What's Happening

Setebos Interviews: Sophía Drever 

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Jun 14, 2022 at 09:33 PM in Project News

In this fourth interview with the cast and crew of  Mónica Maffía's Setebos company, Randall Martin speaks with Sophía Drever, who played the parts of actor Teresa, Cimbelino’s Ínogen, and the mythical Ter-Wer. Sophía discusses her recent journey from opera to Shakespeare and the emotional transformations of her three interlinked characters. 

Cymbeline in the Anthropocene: Hello Sophía, it's a great pleasure to see you again. I'm very grateful to you for taking the time to talk to me. Are you teaching voice at the moment?  

Sophía Drever: Yes, my students have a show tomorrow. 

CA: Are they all classical singers like yourself? 

SD: No, most of them sing popular and rock music. I have a few opera students, but only those few. Opera is a very special art form, you know. I try to encourage them towards opera. But it is too static a form. It needs to adapt to our contemporary way of living art.

CA: Like Mónica [Maffía]'s Lilith, Luna Negra, which was an opera, but was also physical theatre and dance. 

SD: Yes. That's how I ended up acting, because at the beginning I was an opera singer; I always had that need to be real, you know, artistically. That's why I ended up doing contemporary opera, and now I am acting more than singing.

CA: Have you acted in Shakespeare before?

SD: No, Cimbelino was my first time! Of course, I always loved Shakespeare, read the plays, and I watched the movies, and I saw [Stratford-upon-Avon], but I never really acted in Shakespeare. So Cimbelino was really a good thing for me to start doing. It wasn't like a traditional way of doing Shakespeare, it was an adaptation, and Mónica was a really great teacher for us. 

CA: I'm delighted to hear that you had such a wonderful debut experience with Shakespeare. You couldn’t have found a better director and mentor. That leads into my first question. How did you approach the character of Ínogen, as well as Teresa [the Argentinian actor in the play] and Ter-Wer [the grandmother-rodent of Setebos who raises him]. Why don't we start with Teresa, because she was first to appear. 

SD: Well, Teresa, at first, when I read the script, I had this sense she was this kind of person that tries to protect herself by being sarcastic, and she keeps people at a distance. She was all the time on her phone, she was making fun of the others, she was not connecting with people and the environment. She was a person who lives in a city, you know, and on her phone all day, like we see in the subway, like a pretty common teenager. I constructed my idea of Teresa based on that.

CA: That makes sense. She wears a kind of urban mask. She isn’t connected to the natural world in any way. In fact, she’s alienated from the natural world.

SD: That is fair to say, yes. Not myself, Sophía, just my character! 

CA: Of course! You performed Teresa’s impatience and her irritation, effectively. But that also maybe raises a complicating question: why would Teresa have agreed to go to this workshop in Patagonia if she is this kind of city character?

SD: Well, she is a professional actress, but maybe also because of a deeper need. It’s something like an instinct. Maybe someone starts to tell her, hey, this will be good for you. So she goes there but is sceptical. But then she starts to feel all the energy of the environment that starts to change her. There is a transformation. And other characters are feeling the energy more than she is, and she notices that. 


CA: Yes, and that becomes part of the crossover of identities between Teresa and Ínogen, who is also an active figure. It’s an aspect of the internal metadrama. 

SD: Teresa resists the workshop, but there’s something unconscious in her that says to her, hmm, maybe this will be a good thing for me. Maybe she recognizes there's something missing.

CA: She feels there’s a lack or need? 

SD: Yeah. When you're living in a big city you're always searching for that substance. The lack reminds you that you are also part of this human connection with nature. So I think she says to herself: it’s a good idea to go to la Patagonia and do this workshop of Shakespeare.

CA: Could we talk a little bit more about Teresa’s transformation? It’s more gradual than someone like Ángeles, who is receptive to the natural environment of El Chaltén from the beginning. How did you interpret that? And was there a particular moment when you felt her response shifting? 

