Tue, Feb 04, 2020 - Page 7 News List

Chile protests spill from streets to stage

EMERGENCY:Plays staged at the Santiago a Mil festival focus heavily on the protests gripping the country, as well as violence against women and indigenous people

The Guardian

The sparky young performers on stage thanked us for coming out that night. There were so many other things we could have been doing, they told us, before launching into their show: Too Much Sexual Freedom Will Turn You Into Terrorists.

“Burning subways” got the biggest laugh. The play was, after all, in Santiago, where only three months ago people took to the streets and did exactly that.

Even now, in spite of soaring summer temperatures, Chileans continue to protest every weekend. Their list of complaints ranges from inadequate private pensions to an out-of-touch president.

The graffiti creeping across every surface called for an end to police violence, for the renationalization of water and for the indigenous Mapuche people to fight back.

Sprayed everywhere was the figure 6 percent — Chilean President Sebastian Pinera’s popularity rating.

While all that was going on outdoors, things were just as polemical in the theaters.


“We are in a special situation here, but Chilean theater is always political,” said Carmen Romero, director of the Santiago a Mil festival, sitting in the sun outside Centro GAM, once the political headquarters of the administration of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, now a city-center arts complex.

“Theater is always thinking and writing about the social process,” she said.

Nearly all of the dozen shows in the festival bear her out.

Sometimes comic, sometimes earnest, always indignant, Chilean theater repeatedly gives voice to the abused, the angry and the dispossessed.

In Too Much Sexual Freedom, directed by Ernesto Orellana Gomes, four performers turn a panel discussion into a confrontational cabaret about fat shaming, HIV prejudice, discrimination against sex workers and trans rights.

Upfront and ribald, they perform with intelligence, humor and an impassioned sense of injustice.

“Let’s decolonize gender,” they said as they picked apart forces of oppression lying deep in Latin America’s history.


Gender and power were also on the mind of director Stephie Bastias in The Tower, an all-female adaptation of Alejandra Pizarnik’s The Bloody Countess.

It is inspired by the myth of 16th-century Transylvanian countess Elizabeth Bathory; her insatiable taste for blood threatens the lives of her servants, who plan a pre-emptive strike.

High on gothic melodrama and hand-wringing excess, it was an uneven piece, but its call for unity in the face of tyranny echoed what was going on in the streets.

A sharper show was Dragon by Guillermo Calderon. It was written before the October last year emergency, but the playwright, a frequent visitor to the UK, is amazed to see how topical it has become.

Like a polemical take on Yasmina Reza’s Art, it is about a collective of conceptual artists whose every attempt to create Augusto Boal-inspired “invisible theater” on the streets throws them into ethical dilemmas about class, race and representation.

Is it right they should re-enact the assassination in 1980 of Walter Rodney, a Guyanese political advocate, or are they merely reinforcing cliches about Africa and violence?

If they play the roles of Brazilians, will they be making assumptions about the immigrant experience?

Funny, slippery and energetically acted, the three-hander satirized artistic vanity even as it recognized the value of political engagement.

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