I recently sat down Ana Luiza Ulsig who is starring in the LGBTQ play “Liberty”, where she will play the Prison Governor and Sandy Duncan (Kath’s husband,) directed by the highly acclaimed and respected Karen Douglas. We talked through a wide variety of topics, including the state of politics in Brazil, LGBTQ history and Liberty, Kath Duncan, history and a wide number of topics in this fantastic interview.
Ana is a Brazilian Danish performer and writer based in London, where she recently completed Rose Bruford College’s Master program in Actor Performer Training. Ana started taking theatre lessons by the age of 11 and holds a BA in Acting from the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO).
She says that she accumulated a vast experience in theatre, including improvisation, street theatre, musicals, comedy; as well as TV soap operas, commercials, and films. Ana participated in the project “Nós do Morro”, a cultural/social initiative in the slum of Vidigal, in Rio, and has always been engaged in projects that aim for social transformation.
That includes the work developed with TÁ NA RUA street theatre company, with regular presentations on the streets; as well as the project “Rock’n Lixo”, which she co-wrote and produced, and was awarded a 100.000 BRL grant from the Rio Municipality to tour around arenas in less favored areas of the city. This project included a Sign Language interpreter for the hearing impaired, free transportation for students of public schools, and recycled puppets workshops, as this related to the subject of the play.
Currently, Ana is rehearsing for the play “Liberty”, by Ray Barron-Woolford, and working on the authorial project “The Journey of a Warlike Mind”, about the birth of a woman’s voice. The play is inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, a British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights, considered the mother of modern feminism.
- With recent events in Brazil in mind, how important is it for you to participate in a political production of this calibre?
Seb, for me being in this production at this moment it’s not only important, it’s essential. It is an exercise of democracy and self-expression, by celebrating and remembering part of our heritage that had been buried until now. Digging up the story of Katherine Duncan and making it known for the public is in itself a fight against silencing people who fight for freedom and equal rights for all human beings.
As I give voice to this story as an actress, lending my body, my voice, my work, I feel that the story is feeding me in return, awakening my own voice and giving me strength to continue fighting in these dark times.
I feel that we, as a society, naively think we have outgrown certain mistakes from the past, when it comes to justice, to a fair world, to humanity. But the truth is, in my view, we are repeating old structures without asking ourselves if they serve us, individually and as a collective.
In Brazil today we have an immense parcel of the society who used to be suppressed, and/or to be in misery, and who are finally speaking out. The indigenous, black people, miserable people (economically speaking) and women.
Ana says that Women in Brazil, have finally visualized our value and where we deserve to stand. What is happening in Brazil (and in other corners of the world now as we speak) is a reaction to these masses finally awakening. Because it means change, it means transformation, and some people really don’t want to leave their comfortable positions.
It is my responsibility as an artist to provoke questioning and transformation in a deep and intimate level. For it is in this deep and intimate place within us that it all begins. Changing the micro to change the macro. I like to say the artists are the doctors of the souls.
Nowadays, we see a play or a movie about the time when Hitler was ruling and we say “wow, it was so horrible what they did back then. Thank god we’re over it.” Right? I’m proud to be in this production because it asks: are we? Are we over it?
- What was it about the story of the Scottish communist activist Kath Duncan that inspired you about the play?
That has actually to do with how I decided to apply for this play. I was in the middle of an intense phase of my master’s course (at Rose Bruford College), facing several deadlines, and I wasn’t looking for jobs yet. But I was keeping an eye out for what was going on, and when I saw the post about the auditions for LIBERTY, I didn’t think twice. I just knew I had to apply, and I got the part!
Ana speaks passionately about the character, the main inspiration for me was the fact that such an important person in history had been “forgotten”, “lost in files”, do you know what I mean?
Moreover, that this person was a woman. For me, that was extremely inspiring. It resonates with my own story, with my family’s stories, with the stories of women in my life and from previous generations. Women who were silenced, forgotten, lost in files.
We are talking about centuries of abuse, of suppression. Kath’s story talks about the lives of the baby girls who were thrown in the river in China, and it talks about me. It is a story that still trespasses time, still! So, I want to listen to her and learn from her. Kath awakes me to the notion that we are still in a battle for free speech.
