- Buenos Aires’s Independent Theatre Scene
Standing in the backyard of theatre artist Federico León’s urban home on a crisp spring evening last September, I thought about my enduring engagement with Buenos Aires’s theatre. After being buzzed in through the front gate and standing under a full moon with jasmine blooming on the yard’s concrete walls and León’s cats leaping from tree to tree above our heads, we waited to enter the artist’s new performance space, inaugurated just in time for the opening of the city’s tenth international festival. The gathering audience’s mood was charged: not only was this the first full night of the festival, but it was the first time in years that León was performing his own work, and we were all eager to see the new space, constructed against the back wall of his garden and with an exterior resembling more a wooden guest-cabin than a theatre. Once inside, we found ourselves in a simple dark performance space with chairs for forty spectators, in the latest addition to the hundreds of pocket theatres scattered throughout this city of avid theatre-makers and theatregoers. [End Page 249]
Corrientes Street, Buenos Aires’s Broadway analogue, maintains a successful commercial theatre offering Spanish-language productions of the latest Broadway musicals, internationally circulating plays, and recent work by established local artists; and Buenos Aires’s larger state-supported municipal and national theatres continue to program contemporary work and reenvisioned classics of both the national and international canon. However, it is the city’s small independent theatres, often referred to as its third theatrical circuit, or “off-Corrientes,” that have come to define the Buenos Aires scene both at home and abroad. The city’s independent theatre movement began in the 1930s as socially committed, resolutely self-funded and self-managed groups that presented contemporary, and often the latest avant-garde, works from Europe and the United States as well as Argentina. Over the years the lines demarcating the three circuits have blurred, with so-called independent theatre directors staging commercial shows and the independent theatres now eligible to receive very modest municipal funding. 1Today’s artists move fluidly across the three circuits; productions may relocate from a municipal theatre to an independent theatre to extend a run, and the independent artists return time and again to their smaller spaces. I know of no other city with so much theatre taking place in converted warehouses and storefronts, community centers, recuperated factories, subway cars, living rooms, backyard cabins, and … theatres. Audiences respond in kind: it is commonplace to see theatregoers lined around the block regardless whether the curtain is 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday, 9:00 p.m.on a Thursday, or 1:00 a.m.on a Friday.
Those readers familiar with Argentine artists through performances on international festival circuits will have seen Buenos Aires’s independent theatre productions, and the city’s independent theatre supplies most of the local programming for the Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires International Festival, or FIBA), the city’s biennial festival of theatre, music, and dance. Inaugurated in 1997 as part of Buenos Aires’s campaign for global-city status, the festival has ever since been closely tied to the city’s political and economic changes. During the early-twenty-first-century socioeconomic crisis, FIBA came close to cancellation; and over its twenty-year history, artistic direction has varied dramatically with changes in municipal leadership, as programming has often reflected the shifting local fortunes of international cultural agencies. FIBA may be a festival...