‘I was born at the border’: dramatist Helena Tornero on writing across frontiers.

The Future (El futur), by Catalan dramatist Helena Tornero, will have its UK premiere at the 2023 Out of the Wings festival, translated by Helena Buffery, on 14 July 2023. Here, the playwright reflects on borders – geographical borders, and those of the mind – and her playwriting journey to crossing them.

I was born at the border. Literally. We actually lived in a train station next to the French border. My father worked in the railway, so we lived there. Now I think my first playwriting teacher was that train station. It was there where I began to write. I write all sorts of stories: theatre, opera, narrative, cabaret. I believe in theatre. I believe in this beautiful, entertaining and curative tool that theatre is. 

I am a graduate in Directing and Playwriting by the Institut del Teatre de Barcelona. I am a playwright and a stage director. I teach drama literature and playwriting. I also am a theatre translator, and eventually -not so often now – I also am a singer and actress. I love every single aspect of theatre craft. My theatre explores all kinds of borders: the ones between character and actor, actor and audience, rehearsal and performance, fiction and reality.

Playwright and author of ‘The Future’, Helena Tornero

In 2016 a friend and I created a non-profit organisation called PARAMYTHADES. We worked at the refugee camps in Northern Greece offering theatre, dance and music workshops. We have been working together with the refugee community to find ways to express their fears, hopes and frustrations. One way to give them a voice was Kalimat (TNC [the national theatre of Catalonia], 2016) a dramaturgy based on testimonies of people living at Nea Kavala refugee camp, and Trees never get tired (2017), an artistic integration project premiered at the municipal theatre of Polikastro (Greece) with a cast formed by Greek people and people waiting for a refugee status from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia. 

There are huge borders being built now. Not only outside, also in our minds. Homophobia is a border. Classism is a border. Racism is a border. Sexism is a border. Fascism is a border. Many of those issues are present in my plays. In Fascinación (2015) I wrote about fascism with four characters learning how to dance. Every scene is a different dance (chachacha, mambo, tango, waltz). 

My most recent play, El futur, is a road play: a young girl steals a car to travel from Barcelona to Stockholm with a refugee. The car belongs to a politician which a strong anti-migration agenda. All the characters of the play confront themselves with physical, ideological and emotional borders. Yes, borders. Again.

Translated by Helena Buffery.

The Future will be performed at the #OOTW2023 festival at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, on 14 July 2023. For more information at the Omnibus website here, or at OOTW’s website here.

Other works by Helena Tornero include: El vals de la garrafa (Premi Joan Santamaria 2002), Submergir-se en l’aigua (Premi SGAE 2007), Apatxes (Premi de Teatre 14 d’Abril 2009), De-sideris (2010), Yesterday (Theatre Uncut 2012), No parlis amb estranys (Teatre Nacional de Catalunya 2013), Love and fascism (Istanbul Theatre Festival 2014), F/M (devil is alive and well) (En residència 2015), Fascinación (Premio de Teatro Lope de Vega 2015), Estiu (El Maldà, 2017), Siria, cartografia incompleta (Sala Beckett, 2017), Kabarett-Protokoll (Teatre Romea, 2018), Je suis narcissiste (Teatro Español/Teatre Lliure, 2019), Demà (Sala Beckett, 2020), A nosotros nos daba igual (Teatro Español/TNC, 2021) and Paraiso Perdido (Festival Grec/Teatre Romea/Centro Dramàtico Nacional, 2022).

More about Helena Tornero at https://www.catalandrama.cat/es/autor/helena-tornero/  and https://www.contextoteatral.es/helenatornero.html