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Talking About a Revolution

Photo By: A. Chaparro


Colombian independence was constructed by men and women who strived for a country free from the shackles of Spanish imperialism. The movement brought together disparate personalities, one of whom was the widely respected intellectual military leader Antonio Nariño. But Nariño wasn’t only a revolutionary, he was also a politician, journalist and the translator of the Declarations of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which signaled a monumental paradigm shift in South America. Actor / writer Fabian Zarta has taken inspiration from this most inspiring of men and presents the multi-faceted leader in a monologue, aptly titled Nariño, enjoying a limited run in Bogota.


Bogota Brilliance spoke with Zarta about his inspiration, Nariño’s relevance today and working between New York and Bogota:


BB: What interested you in creating a theater piece about Nariño?

FZ: Nariño has a quite interesting dramaturgy when you trace his life, a gigantic courage but still a very sensitive human being. I think he had wanted to enlighten the entire Hispanic-America by translating into Spanish the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, think of the time 1789/90s. Subsequently, the French Revolution. Many countries were under the regimen of Spain and the Catholic Church was the pinnacle in Latin America, none of them wanted "Americanos" (Yes Latin-Americans were called just Americans back then) to embrace a new thinking that would set up ideas for freedom and equality. The Viceroyalty "el Virreynato" would tumble down.


I have decided to work on a parallel between that time, and our current times.  It feels right, we have to learn about our history so we can understand our present better. Nariño is not only about Colombians or La Gran Colombia (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, some historians say, North of Peru, North of Brasil (parts), and parts of Guyana), somehow South America. He is a universal character. I am interested in Nariño 'cause he had so many values that a leader needs in today's world.


Ideally, we can wake up little Nariños in every person that experience or learn about his work and legacy. I think Latin-America needs to learn more about its history from South to North and vice-versa. Sometimes it seems that history repeats itself, and we need to do something to change that direction; theatre and films are my mediums for expression.


BB: Did you discover anything surprising about him?

FZ: Every time!!! Nariño has all the element for a book, a novel, a play, a movie, a poem, a song or a monologue ;)... I particularly like a sense of ritual he had (I am not saying he was a warlock), but rather his commitment and passion, he gave up all (he was part of the aristocracy/half Spanish, half Colombian) for his ideals of change and independence from El Virreinato. But Nariño is timeless, especially for Latinos living around the globe, and I dare to say the entire human population. 


BB: What kind of research did you do when writing the piece?

FZ: I am still researching.  For almost a couple of years, I have had an idea, I traveled to Colombia back in 2015 to explore Nariño's life, places and people's perceptions about him in today's society. I have walked around Bogota, visiting museums, libraries, meeting with historians, visiting close by towns where he spent time.  I visualize Nariño in every part of Colombia I have visited, from cities like Cartagena or Barranquilla to Departments like Boyaca or Cundinamarca.  Or even when I am in NYC.  This particular need to tell this story was really inspired in New York City; the place that has become my other home.  


BB: How did Nariño differ from his contemporaries?

FZ: Realness! Even though he belonged to an aristocratic circle he found a voice that spoke for thousands and thousands. His works not only focus on self-enlightenment, but spreads widely.  

BB: Why is he relevant today?

FZ: We need more Nariños, that's why I am bringing his ideals back, not that he was perfect, but there is a fascinating life experience in that man.  He really reached for wisdom. 

BB: What can audiences expect from the show?

FZ: Just come by, we will find out together. It will be fun, in particular, if you like critical thinking, I'd be all yours. 

BB: How have audiences been reacting to the piece?

FZ: It is still a new piece to tell, but so far it has been amazing. I have different influences when it comes to theatre, I think there is a sparkle from all theatre-makers I have worked with from legends to non-professional actors. I also try to use that idea that I had had about theatre before I even started to do theatre, so I keep some identity somewhere. Of course, you start to do your own research, and come out with your own conclusions, but I am still young, so I am “in the process.” Some people may say what's going here. It is hard to say how people may take the piece.      

BB: Why is it important to have the audience participate - and what topics are discussed?

