During the long and still unfinished post-dictatorship in Chile, in which four governments from a social democratic coalition provide consistency and continuity to the knotting between modernization, neoliberalism and progress forged by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean theater undergoes major transformations. In the period from 1990 to 2010, a professional kind of theater is strengthened, retreated into a rather self-referential practice, mainly funded by the state competitive funding system which limits its scope to academic spaces and independent theaters with a restricted public, tending to form a system that closes up upon itself This tendency has contributed to relegate to the margins, to invisibility or silence, other theatrical experiences that seek to open out different paths from the theater towards other areas of the social or political. Still, the last few years, and perhaps underpinned by the strong rejection to the recent victory of a rightist government in the country, these previously dispersed experiences, have leaned to congregate and strengthen. They are theater companies that come from different cities of the country – Teatro Pъblico (Public Theater) and Teatro Versiуn Oficial (Official Version Theater) in Santiago, Teatro La Peste (The Plague Theater) in Valparaiso, Teatropello in Talca, to name a few- which, coming in and out of the professional theater circuit, have joined different social and political groups simultaneously, and have been involved in specific social conflicts and struggles They are still incipient but decisive gestures that re-build bridges between theater and politics. In this context, this text seeks to problematize the relationships between pedagogy and political emancipation put in practice by the Public Theater collective . It is still a very recent experience, so we cannot yet discern its effects and continuities; however, we think this text as a contribution to the discussion and support of these initiatives.
Public Theater already introduces a shift of the most widespread trends in Chilean Theatre with the premiere of its first play in 2007, Desdicha Obrera. Una tijera clavada en el corazуn (Workmen Despair. Scissors stuck in the heart) (2007), an adaptation of a didactic piece written by Luis Emilio Recabarren, the founder of the Chilean Communist Party, in 1921. This initial gesture, which sets forth the genealogy of activist theater opened in Chile by Recabarren and anarchist theater in the early twentieth century, insists on the term proletariat, as a way to give voice to a word that has remained silent, empty, to move it and confer a new meaning along with the rising of new social subjects who introduce new conflicts in the political arena –such as the school students in the ‘penguin movement’ protests and manifestations in 2006 and 2007; the subcontract workers; or the housing debtors- and claiming a theater that can explicitly take an ideological position, which does not hesitate in defining itself as leftist. Early on, the Public Theatre activity is not confined only to the creative field, but was open to collaborative action with other companies and groups. Thus arises in early 2009, Todos Trabajando (Everybody Working), a platform for thought and collective stance that seeks to intervene both in political and artistic spaces . Along with this platform, Public Theater organizes the 1st and 2nd Meeting of Artists towards a Constituent Assembly, held in March and September/October 2010, respectively
Why a meeting towards a Constituent Assembly? It should be recalled that in Chile the 1980 Constitution remains in force, imposed by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet which lays the foundation for the neoliberal model, erecting the market as the privileged regulator of social relations It’s not until 2005, during the government of Ricardo Lagos and without the participation of the citizenry, amendments are made to the charter that are obviously insufficient as they leave intact its fundamental bases. It is notorious how the repeal of the 1980 Constitution, seen as an undemocratic and neoliberal enclave, appears as an overarching objective to different subjects and social struggles, as a unifying core of antagonisms, in an era ruled by consensus and political conformism. Hence, in recent years, the growing popular unrest has begun to organize around the proposal to form a Constituent Assembly .
In this frame of reference, the First Meeting of Artists towards a Constituent Assembly is held at the cultural center Casa Matriz (Home Office) as a self-managed activity, convening entities until that time dispersed, autonomous artistic and political groups along with people related to unofficial media , who came to “discuss and settle the need to organize and act”. Conceived as a political self-education space for different theatrical and political groups, the Meeting was understood as a place to discuss the history and origins of the 1980 charter and the scope that it currently presents on the political and cultural life, to argue “some of the guidelines that should make all organized sectors of society to initiate, through a Constituent Assembly, a profound process of social change” . The discussion and sharing device didn’t match the usual structure of both political assembly and theatrical shows, seeking to prompt a dialogue between roundtables and theatrical interventions. While in the roundtables the main discussion was about the cultural policies of the Concertaciуn  governments and the political and legal foundations of the 1980 Constitution, among the theatrical performances were plays that had been exhibited in the commercial-professional circuit, such as ‘C (Civil)’ inspired on surveys about public discontent, that discussed the civil disobedience to counteract the political-economic system of the country, along with performances which had intervened specific situations, such as ‘Sin Editar’(No Editing), which had been part of the event ‘Emergency Dramaturgies’ as an immediate response made to the school students- Manifestations in 2007 .
