Marching to the beat of a different drummer

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Marching to the beat of a different drummer

FINCH Scholarship Recipient Fernando De Miguel Fuertes Thinks The Industry Needs More Fresh Perspectives

A spotlight prowls over audience members who flinch back from its glare with winces and giggles. This is how emerging director Fernando De Miguel Fuertes kicks off his production of The Great Theatre of the World – with viewers squirming under the scrutiny of performers, tantalised and buzzing with anticipation.

We’re standing in a studio space that resembles an art gallery. Clustered around white plinths that a duo of performers – known as ‘The Auteur’ and ‘The World’ – leap onto to address the crowd. They are seeking participants to play timeless archetypes. One by one, people are selected and assigned their position, ‘Rich Man’, ‘Worker’, ‘Beauty’… they nervously laugh and shake their heads before breaking into a vigorous and highly choreographed performance. This entrance of the actors under the guise of crowd participation, destabilises the barrier between performance and reality in a way that will stalk viewers long after they’ve left the theatre.

This is the kind of work Fernando is interested in. Evocative work that pulls you down the rabbit hole. Work that makes you think. Makes you question. It’s a fascination he dates all the way back to childhood Christmas concerts in Mexico. “I would write shows and get my cousins together to perform. They were often social commentaries because I love that. You know, family dramas and class… a poor family and a rich family, there’s a car accident and they have to deal with it…”

He was awarded the FINCH scholarship for such thought-provoking reflections. Throughout our conversation, I’m continually struck by his intellectual curiosity. Fernando initially studied politics and international relations while working for the Mexican government on immigration policy. He loved the history and storytelling elements of politics, but the day-to-day didn’t captivate him. “It’s interesting and dramatic. But sitting down and writing reports about the kind of entry posts in the southern border… not for me.”

Despite this, he says his time in politics equipped him with skills he now uses in directing. “It helped me to navigate people. With all due respect, I think many artists can be purely focused on craft and not so much on the communication and politics side of art… on working with clients and producers. I think that’s an important part of being able to put on a show.”

Fernando’s industry experience is diverse. Before NIDA he spent ten years living, working and making art in China. A self-proclaimed “language nerd” (he also speaks Spanish, English, French, Italian and German) Fernando was learning Chinese (Pǔtōnghuà) when he had the chance to travel to the country for an international seminar. He submitted an application and was soon packing his bags for summer in Beijing. When he tells me about the week he spent in an ecovillage in Sichuan his eyes gleam, “Imagine being in this village in rural China on a beautiful mountain with these scholars from Beijing, and this local community force feeding you cigarettes. It just felt like this is so on the ground”. Fernando decided to stay – first for a masters program, and then to start a life with his partner.

While in China, he maintained avid involvement in the arts, writing, directing and performing in countless stage and screen productions. “I even acted in Chinese period dramas… I once played Sherlock Holmes for a short film,” he laughs, “I think my accent was terrible.” By the end of this stint in China, he had pivoted careers and was teaching drama in international schools. “I loved working with kids. They’re so smart and chaotic. But I’m also chaotic. So it kind of really fell into place”. When he and his partner decided to move to Sydney, Fernando saw NIDA as an opportunity to dive headfirst into the arts world in Australia.

At NIDA, he built relationships with similarly passionate creatives. “I feel like I bring in people who question me. That’s the people I work with best. But they question me because they also have the same centre of gravity.” He fostered this kind of collaboration on set for the NIDA x Triple J project, which pairs up directing and design students to create music videos for Australian artists. “A lot of my job was getting people in the zone, cracking jokes and making the actors relaxed.” The final product was one of Fernando’s”‘proudest achievements” because it was the outcome of many passionate individuals “breathing the same air”. The music video for rapper Isaac Puerile’s track ‘Angel Signs’, resembles a baroque painting. Offering a playfully modern take on heaven and hell bathed in rich, tactile imagery.

Fernando thinks the industry needs more fresh perspectives. “I think lots of people feel like they have to label themselves and belong to a particular tribe or movement or style, and that creates ‘samey samey’ content. As in, I’m queer and I am all about celebrating queerness and putting it forward. But I feel like sometimes it becomes regulated culturally, and that makes it a bit boring. My solution to that is to make it personal. People are so different and original and I would like to see more creative work that is more peculiar and localised and that shows really what you’re experiencing.”

Going forward Fernando is interested in both theatre and film work. He spent a three week internship at FINCH getting hands-on experience in the production team, working with crew and onset as a directors attachment.

Over coffee one day he tells me about his admiration for Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini – the famed creator of provocative films like Medea (1969) and Oedipus Rex (1967). Pasolini once said “cinema is an explosion of my love for reality”. It seems fitting. Fernando’s own work is similarly socially critical, similarly stylistically unorthodox. His love for reality bleeds out of every look and syllable of conversation.

So do yourself a favour… watch this space.