FZ: Since I was growing up in Colombia audience participation was important, from Carnivals to the actual work on stages and streets I started to do in Bogota. We studied Epic theatre and other tendencies. My grandfather and great grandfather were merchants who traveled around the country, but when the carnivals and festivals of the villages happened in the region they were from, Purificacion - Tolima, they became The Comedians.  As a child I saw that, how the entire 'Pueblo' town passed by our house in a procession to pick up my Grandfather Eudoro, who entertained them and made fun of the hard times. It was a sort of Dithyrambs what we experienced there. When I moved to NYC The Living Theatre, The Public and other companies I have worked with in New York, sort of dig into this a lot with different approaches.  I guess I ended it up there not by coincidence.  

BB: What are some of the differences between theater in Bogota and New York?

FZ: Bogota has a strong underground theatre scene that I remember, it is still notorious for the little I have seen in my visits lately. New York also does, but what is wonderful about New York is that underground scene in parallel with the mainstream which has created an industry in theatre.  I have to say, however, with all the due respect to many amazing works I have seen in NYC, some of the best performances I have seen in my life I saw it in Bogota – those pieces were very organic: using elements such as a pile of fire, sounds from the wild nature, very humanistic performers with such a commitment.  Perhaps, it was 'cause of the time being when I was very young, so I guess I possessed innocent eyes... New York is New York, and you can't find such wonderful diversity somewhere else.  That access to diversity in stories is just amazing – at least in the underground scene. 


BB: What do you like about Bogota?
FZ: There is a strong scene in the arts here. Some people really become good at it, 'cause resources can be limited sometimes, but that is when you prove creativity. I think Colombians, and in general Latin Americans, are great at it. I also see very good looking people around here.  All Colombia mingles in Bogota.  I love diversity. 


BB: Additional comments and thoughts?

FZ: Come to see Nariño.  Spread THE love!  Colombia has many wonderful experiences to offer.  



Sadly, that is the message we are giving to our children and youth that has such an amazing potential. We shall raise their self-esteem. It doesn’t mean there are not serious issues in Latin America, but we need to start changing the state of mind in these people – our people.


I also would like to extend special thanks to:  

El Círculo Colombiano de Artistas - CiCA (The Circle of Colombian Artists), El Ministerio de Cultura de Colombia (Ministry of Culture of Colombia) and IDARTES (District Institute of Arts) / Programa Salas Concertadas. My Family, Historian Alexander Chaparro, Fabio Becerra, Maria Eugenia Penagos, Documentarist Alejandro Chaparro, Grupo Rebolu, Kiosko Teatral, Casa Campestre Villa Maria and FolkCOLOMBIA.  


4, 5, 11, 12, 13 of August

7:30 p.m.

Teatro Bernardo Romero Lozano

Calle 46 No. 28 - 30

$30.000 COP



Acting as in Life – Coach Ron Burrus Presents the Present



Do you live in the present or sense and release tension? If you think these questions sound like something a Yoga teacher or meditation coach would probe, you wouldn’t be too far off. Except that the ideas were being reframed by Ron Burrus, one of the top acting coaches in the world, and a disciple of the infamous and revered acting guru Stella Adler. Burrus was in Bogota to conduct an intensive course on auditioning and acting for the camera. Based in Los Angeles and Manhattan, Burrus has conducted classes in Japan, Mexico and India. The knowledge Burrus imparted to our class of international students included far more than angles, body positioning and voice modulation.


“Flying from Lima to do this workshop, has been one of the best decisions of my life as an actress and as a person!” said Peruvian actress Alexandra Barandiaran, “In six days I've learned so much it overwhelms me and makes me absolutely happy, full and satisfied!”


Another student, professional Colombian musician and aspiring actor Juan Angulo added, “Ron has given us a new perspective not only for acting but also for living. He gives us methods and exercises to practice in our life every single day.”


Present Tensed 

Even something as fundamental as accessing vocabulary stems from a prior understanding of what words to use when. In acting, however, the past is secondary and the actor must understand that they are experiencing the character’s journey through the scenes as they play out (presently) before an audience. Colombian presenter / actress Maria Laura Quintero reported that she learned how to forget about the past and to live in the present without judgment.


