Theater

The Chilean theater is as old as the country itself. Playwrights and actors personify essential features of Chilean identity

Thursday, July 30, 2009  
Teatro, La Negra Ester La Negra Ester (Photo:Juan Francisco Somalo)

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January is theater month in Santiago. Tickets are available at discount prices for a wide variety of premieres, festivals and performances, staged by different theater groups and catering to all preferences and ages.

The public is dazzled even more by visiting international companies of street theater. In 2008, the French theater company Royal Deluxe brought over The Little Girl Giant, a little girl who moves around the city, seven meters tall and weighing one ton. In January 2009, the Catalonian theater ensemble La Fura dels Baus attracted 70,000 people in front of the presidential palace, Palacio de La Moneda, with Lola, another gigantic figure made of copper.

A groundbreaker and precursor of these massive spectacles was El Gran Circo Teatro and its creator, Andrés Pérez.  In 1988, this Chilean theater company presented Roberto Parra’s La Negra Ester and made an impact that has marked a ‘before’ and ‘after’ in Chilean theater. Ever since, street theater has opened up to new writers and performers, encouraging creativity and experimentation.

The Beginnings

Santiago’s first theater was named Coliseo and opened its doors in 1810. That very same year, Chile’s emancipation process began. One of the writers of the era was Camilo Henríquez, the editor of the first Chilean newspaper. Since then, theatercraft has represented various periods of the nation’s history in tones that range from realism, to tragedy and comedy.

In the first half of the 20th Century, the so-called ‘Teatro Obrero’ or Workers’ Theater played a significant role. With the encouragement of political leader Luis Emilio Recabarren, the Teatro Obrero experienced the highest point in its popularity among the workers of the nitrate fields, where it staged plays in the genres of realism and costumbrism.  In 1936, they staged Chañarcillo, by playwright Antonio Acevedo Hernández, acclaimed to this day for its social content. 

In the 1950s and thanks to the dynamism of university theater groups, experimental theater acquired huge momentum. The Fifties Generation is the Chilean vanguard of experimental theater and its best known playwrights are Luis Alberto Heiremans,  Egon Wolff, Fernando Debesa, Sergio Vodanovic, Alejandro Sieveking, María Asunción Requena, Isidora Aguirre, Fernando Cuadra and Jorge Díaz. All of them, with varying emphasis, incorporated social critique, the recovery of history and folklore into their plays, side by side with personal quest and transcendence.

The Fifties Generation was followed by the theater of collective creation, which was the manifestation of the youth of the turbulent sixties. The theater groups Ictus and Aleph belong to the generation who received the legacy of experimental theater.

The military dictatorship placed a repressive damper on Chilean theater and art. Nevertheless, in the 1970s a new movement of independent theater emerged that evaded censorship with euphemisms and humor. New playwrights and theater companies appeared on the scene, of which the most outstanding were Juan Radrigán, Ramón Griffero and El Trolley (The Trolley); Mauricio Celedón and Teatro del Silencio (Theater of Silence); Alfredo Castro and Teatro de la Memoria (Memory Theater).  

In today’s theater scene the La Troppa Theater Company’s daring work Gemelos (Twins) and the already-mentioned Gran Circo Teatro stand a head above the rest. La Troppa was founded in the late eighties by Juan Carlos Zagal, Laura Pizarro and Jaime Lorca. In 2005 they split up and a new company, La Obra (The Play), was formed.  La Obra’s mise-en-scènes are characterized by the use of all possible visual resources, mixing the aesthetic of film, comics and the circus.

These elements integrate into creative concepts of stage design, lighting and costumes, and a trio of actors who impress their audience with their acrobatic talents, achieving a spectacular visual language. La negra Ester (Dark Haired Esther) is the most important production of El Gran Circo Teatro. It was originally written in ten octosyllable, autobiographical verses by Roberto Parra, the brother of Violeta and Nicanor. La negra Ester presents a tragicomic love story set in a port city brothel and portrays the surrounding social milieu of marginal urban characters. A band of musicians plays popular songs, huachaca-style jazz and cuecas choras, and the cast of actors dance and sing onstage.

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