By Rodrigo Paris and Roma Triunfo
Nodo Centro Cultural Digital (www.nodocultural.art)
Theater after dust: the light after the digital BigBang
According to a study carried out by SINCA, a total of 1,591 venues are registered in Argentina for the exhibition of performing arts. The majority (70%) are theaters; 23%, cultural centers, and the rest correspond to educational centers, artistic bars, and circuses that include performing arts shows in their programming (7%).
These statistics imply another value when it is taken into consideration that, as a consequence of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, Argentina suspended all its cultural activities between March and November 2020 (TELAM, 2020).
This situation, which was paralyzing at first, quickly morphed into a series of creative responses by the Argentine theater community. Despite being one of the sectors hardest hit by the Pandemic crisis, the theater sector, used to operating in an extremely unstable context in economic terms, did not stop asking questions.
In order to think about the particularities of the event, a panorama of the plays and shows carried out by the Argentine artistic community in the context of the Pandemic will be outlined below. These plays will be separated in groups according to characteristics that are related to them.
The first case that we will mention is the performance shows that were translated into audiovisual language.
“Historias de Vendimia”, with a marked folkloric imprint, is a show that has been held in Mendoza since 1936 with a central performance held at the Greek Theatre Frank Romero Day, annually hosting more than 1,000 artists on stage and 22,000 spectators to celebrate the wine harvest. In March 2021, with the challenge of translating the work of the theater scene into a 100% audiovisual language, 15 historical-artistic directors of the show were summoned with the aim of shooting six chapters that would be part of a feature film. The work that annually brought the entire team together on the same stage found in the audiovisual format the possibility of creating safe sanitary capsules in more than 36 locations. Trials were carried out with small casts and in open-air spaces, with sanitary measures such as the use of sanitary masks, social distancing, and taking the temperature at the entrance time. In the event that a positive case of COVID-19 was detected, the corresponding capsule would be isolated and substitute artists would jump into the scene, to avoid stopping the project. In addition, more than 100 cultural points were arranged throughout the province for the screening of the feature film and simultaneous screening at events in more than 55 countries. In this way, the Pandemic propelled the transformation of a phenomenon with strong traditional and folk roots towards a specifically audiovisual format that would present new challenges and opportunities (Vendimia-Mendoza, 2021)
In the same direction, there were other types of shows, those that were filmed in the original space, to be broadcast virtually. Based on the measures ordered by the ASPO, the Teatro Nacional Cervantes (TNC), dependent on the Ministry of Culture of the Nation created the “Cervantes Online” program using the Hashtag #QuedateEnCasa proposed to accompany the first days of isolation. The record not only of previously released theater shows was posted on the YouTube profile; but also talks and lectures by different artists. Likewise, in May 2020 the TNC opened the call “Nuestro Teatro” for the selection of 21 short plays by national authors not released. Once the works were selected, the artistic teams were formed for each one, without any certainty about the real possibilities of realization. The shows were rehearsed and recorded in the theater itself, through strict sanitary protocols, without the presence of the public to be included in the virtual platform.
A similar example is the one carried out by the City of Buenos Aires with the program “Teatro en casa” that arranged the broadcasting of shows premiered before the coronavirus pandemic.
Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon is the one that occurred with the works that were created especially for the spaces that this “new normal” proposes. “Amor de Cuarentena” is a work headed by Santiago Loza and Guillermo Cacacce. The viewer bought a ticket and for two weeks received WhatsApp messages, which included texts, images, and songs, which reconstructed an old love story.
In this case, the artists chose to experiment with an element that is outside the theater but in its drifts. It is not strictly a film, nor theater, nor radio novel. But it is fiction, which asynchronously finds its viewer.
The students of the last year of the acting degree of the National University of the Arts (UNA) carried out their 2020 graduation project using the context in their favour:
That’s the case of “Un día El mar, experiencia escénico-audiovisual en vivo”, a show written and directed by Ariel Farace. It consisted of a series of performances with the simultaneous presence of artists and spectators, mediated by the screen. The appointment happened on the YouTube platform and then stayed online for a certain time. The artists, geographically located in different parts of Latin America, built the show. Some of them worked in everyday environments that were surprised by the appearance of the camera and the inclusion, through it, of the viewer’s eye. Others installed green screens, replacing their background with that of a theater room or other projection. This work created in and for the Zoom platform gives relevance to the device at the same time it constructs the story.
