15 May, 2012 | Helena Cavell
And the future of Bolivian theatre
As seen at the La Paz Fitaz festival, Bolivia enjoys a wealth of talented directors, writers, actors and actresses. Their abilities have been on display in various locations around the city and have largely captivated their audiences; for years, this festival has helped to inspire future generations of talent – be it acting, writing or directing, costume or stage design. However, as Eduardo Calla describes, today a noticeable lack of young raw talent paints a questionable future for Bolivia's theatrical sphere.
Eduardo Calla is one of Bolivia's most talented directors and writers. Aged 31, he is already well known as the cofounder of the production company Escena 163, formed in 2004. Productions such as Buenas Influencias: Bonitos Cadáveres, Di Cosas Cosas Bien... (Oh my country is très jolie!), and most recently, Mátame Por Favor, have enjoyed applause from audiences and critics alike. Compared with the wannabes of today, Calla had a relatively easy rise to success. Fortunate opportunities as a novice catapulted him into the writer and director that he is today, bypassing the proverbial starving artist phase which characterises many a young creative's fight for recognition. In 2000, he was made aware of a project called Tintas Frescas, an initiative created by the French government, in which Latin American countries were given the task of putting on a French play in France. Through this, he was made known to author and director Hubert Pescolas, who later selected Calla to undertake a period of residency in Marseilles, during which he wrote his first play, Extaciones. Calla credits this time as his 'formation period': through the access he was given to many different styles of theatre, he was able to develop his own writing style. From here he returned to Bolivia and continued in the same vein, soon reaching the level of renown that he enjoys now.
But his good fortune is rare, and Callas is concerned at the dwindling numbers of emerging talent in Bolivia. 'It seems to me that right now there is a generational gap in theatre, where the youngest people working are around thirty years old.' Thirty may not seem old, but theatre is an industry that thrives on raw talent and needs aspiring youngsters to provide fresh perspectives. Calla's theory on why there are few hopefuls makes sense; 'there aren't any young people that are creating productions, because the reality is that people need a job that allows them to make money. It's also because today's generation are much more pragmatic and less idealistic, and theatre is an idealistic vocation. For young people, it's practically impossible to start to work purely in theatre because they either have to start with a very conventional commercial production or they need to respond to the requirements of an institution that pay them for their work.'
This would suggest that for young people in Bolivia the difficulty of 'making it' lies not in competition, as is the case in many other countries, but in finding the confidence to dedicate themselves entirely to their craft. When scholarships and governmental assistance are not provided, very few people believe in their skill enough to leave regularly paid jobs behind and to rely solely on income from theatre. Even Calla, one of Bolivia's success stories, is unable to do this, having two further separate sources of income on which he can depend if needs be. Nevertheless, the opportunities he had in his youth kickstarted his career, giving him the confidence to progress to where he finds himself today. The question that provokes concern is why programmes like Tintas Frescas are no longer as readily provided for the next generation of talent. There is little chance for the industry to develop when very few resources are dedicated to the guiding and formation of fresh faces.
Ironically, however, Calla argues that this is where the unique distinction in Bolivian theatre lies. Lack of funding, either governmental or private, means that writers and directors have more freedom to experiment: 'Very few institutions support us…I think this gives our Bolivian theatre the opportunity to take real risks, because when you don't answer to anybody except your own work, you have more chance to gamble artistically.' This seems to be the one advantage that comes from a lack of support for Bolivian theatre. Young people who manage to produce work are free to let their imaginations roam without restriction from sponsors. Their work is true innovation. As Calla says, Bolivia has no defining theatrical style, and this is largely due to the freedom that characterises it.
It seems that a balance is required: one that allows the creation of original theatre in Bolivia, yet also provides assistance to young amateurs that cannot afford to pursue their theatrical dreams. Calla's experience proves that the equilibrium can be found. Hopefully more stories like his will ensure the future success of Bolivian theatre.