I was asked to run three workshops and then direct one of my plays in Loja Ecuador as part of a new theatre festival, Artes Vivas de Loja, which took place in November 2016 in several venues in the city. This included a giant theatre which had recently been built specifically for the festival. The giant theatre was a grand concert hall with a shallow stage and a giant orchestra pit and the audience at a shallow rake. There was also a theatre which was the courtyard of a school, and a re-modelled old proscenium theatre with three balconies. None of these bode well for my play, El Espejo which we performed at the French Alliance in a cozy 90 seat space.
Although we were not officially part of the festival we had to turn away thirty people at our last performance, and I got to see the other companies in the festival. There was Contadores de Mentiras or tellers of Lies from Brazil, who did a work inspired by Medea. This was “olfactory theatre”, as they managed to cook dinner for ten fortunate members of the audience. There was great singing drumming and dancing… but not much Medea.
There were several works which were more about dance than theatre and as the performers were actors and the directors theatrical, the results were not terribly successful.
I did see Odin Theatre from Denmark who did a Gratowski inspired work called Cities Beneath the Sky which had wonderful music, a staging of Katerina’s death from Mother Courage some Three Penny Opera, but no dramaturg. It was the kind of modular work we all did in university. Candelaria, the famous company from Colombia presented Quixote, which had all the elements I love: giant puppets, music, mixed with short dynamic scenes and imaginative staging. The set was, however, so far from the audience in the new theatre that one could barely make out what the actors were doing. There were One man shows from France and comedy from Spain, but these were sort of filler presentations in the gigantic new theatre and did not really work.
The one play which left an enduring impression and was worth the whole festival was La Mestiza. Franklin Martinez weaves together the history of Pizzaro’s discovery of the Amazon with contemporary issues of the indigenous people of that region. With his co-actor and eight instruments and a screen, and using Quechua and the authentic Amazonian music Martinez presents a play which is spellbinding and lingers in the mind. All the videos were shot by the two actors while they lived with the indigenous peoples of the Amazonia. La Mestiza was beautifully written and performed in what was a courtyard with giant black curtains hung for acoustics. The play inhabited the space and the audience even sang along in Quechua at one point. I go to the theatre to be astonished and for just over an hour, watching this magical work I was.