news | Tuesday September 21, 2010

Carmen Aguirre Tells a Local Tale at Vancouver Word on the Street

The Refugee Hotel

Growing up in Vancouver, Carmen Aguirre learned pretty quickly not to talk about her extraordinary family life. Her academic parents, part of the armed Revolutionary Left Movement when the late Augusto Pinochet established himself as dictator in Chile, had fled to safety in 1974. There was a death warrant against her mother. Aguirre was six and her family was part of the first of several waves of Chilean refugees who showed up in this country. Over the next few years, her family would host fellow exiles who arrived at their home starved and tortured.

Now an established actress, playwright and director, Aguirre doesn’t worry so much what people think of her story and the stories of her fellow Chilean exiles. Many of the 14 plays she’s written or co-written wrestle with the subject. Her play, The Refugee Hotel, which had its world premiere at Theatre Passe Muraille in 2009, came out of her reaction to two events: the 1998 arrest of Pinochet by the Spanish courts and the 1995 death of her uncle, who drank himself to death on Vancouver’s skid row. He never lived to make a victorious return.

It’s took Aguirre 10 years to get a full production of The Refugee Hotel. She found that no one in Vancouver was interested. Finally, Toronto’s Alameda Theatre Company, which has a mandate to present Latin-Canadian theatre artists, took up the challenge. Many of the performers had come from Latin American countries that experienced their own coups, dictatorships and civil wars. In fact, in a city that has drawn so many of its inhabitants from so many tumultuous parts of the globe, the themes of The Refugee Hotel can be considered fundamentally local.

Carmen Aguirre will be reading this Sunday at 12:20pm in the Canada Writes Tent to help celebrate the Vancouver Word on the Street Festival.

Her play The Refugee Hotel is now available from Talonbooks.

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