Argentina’s passion for theatre is stronger than the coronavirus – every weekend, hundreds of thousands convert the confinement of their homes into intimate stages and view virtual shows.
These theatre-lovers sometimes sit down to plays in distant provinces or even thousands of kilometres away in Paris, London, Madrid or Barcelona, so far and yet so near their beloved theatres, now sadly shut down in compulsory isolation by the pandemic.
The performances are filmed and have been rescued from archives thanks to a hi-tech offering which is attracting spectators, despite powerful competition on the same screens from blockbuster films via streaming, which have also been in fashion since the sanitary lockdown began.
"We are reinventing ourselves. The love for the theatre goes on," AFP is told by producer Jon Goransky, who at the tender age of 37 has already staged over 40 plays at the La Plaza and Metropolitan complexes, bastions of the scenic arts in Buenos Aires.
Over a million spectators have seen Los vecinos de arriba (“The upstairs neighbours”), by prize-winning Catalan playwright Cesc Gay, via laplazaonline.com.ar.
"That’s some number!" highlights Goransky, equivalent to three years of a full house.
"We haven’t given up. Is it theatre when there are no live artists? What’s for sure is that people are avid to consume culture," he theorises.
A further 640,000 theatre-lovers saw the humorous monologues of (+) Canchero and the comic drama Filosofía de vida (“Philosophy of life”) by Mexico’s Juan Villoro, starring the late Alfredo Alcón, an exalted stage presence.
"The meeting in El camarín virtual (“The virtual dressing-room”) between Villoro and the director Javier Daulte [who formerly directed Barcelona’s Teatro Villarroel] was magic," comments the producer.
“Keeping the flame alive"
"For the first time in the history of humanity there is no theatre open in the world," reflects Sebastián Blutrach, 50, the director of the El Picadero theatre, installed in a picturesque alley on the fringes of Avenida Corrientes, the luminous avenue which never slept and now looks as desolate as an obscure desert.
"We sell future tickets to people who want to return to the theatre when this disaster is over," Blutrach tells AFP.
Meanwhile, there is life on social networks.
"Excellent! How nice to see theatre," wrote user@marcelapmaldonado on Instagram.
Another word of thanks: "A very good initiative to put up with the quarantine better!" commented Paola Vales on Facebook.
"Ir al teatro en pijama, un domingo a la mañana (“Going to the theatre in pyjamas on a Sunday morning!" posted Instagram user @verofotosok.
"May the flame stay alive. You have to survive,” says Maxime Seugé, 43, a Frenchman at large in Buenos Aires – or not so much at large because he is the producer of Timbre 4, a legendary 'Off Corrientes' theatre far removed from downtown.
That theatre, founded by the actor, author and director Claudio Tolcachir, the winner of a host of awards, has won another battle against coronavirus.
"We’ve had 200,000 online hits” at www.timbre4.com, Seugé, a former financial analyst who entered the world of theatre through his wife, Argentine actress Tamara Kiper, says with his Parisian accent.
"Until the curtain goes up"
Downtown, just a few steps away from the capital’s emblematic Obelisk and the Teatro Colón, the stately Cervantes National Theatre scored 200,000 hits for its plays in just one weekend via its YouTube portal.
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"The theatre is irreplaceable. But today’s technology gives us this tool. Until we can bring the curtain up again, that will be the way to be with people,” Cervantes director and educator Rubén D'Audia, 53, promises AFP.
Online theatre is free. At the end of the performance you can make a donation to the Red Cross. Or pass the hat around to keep small theatres going.
For the love of art.
by Daniel Merolla