It’s time for lights up on FITB, the biggest theatre festival in Bogotá. Bradley Cashman gets the lowdown on what’s going on.
El Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá (FITB) is more than one show, one company, or one venue. It is recognised as the biggest theatre festival in Bogotá and one of the largest theatre festivals on the planet. Since its inaugural version, created by callejero and theatre legend Fanny Mikey in 1988 under the slogan “An Act of Faith in Colombia,” FITB has returned to Bogotá every two years, boasting hundreds – if not thousands – of both national and international talent.
This year, from April 1st to the 17th, you are invited to indulge in this diverse program of more than 30 shows across the city and 140 street performances pouring out into the carreras and calles of Bogota. But the survival of an ambitious project like this requires more than your average funding.
Efforts to revive theatre since Covid-19 have been successful, no doubt. Houses like Berlin’s Volksbuehne have managed to play to limited capacity and in the U.S, various Broadway companies re-opened last summer and continue their runs today. Some creatives took to the internet to keep the fire burning, mounting digital productions and play-readings via Zoom or YouTube. There has been no lack of initiative to keep the engine running and there has been impressive innovation. But what does it look like to try and mount something much larger?
The effort to stage the theatre festival in Bogotá again was nothing short of a rescue mission. In the wake of this economically devastating pandemic, a press release from FITB in November 2021 shared that the message in the bottle was found, and the festival has since been subsidised with the support of the Presidency, Ministries of Commerce and Culture, the Mayoral Office of Bogota, and numerous public and private institutions. The team behind FITB has rallied to pay off debts in order to recover this keystone of Colombia’s culture. All of this with the hope of living up to 2022’s slogan: “Bogotá Vuelve a Brillar!” And indeed it shall.
Come one, Come all to the theatre festival in Bogotá
The diversity of the lineup is staggering in the best way possible. From the avant-garde to the traditional, from puppetry to profanity, from the grand accompaniment of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Bogotá to the intimacy of traditional Mexican a cappella, there are enough cultural expressions here to rival Gringo Tuesdays. Whether you’re the insatiable theatre-goer, or just looking for something fun to do on Friday, here’s a look at what’s coming your way.
To start, let’s keep it local. Bogotá’s own Casa E is bringing two in-house productions to this year’s theatre festival in Bogotá. Alejandra Borrero, Casa E’s director, has regarded this edition of FITB as “a festival of hope; the hope to be better, all of us, as a species.” Living by those words, she and Case E present Victus, a play in which ex-guerillas, ex-paramilitary and victims join each other onstage as performers. In Victus, nothing is held back as this ensemble shares their deeply personal perspectives on the armed conflict in Colombia.
The second contribution from the theatre company is a revival of sorts. Superpasito returns after its January run to continue deepening the dialogue around oppression and the power to speak up against it – literally. We recommend bringing headphones with a 3.5mm auxiliary audio cable, since the production will provide you with a wireless device that connects you intimately to the breathy, whispered world of a couple desperate to escape.
Colombia will continue to impress with its robust roster of national companies like El Colegio del Cuerpo, which is returning to FITB after wowing its audiences in 2018 with Negra / Anger. This time, the troupe is staying closer to home in the Shakespeare with Dos Volcanes y un Laberinto, drawing their inspiration from two of Colombia’s greatest writers, Gabriel García Márquez and Álvaro Mutis. Staged by the dancer and choreographer Álvaro Restrepo, this “choreographic and ritual installation” is sure to be interesting and touchingly personal. He will share stories of his friendship with both of the writers, whom he has described as “volcanoes.”
If you’re an avid follower of English-language theatre and literature, you might see a few familiar names floating around the Festival in various adaptations and translations. We’ll have Teatro Nacional’s translation of John Patrick Shanley’s 2005 Pulitzer and Tony Award winning parable Doubt (Duda), followed by Daniel Veronese’s take on David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (Encuentros Breves con Hombres Repulsivos).