In the balance of the Meeting, some of the conclusions were: “Artistic expressions can become a means of propaganda, without departing from the formal or aesthetic needs of each artist or group of creators” and that “Artists and art workers and culture are also citizens and we must exercise our responsibility as such, actively reaching out to the country's political life, participating in marches, actions and public events’ . This program lines resonate in the creative process of Celebraciуn (Celebration), the play in which Public Theater works simultaneously as they develop the Meetings. In this way, although Celebration emerges as a performance to be displayed theater rooms, its creative process involved finding a pedagogic communication device that reinforced its crossing from professional theater to non-theatrical spaces.
Celebration is a show that, at the occasion of the Bicentennial festivity, questions the historical narrative that converges into the commemoration of 200 years of the independence of Chile. Based on the close linkage between historical memory and educational institution, Public Theatre questions the linear narratives of history that we have received and read from our early school years, transmitting a compact idea of Chile, a non-confrontational idea of homeland. According to the thesis on the philosophy of history by Walter Benjamin, Celebration offers a fragmentary reading of history, highlighting the different temporalities that conflict with the righteousness of linear history, trying to give visibility to actors that have been cut out from the official account, to the antagonisms and social upheavals so far ruled out, for thus postulating the idea that there isn’t a single story or a single homeland.
As Celebration interrogates the ways in which official history is transmitted throughout education, the play undoubtedly establishes a reflection about educational devices to the point that some critics pointed out that the play “stages a theatrality of education”. Indeed, the teaching statement is present in the play (and preponderantly), but in such way that it does not only operate carrying clear meanings to conscience, which would rather belong to the order of the macropolitical discourse (the rhetoric of argument exposure, the denunciation and the questions that circulate in the play), but it also occurs in the order of sensitivity and perception (as it happens, as will be seen below, with the relationship between the bodies of the actors and the use of blackboards in the play), in a micropolitical level, the experience of a specific status of reality in one’s own body .
It is conceivable to think that when the theatrical discourse is directed exclusively towards a pedagogical conception of art, it becomes problematic, as it would tend to repeat a model of communicative effectiveness related to an ideal of transparency which can only reveal a mark of power. In that model of communication, spectators may be located in the place of “passive consumers of meanings that are self-evident”, or as “specular receivers of the purposes of the speaker”.
The use of blackboards certainly stands out from the fiction of direct transmission of slogans or issues. At first glance, the blackboards take the role of the Brechtian sign, of the device that pretends to transmit ideally sharp direct contents. But the board appears not only as a writing or drawing surface suitable for a unilateral kind of receiving, collective and immediate, which is also commonly used in the traditional pedagogical transmission. The boards also articulate spaces, assemble objects, activate situations. The ‘board sign’ acquires mobility, so that the boards operate at the same time containing and denying the truth claim of pedagogy. The same ‘transmitter’ device of the pedagogical communication, the surface through which the official historical narrative is passed on to us as truth, is denaturalized. The board is ripped out of the architectural immobility of the classroom, and thus the layout and convention of the classroom learning system, to fragment it, manipulate it, and use it to create new shapes on stage.
It is precisely in the stage fragment about the student movement, those social actors who refer more directly to education, where the boards are no longer used as a writing surface (its main function in the educational area), moving to shape scenic situations. Thus, when referring to the high school student movement in the years of dictatorship, the slates as scenery and graphic support, indicate both as structure and as drawing, the barricades and police forces water cannons. In turn, the slogan ‘NO +’ on one of the boards at the back of the stage, appears as a statement quotation made in 1983 by the Colectivo de Acciones de Arte (C.A.D.A.) (Art Actions Collective) . The slogan ‘NO +’ arises from the need to renew the slogans of the left, as a participatory device that operates as a sign that articulates desires rather than as a discursive and ideological conjugation of a political slogan. That street ‘NO’, rebellious, activating, is subsequently transferred to the context of the 1988 plebiscite that puts an end, at least in factual terms, to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, as a sign of disappointment and turn back to the social movement by those who knotted the covenants of democratic transition.
Thus, besides articulating situations, the board as pedagogic device is detached and denaturalized: by highlighting its ability to produce, convene and displace signs, to construct reality, its status as neutral device for communication and education, is stressed.
On the other hand, the board surface, also tells us something about memory, as it is a writing support that allows thinking about the faculties of reception, storage and selection that make up the memory. The board, whose flat or virginal surface can be always reconstituted by erasing the drawing lines, doesn’t keep hold of the traces: it’s a memory device that receives stimuli but does not retain them permanently. Thus, the repetition of the act of writing, wiping and rewriting on slates throughout the play, appears as a repetition of the traumatic gesture: the erasure. The erasure of the crime evidence, the fading of the evidence that “progress as a historical rule constitutes the euphemization of violence as a historical rule” .
