By Manuel Loyola Faúndez

Our goal is to share with you a summary of Chilean theater history in XX century. We have chosen four momentsto tell, nevertheless stage reality is widely more complex. We believe it will be useful at the moment of understanding theater developed in the end of the world, in the southern extreme of America.

1st Moment: “El Teatro de lo nuestro”- Theater of our roots (1900-1941)

XX Century starts turbulent, full of workers massacres by local bourgeoisie: “Santa María de Iquique”- Saint Mary of Iquique, known as the most significant. Chile is plenty of social crises trigged by foreign investment, countryside-people immigration in cities, worker’s organization, foreign migration, mining pea (saltpeter, cola, silver). The economy is controlled by foreign consortiums, social classes are widely recognized in the streets, middle-class organizes and starts its ascendancy to the power.  Modern metropolis is installed in big cities (Santiago, Valparaiso and Concepción).

The Spaniard inherency theater faces its last peak period, zarzuela turns popular and thousands follow this genre in the country. Sung, declaimed and musicalized comic register fuses country side language creating creole comic sketches, giving great cheerfulness in current audience. Theater is amateur. And it is performed at worker’s camps, schools, syndicates, political parties, universities, and literary, social and religious loggias o groups.

Growingly organized workers class develops social claim proletarian theater; diverse socialists, communists, and anarchists fund their revolutionary ideas. Stage artists also organize. The National Dramatic Company is created in 1913, Theatrical Authors Society in 1915, and the Chilean Dramatic Company in1917.

In this period, three main dramatic authors in Chilean theater history are underlined: Armando Moock, “Pueblecito” (Tiny litlle town); GermánLucoCruchaga, “La viuda de Apablaza” (The widow of Apablaza); Antonio Acevedo Hernández, “Chañarcillo”. These texts contain psychologic stress and intense social character in that time, humor and the searching of national identity.

2nd Moment: Chilean Theater professionalization (1941-1973)

It begins in the Experimental Theater of the University of Chile establishment (1941), ends with the military coup of general Augusto Pinochet in (1973).

Professional theater in Chile is born during this period. Acting work standards reach unseen professional rigour.   In 1943, is stablished “TeatroEnsayo” – Rehearsal Theater of the Catholic Pontifical University of Chile; in 1959, Theater of the University of Concepción; years later is founded the Theater of the Technical University of Antofagasta. During 50s and 60s, chilean theater was consolidated by these companies at all. National drama plays are encouraged, and it is approached theater world-wide classics and latest European drama: Becket, Ionesco, Brecht. Different theater jobs are developed: design, drama, professional acting, direction, critics, and drama publications.

Chilean society grows strong in cooperation with a government committed to tis education and culture. Strong ideologies disputes are common, in that context artist take a clear position in center-left or left. The revolutionary processes in Latin America, misery in chilean country-side, and urban poverty trigger off direct and frontal social theater. All along the country, it is possible to breath the theater, revolution, social commitment, cultural literacy, critical vision of the life model, love and rock.

This vigorous theatrical life strengthen the work of drama authors engaged to the national identity as Luis Alberto Heiremans, Egon Wolf, Sergio Vodánovic, Alejandro Seiveking, María Asunción Requena, Jorge Diáz, Isidora Aguirre, Fernando Cuadro, Fernando Debesa, and others.  It also encourages the first theater director’s generation: Pedro de la Barra, Gustavo Mesa, Pedro Mortheiru and Victor Jara.

All of this increasing theatrical development is interrupted in September 11th in 1973. That day occurred “Pinochet Coup”.

3dr Moment: Theater in Dictatorship

Military coup in September 11th-1973 tears down and extinguishes complete social, academic and political connections of the cultural development in the country, since 20s.   Workers unions, political parties, universities, free-lance artists, cultural centers, communal unions are disabled. Fear and prohibition to that kind of creative actions take roots by death, exile, torture and legislative decrees. Theater schools are closed and artists are persecuted. During the first years in dictatorship, artists have to survive, in Chile or abroad.

In early 1978, the independent group ICTUS dares to initiate theatrical seasons in normality, presenting some Chilean classics. Paradoxically, popular theater in suburbs develops in the shadows of current dictatorial regime. Many persecuted artists hide in these peripheral neighborhoods, where they also start a cultural and ideological fight against the regime.

Extreme poverty appears in 80s in the middle of a financial crisis that carries starvation in suburbs. National enterprises bankrupted, and the regime supported private bank. The neoliberal system installed in later 70s produces a huge crisis that brings new social manifestations and democratic forces re-encounter. They finally defeat Pinochet´s regime by electoral means in 1988 and 1989.

4th Moment: Theater of the world

After a 17 years’ military dictatoriship, in 1990 begins the transitional process to democracy. During dictatorship, national theater engages the urgency of the context. Meanwhile in the rest of the world, theater evolves in new paradigms. However, Chile rapidly connects drama postmodernism. One day, in December 1988 debuts “La Negra Ester”- Ester The Negra by“CompañíaGran CircoTeatro” – Great Circus Theater Company. The play is structured by different micro- languages, sounding, corporal, gestural, visual, rhythmic languages. Popular tenths color them also, including oral tradition, vulgar slang, and the urban romanticism that captivates Chileans in the long term. That play means a new stage for Chilean theater history. It is clearly a transition process in national theater what we see. The stress in the stories -in what to say, changes direction to the stage form hallucinations- in how we tell is the point now. It is the transition from modern to postmodern theater.  In latest XX century, chilean theater enjoys its hybridity. It does not follow models; it looks for its owns. Theater recovers its vitality, the creative force of youth. Artaud´s Total Theatre seems to motivate stage creator´s searches, again they are allowed to play in stage. Furthermore, “El Festival Teatro de las Naciones”- Theater of the Nations Festival in Chile 1993, brings many companies from the world which only effect is to stimulate and vitalize even more theatric searches in process.  As a consequence, 90s is considered the most productive and innovating decade in chilean theater history. 

XXI Century

The economic neoliberal system is consoled in Chile, it triggers major changes in theatric area. Collectives project become individual; stage researches are not many; public financial support, a contest. Market and marketing turn art into demand. Chile is not that country Neruda, Víctor Jara or Salvador Allende imagined. Yet, in the margins of modern Chile lives hope; creators that still investigate, work in community, and resist from living in the wild supply and demand braids.

(Translation by Roberto RoaCartes)