Luciana Fernandes describes herself as passionate, stubborn, and frustratingly human. Well into her studies for her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Theatre and Directing at The University of British Columbia (UBC), her first visit to Canada was by chance. She describes the experience, “I was going abroad for a semester to improve my English and have the international student experience, 13 years and a citizenship ceremony later, I guess you could say Canada grew on me.”
13 years later, Luciana has performed in and directed several plays and is entrenched in theatre. She credits these accomplishments and works to several things; one of them is the fact that she is able to navigate her space, infusing her culture as well as her education, but admits that this wasn’t always the case.
“For years I fought the tendency to be labelled a ‘Brazilian artist’ and hated being simplified to that/ placed in that box. Yes, I am a Brazilian theatre artist, I am also obsessed with Elizabethan and Jacobean drama and had read Marlowe’s complete works in English by the time I was 16—and no, I am not interested in theatre of the oppressed,” says Luciana.
However, as time went by, she’s learned to ‘claim her share in Canadian spaces without rejecting her Brazilian heritage’. Luciana explains, “My perspective is shaped by my traumas and privileges, personal and political experiences, and inevitably my cultural upbringing and experience of culture shocks (direct and reverse). The lens through which I see the world, how I belong in my body, how I interact with art, and how I understand and embody text is ultimately shaped by the experience of existing as a relatively young woman of colour who emigrated from Brazil at 17.
What has become evident to me is that the less I resist my unique, and oftentimes, hard to explain, cultural ties, the freer I become, the clearer my artistic vision gets, and the more truthful my work becomes.”
We have so much more to share about this fascinating woman, here’s her interview with Story-Book Entertainment.
Luciana S. Fernandes Interview with Story-Book Entertainment
Story-book Entertainment Inc (SBe): What brought you the theatre and performance?
Luciana: The theatre bug bit me at 8-years-old, after a few school performances and an invitation to voice cartoons, and the damn thing is more stubborn than I could ever be—I am still hooked.
SBe: How important was it to obtain an MFA in Theatre, Directing?
Luciana: Pursuing an MFA for me was a commitment to my growth as an artist. Leading up to it, I felt like I wasn’t progressing much, repeating myself, and doing work that was what I had become known for doing, but I didn’t know if it was true to me anymore. I wanted new influences, new challenges, a place to explore and find who I was and wanted to be as a person and as a director. I needed to be fully immersed in my practice.
SBE: What have been some of your struggles along the way?
Luciana: Oh boy. Well, at first, I really had no idea what I was doing; how those programs worked, what questions to really ask, so I chose unwisely. I found myself in a place where I wasn’t moving forward, that couldn’t offer me the challenges I needed, that was stuck in the past, with a tear-down culture and, aside of a few wonderful beings that helped me through it, a toxic power and control based form of leadership that consumed everyone in it.
My biggest struggle was letting go. I’m stubborn, I had never not finished something I had started… But at some point, I had to realize that it wasn’t giving up. It was cutting my losses and acknowledging my worth. That was my most valuable learning experience—I had to forget myself to remember myself and respect my own voice and experience and learn what I am not willing to put myself through.
And after the storm comes the calm, or, in this case, the healing. I dropped out of that place and decided to go to UBC, and found an immensely supportive department, concerned with my growth and committed to making good work, working with fantastic mentors and peers who are the kind of people I want to work with. I also went back “home” to Halifax for the Chrysalis contract and Neptune, which reminded me of how wonderful this industry can be when you have the right people doing work for the right reasons.
SBe: What play, or performance has left the greatest impression on you?
Luciana: The play of the greatest impact that I experienced as an audience member was PunchDrunk Theatre’s Sleep No More. I had no words for what the experience was. I went 3 times and was there 3-4 hours each time. This immersive, movement adaptation of Macbeth in a fully converted space where we roamed alone as we were wearing ghostly masks, following whatever action or room appealed to us the most, was my experience of the Holy Theatre.
SBe: What are you currently working on?
Luciana: I am technically also writing my thesis, but production-wise, I am in the process of casting for my next project, the Canadian debut of The Sky on the Skin, written by Edgar Chías, translated by Santiago Farias Calderon, as part of the rEvolver Festival in Vancouver. This is a Mexican play, about violence against women and the struggle of existing in a Macho culture. It’s a very powerful, contemporary piece, certainly very strongly connected to my cultural roots and uncomfortably true and familiar for too many of us.
SBe: As a woman director in Theatre, have you had encounters where you weren’t taken seriously or dismissed? If so, how did you deal with these?
Luciana: Dear lord, more often than I care to admit. From being told by an old male supposed mentor that sexual favours are a legitimate way for a director to an effective resource gatherer, to interviewers who want to highlight my age in interviews about the Jacobean Tragedy I was directing, and being talked down by people with significantly less experience than me, I know the sexism is real. But I also know my work. I believe in what I do. I know I represent and open up space for those who have been beaten out of having a voice—and it’s for them that I do what I do and will continue to do so. I persist.
Persisting sometimes means saying “you are talking over me,” sometimes it means saying “I fail to see the relevance. Can you elaborate?” or walking out halfway through a workshop. But first and foremost, it means to continue creating, to continue supporting my peers, and to become the opposite of who those people are. We can determine what the new normal is, so be it, create safe spaces and resist—in whatever ways you can.
SBE: What are you most proud of?
Luciana: Oh my! I am immensely proud of everyone who I have worked with; immensely proud of my student actors who stand their ground in ways my peers and I wouldn’t have known to at our time. I’m proud of the new direction the Halifax theatre scene has grown and proud of everyone out there working in spite of the odds/ working to change those odds. I am proud of my community, my city and fellow artists, of my work and of embracing my voice. I am proud of my partners and friends and peers and mentors.
SBe: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Luciana: I wish I knew.
SBe: What advice would you offer Luciana from 10 years ago?
Luciana: The same advice I need to give present Luciana: believe in yourself. Commit. It is worth the risk. Aim high.