This device becomes particularly significant in the passage that begins with the quotation of Carlos Droguet, ‘I'll utter one blood, how much blood shed’ (C), as a title. As we hear the tic-tac of a clock, which will mark exactly one minute, each one of the five actors leaning against one of the boards located in the center of the stage, begins to write, erase and rewrite pressured by the clock, crimes of political state violence, so that we see passing before our eyes in one minute, an event that passed in a whole century. In a counterpoint between the individual and the collective, we see names of martyrs, killings, kidnappings and political assassinations pass: Ramona Parra 1946, Slaughter Forrahue 1912, Workers' Compensation1938, Ranquil 1934, Rodrigo Rojas de Negri 1986, Matнas Catrileo 2008, San Gregorio 1921, Valparaiso 1957, Iquique 1907, Beheadeds Case 1985, and Claudia Lуpez 1998 The sequence produces a time-intensive experience in the impossible task of withholding the sequence of names that are written, erased and rewritten. The materiality of the letter written on the board excels then, which trace vanishes in the chalk dust. The names that we see appear/disappear become this way as uncatchable as the historical catastrophe which they refer to, and that is repeated throughout the century. “A minute does not contain as much blood” (C), with that sentence the scene closes, pointing out how it is impossible to retain in one image, in one representation, those milestones of violence that tear the chronology, cracking the continuum of the historical narrative That physical experience of a time-intensive, saturated of conflictivities and uncatchable events, actualizes in one’s body the sensitive mark of impotence before the erasure, of the truncated, of the violence of a society that has repressed (in the sense of embody through denial) part of its history. In this way, Celebration brings into play a micropolitics of the form that disengages the conventional mechanism of unidirectional pedagogical communication, faces the spectator to an intensive memory fragility.
The historical view from the discontinuity and disruption, finds resonance in the own structure of the play, which selects from the staging’s own resources, understood ‘not as a style composition that folds on itself, but as building shapes and discursive practice, as a tool for thinking critically, in the same line as certain avant-garde artists have exercised’ . With minimal scenery props – boards, a couple of chairs, carton posters- and using citations to historical documents, political speeches, radio audio files, press releases, public figures statements citations, Celebration constructs effective pieces of counter-information, as historical micro-thesis. These micro-thesis are structured on contradictions between the official/unofficial versions on different events, on tensions within the popular movement itself, or on complicities between economic discourse and political discourse articulated by the dominant bloc, setting 15 scenic fragments. Each one of them, works autonomously as small ‘educational pieces to assemble’, so that the play may, according to their contexts of exhibition, break apart or fragment, and rearrange its structure. Thus, Public Theater finds an effective communicational/didactic theatrical model for educational policy which reads: “to create political awareness, bringing memory from a critical perspective, questioning our historical becoming” .
It should be noted that during the seasons in theaters, the play was exhibited conventionally. Interestingly, its success in the commercial and professional circuit, being selected for one of the most legitimating instances of Chilean theater environment: the national sample at the 2011 Santiago a Mil International Festival. Notable is that the group accepts to participate by negotiating the establishment of “popular prices” (reasonable prices) to access the play, cracking the stratified system of tickets and passes provided by the organization of the festival, which orders and segments their audiences.
But Celebration also has circulated strictly non-theatrical spaces: public and private schools, municipal cultural centers, neighborhood councils, political rallies. It is in these scenarios that the structure of the play can be modified and adapted to precise situations. This happens, for instance, in the 1st Meeting of Libertarian Theater  held at the USACH and organized to raise funds in support of the young men and women charged by the so-called ‘Bombs Case’, processed according to the antiterrorism law, passed just under the purview of the 1980 Constitution. In this space some of the fragments of the play are exhibited, precisely those that most directly problematize the charter, such as the picture were we see three actors playing “La Gran Capital”(Monopoly), a board game that can be seen as a playful reiteration of the behaviors and values of the capitalist world, and that in the scene is used for problematizing the “change in the game rules” as a possibility of changing the laws governing the social order, an indirect reference to the relationship between the 1980 Constitution and the penetration of neoliberalism in Chilean society.
In these non-theatrical contexts, the play loses the contours of a finished product. It thus becomes an interventional device, either in collaboration with other artistic groups or as a means of political communication. Exhibited in heterodox spaces and under whatever format, the play encourages situations within popular education: dialogic situations, micro-assemblies. The dialogues allow bearing witness that spectators can gain knowledge that members of Public Theater ignored, and this reverses the power marks of the pedagogical relationship and enriches the political discussion. These dialogues become part of that experience that arises between actors and audiences, as it ‘collectivizes what each one collects from the play, and within socializing the opinion is subject once again to a process of modification’ .
