Latin America’s biggest theater festival comes to a close

Throughout the month of January the Santiago a Mil festival brought 78 productions and 700 other gatherings to Chile’s capital, attracting 800,000 Santiaguinos.

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The Santiago a Mil festival came to a truly international close this weekend with a production of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s 1961 play “Happy Days,” playing Jan. 27 to Jan. 30 at the Municipal Theater in Las Condes. One of 16 productions presented on the festival’s final day, it was performed in French with Spanish supertitles, starring Italian actors Adriana Asti and Giovanni Batista, and was directed by celebrated American theater artist Robert Wilson.

Over the course of 30 days, 78 productions and 700 other functions, the Santiago a Mil festival attracted around 800,000 people. Presented in 30 different performance spaces across the city, the festival included 37 productions from within Chile and another 41 from abroad, representing 21 countries from across four continents, among them such international luminaries as Mr. Wilson.

The international slant of the festival served a dual purpose this year, bringing the best of world theater to Chile and demonstrating the power of Chilean theater arts to the greater theatrical world.

“This is a country that is open to the world economically, but geographically we are still very far,” said Executive Director of the Teatro a Mil Foundation, Carmen Romero, at a Jan. 31 press conference.

She went on to highlight the international potential for Chilean theater. “There is a major effort on the part of the National Council for Culture and the Arts to bring Chilean theater to the world … There are already organizations that promote our fruit and our great wines – now we can promote our theater as a great export as well.”

More than anything, Santiago a Mil achieved its aim of bringing diverse, contemporary theater, dance and music of all genres to a broad Chilean audience. Within Santiago, productions were presented across geographical and socioeconomic boundaries, presented in peripheral districts like La Granja and Quilicura, in the central business district of Las Condes and in the up-market suburb of Lo Barnechea.

This year’s festival also brought 11 productions and 13 other functions to the regional cities of Talca, Antofagasta and Iquique, which attracted an additional 50,000 audience members. “There is an amazing creative force in the regions,” says Romero. “In the future we’d like to find more ways to reach and incorporate them.”

From international productions of classic shows, like Mr. Wilson’s visually arresting “Happy Days,” to Chilean works investigating the facets of local life, to picaresque and clown performers in open air theaters and on the streets of Santiago, the festival encapsulated the expansive and inclusive character of 21st century global theater.

Most importantly, it festival fulfilled its foremost goal of bringing theater to a larger audience within Chile. “Art is the greatest you can give,” says President of the Foundation Delfina Guzmán, “and we give it indiscriminately.”