Interview Series – Nohayquiensepa

Geneviève Trilling (I’ll always be there to kill you) interviews Trevor Schwellnus about their production of


Director & Designer: Trevor Schwellnus
Presented by Aluna Theatre
Choreographer: Olga Barrios
Music and Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne
Live Drawing: Lorena Torres
Featuring: Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Ravi Jain, Victoria Mata, Beatriz Pizano, Mayahuel Tecozautla

How do we deal with the death of strangers? — a multidisciplinary workshop presentation inspired by events in a Colombian river town on the fringe of great violence. Aluna has assembled a vibrant group of new media, theatre, and dance artists to make connections from our city to the world.

trevor1. What does the title of your show mean?

“Nohayquiensepa” roughly translates as “no one knows”, or “there is no one who knows” – to get the intonation, however, my wife Beatriz (the Spanish speaker) says “there is not a soul that knows”.

2. Tell us about your company?
Aluna Theatre is a Canadian-Colombian company that creates new performance work inspired in the collision many cultural backgrounds and art forms in Toronto, with a focus on Latin-Canadian artists and women.  I am the Canadian half, and my partner Beatriz Pizano is the Colombiana.  We try to keep our work focused on professional productions, but have also created a number of cultural exchanges and mentorship projects.  We’ve been stageing shows for six years now, have won a few awards, and now are trying to grow a bit as a company without burning out completely.

3. What inspired you to create this show?

This piece emerged out of two concerns: our company’s interest in exploring stories that focus on human rights, and on a number of artistic experiments I am trying with video projection on stage.

One of the stories that inspired this piece was the appearance of unidentifiable bodies / body parts drifting ashore in the Port city of Puerto Berrio on the Magdalena river in Colombia.  Puerto Berrio lies in a ‘hot zone’, where various factions (leftist guerillas, rightist paramilitaries, and the regular army) have been in contest since the sixties, and the river itself is often used as a mass grave.  When such body parts were found, local people “adopted” the bodies (called NN’s, for “no nombre” (“no names”)), created a mausoleum just for them, cared for the dead by, say, leaving a glass of water out for them (because the dead get thirsty).  This was not pure altruism: the NN’s were also asked for favours.  And they deliver: the village idiot was inspired by his NN to chose winning lottery numbers.  After that, everyone was checking out the shoreline for a floating body.

We picked up the thread of dealing with the death of anonymous strangers, and began to respond to these situations through collectively creating a piece that is part dance, part visual art, part theatre.  I centred the process on working within environments, because I suspect that video projection works best when the performer works with it from the beginning, making it part of her space.  I also have a number of curiosities about live drawing, cameras, shadows, etc, of the sort that designers generally fill their heads with.
4. How is your piece a collaborative effort?

This year we spent a month with some Colombian theatre makers, here and in Bogota, to learn their approach to “Collective Creation” – an approach I think of as collaborative, given the history of the word “collective” in Canada.  It involves improvisation before an audience – often other company members – who reflect back the series of actions they witness during a given improv.  So: they always build with both performer and observer present.  My twist on this formula is to make the room in which we work part of the improvisation, by proposing (and adapting) environments in real time.  The improvs, based on some source material and ideas, are analyzed, and then we do another round.  Everyone in the room creates, but the director definitely assembles and tweaks the work as the process matures and the improvs slowly transform into a series of related sequences.

5. Can you describe the different technical components of it?

I don’t want to give away our secrets, Genevieve, but we do use a number of cameras, a light table for live drawing, and some VJ software to manipulate video in real time.  It’s enough to really make me nervous about doing this in a festival.  But it’s a workshop presentation, we want to take a chance – this is also about trying to build a show with video as an integral component from the start.

6. Why does your show benefit from being multidisciplinary?

It was conceived that way.  In the kind of process we have embarked upon, artists come together to make whatever work they need to make together.  The pallet of skills and perspectives they bring define the project – so I guess it’s multidisciplinary because we were fascinated by the possibilities of bringing this hybrid group together.

7. What is the message of the show?

hmmm.  No one has a monopoly on suffering?  Death is an opportunity?  Dancers are hot?  No… maybe all I can say is that there is always more to someone else’s beliefs than you think — but also, less.

8. How did you find the members are the team ? How long ago did you start working on the piece?
Some of the team have worked with us on Aluna shows already – my partner Beatriz Pizano of course, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, our choreographer Olga Barrios and Sound Designer Thomas Ryder Payne; dancers Mayahuel Tecozutla and Victoria Mata, and Ravi Jain, we have known personally for a year or two, from their work in theatre and in the community, and actor Gina Jaimes came into town from our sister company, the Corporacion Colombiana de Teatro in Bogota.  Our visual artist, Lorena Torres, just walked into our office one day looking for work, which is basically fate.  The piece really began when Laura Nanni told me to get off my ass and submit a project to Harbourfront Centre’s HATCH: emerging theatre projects; so this past January, we were lucky enough to have a week in a theatre there, to give us the tech support we needed to launch this experiment.

9. Do you target a particular audience for this show?

Not really.  I will be thinking of that as the piece matures.  It’s intentionally not very wordy, so it can tour internationally a little more easily.  We have been invited to bring it to Bogota.  So: lots of people.

10.  Why do you think people should see it?

Because it’s gorgeous and moving.  I think that projection in theatre is getting to the point where we are creating a hybrid medium, and this show is consciously participating in the midwifery of a burgeoning aesthetic.  And I think everyone needs to see Olga’s choreography.


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