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  • New Opportunities, New Challenges: Graduate Studies in the Context of a New Institutional Paradigm for the Arts and Sciences in Chile
  • Milena Grass Kleiner (bio), Andrés Kalawski (bio), Cristián Opazo (bio), and Alexei Vergara (bio)

Theatre Factories for a New Country

At the end of 2012, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (UC) established the first Chilean PhD program in Theatre Studies. In March of 2013, this program welcomed its first intake of PhD students in the context of a broader interdisciplinary initiative that also brings together music and visual arts. The fact that Chilean theatre-makers and artists have been trained for more than seventy-five years in specialized academic departments embedded in the university system led to this new graduate program offering both practice-led and theoretical models for students’ research projects.1 Our essay explores the leading role that this graduate program and its institutional background plays in nurturing a new context for artistic practice and research in the local cultural landscape. And, as Marvin Carlson might put it, today this landscape is haunted by hopes and fears, anxieties and misunderstandings (96) induced both by history and by the establishment of two new ministries as part of the Chilean government: the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage (2017), and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge, and Innovation (2018). When the country’s elite increasingly promotes the creative industries discourse replacing the arts and humanities as autonomous disciplines with an end in themselves, what role could a PhD program in theatre studies play? What clashes could there be between the public policies generated by these ministries and the Chilean tradition developed by university theatre companies embedded in university departments? Or, following Shannon Jackson’s argument in Professing Performance, how can we honor our history? (40). With the following piece we wish to articulate these questions further.

A Nation Is Born (and Theatre Has a Role to Play)

To understand the role universities have played as artistic agents in Chilean history, let us look back before we move forward. In 1818, the Chilean founding father, Bernardo O’Higgins, commissioned the first theatre production ever performed in the recently established Chilean republic. According to national mythology, the opening night of this play celebrated two events: the proclamation of Chilean independence from the Spanish Crown and—above all—O’Higgins’ birthday. At around the same time, Fray Camilo Henríquez, editor of the first Chilean newspaper—La Aurora de Chile [Chile’s Dawn], established in 1812—published Camila o la patriota de Sud-América [Camilla or the South-American Patriot (1818)], a play which expressed Henríquez’s liberal ideas and his own understanding of the theatre as a political tool. Whether or not we believe in these mythologies, both anecdotes illuminate the location of theatre in modern Chile: at that time, politicians and public [End Page E-1] intellectuals perceived the notion of culture as an essential element for the growth of the republic. In the eighteenth century, Spanish authorities in Chile transformed the theatre into “the most defended public entertainment, encouraged by the rulers and Enlightenment philosophers” (Grass, Hausdorf, and Nicholls n.p.). Then, “theatre seemed an efficient means for civilizing and educating citizens” (Viqueira 53, qtd. in Grass, Hausdorf, and Nicholls n.p.; our translation).

The collaboration between the nation-state and the theatre scene remained active during the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1910, to celebrate the centenary of national independence, president Pedro Montt ordered the publication of an edited volume of Chilean plays (Anthology of Chilean Theatre: 1810–1910). Additionally, Adolfo Urzúa—a dentist, playwright and pioneer of the local entertainment industry—invented an innovative educational strategy: a model for the study of rhetoric which was to become very influential in Chile. Inspired in dramatic training skills, Urzúa imagined his model as a vehicle to the propagation of civic values in the public sphere, such as, for instance, in state schools (Kalawski n.p.).

The Origins: A Conservatoire within a University?

In the 1930s, several Chilean universities—de Chile, Católica, and Concepción, among others—saw the birth of many amateur theatre companies, mostly influenced by European troupes...


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