viernes, 20 de febrero de 2009

A Panorama of Independent Theater in Puerto Rico

Collective Theater/ Collective Text

There are three companies actively working: Jovenes del 98, Agua, sol y Sereno and Teatro Breve, that work and write their plays and performance pieces in a collective way. Normally they start to create and rehearse almost from scratch, without having any real text. They do have themes, ideas, concepts, improvised exercises they want to elaborate, maybe a little writing, but the actual text is finished after the last presentation.
Jovenes del 98 directed by Maritza Perez Otero is a political theater group formed in 1998 with eighteen teenagers. Their first play was called 1898 and it was a critical and historical examination of the relationship between the U.S and P.R. They normally work in workshops in which they improvise specific political or social conflicts after having read and discussed different kinds of information: newspapers, history books, political and socio-economic essays, poems or short stories. Influenced by Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal and the guerilla theater of the seventies, they create an hybrid text form by cynical and satirical sketches and songs that try to impulse and generate in the audience a critical view of our social, political and cultural ways of life. Their plays are short, from fifteen to thirty minutes, because they present themselves in open spaces and in happenings on the street.
Agua, sol y sereno directed by Pedro Adorno, is also a very political group which creative writing process takes months. Their process consists of acting workshops that lead to the creation of characters and a narrative that unifies them. Usually their plays are very dreamlike and eccentric with a surreal atmosphere. They are very critical too, but usually with a poetic aesthetic. As an example their last play Fin del sueño, staged and written as some kind of fragmented nightmare, deals with a political assassination and how this affects the victim’s family members. During the process the director edits the text constantly with the actors involved. Even during the presentations this process of rewriting continues. This causes the audience to witness a collage, a polyphonic text.
Teatro Breve is a collective that presents itself weekly in two bars changing their repertoire from week to week. They have developed a number of characters and sketches that the audience get to know and want to follow after having go previously to their shows: a couple of derange police agents, three lazy university girls or three problematic married couples that live nearby. Even though there are two main playwrights, Mikephillippe Oliveros and Lucienne Hernandez, each member has the opportunity of bringing ideas or storylines. Their theater reminds us of sitcoms and t.v programs. They usually just have a narrative structure and some dialogue to which they improvise live. With a comic and light point of view they present mundane characters in their daily life and struggles. In the last two years they have created a strong fan base that goes weekly to their shows. Their phenomenon is very particular because they have created a catchy pop playwriting with the input and influence of T.V. and with the techniques of theater improvisation.

A Theater of objects and masks

Influenced by the ancient art of mask making, chinese shadows, paper mache and puppetry, two groups in P.R.: Mask Hunt and Yno había Luz are creating a visual poetic theater. Their actors perform with masks and manipulate all sorts of hand made objects and miniatures or gigantic puppets. In that way they transform themselves in mysterious, fantastic creatures swarming around in exotic dream worlds. This theater obviously privileges the image to words. The poetic impact comes from what you see; the incarnation of a wild imagination. In other words, they play with the illusion of making un-animated objects come to life. Their text is usually a stage direction, a guide to scenic actions.
Maskhunt usually creates a visual text based on fables, mythology, short stories, poems and literary characters such as Baba Yaga, Cloch the crow, Punch and Judy or King Ubu. Directed by Deborah Hunt, a Neozelandese artist who has been living and working in Puerto Rico for the past fifteen years, her theater presents visionary plays about the universal problems that we are facing in the contemporary world such as the environmental menace, the morals of the genetic and scientific revolution or the alienation and apocalyptic landscapes of the cities.
The collective Y no habia luz identifies themselves with the imaginary world of children. Its plays usually present characters that are coping with the loss of innocence and playfulness in a hostile world. Their childlike characters are always fighting with anonymous beings that represent the social system or the structure of a perverse power trying to extinguish the freedom of youth. One of their plays Como Bueno presents a young innocent man being manipulate by the war machine and by destructive scientists.

