Human Animals’ Arlen Aguayo-Stewart on Injustice, Impact and Climate Change

Arlen Aguayo-Stewart is an actor/creator with an eclectic background in film, theatre, circus, dance, and is fluent in five languages. She won VFCC’s Best Actress Award for her starring role in Roads in February, which was the Best Canadian First Feature winner at TIFF and VFCC, selected for TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten, and is in theatres in Vancouver and Montreal and at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this summer.

This month, she stars in a timely and provocative play about humankind’s precarious place within the natural world. Human Animals imagines an overcrowded city where nature is getting out of control and the animals are beginning to rule the streets. 

We chatted with Arlen this week.

SDTC: What drew you to the script for Human Animals?

AAS: How it could relate to anyone. Anyone watching this show will see a glimpse of themselves in at least one of the characters and how they are processing what’s happening around them. It makes this play quite powerful.

What aspect of climate change is most concerning to you?

The most concerning factor for me is that those in power will only start caring about the consequences of climate change when they directly feel the impact. I fear that their cushy existences delay that impact while so many living beings (plant, animal, and human) are disappearing in the process.

Has doing this play altered your perspective on climate change?

I wouldn’t say it has altered it; I don’t have to be convinced. I also feel like this play connects to so many levels of injustice and power.

When and where do you feel most content?

By the ocean or in my grandparents’ garden in Chile.

What food/dish always satisfies you?

That’s hard to answer because so many dishes do! It depends on my mood. I love to eat and make food from all over the world.

What film/show has recently wowed you?

Iphigenia and the Furies by Saga Collective that just played at Native Earth!

What’s on your current reading list?

I’m Afraid of Men – Vivek Shraya
Rayuela – Julio Cortázar
Green Grass Running Water – Thomas King
Les Belles Soeurs – Michel Tremblay

What Toronto places do you truly love?

Being by the water is a big one. High Park, Dufferin Grove, anywhere with trees.

What exhibit/museum are you dying to see?

“Light Therapy” by Apolonija Šušteršič at the MOCA.

Your go-to coping mechanism/self-care?

Swimming if possible, sleeping, or lying on the floor listening to records at super slow speed.

What five things would you want if you were deserted on an island?

A big sharp knife, solar panel, one trilingual dictionary, CD player, and a CD mix with favourite songs and 3+ recordings of the voices of people I love.

Photo by Tania Taziana

What’s a childhood memory that always brings a smile to your face?

Dancing in museums in New York while my dad looked at the art. We lived in a very small apartment, and I got used to dancing in the tiniest spaces. The open spaces in museums were so perfect and I was free enough then not to care what anyone thought.

What life philosophy is currently helping to guide your journey?

Honesty. To try and be honest always, with myself, others, in my work.

One skill you’d love to learn/nurture/improve this year?

I would like to focus on perfecting many languages. Perfecting my cooking and baking is a constant in my life.

What’s a piece of career advice that has served you well?

Keep being me and doing all the wild things that inspire me when I get the chance.

What outfit makes you feel the most you?

Pyjamas, a summer romper, or a one-piece snowsuit.

What toy/book have you held onto since you were small?

The book La Piñata. It is a beautiful trilingual children’s book. I have it in my room by my bed!

What’s a subject that is currently holding your attention? An issue that you’re focused on?

There are so many subjects: what will occur when our sun dies, diet and schizophrenia, history of colonialism, the molecular reactions that happen when you’re cooking, geography, abnormal psychology, decolonizing spaces.

When you compare yourself now to where you were at ten years ago, what’s a major change you can identify?

My job. I was doing something very different ten years ago. I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned and I’m excited to see what kinds of twists and turns my life will take.

Goal(s) for 2019?

To go “all in” fearlessly, whether that means truly taking it easy when I have downtime or dedicating myself when I’m busy so that I can create all kinds of glorious things.

What do you hope audiences take away from this play?

I hope that audiences will honestly examine what kind of action or inaction they are taking in their lives right now.

Human Animals will be onstage in Toronto at St. Matthew’s Clubhouse (450 Broadview Ave) from February 22 to March 16, 2019. Single tickets are pay-what-you-can-afford, range from $5 to $50, and are available to purchase here.

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