Interview With Mar Gómez Glez: Author of Numbers
by Brian Louis O’Mahoney | email@example.com
Numbers, by Spanish playwright Mar Gómez Glez, receives its world premiere in NJIT’s Jim Wise Theatre. The production, running December 2nd-6th, adapts the true story of the Francisco Y Catalina, a small Spanish fishing boat that picked up a group of migrants from throughout Africa and the Middle East, and got lost in the Mediterranean Sea in 2006.
The boat was stuck at sea, unable to dock in Malta, the nearest port, for six days as their situation was debated by politicians from Malta, Libya, Spain, Italy, and the European Union. Even after the migrants were sent to countries such as Spain and Andorra, and the European Union established response teams in the Mediterranean just for this purpose. A similar situation is playing out over and over again in recent headlines, in the case of the Syrian refugee crisis all of Europe is now facing.
The following is an interview with the playwright, concerning the production of her play, and the themes it discusses.
BLO: What drove you to write Numbers?
MGG: When I finished my studies on Sociology, I started working for an NGO (non-governmental organization) that studied migration and racism in Spain. I was very interested about this topic, and I wrote FUGA MUNDI, my first play, about it. In 2006, I read the story of the Francisco y Catalina in a Spanish newspaper. I was mesmerized by the courage of the crew and the surrealness of the diplomatic situation. I thought the dilemma of the captain, both responsible for the welfare of his crew and the castaways was very theatrical, and in the play I tried to push it, using the freedom of fiction.
BLO: Were you influenced by other past migration incidents?
MGG: Not really, I started to read and hear about more and more cases like the one that inspired NUMBERS after I wrote it.
BLO: I’ve read that you tend to focus your work around real life events, rather than fictional ones; is there a reason you choose to stick to historical events?
MGG: I use “historical events” as a starting point because I am constantly amazed by what we called facts, and not always in a good way. What humans are able to do, and specifically what we are able to do to other humans amaze me. Dramatizing these relationships helps me to understand what is going on. So basically I write about reality because I am too dumb to get it first time around. We only get a chance to live through something once, but luckily we can write, rewrite, read, rehearse, stage and improvise about something as much as we want.
BLO: The play, while dealing with a serious subject, has a good amount of comical moments. Did you feel any particular need to cut tension, or is it more of a spoof on the way issues such as this are dealt with?
MGG: When I read the official documents about this event it truly seemed like a comedy. I didn’t have to work on the characters of the politicians that much to make them funny. This is a political play, and humor is a very powerful political weapon. Humor is the best antidote against bigotry, and we need to be able to laugh off ourselves as individuals and as a collective. I use humor to check on myself and on my own writing, when I take myself too seriously, something is going the wrong direction.
BLO: Throughout the play, we hear a lot of talk about the migrants and what should be done with them, but we never see or hear from the immigrants themselves. What was the thought behind keeping them out of sight?
MGG: I kept them out for different reasons. The first one was respect. It was really hard for me to wear their shoes, since I was born in Europe and I never knew what it was to pass through a war or such an extreme necessity that makes you risk your life and the lives of your kids. I had been working on the images of the migrants on theater and films and I was tired of watching characters representing migrants written by white privileged authors. These characters were mostly well intentioned but also patronizing or exoticized. The second reason is a question of dramaturgy. This is the story of those who decided about the fate of the castaways.
BLO: Do you have a personal history with immigration?
MGG: I am an immigrant myself. I have been living in the States for almost ten years now. In any circumstance, and mine has been probably much better than most, it’s really hard to adapt to a new culture and leave your culture and people behind. When I migrated, Spain was still a very prosperous country; now, after the crisis, it would be really hard for me to go back and find a job there. Talking about humor, this is not fun.
BLO: Knowing it’s a large, loaded question: do you imagine a solution to the immigration crisis? What would the ideal solution look like?
MGG: I think this is bigger than a crisis; the current geopolitical division of states is outdated. The current movements of population are mostly the consequences of a colonialist mentality that some countries have maintained for far too long. There is no “us and them”. Either we start making decision that favors everyone or we will keep on seeing more and more violence.
Numbers runs December 2nd-5th @ 7pm, and December 6th @ 2:30pm, at Jim Wise Theater, Kupfrian Hall, NJIT.