The process that Public Theatre has experienced with Celebration is an incipient process, where interventions in non-theatrical spaces seem to still be marked by a certain one-sidedness, whether because the political practice is still being conceived predominantly in terms of political awareness or because the dialogues held after the show still assume Public Theater’s role as “master of ceremony”. However, the discovery of a didactic communication device, which can be assembled or disassembled, and that can be transformed according to different situations, and with a disruptive and meticulous work on micropolitical sensitive forms, put already into practice a political theatrical imagination. Suggesting is that in one of Celebration’s exhibitions at a municipal cultural center at El Bosque, a leader of the women's organization in the district, who during the years of dictatorship had been part of the working class villages social movements, speaks, and referring to the weakening of popular movements in the last years, said: “We do not yet have believed the story, we are not part of the play yet” . These words give a glimpse on how the play not only operates at the level of awareness of the official history omissions and its monolithic construction of ‘Fatherland’, but it also enables de-identification effects that affect the spectator, altering their status as such, to be placed on an equal footing with those political actors evoked by the play. Maybe there lies the possibility for this play to enable political subjectivation devices.
Translated by Alejandra Mallol
Fernanda Carvajal (Santiago de Chile, 1982). Sociologist, Master on Communication and Culture from the University of Buenos Aires, is co-author of the book "Nomadism and assemblies. Theater companies in Chile 1990-2008" and member of the Red de Conceptualismos del sur (South Conceptualisms Network).
1. Public Theater is a theater company that started its activities in 2006. It’s formed by the director Patricia Artes, the playwright Cristian Aravena and actors Javiera Zeme, Martнn Muсoz, Cristian Lagreze, Cecilia Acuсa, Marcela Gueny, David Gonzalez and Alejandro Miranda. Among its plays are Workmen Despair (2007) and Mericrismas Peсi (2008).
2. For more information see: http://todostrabajando2009.blogspot.com/
3. On July 21st, 2007 the movement ‘Citizens for a Constituent Assembly’ was publicly presented in Santiago of Chile, led by human rights lawyer Roberto Garretуn and sociologist Gustavo Ruz.
4. Among which we mention the Valparaiso Cultural Park ExCarcel, the Movement for a Constituent Assembly, Proletarian Action Party members, and members of the editorial board of Le Monde Diplomatic, among others.
5. ‘Reflections from the First Meeting of Artists for a Constituent Assembly’, Working Paper, unpublished, 2010.
6. We refer to the Concertaciуn de Partidos Por la Democracia (Coalition of Parties for Democracy), formed by the Christian Democrats, the Radical Party, the Party for Democracy and the Socialist Party.
7. The student demonstrations in 2006 and 2007 led to an intensive cycle of struggles, not exempt of complexities, which among other things, led to the repeal of the Constitutional Law of Education (LOCE). However, education reform that resulted there, did not correspond to the radical demands of the students.
8. ‘Reflections from the First Meeting of Artists for a Constituent Assembly’,
9. Vindel, Jaime. ‘About [the memory] of political art’, in: Ramona 98, Buenos Aires, 2010, pp. 39-47, p.45.
10. Interdisciplinary collective emerged in 1979, made up by visual artists Lotty Rosenfeld and Juan Castillo, writer Diamela Eltit, poet Raъl Zurita, and Fernando Balcells who made a series of public artistic interventions in the dictatorship context, between 1979 and 1985.
11. Thayer, Willy. ‘Criticism, nihilism and disruption. The advanced after Margins and Institutions’. In: Art and Politics. Santiago of Chile: Universidad Arcis: Universidad de Chile, Faculty of Arts,2005, pp.47-63, p.57.
12. Expуsito, Marcelo. ‘Getting in and out of the institution: self-empowerment and assembly in contemporary art’,2006. Electronic resource. Available In: http://marceloexposito.net/pdf/ exposito_autovalorizacion_es.pdf
13. Personal communication with Patricia Artйs, May 13, 2011.
14. Event dedicated to raising funds for the defense of those accused of the so-called ‘Bombs case’ where they were arrested 14 youths, members of squatter houses related to anarchism, accused of installing explosives exploded in various public buildings in Santiago of Chile between 2005 and 2010, and being members of a terrorist organization.
15. Personal communication with Patricia Artйs, May 13th, 2011.
16. Audio record of the conversation after the play held in El Bosque district on April 15th, 2011.