SD: I think it starts to happen gradually, without her really noticing. It's like when you start [as an actor] to involve your body in a character. You can’t help that it transforms you. It is not some specific event. I think that the whole thing, for Teresa, is all the encounters: it begins with encountering Dewi’s Tehuelche mythology. Then she starts to feel possessed by the mountain [El Chaltén]. And in [Cymbeline] I'm acting in a very gendered role as a woman [Ínogen] who is so naïve and so pure, and yet so strong and determined. So it's like Teresa is transformed into a stronger, more mature woman because of all that Ínogen has to suffer. They feed off each other, Teresa and Ínogen, and also Ter-Wer. 

CA: Yes, Ter-Wer too. I’d like to come back to her later. So you saw Ínogen as strong at the beginning, because she defies her father, but she’s also naïve. Can you talk about that combination further? 

SD: Yes I can. You can see how, out of her experiences, she grows a lot as a character. But Ínogen also has this naïve spirit. She believes deeply in love, and she believes in people, and she trusts Giacomo. But she doesn't know how cruel people can be, you know, because she lived in a castle as a princess. She has been out of the world and living a privileged life, so she's trusting in people. Then, the most cruel thing that happens to her is Posthumo’s betrayal. That makes her grow up really fast because she gave up all her life for him, for their love, and yet he wanted to kill her for jealousy, in revenge.

CA: Then she goes on her long journey of maturity through the play.

SD: I think that when you are an idealistic person and you have high standards of morals, hope is the last thing you will lose. She's always hoping that things are going to change. She's like, maybe if I talk to him [Posthumo] I can make him change his mind. Love is what keeps her moving on. She never loses that.

CA: That unshakeable love came through in your performance, but it wasn’t sentimental. 

SD: She has made a deep emotional and ethical choice. She sticks to that. 

CA: Thinking about the journey into Wales, how does that experience, and of Belario and Guidarius, also change her worldview?


SD: First of all, I think she’s fascinated with the mobility of her journey, and the humanity of Belario and Guidario. She encounters these people living in the forest, and all her life people in castles have told that these people are savage and cruel; “only here are you okay, and only ‘civilized’ people are good.” She is like Cloten that way. But [once in Wales] she falls in love with their humanity. 

CA: That’s another crossover with Teresa, isn’t it? Because if we imagine Teresa as a city girl thinking of herself as very metropolitan and sophisticated, her view of rural people probably isn’t that high. 

SD: Yes, that’s a place where there's some connection with Teresa going on. Both women live in the city, and they encounter nature that changes them both. When we live in a city, we forget about how powerful things in nature can make us feel. You have a mountain in your face, you realize you are so little, your ego disappears. 

CA: Is there a point in the Cymbeline story where you think Ínogen begins to pay attention to the Welsh landscape? 

SD: Yes, of course. I think that when she enters the cave, she listens to Belario’s and Guiderio’s words, and she's seeing nature through their eyes, [especially when] Belario is telling them that nature is their greatest source of strength. 

CA: Thinking of Teresa again, and the exchange of embodied experiences with Ínogen, she is in Dewi’s workshop, and its rhythms consist of the actors playing a scene or two, and then taking a break and going out into El Chaltén, and returning to start playing again. When they return, the actors have conversations, especially after Norberto comes back. They talk about modern environmental problems in Argentina. Can you tell me about your experience of that scene?

SD: Well, I remembered during the [three-month artistic] residency [at El Centro Cultural San Martín], before we started to rehearse the real play, that’s something we regularly talked about. It really matters for me personally, all these climate change disasters that are happening – like the polar bears “invading” towns Russia in 2019 because of climate change. 


We talked about that during the residency as we did improvisations; it was like we were exploring them with our bodies. For me it felt really real, and I think Monica tracked that. These scenes in Cimbelino are from the real conversations we had during the residency, about things that are in fact happening. For instance, the fires in el Corrientes: they stopped just a week before Cimbelino was performed, and a lot of animals died because of those fires. And it’s common, sadly, in the papers today, to see more about all these disasters, such as rivers contaminated because of mining. So it's not hard to play that part, because the concerns are real.

