Late this summer, we had the pleasure of hosting Rakel Ezpeleta, a visiting scholar from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She is an actress and singer born in Vitoria-Gastiez and based in Barcelona since 2001. She has a BA with Honors in History of Art from University of Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and an MA in Performance Studies from Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and Theatre Institut (IT).

For several years she has combined professional work as performer with theoretical or academic research projects: In 2007 and 2009 she was awarded grants from KREA Expresión Contemporánea to conduct a study on contemporary Basque theatre history in relation to postmodern theory; during the 2012-13 academic year, she was a Research Assistant to Dr. Henry Daniel (Simon Fraser University-Vancouver) for research/creation Project Barca: New architectures of Memory and Identity. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Theatre Studies at UAB with a trans-disciplinary project about Identity Configuration in Contemporary Experimental Basque Theatre. Her project conflates historical, anthropological and sociological approaches to contemporary theatre in Basque Country, a case study of some current mise-en-scènes, and her own artistic practice.

Rakel started studying theatre at the age of 13 in her hometown in Basque Country and she started working as a singer and actress when she was 17. After having lived in Long Island (NY) and Paris (France), she moved to Barcelona in 2002 for artistic specialist training in Musical Comedy and Meisner Technique. Since then she has launched several performing projects such as Plataforma l’Específica, Bacaret, Quasi (Maine), Pau?, La Quadra Màgica, and Confussion and Funkytown bands. Meanwhile, she has also collaborated in many short and long films, commercials and music recordings, as an actress, as a singer, and with voice-overs.

She enjoys traveling and discovering other cultures and people. Luckily for her, she has performed in many places in Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Buenos Aires and Vancouver. Her latest research/creation, Erbeste (so very eager to please), has brought her to many cities and towns in Basque Country, Catalonia, and Spain, and she is willing to also bring her work to the USA.

Without further ado, here’s our interview with Rakel:

1. What brought you to the Center for Basque Studies and UNR? 

I was here for 5 weeks conducting one part of my current Ph.D. research. I wish I could have stayed longer. I really appreciated my time there! My thesis project is entitled “Identity Configuration in the Contemporary Experimental Basque Theatre Scene” (“Configuración de la identidad en la escena experimental vasca actual”). It investigates performance practice in relation to identity and contemporaneity within the Basque Country’s community during the period between 2000 and 2015. The research, on the one hand, provides a foundation for the analysis and history of contemporary Basque theatre, and, at the same time, establishes a methodological framework that is responsive to the nature of these practices and the context in which they operate.

I came to the CBS mainly to meet Joseba Zulaika and to work with him on contrasting some conceptual aspects of my research, i. e. the anthropological perspective of “contemporaneity”, the anthropological approach to “identity” and to performance, and the contemporizing of tradition.

2. What is the goal of your research?

I aim to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in two ways: first, by offering a contextualized and analytic overview of the scenic reality of Basque Country in the 21st century. Bibliography on contemporary Basque theatre is scarce and there are no thoughtful studies on the analysis of experimental staging and the correlation between these stagings and the socio-cultural context in which they are produced. Secondly, I aim to contribute to the development of methodologies for interdisciplinary and artistic research by virtue of a procedural structure specifically created to adequate this vibrant subject. The strategy to achieve these goals consists of a multi-disciplinary methodology that conflates a historical base, a sociological/anthropological approach, an analysis of significant theatre works, and my own artistic practice created to, first, explore a staging of a specific identity, and, second, test the perception of this Identity and its staging among various audiences.

3. What makes your research unique?

The transdisciplinary methodological approach, which I am creating specifically for this project, attending to the particularities of the subject. And the subject itself, in my opinion, of course, is thought-provoking and exciting, since it deals both with past and present, and both with cultural and subjective identities.

4. What did you accomplish?

I wrote the first chapter of my dissertation here and I discussed it with Prof. Zulaika. He gave me good pieces of advice on how to continue my dissertation, on the specific issues that I could approach, some references… He encouraged me to follow my natural-previous inclinations and to put more of my professional experience as a performer within my dissertation. He was very helpful and very encouraging. I am thankful for that. I also found and read some books that will be very helpful for my work. It was good to meet other researchers who were temporarily staying here and share and interchange information with them. I got to reconnect with a former teacher of mine, Prof. De Pablo, and find out that one of his books can inform my dissertation. Besides, I gave a seminar about the theme of my research. I had to write in English an overall view of my advances, and that helped me realize how much I had already accomplished. Finally, I additionally had the chance to participate in a seminar about the current political situation in Catalonia. This is not related to my thesis project but it’s certainly of great interest to me, and it is very much related the questions of identity and performativity.

5. Did the Center for Basque Studies help you in any way?

Definitively. Everyone was kind and helpful, both in personal and academic matters. For instance, thanks to Iñaki Arrieta Baro, director of the library, I am now in contact with the Publication Service of UPV/EHU, which is interested in publishing my previous research essay; Edurne Arostegi helped me a lot by reviewing my English writing; Kate Camino is helping me try to bring my theatre work “Erbeste”, a research/creation done as part of my thesis project, to UNR next year, and Xabier is also willing to help with that; Shannon gave me great tips for my trip to San Francisco; Amaia did so too for our trip to Yosemite; Xabier offered his camp tent; he and Iñaki offered to drive me home or to the supermarket; we went out to have a drink a couple of times with Amaia and Edurne… They are all great companions and it was fantastic to meet them.

6. Did you enjoy U.S.? What about Reno!?

I did! I enjoyed my stay in here very much. I was lucky to have the chance to travel with some new friends I made (another two girls, María and Gemma, who were here with the art program/scholarship from University of Basque Country, and a “local” boy from Florida). We visited Lake Tahoe and climbed the Tallac Mountain. I loved it! It was a wonderful day, it was a tough climbing but we got to see gorgeous sights and places. We also made a four-day road trip to Yosemite Park and L.A. That trip was very casual, unorganized, and crazy fun!  Another weekend I went on my own to San Francisco. There, the beauty of the city and the kindness of its people overwhelmed me.

I believe Reno is a very nice and convenient place to study. It’s calm, sunny (which I appreciate very much) and well communicated. I mean, there are many interesting places to visit around. So you can easily take a weekend off to discover a new place. I was staying in a hostel downtown, just a 10-minute bike ride to the campus. So, it was very easy to get there and stay focused on the studies during the day. At that hostel, the Morris Burner, there is lively community activity so it was also very entertaining to be there in the evenings, we kept socializing, and it felt like ‘coming home’ every day after school.

7. What did you miss the most about the Basque Country?

I missed having a phone number with international calls and Internet access plan. It wasn’t always easy to stay communicated. Also, because of the time difference of 9 hours. I didn’t get the correct phone plan-tariff before I came, and once here, it wasn’t that easy. So, for the next ones coming: you might want to check that! Besides that, I don’t recall missing anything: I found nice food (vegetables, organic and whole grain products, good cheese…), I went to the mountain, I had dinner once at the Basque Corner, I saw the snow, I enjoyed the sun, I felt like in Gasteiz with the cold, I didn’t miss the rain, I biked and walked, I socialized, I drank some nice red wine, and I spoke more Euskara than I usually do in Barcelona!