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Playwright undercover: Gabino Rodriguez

INTERVIEW! Mexico City-based actor, director and author Gabino Rodriguez went undercover in a factory for six months. The result, Tijuana, comes to the Schaubühne’s FIND festival on Apr 4.

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Mexico City-based actor, director and author Gabino Rodriguez went undercover in a factory for six months. His theatre group Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol brings the result, Tijuana, to the Schaubühne’s FIND festival.

Tijuana is part of a 32-play series addressing democracy in Mexico – how does it fit into the larger whole?

The idea was to see how some laws in the constitution push people outside the law. Specifically, minimum wage: it’s in the law that the minimum wage is defined as the amount of money you need to raise your kids, to live. But it’s clearly not enough. So people leave those jobs and work another one for five hours. In the end, people are working 13-14 hours a day in a very difficult situation. So the trigger point for me was, how did we arrive at this law? Who were the senators who voted this law into place? The minimum wage immediately produces an informal economy. It’s a culture of illegality built on the law. I wanted to investigate that.

So you went to work in a Tijuana assembly plant for six months, wearing a fake moustache.

I wore a fake mustache, yeah. I wear it in the show. I show a lot of material in the performance which proves I was there. But the spectator has, hopefully, enough material to doubt whether they are seeing truth or fiction. I was worried about a tendency in documentary theatre for the truth to take on an almost moral quality. It’s suspension of disbelief in the worst way possible: I don’t like it. We wanted the audience to have the possibility to doubt the authenticity of these stories on stage, the way they would in real life. If we open a newspaper, we wonder what’s true and what’s not. Doubting and questioning is a normal way of dealing with reality.

It seems like this play is as much about the ethics of doing this kind of research as it is about minimum wage…

Totally. I was always interested in how an artist can enter a different life situation and then just get out. Like when an actor like Matt Damon says, “I worked two weeks in a mechanical whatever to prepare for this role.” But it’s not about whether you worked somewhere, it’s that for the people who do work there, this job is the only thing they have. So I was interested in the question of how people deal with someone cheating people for an artistic purpose. If I arrive to your house and say, “I am a worker,” then I’m cheating you, basically. There are consequences. I think we’re too permissive to artists in this sense. I think in the future we will look back and wonder how we let certain things happen.

Did you have to cheat people for this project?

Yeah. I met some people and told them stories that weren’t true. All the time. Lying to people all the time – it’s problematic. I present a lot of the backstory and what happens within the piece itself. I quit in the end. I never told them I was an artist from Mexico City, though. That’s the end of the piece.

Tijuana, Tue, Apr 4, 20:30 | Schaubühne, Charlottenburg.