CA: It’s really interesting to learn that the scene in Cimbelino when the characters are exchanging anecdotes about these contemporary environmental problems comes from your residency – so that scene is a distillation of your conversations over a long period. The workshop actors are talking about serious problems, but the tone of their dialogue is casual. It’s revealing about how Mónica developed her script. 

SD: We have those kinds of conversations all the time now. I have them with my mother, who is a beekeeper: we talk about the transgenics in the flowers that are affecting the bees, and that the cost of [commercial] honey is less now because it's full of transgenic material. This is an everyday conversation when people get together, saying, well, you know I heard this on the news, or I heard this. But beekeepers like my mother are having direct experience of changing nature. 

CA: Yes, absolutely. Let’s shift back to the change in the play. How do you see Teresa changing in Dewi's process of metamorphosis?  

SD: I think that for Teresa you would have to be an alien to not feel affected. When you are immersed in nature, surrounded by mountains, or when you are in front of the sea and you can see the horizon, we all feel something. We connect with something that is in your own nature. You are part of the mountains, physically and emotionally. When you allow yourself to feel it, you can relate to every animal. 

CA: You need to allow that to happen…that's a nice way of putting it. You have to give yourself permission to remember those connections. That's the memory Dewi is trying to awaken through his immersive experiment, and also the Setebos mythology. Can you say a little bit more about how you think human nature is deeply connected to animal nature? 

SD: For example, when you go to a cemetery, and you know that all these people are under the ground, you kind of feel their presence. When I visited New York and I walked to the 9/11 memorial, I knew that I was walking in this catastrophe place, and I could feel the catastrophic energy in my body. It's not like when you go to a museum, and you are watching all these paintings–you’ll see the history [depicted], but you can't feel the energy of the past.

CA: Is that also a spiritual energy? Because the Tehuelche mythology suggests it's a spiritual realm.

SD: Not necessarily a religious realm, but yes, of course, spiritual completely.

CA: That is a possible aspect of my question about change earlier: presumably, when Teresa starts out, would you say she’s not a very spiritual person, and that's something she discovers in herself? 

SD: I don't know if she's not a spiritual person. I think that she is trying to protect herself, you know, like when people are so alienated, they are kind of hysterical. Teresa is like one of these young people who was raised in our town Salta [in northeastern Argentina], and they moved to a city, you know, and they are transformed by the city. But in the north of Argentina, the culture is close to Indigenous culture. There are a lot of reserves. She’s aware of that cultural presence, but it’s been buried a bit.

CA: So it has to be rediscovered on a conscious level. 

SD: Yes, it’s something she knows about intuitively, but not consciously.

CA: Your reconstruction of Teresa’s background explains further why each of the characters responds to Tehuelche mythology and El Chaltén in such individual ways. Now that we're crossing imaginative boundaries, can we talk about Cymbeline 4.2, where the action pivots from tragedy to comedy? Ínogen takes Cornelius's drug, she sleeps, is taken for dead, and “buried.” She wakes up beside the headless body of Cloten, thinking it's Posthumus. You were extremely moving in that scene– it felt very authentic. Can you tell me how you approached waking up beside the body?  

SD: This woman, you know she's passionate, she believes in people, she believes in love. She has really strong beliefs and standards. And when she thinks that Posthumo is dead, it is the most difficult thing that happened to her after his betrayal. I talked with Mónica about the idea that Posthumo and Ínogen had been intimate. I felt like she probably thinks she's pregnant and just waiting. That’s also a motivation for her to go after Posthumo, because he's the father of her unborn kid. When I read this scene in Cymbeline, I was really moved by that. It was overwhelming for me, imagining the emptiness. In Wales she feels sick and is wondering: “I don't know if I lost my baby, because I have all these cramps from the drugs’ effects.” She says she's “heart sick,” but I thought maybe she’s also having some morning sickness. It’s like when you are so tired, and you don't know if you're hungry, or you want to sleep, and your body's a mess because you have to confront something that is so shocking, and you are trying to survive it. 

