Alirio Zavarce: Beautiful madness

One of this city’s great theatre practitioners is bringing back his award-winning 2013 Fringe production The Book of Loco for a season at the Festival Centre after a successful Melbourne run last year.

Alirio Zavarce is the co-founder of The Border Project, a Windmill Theatre regular, True North’s Artistic Director and director of No Strings Theatre’s acclaimed production Sons & Mothers. The Venezuelan-born Zavarce, who migrated to Australia in 1990, splits his time between entertaining audiences and educating emerging talent. He won the Fringe Award for Best Theatre Production two years in a row with Sons & Mothers (2012) and The Book of Loco (2013), the latter returning to Adelaide after a season at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre in 2014. “The Book of Loco is pretty much a battle between myself and my alter ego, which is loco, what we call madness in Spanish,” says Zavarce about his playful one-person show. “The Book… started in 2001, when I separated from my wife and my life was in a difficult state. We were living in Melbourne at the time, so I decided to come back to Adelaide and be with my sister, friends and surroundings in Adelaide. While I was travelling in 2001, I started writing The Book…, as it happened, the moment my wife and I split was the same night that September 11 happened. This character I create, his sickness, his mental illness, is also a mental illness of the world. “It’s funny, it’s serious at times,” he says. “It hopes to break the conventions: is it a man talking to you? Am I playing a character? Are you part of an audience or are you participating with me through this journey? It’s mad. It’s crazy. It’s coming from that point of beautiful madness.” On the origins of …Loco, Zavarce says it was initially a series of books, which he started to write when his world was collapsing in 2001. “I was walking to a train station and I had all these thoughts. I saw these notebooks, so I just gabbed them, sat on a train and the first line I wrote was ‘the book of loco’. I immediately started talking about all these things to an audience; from the very first word I knew that this story would be told to somebody that was listening.” Zavarce is the Artistic Director of the True North Youth Theatre Ensemble, which recently performed their series of mini-plays, A Kid Like Me, at Come Out. Zavarce says True North was founded to create opportunities for children in the northern suburbs. “It’s great for me to help them find their stories, to find their voices, to go, ‘What are you interested in?’” The powerfully moving Sons & Mothers – which is also the subject of a documentary of the same name by Christopher Houghton – won three Fringe Awards in 2013 and, after a national tour last year, was nominated for a Helpmann Award. Are there plans for No Strings to tour Sons & Mothers again? “It really depends because one of the things that is scary is the current atmosphere politically with [George] Brandis and the cuts to the arts. Without the Australia Council, I wouldn’t have been able to do Sons & Mothers, tour Sons & Mothers or take The Book of Loco to Melbourne – that would have been impossible. So, touring at the moment is interesting, negotiations are happening.” Zavarce says the cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts mean that small-to-medium sized arts companies are in danger as are independent artists. “I’m an independent person, so if I don’t have the opportunities to create or to start building things, I cannot make it [art]. “With something like No Strings, I went to No Strings with the idea of Sons & Mothers, but if they don’t have funding then that company is going to close, which is what happened to Urban Myth.” Zavarce recently travelled to New York as part of Windmill Theatre’s production of Pinocchio and will return to the US, if funding allows, to direct a show in Austin. “I went to the University of Texas at the beginning of the year on the way back from New York. I took some workshops with some groups with disabilities at the university. Two weeks ago I got the invitation to go to Austin and direct a show, which will be absolutely fantastic. Again, it depends on funding.”   The Book of Loco Space Theatre Friday, August 14 to Saturday, August 22

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