The play “Mi parte es todo” by Braian Kobla, is carried out in a central square in the city of La Plata with an area of 7000m². In it, a small group of spectators who are invited to attend with a mask and are offered alcohol, manages to fully respect social distancing.
“Vivir en una casa prendida fuego” by Danae Cisneros and Julieta Koop is, according to their program, a scenic, performative and sound experience touring the Saavedra Park. This show, also created in and for the context of the pandemic, is held outdoors in a park of more than 10,000 m² located in the center of the Saavedra neighborhood, in the City of Buenos Aires.
In both cases, there is a simultaneous and tangible encounter between artists and spectators, the theater changes to an open-air space, but there is no technological intermediation. Yes, there are chinstraps, masks, plastic helmets, and physical distances that intermediate to make the gathering possible.
Finally, the phenomenon of protocolized Theater is identified: After the joint and articulated work of various organizations that represent the cultural sectors of Argentina together with the Ministries of Culture and Health of the Nation, the approval of the General Protocol for Theatrical Activity and Music performances with a live audience was achieved in November 2020. Following international examples, measures were established such as reducing the capacity of the theaters through the cancellation of seats, social distancing in entrance lines, use of a mask, and taking the temperature at the entrance to the theaters. It is the example of “Con Todo el Amor del Mundo” by Juan Francisco Barón premiered at the NAVE UNCuyo in Mendoza in March 2020, in the midst of the arrival of the second wave in Argentina and “Microteatro” in the Rural Society in Buenos Aires.
As can be seen in the previous examples, the impossibility of the physical, material and tangible encounter of the bodies put the theater, as we know it, in crisis. For the Argentine theater theorist Jorge Dubatti, “the inescapable basis of the theatrical event is in the theatrical gathering” (Dubatti 2015). The author calls theatrical gathering the reunion of artists, technicians, and spectators at a daily territorial and temporal crossroads without technological intermediation that allows the territorial subtraction of the bodies in the gathering.
That is, he claims that without the physical and auric presence of bodies in the same space, there would be no theatrical event. This would leave a large part of the above-mentioned works expelled from their theater category. But then, where are they located?
The author opposes a concept to describe the experience of that living culture deterritorialized by the mediation of technology, he will call it techno-gathering.
It should be noted that this notion was born long before the impossibility of meeting in theaters and at a time when it was far from thinking that artists were going to find in the digital universe a possibility to develop a new type of spectacle.
Faced with this deterritorialization effect that technology produces on the human cultural experience raised by Dubatti, it is proposed to reflect on Marc Augé’s notion of no-place. Recently, the French anthropologist has declared that the use of new technologies makes us carry the no-place with us. At first, it seems that in virtuality, as in non-places, anonymity is imposed, the subtraction of individuality. We are facing a discussion of ontological dimensions, necessary to lead the crisis that the Argentine theater is going through in the midst of a pandemic towards a fertile field for the appreciation of new experiences.
Following what was proposed by Santos (1996), the territory is understood as a “socially constructed space” based on the appropriation of certain uses and meanings by various actors. In this sense, the question is whether the creative and sensitive effort of thousands of artists, manifested in formats such as those described above, cannot be understood as an appropriation of virtuality, a re-territorialization, a transformation of that non-place. The transformation of virtuality as an entity that removes subjectivity and allows anonymity, towards a non-physical territory that enables a new type of sensitive gathering, a digital scene.
Questions for further discussion
- Will it be possible to transfer the emotions and effects of the gathering theatrical event to the artistic experience marked by the techno-gathering that, at least in Argentina, takes on exponential dimensions during the coronavirus pandemic?
- Where do we locate all these artistic expressions linked to the theater in all its elements except the gathering?
- What happens if that territory is built in an immaterial space?
- Is there a difference between synchronous and asynchronous techno-gathering shows?
SANTOS, M. (1996). De la Totalidad al Lugar. Barcelona: Oikos-Tau.
