Artist, Immigrant: Natalia de Campos

by Marcy Arlin

in Artistry & Artistic Innovation,Global Citizenship,Interviews

Post image for Artist, Immigrant: Natalia de Campos

(To learn more about Marcy Arlin’s Artist, Immigrant blog series, click here.)

I met Natalia when she first came to the U.S. and we worked together on a couple of early ITP projects at the Tenement Museum and HERE. After all this time, it is inspiring to read about her innovative international work. Interactive Brazilian/U.S. experimental theatre? Who would have guessed!!

What do you love about theatre in the U.S. for yourself and in general?
Theatre in the U.S. is extremely varied. What I really love about it is that here you have a huge strand of all types of theatre, from musicals to experimental, all with lots of originality and space for the new and different. It is a very lively environment that always renews itself. For me, the theater in New York is the more exciting for what you can develop with artists from very different backgrounds and origins. Everyone in New York is exceptionally talented and super well-trained, I get surprised all the time with the artists I encounter.

What do you miss about working in your homeland?
Working in Brazil allows for longer periods of experimentation and fosters durational collaborations. I miss the informality and the comraderie the most. Here in New York I have great working relationships, but there is always a very strong pressure of time and cost of making work that often has too large a weight in the decisions you have to make as an artist. Now I am looking to create more sustainable, long-term working relationships here. In Sao Paulo, the strong friendships outside the workspace create a community that is long-lasting and many creative solutions to cover the costs of production often come out of that.

How have your combined, in your work, both country’s theatre training and culture?
The base of my training happened in Sao Paulo with a professional acting license and my bachelor’s degree from there. There I also studied under a great director, Antunes Filho under the auspices of SESC, a strong cultural organization that fosters new work, which also luckily exposed me to workshops with visiting artists like Kazuo Ohno, Grotowski, Wooster Group and Tadashi Suzuki, among others. That, and the work under other directors with very strong multi-stylistic approaches, made me a performer and director with a solid base to rely on. As a liaison/translator I worked under Sao Paulo’s International Theater Festival through which I met Cricot2 Theater, Andrej Serban, Bread & Puppet, Steve Berkoff and many other important artists from around the world.

My moving to New York when I was 25 was because I wanted to expand my experimental horizon. I had particular interest in Richard Foreman’s and the Wooster Group’s work. But I knew that moving here would mean to have to play as starting from scratch again. Just before that, I met Anna Kohler, a member of the Wooster Group, who was teaching a workshop in performance and media in Sao Paulo. Anna became my first mentor here, writing my recommendation letter to
Foreman and introducing me to Marianne Weems of The Builders Association, with whom I ended up working in three different productions, and learned a lot about working with interactive technology.

These first experiences paved the way to producing and presenting my first works. I was lucky from the first work I directed (a translation from a Brazilian playwright with an international team) because it opened lots of doors. I continued working with mixed teams and foreign languages in every work. So being from another culture is embedded in everything I do, although not always intentionally, from the collaborators I choose to find my way around language. I am not sure this would be the case if both Sao Paulo and New York weren’t such cosmopolitan cities. When I met you in 2000, Marcy, being an immigrant was actually an asset!

How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
My work took a different direction when coming here. In part, my accent (and Foreman) perhaps drove me to concentrating more in directing and in being an independent theater artist and self-producing. Sometimes I ask myself if I would have been exclusively a performer had I stayed in Sao Paulo. But the expansion and production of my own work in new directions has been the best part of being
from outside the culture. Often I didn’t “fit the bill” in some productions, but I guess I never wanted to really “fit in” so I did find space in New York to just find my own way. The funny thing about being an immigrant is that you are that in the eyes of the beholder. For me, I am just a migrant! The cultural gap can be a constant obstacle and you have to always remain flexible, and that can be challenging and tiring sometimes, but it also makes you stronger.

What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?
After my father’s sudden death in 2008, I decided to go back to school and get an MFA, to expand my knowledge of interactive media in performance. My most recent project was both my collaborative thesis performance with Bryon Carr and a project with my long-term collaborator and husband, the visual artist Thiago Szmrecsanyi. It is an experiment that integrates theater, performance, dance, installation art and electronic music by a young composer/performer, Ellery Royston, and four other performers. It is called A Pretty Good Future, and had its first incarnation in early May at chashama’s 461 gallery in Harlem as an interactive experience for the participants. I am very excited to take theater further outside of the theater space, and continue integrating it with other artistic disciplines. I am also working on two solo and collaborative short performances that I wrote for non-theatrical settings, one of which (Death & Life in the Northeast) I presented at the Bowery Poetry Club and then again last year in the Scope art fair, and will now take it outside the city.

