domingo, 7 de septiembre de 2014

          1.       Importance of the topic and its significance for teaching and scholarship  

Our Seminar will provide participants with an approach to Latin American theater that focuses not only on the dramatic text but also on theater production process and techniques (acting, setting, budgeting, promotion and so forth). Participants will be able to meet playwrights, directors and actors as well. Their attendance to our Seminar will enrich their scholarship, their Spanish skills, and mainly their teaching and scholarship by reinforcing their field of expertise.

Latin American theater has no specific place in the US colleges and universities’ curricula. Students who are interested in the topic will have few courses at the undergraduate level in Spanish, whether on Peninsular or on Latin American theater. Courses at the graduate level change syllabi every time they are taught, sometimes focusing on a specific period or region, or focusing on a special theme. In addition, these courses are always taught from a literary perspective since they are concentrated only on the written play. They approach theater from methods consolidated in the field of literary analysis and criticism; their goal is to read a dramatic text, and discuss issues exported from other disciplines, i.e. anthropology, gender studies, subaltern or postcolonial studies, queer studies, and so forth. The shortcoming of this approach—which our Seminar aims to overcome--is that it leaves aside the entire process of production (i.e. selection of the play according to cultural and political circumstances, casting, budget, material and technological possibilities of the playhouse, methods of acting and traditions of performance, and so forth), which is crucial to understand and interpret the cultural and political context in which theater is produced. Our seminar, unlike courses offered in the United States, will also promote an interdisciplinary approach to Latin American Theater and Dramaturgy.

Even students who got their B.A. with a Theater Major in the US generally have no knowledge of Latin American acting and performing traditions. One can realize that just by comparing two recent publications for teaching World Theater in the US: Theatre In Your Life by Robert Barton and Annie McGregor (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2008) and The Essential Theatre by Oscar G. Brockett and Robert J. Ball, 9th edition (Boston, MA: Thomson / Wadsworth, 2008). In these publications, there are individual chapters for every European country (with total exclusion of Spain), long chapters on Asian theater [China, Japan, and India] and also on African theater; however, there is no mention of Latin American theater. Regarding theater in Spanish there is only a brief paragraph devoted to theater in Golden Age Spain. Only two or three authors are mentioned about "U.S. Latinos", such as Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino andAnna and the Tropics by Nilo Cruz. More than five centuries of theater in Spanish whether in Spain, Latin America or other regions on the world where Spanish is spoken have been completely marginalized and silenced.

“Traditional” Latin American theater, with its background of Indigenous, Asian, European (mostly from Spain, Italy and France), and African cultures, privileges the body, the images, and the emotions, and emphasizes the visual, particularly movement and gestures, sometimes by using masks as a meaningful resource. Latin American theater is close to the original Greek meaning of theater and drama, because of its corporeal and visual components. In the New Latin American Theater, but specifically in what it is called today “theater of intensities” / “theater of multiplicity” (Eduardo Pavlovsky), or “acting poetics” (Ricardo Bartís), the verbal component is reduced to the minimum, but it is still a respected poetic ingredient of the entire production, integrated with the other languages (dance, music, settings, lighting).

The visual component in Latin American theater, in which the body is involved, is not merely decorative; scenery design is not a material way to “represent” what stage directions are asking for, but a free way to deal with the non-verbal aspect of the performance; many times they also modify the written text. The New Latin American theatre is very experimental, not obsessed with the goal of achieving a “complete” or “obvious” meaning or interpretation of a pre-text. Today—from the 90s to the present, and in part due to a survival strategy to confront globalization—new ways of acting, directing, writing, promoting and producing a play have strongly changed, but the experimental and risking artistic dimension is still very alive. Many women have recently emerged as “teatristas” and their theater is celebrated all over Latin America and Europe because of the new perspectives they have brought to Latin American arts.

           2.     History of Our Summer Seminar
                                We started building the base for this Seminar many years ago. In 2001-2, we were awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities - Extending The Reach: Faculty Research Awards, to work on Latin American Theater 1950-2000: An Anthology and A Critical Reader, which was later expanded and finally published by the Instituto Nacional de Teatro de Argentina (National Institute of Theater) as Antología de teatro latinoamericano 1950-2007, in 3 volumes with 3 DVDs.

After accomplishing the Anthology, Lola Proaño started researching how politics impacts Latin American contemporary theater. As a result, we have today two remarkable contributions to those topics: Poéticas de la globalización en el teatro latinoamericano (Irvine, California: Gestos, 2007) and Teatro y Estética Comunitaria [Theater and Communitarian Aesthetics] (Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2013).

In 2004 Gustavo Geirola published the first volume out of 6 on Arte y oficio del director teatral en América Latina [Art and Craft of Directing in Latina America]; the last one has been recently published in February 2014. Interested in addressing the question of directing, Geirola traveled all over the three Americas (19 countries) interviewing 155 Latin American directors (including those working in the US and Canada). 