CA: Yes, I think the text is open to that interpretation. The term “heartsick” in Shakespeare could refer to physical illness and nausea as well as mental depression. So, another of her motives for her endurance is love not just for Posthumus, but that of a potential mother. 

SD: Relationships in that time weren’t like right now, like, you have a boyfriend, maybe you break up, you have another boyfriend. But in this time you choose one man, and it's for your entire life. So you have to be devoted to that man. 

CA: And she chose a poor man. 

SD: Yes, absolutely, and partly because they have had sex.

CA: That’s been a bit of a critical controversy. At one point Posthumo says something to the effec that he wanted more sex, or just even sex, with his wife, but that she held him back. ["Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained" 2.4.161]. Some actors and critics assume they haven't consummated their marriage. It's one of those questions of interpretation where an actor has to decide.

SD: Yes. But he knows about the “lunar”, the … 

CA: …the mole! …  

SD: … yes. So he has seen her naked. And that’s what makes him sick when Giacomo tells him about the mole. Giacomo has enjoyed her body he thinks is exclusively his.

CA: Yes! Could I now move on to the end of the play and your reconciliation with Posthumo? I talked about this to Irina [Solomonoff], because it wasn't a typical romantic reconciliation. When they come together after Posthumo’s slap, you're both kneeling and looking at each other but with some distance between you. They do not fall into each other's arms.

SD: I feel like after all they have gone through, it's like they're not young anymore. They're not the young couple in the castle. They’ve both grown and are recognizing they're sad. Of course they're also happy, but it's not like nothing happened. They have to heal, and there is a need to rebuild their relationship.

CA: That makes psychological sense, and it's also typically the way Shakespeare ends several final scenes in his later plays like All’s Well That Ends Well, Pericles, and The Winter’s Tale, where the husband and the wife have been alienated from each other and a lot of time has gone by. I'm glad you played it like that. 

SD: It’s not a Disney World ending – this is Shakespeare! 

CA: Absolutely right! Let’s come back to Ter-Wer. How did you see her relationship with Ínogen, if you saw any relationship? 

SD: Yes, there was a bond there for me. Ter-Wer is wisdom. She is the grandmother of Setebos and she guarded him with an avian intelligence and energy Teresa and Ínogen share through their experiences. It’s like the sweet and protective energy of a grandmother. It’s an energy, an aura that invades Teresa and then Ínogen. It is a physical experience of El Chaltén and the mythology. They're changing and maturing as people, but they are also becoming in some ways more themselves at a deeper level.

CA: That’s an ancestral memory in terms of Argentinian identity, and it’s moving towards a wisdom in relation to Tehuelche culture, as well: more towards the kind of experiences you imagine Teresa had when growing up in Salta. 

SD: Yes, for both there's a change in maturity, but there’s also an internal manifestation of a local reality that was already there. But it has to be rediscovered and embraced. I don't know I don't know if I’m putting it very well. It's like, this is a great awakening for me.

CA: That’s very clear! My final question is: what did you think of the ecological aspect of Cimbelino

SD: I feel like Mónica made it really very clear that we need to open up our eyes because we are destroying our house, our home. And I think it’s really really moving to recreate one of our Indigenous legends in Argentina that is not well known, so that people know about how important the Tehuelche mythology of El Chaltén was. I think it was really important for our culture to put it in a play and to show it live. And she also gave the message warning about how we treat our planet through that mythology. It’s like: respect your place, respect your legacy. 

CA: It's a human biological and an Indigenous-cultural legacy: to respect our origins in the earth.

SD: Yes, and those two are the same, really, because of our connections with the earth with other animals and creatures. That’s what the Tehuelche mythology is telling us. So the play is a rediscovery of that. And remembering those things is the way out of our current climate crisis. We have something to learn from Indigenous peoples.

CA: Well, it seems you've had a marvellous experience in this groundbreaking play. I hope it gets performed again–and it’s certainly worthy of being translated, too. Thank you so much, Sophía. I’ve so much enjoyed talking with you and revisiting the performance. 

SD: Thank you too, very much, for your research.

CA: Good luck with your students’ recital! I hope our paths cross again in Argentina or elsewhere.