In Brazil I am reconnecting with Felipe de Souza, a former collaborator and musician who worked with me here in New York. Because I also love to translate any stage works of playwrights that I think should be known here, I always kept ties with Brazil, whether in Rio or Sao Paulo. Soon I want to bring this most recent collaboration there and reconnect with SESC, that sponsored the first tours of my career in Sao Paulo. In late July I am presenting a paper on Wireless Interaction within Performance, at the International Federation of Theatre Research’s conference in Santiago, Chile, and then going to Sao Paulo to talk about a new collaboration. I am also talking to a friend and New Media scholar about possibly teaching interactive media there. There’s a big gap to be covered between theater and performance artists and technology there. The world order is shifting again, let’s see what happens!

Can you tell me a theatre short story/anecdote about when you first came here? A more recent story?
When I was interning with Foreman, he was working with performers from the late Reza Abdoh’s Dar a Luz company. What a strong group that was! I became friends with Tony Torn, Michael Caselli. Tony and I would often go out to see shows and exhibits together and one day he showed me a video of Bogeyman. I was mesmerized. In my opinion, Reza was one of the most prolific experimental theater directors of my generation. The energy and urgency of their work had a direct impact (and still has) on what I brought with me from Brazil. I felt like I was a teenager again, just like when seeing the first work that made me want to have a theater career at 12.

A more recent story comes from meeting Mark Russell in a fun road trip to Hourglass Group’s summer retreat. Knowing about my translation abilities, a few months later he asked me to be a liaison for Cia. dos Atores for the Under the Radar Festival. Coincidentally, I already knew the director of the company, and he was worried about the translation for the supertitles that he had received. So Mark asked me to do an overnight emergency re-translation of the Portuguese version of Hamlet that they had deconstructed with added original Portuguese writing within.

I jumped in! Re-translating Shakespeare into English, in a very modernized version! Not only I had immense fun doing it — playing around with which words I’d keep from Shakespeare’s original, which would be the re-translated ones, the Rio de Janeiro’s slang that they added and my own creative interpretation — but I also got a flattering public comment on the translation from Norman Frisch, whose opinion I really respect, in the panel with the artists at the Public Theater. And the best part was that Tony Torn watched it and then told me that I had ‘refreshed’ Hamlet!

Anything else you want to add?
Blurring the lines between theater and other artistic disciplines is to me like blurring your identity of being both an immigrant and a long-term resident of New York. New York is a very special place, and you know it if you live here. It is also a lesson of flexibility for both immigrants and US born artists, living together daily. I miss Brazil a lot and Sao Paulo is a very lively city as well, though twice as large as New York. I wish I could live in both places at the same time. Individuals and institutions of different countries need to recognize and support even more their artists as we are the engine of liveliness of these cities, and struggle a lot to make ends meet and have our voices heard! It’s twice as hard if you are an immigrant because you have to live in between two

What is your residency/citizenship/visa status? How does it affect your life as an artist?
As a permanent resident (AKA “green card” holder), I have almost the same rights as U.S. citizens. Though not all. When I wasn’t considered a permanent resident it was very hard to make work as I had to jump between different visa statuses and just that had a lot of impact in what I could or not do, and how much of my time and other resources went to just that effort. I have many friends who I see struggling with that now. Citizens should not take their status for granted, considering all the extra work that immigrants have to do to just get by.

Natalia de Campos is a performer, director, translator, producer and new scholar working in experimental theater and performance. She founded Syncretic Pleasures to produce and direct Opus Profundum, Waltz #6, The Serpent, Platonicov, Doppelganger, Death & Life in the Northeast, and other works, shown in venues like HERE, Ontological Theatre, Connelly Theatre, Bowery Poetry Club, SCOPE Art, CSV Center, chashama. She performed with The Living Theatre in “Mysteries and Smaller Pieces”, Target Margin’s Opera Festival, Fringe Festival, experimental films, Baryshnikov’s White Oak company PASTForward, with Public Movement in PERFORMA, among others. As a translator she worked independently and with Under the Radar, Lincoln Center Festivals; and as an arts producer with: MTA Arts for Transit, Essex Street Market, Henry Street Settlement, Hostos Center for Arts & Culture, Tribeca Performing Arts, The Builders Association, Hourglass Group and many others. She has an MFA in Performance & Interactive Media Arts from Brooklyn College/CUNY. (

Marcy Arlin is Artistic Director of the OBIE-winning Immigrants’ Theatre Project. Member: Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Theatre without Borders, League of Professional Theatre Women, No Passport, and Fulbright Scholar to Romania and the Czech Republic. She curates Eastern European Playwrights: Women Write the New. Her project East/West/East: Vietnam Immigrants Out of War, is a binational, Vietnamese/Czech/English theatre project based on interviews with American and Czech Vietnamese. She created Journey Theatre with survivors of war and torture. Directing venues: 59E59, QTIP, LaMama, MESTC, Vineyard, Oddfellows Playhouse, Artheater/Köln, Nat’l Theatre of Romania. Co-Editor Czech Plays: 7 New Works. Teaches theatre at CUNY, community-based theatre at Yale, Immigrant Theatre at University of Chicago (her alma mater) and Prague Quadrennial, Brown, and NYU.