DUBATTI, J. (2015). Convivio y tecnovivio: el teatro entre infancia y babelismo. Revista Colombiana de las Artes Escénicas, 9, 44-54.
SINCA (20th April 2021) Medición del Impacto del Covid en las Industrias Culturales, https://www.sinca.gob.ar/VerNoticia.aspx?Id=64
TELAM (1st December 2020), Vuelve el teatro con público en la Ciudad de Buenos Aires https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/202011/535053-teatros-caba-reapertura.html
Vendimia, Mendoza (2nd May 2021) Historias de vendimia, una cronología de la superación, https://vendimia.mendoza.gov.ar/
Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación (Argentina) (1st May 2021), Protocolo General para la Actividad Teatral y Música en Vivo con Público, https://www.cultura.gob.ar/media/uploads/if-2020-77671166-apn-gajynsrt_1.pdf
“Historias de Vendimia Vendimia” Provincia Mendoza, Argentina.
“Cervantes Online” program, Teatro Nacional Cervantes, Argentina.
“Teatro en casa” program, Teatro General San Martin, City of Buenos Aires, Argentina
“Amor de Cuarentena” by Santiago Loza and Guillermo Cacacce, Argentina.
“Un día El mar, experiencia escénico-audiovisual en vivo” by Ariel Farace, Argentina (with performers in several latinamerican countries)
“Mi parte es todo” by Braian Kobla.
“Vivir en una casa prendida fuego” by Danae Cisneros and Julieta Koop.
“Con Todo el Amor del Mundo” by Juan Francisco Barón, Provincia de Mendoza, Argentina.
“Microteatro” program, City of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Rodrigo Paris is an actor and researcher with a degree in Acting from the National University of the Arts. He is currently a recipient of the EVC-CIN Scholarship investigating the play “El Hipervínculo: Test 7” by Matías Feldman. In 2018 he was selected to carry out an ERASMUS exchange at the Instituto del Teatro in Barcelona, Spain. As a teacher, he has served as an Assistant in various subjects in the Department of Dramatic Arts at UNA. In the context of a pandemic, he works as an Assignee of one of the virtual Seminar of Performance and as a workshop leader of the Laboratory “Drifts and readings of the Beat Generation” of the Líbido Project in Buenos Aires. He has worked as an actor, producer, and performer in projects in Mendoza, Buenos Aires, and Barcelona. His career of more than 10 years as a volunteer in Argentine NGOs linked to the promotion of non-formal education and citizen participation stands out, being part of exchange projects in Chile, Paraguay, Romania, and Turkey.
Maria Romina Triunfo is an actress, teacher, and producer. She has a degree in Acting from the National University of the Arts (UNA, Arg.) and a diploma in Cultural Mediation, Community, Arts and Technology (CLACSO). She studied programming (UTN, Arg) and trained in film, 360 ° film, and creative writing.
She works as a teacher at the National University of the Arts and is a researcher at the Theater Research Institute (IIT-UNA) and at NODO Centro Cultural Digital.
She produces the 48 Hour Film Project Festival in Buenos Aires since 2017.
As an actress, she worked in independent theater, having toured Argentina and abroad. With her artistic works, she has participated in several festivals such as 26° FITUB Festival (Blumenau, Brazil), Festinver 2014 (Gaspar, Brazil), FAUNA 2016 (Bs As, Arg.), Filmapalooza (Seattle, USA), 27° FITUB Festival (Blumenau, Brazil), Filmapalooza 2019 (Paris, France), among others.
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TOFFLER, A. (1970) Future Shock. New York: Random House.
● Book chapters:
WALSH, P. (2007) Rise and Fall of the Post-Photographic Museum: Technology and the Transformation of Art. In Cameron, F. and Kenderdine, S. (eds.) Theorizing digital cultural heritage: a critical discourse (pp. 19–34). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
● Journal articles:
DEL BARRIO, M. J.; DEVESA, M. and HERRERO, L. C. (2012) Evaluating intangible cultural heritage: The case of cultural festivals. City, Culture and Society, 3 (4), 235-244.
 ASPO: Preventive and Compulsory Social Isolation by acronym in Spanish.