Escape Valve or Political Tool? Chilean Political Theater in Context, 1973 to the Present
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Throughout the many transformations Chile has undergone in the last 45 years, theater has remained constant as an avenue for expression and activism. In 19731 when artists were being arrested and exiled and theaters were burning to the ground~ dramatists managed to keep theater in Chile alive. Unfortunately, the need to keep theater doors open meant that playwrights often shied away from explicitly addressing the state in their work. Although there was very clearly a crisis, it was also clear that the new military regime was simply too powerful and temperamental a dragon to risk angering. What was missing in those early years of dictatorship was agency, that crucial element that compels playwrights to create by telling them that what they do will make a difference. It was not until the mid-1980s, when the junta's power began to decline and young people began to lose their fear, that Chilean dramatists were ready to write and produce political plays again. Although Chile was far from free, at El Trolley Ramon Griffero "created the conditions of liberty," rehearsing for a democracy was yet to come. At El Trolley people could talk about disappearances, be vulgar, break curfew. In El Trolley is was possible to say the things that everyone knew, but was too afraid to talk about. When democracy finally came and "conditions of liberty" were extended across the country, there was no need for El Trolley. Dictatorship had reached its conclusion. Political theater in the 1990s faced the opposite impediment as it had in the 1970s. All the momentum around the plebiscite and new government stirred up a great deal of hope for Chileans. With an overthrown a dictator, what more proof of agency could there be? The reason that there was ultimately very little political theater during the transition was the result of a lack of crisis. People were well aware of the imperfections of their new democracy, but these were by and large accepted by the people as the price paid for freedom. In the last 15 years or so, political theater has made a reemergence for several reasons. All of the vestiges of Pinochet's rule that were accepted as necessary for stability during the transition are no longer acceptable to many Chileans. Corporations receive higher priority than citizens. Women, indigenous people and immigrants still lack rights. There is a growing disconnect between the political elite and the citizenry at large. This new environment, where citizens know what they want and are at liberty to demand it, is ideal for the creation of political theater. Unsatisfied with the "politics of amnesia" that pervaded the transition years, new playwrights like Guillermo Calderon have reclaimed agency over the memory of the dictatorship. More overtly political are the groups like Teatro Publico that attack the myriad policies that perpetuate class, gender, and race-based inequality in Chile. The chief danger that lies in this political-theatricallandscape is the tendency, as older playwrights have pointed out, to oversimplify, to veer into the didactic. I do not necessarily fault the new generation for this. When it seems that no one is listening, it may feel necessary to shout as loudly and as clearly as possible. When I asked Galemiri how he envisioned the future of Chilean theater, he responded with two words: "mas audaz." He means more daring, bold, but also audacious. If the "democratic deficit" continues to grow, then Chileans will continue to turn to theater to make their voices heard. My hope is that Chile can find a way to reconcile the competing interests that divide the country, and that theater can work as a tool to bring people together, not drive them apart. I think the shared experience of sitting together in the dark members of an audience. In a world where technology has individualized almost every situation, to experience something as a collective is both novel and essential. Given Chilean theater's rich history bringing people together, I firmly believe that it will continue to be a force for discourse, freedom and justice for years to come. and experiencing the live spectacle of a play forms a wonderfully special bond between
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