Born: Castilla, Spain
Lives: San Cristobal
Education: Dramatic arts degree in Spain, currently undertaking a Masters in theatre direction at IUNA
Profession: Actress and singer
Book: Locos de Amor
Film: Paris, Texas
Gadget: My bike
After a year working in London, Spanish actress and singer Montse Ruano decided to leave Europe to try her luck in the New World. Starting out as a busker on the subway 14 years ago, she now has more regular acting and singing work and is studying for a Masters degree in theatre direction.
The Castilla native says: “I arrived in the year 2000, 14 years ago. I was very young, 24, and I had the intention of trying my luck here. I’d studied theatre in Spain and people had commented on the fact that the theatre scene in Buenos Aires was very good, so I decided to come here. Prior to that I’d spent a year working in London, and I wanted to put distance between me and some negative influences that I’d been picking up on. Living there had made me depressed: I simply couldn’t stand the climate in the UK as it was constantly cloudy and was so expensive to live there. That was a very hard time for me.
“So I returned to Spain but then a few months later I decided to come to Argentina, to try my luck. I didn’t know if I’d be here for very long, but it turns out that I would be, and here I am 14 years later!”
Her family, she says, always considered her to be a shot in the dark and weren’t surprised by her decision to move to the other side of the world. “That said, my closest family didn’t agree with my decision. My mother, above all, always hoped that I’d go back. And now, when I return for visits every two years, I feel very different there given the way people live, so much so that I feel more Latin American than I do European.”
Busking for a crust
Moving to Buenos Aires didn’t produce the easiest of starts for the young actress, who made ends meet singing for her supper. She adds: “When I arrived in 2000 I was busking in the subway. But in the months before the cataclysm took place, everyone obviously realized what was happening and so no-one wanted to even give me small change, as they didn’t know whether they’d be able to get money out of the bank. It was a very difficult time to survive.
“Then in December 2001 I went down to Las Grutas on the Patagonian coast and lived there for three months. So when the disaster took place, I didn’t see it with my own eyes, just on the television. And it looked liked something out of the movies, reading headlines that said we were in a state of emergency. And it made me remember the times my grandma used to tell me about living in Spain during the Civil War. I couldn’t believe that this was happening in the 21st century.
“But the reality was that I was living on the coast and we lived through a different story. It wasn’t exactly party time but there was a different atmosphere, it wasn’t as tragic as it was in Buenos Aires. Then after those three months I returned to the capital, and it was hard to carry on living there, economically. So I decided to go back to Spain, and the day I arrived in March 2002, I decided that I’d go straight back to Argentina! But as I was there, I decided to get to work and save as much money as possible before I then returned a year later.”
On her return, Montse dedicated her energies into getting serious work in order to make a living. “I threw myself into going to castings, trying to get work in adverts, on TV, film and theatre. I worked for a bit doing one thing then another, but again, it reached a point where I had to take on other work in a call centre because I still couldn’t make ends meet. I did that for a year and a half, also working as a hostels promoter until flamenco came along. I sing but I’m not a trained singer – I’m a trained actress – but I took some classes in order to improve my vocal skills. So I took the opportunity when it presented itself to me, but it’s truly a very difficult genre which you need to continually study. And I am still singing flamenco and combining it with acting work.”
Although Montse says she hasn’t fulfilled her professional goals so far – “I haven’t reached it yet!” – she does think that she is on the way and that being in Buenos Aires is helping her edge closer to it. “This year my objective has been to work in theatre and more doors have opened up to me in that arena. But it’s difficult to exist purely on theatre work as you normally work as part of a co-operative. However, I decided to tighten my belt even further and luckily I’ve worked a lot. I’ve finished two plays this year and this month we’re finalizing El ángel del olvido at Timbre 4 space. That, along with Estepario theatre, are two of my favourite arts spaces in the city, they are intimate and the audience is closer, so you’re more at a risk. I recently worked in a musical at the Parque Centenario auditorium. That was a much bigger venue but it was great to work there too because all these different dimensions generate different feelings.
“With respect to flamenco, although its public is fairly small, I get a lot of work as a singer, but it can be harder to get work in theatre even though I neutralize my accent.
In those early days, Montse lived in various neighbourhoods before turning to her current area of residence, San Cristóbal. “I shared houses, lived in pensiones, in Abasto, Microcentro, Once. But now I live in a house in San Cristóbal, which is really busy in the day but it’s just too quiet and dark at night! Anything can happen there.”
After 14 years in the southern hemisphere, she says she feels more Latin American these days. “And it’s with respect to human relationships I feel. When I went back to Spain, I not only felt that with I didn’t have much in common with my high-school friends but that they were very sad. Despite the fact they had some resolved some life situations such as having a mortgage and an apartment, they seemed very sad because of the pressure they live under, and it’s because of that pressure to succeed that I decided to flee Europe. That, and not wanting to continue being an economical or political slave to the northern hemisphere. People here are more aware of human relationships, getting together with friends to drink mate or have an asado.”
Mother nature’s impact
Besides living in Las Grutas and around Buenos Aires, Montse worked in Bariloche for a few months, a place that had an impact on her. She says: “I was so surprised by the Andean foothills. Every now and then I’d go for a walk and be blown away by nature. It was a polite reminder of feeling like a tiny bean in the middle of all this extensive vegetation. It was so imposing and reminded me of my place in the universe. It left a huge impression. I’ve also travelled to Salta, which I really liked, and Córdoba, which is similar to Segovia in Spain.”
When she’s not studying, rehearsing or missing the variety of fish from her homeland, Montse enjoys the simple things in life such as reading, watching films and riding her bike. “I love walking through the city and its neighbourhoods, and getting together with friends – the majority of them are porteño although I know a few Spaniards as a lot of young people are moving here. If the weather’s nice, I’ll go to the ecological reserve, but only on a weekday – it gets too busy at the weekend.”
Buenos Aires Herald, September 13, 20414
Ph: Mario Mosca