- Kath Duncan participated in the battle of cable street against Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, with the election of Bolsonaro and the current emergence of far-right forces in society how important is the anti-fascist struggle to you.
I like that you mention this because in this play we are talking about heritage, history and the importance of learning from the past to understand the present to be able to build the future.
The current emergence of far-right forces shows how far behind we still are. It shows the worst and darkest part of the Brazilian society. It is impressive that 55% of the valid votes were in favor of a fascist figure. 57,8 million votes. It is an outstanding number of people who think like him, on some level.
During the elections process, people started showing what they really think. Voting for Bolsonaro, is basically an authorization for racism, male chauvinism, hatred against LGBT, and so on. People who think like that, now feel they have a legitimation, they are not hiding it anymore.
In the past months, I have heard speeches of hate, of people admitting they agree when Bolsonaro says that women should earn less because we have babies. Who says that some woman didn’t deserve to be raped because she wasn’t pretty enough. It is absurd, and on some level 57,8 million people (in Brazil only) agree with the vision that this man has of the world.
It also shows the ignorance of a lot of people, who sees him as a saviour (Ana draws on the similarities between Bolsonaro and Hitler are says they are not mere coincidence….) and don’t really research about him, about the work he has done and what he represents.
It shows the lack of education, of knowledge, which is the result of centuries of suppression of the society, by feeding the herd without allowing each individual to think on his/her own, have opinions and, ultimately, the right of free speech, which Kath fought so hard for.
In the play, I play the prison governor. It is the role I auditioned for because I like the challenge of putting myself in other people’s shoes and lighting up the darkness within my own self. It is the only way of understanding where we are and how things can change. This prison governor represents to me this view that still lives among us, narrow-minded, male chauvinist, that women are inferior, that the poor don’t deserve civil rights, that gays should be killed.
This is the kind of thing I have been hearing. This mindset exists, and apparently in a wide scale. I am proud to give voice to this view on stage, in order for us to see it, acknowledge it, admit it among us, discuss it, change it. We can’t continue pretending everything is fine, this far-right/fascist dictatorship still lives discreetly among us, in us, it is about how we see ourselves, and each other.
This struggle makes me ask questions like “Who am I? What do I think? Do I value myself, as a woman? Do I need to change my own view of my own self?
- Considering how the story of Kath Duncan and the LGBT civil rights struggle in the 30’s isn’t too well known, what is the significance of these events today?
The thing that strikes me the most about Kath’s fight is that she wasn’t only after changing things for a particular group, or for women, she was fighting for ALL, for human kind. And she was a woman with an incredible generosity to extend her actions. She was fighting for the right of free speech, independently of who you are – gender, race, economic state…
She became a symbol of liberty in a broader sense. I believe that it is our duty to cherish and respect the work she did in the past, and continue it, increase it, grow and transform.
- What is your opinion on the current political happenings in Brazil such as former president Lula’s imprisonment and the election of Bolsonaro?
At this moment, I find it hard to know what is true. We are living in a big messy pool of information, opinions, news of which we don’t know the source; and in Brazil the unmasking of a massive corruption that started with our colonization. I think it’s funny that many voted for Bolsonaro because “PT (the labour party) destroyed the Brazilian economy, was corrupt, etc etc…”. But what has to be taken into account is that this structure started 500 years ago, not 13 years ago. That during the ruling of Lula and, afterwards, Dilma, the corruption finally had the chance of being broken, this space was given. I don’t agree with everything they did during their governments, but I recognize they gave space for a massive part of the society that was in misery, and the space for corruption to show its faces.
I think Bolsonaro being ellected is a step back, BUT I also see that we have built a strong base, that allows us not to fall back into old habits. I think we are facing danger but we are also prepared to fight. And this is new.
That is why stories like Kath Duncan’s are so important to be told, and celebrated. She is part of this base, part of why today we can say we are prepared to fight. To continue fighting. For Kath, for you, for me, for our ancestors, and our future generations.
The plays website can be found at www.kathduncan.com and the link to buy tickets, https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/deptford-heritage-festival
If you’re interested in finding out more information about the hugely inspiring Ana, her website can be found here,www.analuizaulsig.com
Cover Photo Credit: Andre Groth, group Ta na Rua.