A theater of the body

From the perspective of the body as an entity full of diverse meanings, contradictions and interpretations: political, social, sexual, fictional, mythological, intellectual, etc. there is a group of independent artists working with the language generated by the body performing on stage. Their artistic proposal is to investigate and experiment the possibilities of the performing trained body transgressing established paradigms of dance, theater, video, music or literature. Artists such as Viveca Vazquez, Teresa Hernández, Javier Cardona, Karen Langevin, Eduardo Alegria or Pepe Alvarez all in different and complex ways are creating performances and plays that challenge the boundaries of the different arts they experiment with. They all have in common the interest of developing the body as a writing tool that generates a text while performing in front of an audience but also a body integrated with other texts, language and ideas. With an experimental perspective this kind of work deals with issues of genre, sexuality, nationality, identity, media images, the social imaginary, mass and pop culture in the city and how all these forces and structures invades and manipulate the body and it’s expression.

The playwrights as we usually recognize them

This group works with playwriting in a more traditional way. When I say this I mean that we create a written text that generates a narrative structure (plot, scenes, acts), we develop precise characters, and a great amount of dialogue. The text can be appreciated without seeing the performance because of it literary quality, and usually the text is the point of departure and guideline for the staging. Beside Javier Gonzalez and myself, Rojo Robles, this group consists of Sylvia Bofill, Joaquín Gonzalez, Veraalba Santa, Freddy Acevedo, Mikephillipe Oliveros , Jorge Gonzalez and Eyerí Cruz. The distinctiveness of this group is that we are all playwrights who direct their own plays. In this sense, we create a double but unified universe: the universe of the written text, and the universe of the staged play based on the preliminary text. In 2004 the theater critic Lowell Fiet in the local newspaper Claridad named us, the new generation of playwrights in Puerto Rico, a generation that has a familiar academic background in humanities, theater and literature departments of the University of Puerto Rico. Most of us have worked in the university theater under the direction of the recognized directors Rosa Luisa Marquez and Dean Zayas and most of us have taken workshops with latinoamerican theater groups such as Malayerba or Yuyashkani. Although each of us has very different styles of writing, I think we all share a visceral and irreverent way of portraying reality. Our plays are very cynical, ironic even acid, they are full of eccentric outcasts and bizarre characters. Strange settings and atmosphere are very common, close to dreams, nightmares or fantastic ominous places. They have most of the time amoral and maybe decadent, cruel situations regarding to sex, violence, drugs, politics and alternative ways of living. Some kind of hopelessness and desperation impregnates the plays although they are filtered in black humor and can question the mores and absurd systems of post-modern society. It’s easy to notice in them an influence of cinema, television, comic books, pulp and noir literatures, punk attitudes and rock and roll and electronic music. In terms of style most of these plays are very fragmented or episodic and hybrid in terms of the language and slang projected. From a very poetic or intellectual speech to vulgar, popular or insipid chit chat, the dialogues travels through the madness of troubled worlds and minds.

Various examples of plots: In Un paseo en moto by Eyerí Cruz, a very sexual aristocratic family cut the head of each other while having sex and been attacked by barbarians; In Secreto para evitar un ataque cardíaco by Veraalba Santa, a strange squizofrenic woman fantasizes of love and death with a group of mannequins; In Historia de horror casi en blanco y negro by Joaquín Gonzalez, a hard boiled detective investigates his own death while traveling through the images of a silent movie; In Azul oscuro by Mikephillipe Oliveros a romantic clown has a giant lizard for friend and advisor of love; In Insultos de ciudadanos motorizados by me Rojo Robles, two punk radicals take an old fashioned couple with them to do a snuff movie; In Pornformance by Freddy Acevedo a young married couple try to do a porn film with their neighbors; In Un instante en una especie de flash by Javier Gonzalez, an unsatisfied man and his imaginary gay friend search for a killer that makes art installations with his victims; In Inside/out by Sylvia Bofill, the neighbors of a building: a junkie, a cook, a musician, two writers and an old couple try to enter in a strange golden door protected by a deadly mafia that promises once inside a less ordinary even artistic fulfilled life… just to mention some. These plays mostly written in Spanish have been presented during the last years in small theaters, galleries and cultural spaces.

Although very original and innovative these plays haven’t had the support of the media, the government agencies, the big producers or other sponsors. Usually we have to take our personal finances to pay for the rent, production expenses and publicity. In the past years new oppressive artistic and economic laws, the cost of living and the reduction of theater spaces, had made it harder for us to present our work or find good economic results. Even so, we get through somehow and manage to maintain an unstable but creatively solid independent theater scene.