The Yellow Women Collective are bringing their show The Yellow Traffic Light, written and performed by Isabella Sperotto, to the Vault Festival this month.
Where: Studio at The Vaults
When: 12 Feb; 25-26 Feb
Ticket link: https://vaultfestival.com/events/the-yellow-traffic-light/
We caught up with Isabella to find out more about this politically charged one woman show.
What is the best thing about being part of Vault?
The Vault Festival is such a huge opportunity when experimenting with unconventional ways of making theatre to get your work seen, expand your network, meet new people, and put yourself out there to receive reviews.
I’m curious to watch the public’s reaction to our show and how it will be received by different audiences.
The Yellow Traffic Light seems very pertinent at the moment, with many administrations heading into far-right territory. Why is it important to bring this to the stage now?
From a Brazilian perspective (and I know this story has happened in so many countries) we had the rise of fascism starting in 2015 with the removal of our first woman president (Dilma Rousseff). From there, everything went downhill.
Fake news promoted disinformation and caused so much damage, not only social and economic damage, but cognitive, as a big part of the population can’t understand what is real and what is not anymore. Many things come out wildly with this process: racism, sexism, homophobia.
And this climate led to the election of the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. He’s like a Brazilian Donald Trump, but worse. Many Brazilians voted for him in the past two elections and defended his hate speech, including people in my family. So, there’s this whole issue with families and how we deal with relatives who support this agenda.
The polarization got really extreme in a way that relationships became impossible, for example, many families’ Christmases are not happening anymore because people just cannot bear each other. In this process, the truth of a country that had a dictatorship never punished came out, a truth that is unbearable.
Even after four years of Bolsonaro destroying the economy, culture and communities, and causing mass deforestation, people still supported him and even invaded the congress in Brazilia (the capital of Brazil) because they didn’t want to accept a new president elected democratically.
Having that said, there is a generational and ideological clash caused by the rise of the far-right and hate of speech. Therefore, the main thing that I was questioning when I was writing this play was that, ok, I love my grandpa but he is voting for a president who is making homophobic jokes and being racist. What should I do? Can I love someone who votes against me and my people? And I explore this emotional conflict in the play.
We have presented The Yellow Traffic Light in Brazil. It was very different from presenting it in the UK because whilst in the UK, people tend to look at the play’s theme as something more about family hypocrisies. In Brazil, people get the political side more.
This is at heart a family story, with truth at its heart Was it difficult to take a personal view on the situation in Brazil?
When the Yellow Traffic Light in my south Brazilian town was demolished in an unusual accident in 2019, this was the propelling event to write about my annoyances and frustrations with close relatives who were supporting fascist ideas.
That’s when I wrote the text and sent it to DYSPLA for their writing residency in 2020. And my text got between the 8 finalists. So that helped me to see potential in this work. The Yellow Traffic Light comes from this place where I allow interferences to happen, and the ADHD flow of information is intense.
It’s inspired by the story of my family and their hypocrisies, but it’s a complete fiction I use it to touch lightly into the Brazilian political situation.
And I decided to do all the characters. Because I’m insane? No, because I couldn’t afford a cast with 9 actors. That’s when Catharina Conte (director) accepts the challenge, which was directed via Zoom during the pandemic.
In The Yellow Traffic Light, Grandpa Gerson was only living his best life. On that day, he woke up early to prepare a special meal for his beloved granddaughter arriving from the big town to visit the family.
However, this encounter brings an ideological clash, changing Gerson’s life forever. Boom, Plaft Pooow… The yellow traffic light of their beloved city is taken down. How far can you love those who vote against you? How many secrets does a family have to hide to keep together?
But in our Brazilian tour, I had a big challenge, which was to perform the play in front of my family. At the end of the day, I am revealing old taboos and secrets in a fiction where I made these secrets look even worse.
But at some point in your adult life, you gotta ask yourself if you’re doing theatre for your family or if you’re doing theatre. In my mind, it has to have a clear distinction between the performer/writer/fiction and Isabella – the daughter, sister, etc. -and that’s what I told my family as well).
Fun fact: I’m performing Grandma Selma, a character strongly influenced by my grandma, who is in the audience looking at me -crazy feeling. That same night, after the show, we were hosting a debate about feminist dramaturgy and psychoanalysis in the play, when my grandma put her hand up, asking for the mic.
A bit apprehensive, we gave her the mic and she said “I just wanted to let the public know that this play tells the story of my life!” – and people laughed so much because they could associate my grandma with Grandma Selma in the play.
It may be a weighty topic, but this show uses music and comedy. Was this planned right from the start?
I would say it happened naturally in the process. I have a trajectory in the multidisciplinary field, music is my soul. I’m not a comedian, but comedy is my natural way to deal with heavy topics.
Catharina Conte, the play’s director, has a very humoristic expression in the world so wouldn’t let it escape. But comedy is not the main genre of this play: this work is a storytelling with a dark-comedy touch.
Regarding the music, every soundtrack in the play was composed by me, despite the songs you will recognize from the start.
What else is the Collective up to, and are there further plans for the show beyond Vault?
The Collective will deepen its research during 2023 regarding Neurodiverse processes and practices in performing arts.
We plan to keep expanding our Latinx and neurodiverse network and offer workshops regularly.
There’s also a possibility to come out with new work for 2024. At the moment, our focus is The Yellow Traffic Light one-woman show.