficulty of the task of narrating has some particularly Argentine aspect to it, that is, do you think that this style of school could integrate itself into other countries?

Ana: I think that, in Spain, it would fit smoothly; in Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela, it could be of interest as well….There is interest for this type of work, but I think that there is very little theory, very little theoretical reflection about the characteristics of this work. And that the investigation that Jorge Dubatti is doing, or the reflections that appear in my book…we are of the very few who are beginning to consider the matter of a theoretical reflection.

Carla: Have you noticed, during your trips to other countries to tell stories, any particular characterizing elements of the storytelling in these countries, for instance, a Mexican or Colombian style?

Ana: Always when one sees a Latin American storyteller, for instance, an Argentine, a Mexican, or a Colombian, they have an advantage that is their accent. This generates a certain enchantment. It’s like a handicap, a plus that generates curiosity. But later, it can happen that fifteen or twenty minutes into the show, it gets tiresome, and the structure of the story being told can no longer sustain this fascination with the accent, or the charming qualities that the teller might have….At times there starts to appear that terrible monster that is boredom….I have seen German storytellers telling in Spanish, also Africans and Japanese….There is usually a common problem. Apart from personal charisma, there is a lack of mastery of narrative structure, lack of time management, for instance, or use of conflicts….often tellers will stretch out their story in order to prolong their time on the stage and enjoy the public’s reactions. The danger of this…is that the performance becomes extremely tiresome. What is new about the Escuela is its emphasis on solid narrative structure. That the conflict, the characters, the setting, the elements of the plot be condensed in time. In an amount of time in which a spectator can remain attentive. Often, in place of consciousness of storytelling as performance, storytellers have a love of the materials they choose, and don’t have a lot of consciousness that they are using the stage.

Carla: I am interested in how the Escuela resolves this stress on narrative structure with the model of the spontaneous teller. How is it that you consider consciousness of structure and technique to be a prerequisite for spontaneous telling?

Ana: The idea of the school is to bring to the stage what storytellers who are not actors do….A spontaneous teller who is effective in an intimate environment, such as a taxi driver, or a certain fisherman I once knew, has no guarantee of having the same effectiveness in front of an audience. The idea is to translate the effectiveness of domestic telling – maintain all of what that has, but acquire in addition a number of tools to sustain this in every performance in the same way, as if you were telling the story for the first time. For this you need to understand the mechanics of the art of repetition, which is theater, without losing the freshness of the first telling.

Carla: I’m under the impression that many students who come do not want to go onstage. How does it help them to learn all of these tools for performance?

Ana: I believe that it is a preparation…through which one learns to communicate. Whether one is a lawyer or a grandmother, stage training and learning about the concept of others’ time is important in practically any field.

Carla: Is there an assumption in the teachings of the Escuela that the people of Buenos Aires are contaminated by literature?

Ana: It’s true that we have a profile of students that is very literary…they hold literature to be on sacred ground, of great prestige. Orality has become disvalued….It’s as if orality were a poor relative, disinherited by literature. When in reality orality came first, and then literature. So the idea is to recuperate a language for orality in which common shared meaning is present, that what one says be enjoyable and necessary, that it be true in some sense. We want to return to ascribing beauty to the literature of memory and the literature of experience.

Carla: Why choose sources such as literature, film, and theater, if the idea is to return to a state of spontaneity?

Ana: The fundamental idea is that orality serves to transmit experience. In the life of every person there is the experience of the private, and the experience of the public, where the production of literature and cinema appears….The stories of the cinema are a source of orality in that people tell others what happens in a given movie. All sources of human experience are welcome. But most importantly, we try to revive and emphasize the capacity that each person has to express experience orally.

Carla: Traditionally, the role of the story has been to transmit wisdom and experience….

Ana: …Yes, exactly. The role of the story as taught by the Escuela is just that.

Conversations in Rural Mexico, 2003

“We have fruit year-round.”
“Yes, a lot of fruit we have here.”
“In all the seasons.”
(Smile. Nod.)
“It just comes from the trees, year-round.”
“Nice. How lucky you are.”
“A lot of fruit.”
“Every season, we have fruit. Different kinds.”
(Nod. Pause.) “What kinds?”
“Lemons, now we have lemons.”
“Yes, I’ve seen them.”
“We always have lemons this time of year.”
“What other fruits do you have?”
“Mangos, bananas, maracuyá…”
(Expectant pause.)
“We have fruit year-round.”

“It’s hot.”
“Yes, it sure is.”
“This morning, I got up, and felt it was hot.”
(Smile. Nod.) “It was really hot in the sun.”
“Yes, in the sun it is always hotter than in the shade.”
“Would you like some agua dulce? It’s good for a hot day.”
“Yes, thank you.”
(Pause.) “It is quite warm, isn’t it.”
“Tomorrow, it could be even hotter.”
(Look of dismay).
“But maybe it will cool off.”
“Yes, it’s hot, isn’t it?”