Furthermore, get ready to witness the best of the Bard as you’ve never seen him before. From the mind of Argentina’s Matías Umpierrez – and intriguingly billed as a ‘performative museum installation’ – Museo de Ficcion I: Imperio invites us to reimagine Shakespeare’s bewitched and brutal drama Macbeth against the backdrop of post-Francoist Spain in the Faenza theatre. Smacking of immersive theatre, “the viewer must give up his passivity […] by deciding with which narrative thread he wants to approach the story” in this provocative blend of fiction and history.
Other English playwrights are also a subject of exploration in the Chapinero branch of Teatro Libre. Colombian director Jorge Zabaraín’s Tres Obras Cortas y Absurdas, a wild theatrical tryptic from Teatro La Concha, will feature works from absurdist exponents Harold Pinter (Black and White) and Samuel Becket (Fragment Theatre). The third piece, titled La Funeral, actually comes from the collective dramaturgy of long-time Colombian film and T.V. actress Vicky Hernandez and Zabaraín himself, resulting in a marquee-frankenstein that’s sure to bewilder.
If indeed you would actually prefer a Frankenstein over le theatre de l’absurde, fear not. Manual Cinema is hauling its critically acclaimed production of the famed tale right here to Colombia (Teatro Colsubsidio) after years of successful runs in the U.S. But don’t jump to conclusions too quickly, because Victor Frankenstein and his Monster will be joined onstage by their maker, Mary Shelley. In this “self-contained, exquisitely stylized reality” (New York Times), the artist and the art are inseparable as the production “stitches together the classic tale of Frankenstein with the biography of the original novel’s author” through shadow puppetry, sound effects, and cinema.
Theatre for kids
It should be noted that most of FITB’s shows require a minimum age of 15 or 16 years old to attend. Notwithstanding, FITB will still deliver a slew of wonderful productions for younger crowds. The immersive auto-fiction Hombre Flor (Teatro Ensueño) from Colombia’s Andromeda 3.0 invites teenagers 12 years and older to engage in a discourse about masculinity in the 21st century.
Iván Darío Álvarez and César Santiago Álvarez use 45 years of expertise in puppetry to tell the story of endangered bears Gaspar and Rosita in Gaspar El Senor de Las Nubes (Teatro Libre Centro), which encourages children (5+) to “recognize and care for the unique environment of the Colombian ecosystem.” Whether you want to be astounded by the puppetry and choreography of London’s “austere but magical” Pinocchio in the Gaitán, or laugh until your sides are sore at Astor Plaza with acrobatic comedy in Belgium’s JaJaJa!, FITB has curated some world-class entertainment that the entire family can to enjoy.
How to get a seat (or even stand up)
Regarding how one can actually go see these productions, it is unfortunately too late to secure a subscription or “abonos” to the theatre festival in Bogotá, which allows subscribers to choose their seats before ticket sales are available to the general public. However, until April 17th you can purchase individual tickets here. Most of the productions will be advertised as part of FITB with their unmistakable uniform design, but if something outside of the festival catches your eye, it never hurts to support local theatre. In any case, full vaccination is required for entry by FITB. It’s not too late to get your jab.
If you’re the type that can’t stay in a seat without squirming, or simply prefer the open air, take to the streets and enjoy entertainment on-the-go. Not much information has been released by FITB regarding the exact contents and whereabouts of the street theatre, but it suggests nearly 140 acts over the seventeen day event. Perhaps the mystery is part of the fun!
It’s likely to be akin to a state fair, with plenty for the kids to enjoy. Expect dance troupes, drummers and circus acts to make you pause. Misael Torres, the leader of street theatre here in Colombia, has promised us “fairs of joy” and “tents of wonders” – take that as you will. As with all outdoor experiences here in Bogotá, make sure to bring your raincoat, some cash, and a friend or two! It is likely that roads will be blocked off in order to accommodate the various pop-ups in the vein of Ciclovía, so be prepared for transport issues.
Since the theatre festival in Bogotá is such a large operation, and since its return was delayed, more details, content, and surprises are emerging daily from the folks at FITB. In the weeks to come, The Bogotá Post will be publishing a series on the festival to stay on top of it all, and hopes our readership might feel encouraged to engage with this living, breathing tradition.
Keep an eye out for more information!
Bradley Cashman is an actor, playwright, and composer originally from Arizona, currently based in New York.