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ARGENTINA: Boom in Gay-Friendly Theatre

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 8 2011 (IPS) - The nearly 200 theatres in the Argentine capital have been staging an increasing number of plays exploring gender identity or specifically gay issues in recent years, in mainstream, fringe and state-run productions.

Dozens of plays dramatising stories about gay people were produced last year, including “Juicio a lo natural” by Nicolás Pérez Costa, “Feizbuk” (Facebook) by José María Muscari, “Puto” (Faggot) by Alejandro Mateo and “Marejada” by Diego Beares — all by Argentine playwrights — and “Gotas que caen sobre piedras calientes” (Water Drops on Burning Stones) by German playwright Rainer Fassbinder.

Now playing in the southern hemisphere summer are “Loco Afán” (Mad Desire) by Chilean author Pedro Lemebel, presented in Buenos Aires and directed by a young Uruguayan playwright and actor, Gerardo Begérez, who took the Argentine capital’s theatre scene by storm in 2010 with his adaptations of Lemebel’s “Tengo miedo, torero” (Bullfighter, I’m Afraid), “Desamor. Mundos paralelos” (Indifference: Parallel Worlds) by Ulises Puiggrós, and “Reglas, usos y costumbres en la sociedad moderna” (Rules, Manners and Customs in Modern Society) by French author Jean-Luc Lagarce, all of which deal with homosexual relationships.

In a related sign of increased openness to people with different sexual orientations, Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalise gay marriage in July 2010, granting same-sex couples the same legal rights, responsibilities and protections as heterosexual married couples.

Begérez told IPS that his theatre productions, partly featuring the gay world, “developed naturally out of personal interest.” He also found Buenos Aires to be “a city that provides a lot of freedom.”

“It’s much more difficult in Uruguay, Chile or Brazil,” said the Uruguayan director, who has lived in Argentina since 2008 and has worked in several other countries.


“In Montevideo, where I was born, society is much more straitlaced and puritanical, and this is expressed in homophobic jokes, nervous laughter, mockery and social condemnation of homosexuals,” he said.

The growth of gay-friendly theatre is part of the intense theatrical activity in Buenos Aires, which has 22 commercial theatres or complexes, according to the Argentine Association of Theatre Owners (AADET), and 14 official theatres dependent on the city or national government.

In addition, close to 140 independent theatres for alternative or fringe performances are registered with the municipal Instituto Proteatro, particularly in the neighbourhoods of Abasto, Palermo, San Telmo, Norte and Centro, and another 20 venues exist that are not on the register, sources said.

Muscari, one of Argentina’s best-known and most successful playwrights, told IPS that in his works he does not “specifically write for the gay public, but deals with issues that arise naturally for all kinds of spectators.”

At age 34, Muscari has directed some 30 plays, most of which he wrote himself. In 2010 he presented “Feizbuk”, “En la cama” (In Bed), “El anatomista” (The Anatomist) and “Escoria” (Scum).

“I find it very hard to categorise my plays according to sexuality or subject,” he said.

Juan Tauil, a reporter for Soy (I Am), a gay lifestyle supplement distributed with local newspaper Página 12 and the author of lacronicamechupaunhuevo.blogspot.com, told IPS that very few specifically homoerotic plays are being performed, but the rest are all tinged with gender identity issues, and show new kinds of families and different forms of love.

Muscari said his play “Shangay”, which has been playing for three years and will close in a few months’ time, “drew all kinds of audiences, contrary to what might be supposed.”

In Muscari’s view, the gay marriage law disseminated the topic widely in society, which promoted a natural approach to gay issues.

Begérez, for his part, said “there is a tendency to talk about these subjects because society needs to do so, in order to express the marvellous things that are happening in this country, through art — not in an aggressively militant way, as criticism, but in a way that just sheds more light.”

The present context calls for greater complexity in dramatic works, as in “Loco afán” where he was able to “effectively explore the aesthetics of transgression that happens naturally.”

“There is a much stronger taboo surrounding HIV/AIDS, so I took it to the extremes of sarcasm and black humour, which at any rate are present in the text by Lemebel,” said Begérez, who expressed great admiration for this author.

Begérez pointed out the value of “political incentives for this kind of dramatic expression,” and said a wave of tourism “is making Buenos Aires ‘the’ gay mecca of Latin America.”

Tauil said the direction Argentine theatre has taken shows that “identity is in flux, and this is hitting every sector of society.

“There is a new vision of what it is to be homosexual, female and male, and what it means to be Argentine and Latin American. The fact that we have a woman president (Cristina Fernández) has shaken up a lot of stereotypes,” he said.

This agenda has been historically present in Argentine theatre, although decades ago it was expressed differently. Homosexuality was portrayed with more complexity only in the alternative circuit, and sometimes in the official theatres.

Muscari described the impact he experienced at age 15, when he saw “Los invertidos”, directed by Alberto Ure at the state San Martín Theatre, which he said took risks that nowadays do not arise.

While word of mouth or passing out fliers in Avenida Corrientes, in central Buenos Aires, are still key forms of publicity for fringe theatre productions, the novelty in recent years has been how gender identity has come to mainstream theatre in this city and also in the southeastern city of Mar del Plata, the leading Argentine summer holiday resort.

Muscari remarked that more actors “are stepping outside their own conceptual boxes.” For example, he said he had invited actor Gonzalo Heredia, a television soap opera star and a media symbol of straight masculinity, to play the lead role in “Shangay”, a play he describes as “homoerotic.”

Heredia expressed interest, although he ultimately declined the part because of conflicting commitments, he said.

 
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