           3.     Topic’s Historical Background

In the cultural and political turbulence of the sixties in the 20th century, Latin American theater begins to define its postcolonial identity and autonomy. During those years, artists in the theater start debating about the “national” or “regional” aesthetical consistency of their art, and because of that they focus on the cultural and political diversity of their own countries. The old and long relationship with Spain is to some point interrupted; however, the cultural conversation with European theatrical trends (E. Piscator, B. Brecht, J. Grotowsky, P. Brook, G. Strehler) fruitfully develop as well as the new trends in US theater (i.e. Living Theater, San Francisco Mime Troup, Davis’ Guerrilla Theater) start impacting Latin American groups with radical ideas and methods for doing political theater [Geirola 2000]. The “traditional” paradigm known as ‘dramaturgy of author’, in which the playwright gives his or her text to a director, who design the entire project for the production, changes drastically from the 60s on. The vertical relation of power is then challenged and as a result theater groups in many Latin American countries start a new methodology known as “collective creation” with an effort to conform to a horizontal organized power. This methodology is not necessary new, it can be detected at least from Middle Ages, with a long history in European and Indigenous cultures, and especially it developed during the Russian Revolution [Geirola 2008]). In his Dictionary of the Theatre, Patrice Pavis defines this methodology as “A production not created by a single person (playwright of director) but developed by an entire theatrical company [and] the text is often finalized after improvisation during rehearsal as each participant suggests changes” (62).
This methodology was carefully defined, described and implemented by two famous directors of Latin American “creación colectiva” during the 70s. Enrique Buenaventura (1925-2003), from the TEC Teatro Experimental de Cali (Colombia) and Santiago García (1928), from La Candelaria (Colombia). Their contributions impacted all the groups in South, Central, and North America (Luis Valdez, the famous founder of Teatro Campesino in California, learned in Cuba from Santiago García and Enrique Buenaventura). In Brazil, Augusto Boal also explored theater techniques oriented to give voice to the subaltern, and for these reasons he called his approach Teatro del Oprimido (Theater of the Oppressed). The implementation of creación colectiva will have variations in every country and in every group, but it dominated the Latin American theater for almost two decades. Progressively, this methodology started to change; a new economic and political environment emerged after dictatorships in many of the Latin American countries, and in the 90s the Neoliberal economic and political agenda once again confronted playwrights, directors and actors with a difficult scenario for producing and performing.

           4.     Overview on the topics to be discussed

Focusing on this period of accelerated transformation processes will cover the variety of political and aesthetic agendas of the theater groups. “The Politics”—as has been studied by Proaño—can no longer be identified with politics, as it happened during the 60s and 70s, when it was understood in a partisan sense or it was affiliated with socially identifiable ideological discourses.

We plan to assign our participants a selection of works (plays and critical readings will also be included in our webpage on May 1, 2015); these plays will be debated along with theater productions that participants must see during their stay in Buenos Aires. The following issues will guide our discussions of the works and performances.

a) The contradiction between the local and the international, i.e. the representation of non- hegemonic sectors (and their socio- cultural demands) on the one hand and, on the other hand, internationalized theatrical codes imposed by the need to survive artistically by attending festivals and by organizing tours abroad.
(b) Changes in the formation of groups and the distribution of wages, state subsidies and, in some cases, new legislation for theatrical activity, such as the Theater National Law No. 24,800, sanctioned on March 19, 1997 in Argentina, which is currently on track to be adopted in other Latin American countries.
(c) The influence of technology in the audiovisual aspects and their impact on performance techniques and the actor's body.
(d) The effects of transnationalization often produced by forced migrations and political or economic exiles promote profound changes in the way of telling stories with polyphonic and multicultural texts, sometimes difficult to decode.
(e) Multidisciplinarity also has promoted notable aesthetic changes. Many playwrights come from diverse disciplinary fields (dance, film, video, television, architecture) and are part of the same group and they share power at the time of making final decisions on the production.
(f) The performances’ generic hybridism is notorious; it makes theater difficult to read and decipher, especially when images or verbal text refer to a complex socio-cultural histories and memories and the “traditional” genres (drama, tragedy, melodrama, comedy, farce) are mixed.
(g) The impact of global distribution of franchised productions, especially musicals, which generate significant changes in the professionalization of the actor and also impact and transform the audience’s tastes.
(h) The past decades, with strong and devastating dictatorships in many countries of the region, are carefully reviewed by the theater; there is a need to review the historical memory and report crimes against humanity. In these cases, theater appeals to allegories and sometimes to baroque images or, on the contrary, to a total dispossession of the scene making performances very abstract and enigmatic. However, most of these productions are always respecting the Human Rights perspective.
(i) The emergence of a strong feminine and sometimes feminist discourse, linked to the socio-cultural circumstances of each country, with greater involvement of women in the Latin American scene, traditionally dominated by men, not only as actors, but as playwrights and directors.
(j) The emergence of grassroots productions by marginalized, subaltern groups, who begin to appropriate the theatrical codes in order to articulate their voice and political demands.
(k) The transformation of the cultural parameters that have traditionally defined national identity leads to the emergence of a diversity of cultural discourses that, with greater or lesser intensity, focus on transnationalization and modernization and, aesthetically have been discussed under the impact of globalized Neoliberal policies and postmodernism philosophy.
(l) Awareness of human rights has configured a theater with strong messages related to missing persons, the identity of the children of the disappeared people (i.e. Teatro X la Identidad [Theater for Identity] in Argentina), the rights of indigenous people, the demands for respecting ecological environment, and the transborder situation of migrants forced by high unemployment rates at their national or regional level (i.e. Mexico, Ecuador), and the recognition of the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities.