Halima Tahan Ferreyra*
Two exceptional plays, works of micro-theatre and an emerging theatre series are among the theatrical experiences in Buenos Aires which this article alights upon. To those are added festivals and projects which set the theatre agenda throughout the country, from the Altiplano to Tierra del Fuego.
Theatrical Events: Between Immoderation and Dispossession
Within the Buenos Aires theatre scene, which is defined by a great variety of genres and themes, La Terquedad (The Stubbornness) stands out from the rest. This play has been considered, almost unanimously, as one of the greatest theatre productions of the season; which is highly significant, taking into account the number of good shows available. La Terquedad, a project on which writer and director Rafael Spregelburd started working in 1996, closes the heptalogy about Hieronymus Bosch’s circular painting depicting The Seven Deadly Sins.
For this last play, whose last hidden sin is wrath, Rafael was inspired by a true story. In the 1970s, a fascist Spanish commissioner invented a language and a dictionary (of which Rafael was able to get a copy). “The book mixes religious mysticism and cybernetics with fascism,” explains the author, who set this episode at the end of the Spanish Civil War (when the triumph of Franco’s regime, with its ill-fated consequences for Spain, was already evident) aiming to achieve “a much greater sounding board.” Spregelburd himself plays the role of this pseudo-humanist commissioner, whose house becomes the stage where the action takes place. The characters of this crazy story meet all in the same room. Among others, there is a disguised brigade member, an abusive priest and the unpredictable commissioner’s two daughters, one of whom hides her liking for the Republic. The girls are not allowed to read some texts (García Lorca is mentioned, for example) or listen to certain types of music, among other prohibitions.
Beyond the incredible subject matter, the success of this play (which appeals not only to irony and humor, but also to reflection) is due to the complexity of the staging, acting and language of the piece; which culminates in a constellation from which different layers of sense emanate. Hyperbolic, digressive and always mutating, this comedy is masterful in realizing the contemporary possibilities of its genre.
La terquedad received the Premio Nacional de Dramaturgia (National Drama Award) in 2008. In 2009, a reduced version was staged in Germany. However, the play had not been able to come to Argentina, perhaps because of the complexity of the project, which has technical requirements beyond those of Argentinian theatres. In 2017, the Wheel of Fortune favored us: the Teatro Nacional Cervantes (Cervantes National Theatre) took over this great production providing the author, certainly one of the icons of Argentinian theatre, with the chance of expressing himself to the full.
Rafael Spregelburd is not only the creator of this long and unique play cycle (parts of which have been translated into ten different languages and staged in several countries around the world); he is also a film actor, a translator and a “modest” tango dancer. He is part of the international “advance” of Argentinian theatre, which maintains a dialogue with other performing cultures without losing its own theatrical identity.
The highly acclaimed show Mi hijo sólo camina un poco más lento (My Son Only Walks a Bit More Slowly) stands at the opposite end of the theatrical spectrum from La Terquedad. Although it was not a play of the 2017 season, it is mentioned because its radical difference from Spregelburd’s drama offers an insight into the remarkable diversity of theatre in Buenos Aires.
Mi hijo . . . which was still being performed at the time of writing, due to its resounding success, was written by the Croatian author Ivor Martinic and was directed by Guillermo Cacace, a well-known figure in Argentinian theatre. Set in a location which represents dispossession, the play is performed at daylight in a small theatre situated in one of Buenos Aires’ neighborhoods. Its director works in “rehearsal ethics,” rather than “aesthetics,” with its working process considered a priority in itself. The play debuted at the end of 2014 and started being shown in April 2015. The news about this unique show began to spread by word of mouth; and soon, there were no tickets left until 2016. The troupe was astonished by this success. “I feel this is a particular experience, knowing it won’t happen again causes a sense of vertigo . . . it is overwhelming but we are enjoying it,” said the director.
The importance of the project centers on the relational, on the bonds the actors have with each other and with the audience. As the spectators enter the theatre, while they are taking their seats and getting ready for the show, the troupe greet them with hot drinks and chipas, a nice and warm gesture. Throughout the performance, the audience feels moved by what is happening on stage. “[It is] as if they let a wave soak them, as it ebbs and flows, no matter whether they are on the stage or not,” Cacace explains. The show is not supported by any kind of technical effects, but only by affection, by the flow of emotions moving around the entire theatre space.
The play is about a family which confronts an inexorable reality. As a result of an illness their son is confined to a wheelchair forever. He is taken onto stage by a cast of ten players. There are no famous actors among them and they are very different from each other, not only because of their ages (ranging from twenty to over eighty), but also because of their professional backgrounds. The play is focused on the individual differences between the characters, and on the challenges involved in their lives. The son “finds a way of being part of this world on the basis of the difference,” and the others “get to love that difference,” explains the director (who might be said to have managed to turn this play into a success in a different way).
Between the immoderation of La Terquedad and the dispossession of Mi hijo sólo camina un poco más lento (plays that are radically different but equally outstanding), a great variety of theatre works leave their stamp on the stage of Buenos Aires, a city which is considered one of the major capitals of world theatre.
A New Alternative for a New Theatre?
In the busy neighborhood of Palermo, in the City of Buenos Aires, in a place where young people and signature cuisine converge, there are six theatre spaces dedicated to micro-theatre (a format originated in Spain some years ago and recently established in Buenos Aires). These are short plays performed in very small intimate venues for about fifteen spectators. Every month, the plays are developed around a particular theme of common interest. In August 2017, the theme was “For Money,” in September it was “For Love” and in October “For Sex.”
One local newspaper suggested that this project created a kind of “fast-food theatre as a result of the short duration of the plays and the mixture of activities.” The producers counter that the program has been well received by the audience, and that this kind of theatre is accepted by young spectators who would not “put up with” a different type of show. Above all, however, as Julieta Novarro, the director of the micro-theatre says, “there is a new form of consuming entertainment and theatre cannot ignore it. Ten years ago micro-theatre might have been unimaginable; however, today it is essential.”
From another place, called No avestruz, and with other purposes, a cycle of short plays was launched named Los Ciclo de obras políticas para enfermería (Cycle of Political Plays for Nursing). Four well-known playwrights took part in this project: namely, Ignacio Apolo, Andrés Binetti, Héctor Levy-Daniel and Mariano Saba. They created four short plays which shared a common scenography. The cycle was triggered by the notion of emergency and the need for gathering around a common theatrical activity. “What unifies the plays is the intention of thinking politics through theatre writing” (as a way of responding to the current, oppressive reality), explains Levy-Daniel.
The Festivals: A Piece of the World Theatre in Argentina
One of the most important events in the Argentinian performing arts is the International Festival of Buenos Aires (FIBA). The 2017 program offered sixty-five shows, including nineteen international productions. The 2017 edition placed an emphasis on the transnational. Consequently, the play selection was based upon what FIBA’s artistic director Federico Irazábal referred to as “crossover logic.” French director Julien Gosselin’s 2666, a twelve-hour staging of Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño’s work, which involves an intense consideration of the problem of language, is a case in point.
Another positive aspect of 2017 edition was the production of plays such as País clandestino (Clandestine Country), which involved actors from five different countries, and La velocidad de la luz (The Speed of Light), a local play performed by a group of elderly women from Barrio 31, one of the oldest informal settlements in the City of Buenos Aires.
In addition to Buenos Aires’ international festival, Córdoba (a city situated in the center of Argentina) was the venue for the Festival Internacional de Teatro Mercosur 2017. Over thirty years after the First Latin American Theatre Festival (which occurred during the restoration of democracy after the fall of the dictatorship in Argentina), the 2017 edition of the Mercosur program (its eleventh edition) reaffirmed the position of the province of Córdoba as the pioneer of theatre festivals in Argentina. Its organizers explain that, from the beginning, these festivals have aimed to meet the audience not only in theatres, but also in streets, parks, correctional institutions, factories, nursing homes and hospitals.
The festival has achieved its maximum expression since it expanded throughout the province with a strong social identity. For ten days, 6-10 October, more than three hundred artists performed over one hundred activities. Plays from fifteen countries (Belgium, Canada, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Serbia, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Cuba, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia) crossed paths with about forty local productions from Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Salta, Tucumán, Catamarca and Córdoba.
Throughout Argentina: From Jujuy to Tierra Del Fuego
Since 2006, the Instituto Nacional del Teatro (National Institute of Theatre) has promoted the dissemination of high quality theatre productions throughout Argentina. Year after year, this program has grown until it was established all over the country, from the Altiplano, in Jujuy, to Tierra del Fuego, strengthening the dissemination of national and international plays. According to its director, Marcelo Allasino, the 2017 program (which was just about to begin at the time of writing) was unprecedented in the project’s history. Shows were scheduled in all twenty-four of Argentina’s districts.
From August 28, the NTI Theatrical Circuit covered more than one hundred municipalities throughout the country, with the participation of seventy-six companies from around the country and the world. At the same time, the Circuit improved thanks to the incorporation of thirty-one festivals held in the provinces of Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Santa Fe, Rosario, Chaco, Misiones, Jujuy, Tucumán, San Juan, Mendoza, Formosa, Catamarca, Santiago del Estero and Tierra del Fuego, among others. These developments mark another step forward in this remarkable, nationwide project. Spectators were able to enjoy more than three hundred-twenty shows, performed in every region throughout the month of October.
Further Information . . .
As the 2017 season was not finished at the time of writing, some of the information mentioned in this article belongs to the end of the season 2016; a year marked by economic recession, inflation and a disproportionate increase in public utility prices, particularly for electricity and natural gas services. All of which profoundly affected the situation of the theatres in general. In the alternative circuit (which counts about one hundred ten theatres), only four hundred forty-eight productions opened in 2016 (almost a hundred fewer than the previous year).
However, the number of spectators increased. Conversely, in the mainstream circuit, the audience decreased even though ticket prices only increased by a small percentage to alleviate the effects of inflation. Given this situation, alternative theatres, neighborhood cultural clubs and milongas carried out a “Cultural Blackout,” which resulted in subsidies being granted to theatres which receive support from Buenos Aires City Government. The 2017 season has shown some recovery, but we will have to wait until the end of the season for the published figures.
Translated by Cecilia Chariwskyj
 The others were: Inappetence, Stupidity, Extravagance, Panic, Paranoia, and Modesty.
 A famous Spanish writer killed during the Revolution.
 Autumn 2017.
 “El fenómeno que surgió del off” by Sandra Commisso, Clarín Newspaper, Bs.As., 23 July 2015. The director’s texts quoted above belong to this article.
 Newspaper La Nación, p. 11, J. Carbonell, Bs. As.,19/8/17.
 “Balance de la temporada 2016 en el circuito comercial y alternativo,” Spot, Clarín, 10 Dec.16, p. 14.
*Halima Tahan Ferreyra is a Doctor in Modern Literature at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, where she has also worked as a teacher. She has experience as a cultural journalist and was part of the theater group of the Instituto Goethe as a dramaturgin and of the Commission that promoted the Latin American Theater Festivals. She wrote over a hundred articles which were published in Argentina and abroad. She is member of the AICT / UNESCO, director of publishing company Ediciones Artes del Sur and is currently living in Buenos Aires.