Argentinean actor Santiago Garcia Rosa travelled from Buenos Aires to attend the workshop, told me, “The best thing about Ron, is that everything he teaches, he is, you see it, you don’t see somebody talking about being present, etc. You see him being present.”


The actor must always be clear on how he or she prepared, being careful not to get stuck on an “instant performance” and own the mantra, “I am here to solve problems in my acting that the writing can’t solve.”


“The inner life of a character,” explained Burrus, “on stage is expressed through the body and on camera through the eyes.” In either case the experience is of the moment as it resonates with other actors and viewers. Burrus considers himself lucky to still be inspired, after more than 40 years of teaching, to continue.  “Ron is not just an acting teacher. He understands the human condition and helps you understand it and put it into action in your acting,” said Colombian actor Sebastian Eslava (who organized the workshop at the accommodating 93 Luxury Suites with Colombian model / actress Tatiana de los Rios).


In a Word

Over the week we redefined words, and indeed, reality as it pertains to the craft. “Acting is a lifestyle,” Burrus told us, and warned against putting life pressure on top of work pressure but instead to “sense and experience the vibration.” A great deal of acting is repetition under pressure, and skill is applied when the words are repeated by the actor, they are spoken as if for the first time by the character.


Technique, for example, now means “an in depth understanding of cause and effect.” This is critical for actors as they create a cause that produces the effect of dialogue. It is through an action (physical and / or emotional) that the text is given life. Talent, a loaded word indeed, was distilled to its purest essence by Burrus: Talent is connection. This clarity is both profound and troubling for the actor in the sense that it demands the actor truly be present at all times. So, perhaps, the observation “Leonardo DiCaprio is a talented actor,” might be rephrased as “Leonardo DiCaprio creates believable connections.”


The definition of “judgment” was also called into question. For actors, as could be said of most people, this word carries a lot of weight and can be poisonous. In its new form, judgment is “imposing your point of view on something or someone”; which is what actors are called on to do when creating a character. But, it can also be toxic in the sense that if we are judgey about fictional characters, then we risk (and often are) judgmental about the people and instances in our real lives. “Mental habits have an appetite that you feed through reactions,” Burrus advised. “Awareness is the ability to see what is without the need to do something about it.”



Each time they need to do another take or run the show again, an actor is called upon to make the viewer believe that what they are seeing has never happened before.  This is no easy task and requires the artist to employ not only his or her training, but one of the most powerful tools we all possess: Imagination. For the actor “Imagination is a powerful preparatory tool with strong rules,” instructed Burrus, but it is a skill that required work, like a muscle. Imagination is particularly useful to help actors withstand the reality of repetition under pressure.


However, this tool should not be used to literally imagine how a character might feel something, “Don’t lay feelings on the scene, the feelings come from the scene,” advised Burrus. And, the specific reaction might change given the dynamics of any particular moment. That said, he guided us through the concept of applying specific emotional actions to any given response. over time the actor should create a library of these actions, always written in the “ing” form such as convincing, shocking, shutting, etc. so that they can be accessed as needed. “Ron's ability to convey thoughts and actions is extraordinary. Listening to him makes you forget about a bathroom break! He is a master indeed,” surmised Colombo-Brazilian actress Nathalie Murillo Toro.


For me, the time with Burrus and the other students was stimulating, provoking, illuminating and fulfilling. He is a true master, and one that we were fortunate to have visit Bogota where this level of training does not exist.


Vibrant, vital, and integral to the city’s identity, Bogota has displayed the rich heritage of many theatrical schools over the centuries, even as it has struggled to find its own dramatic voice.  Bogota Brilliance encourages you to enjoy at least one of the many theatrical venues listed in this section, even if you aren’t an avid theatre-attendee, you are sure to have an experience like none other. 
One of the crowing-glories of Bogota’s theatre scene is the world’s largest international theatre festival: the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota (FITB)  / Iberoamerican Theatre Festival of Bogota, is held biannually in March and April on even-numbered years; view our article on the 2010 festival.  Founded in 1988 by Ramiro Osorio and Fanny Mikey (a theatre artist who also founded the Teatro Nacional), to celebrate Bogota’s 450th anniversary, it was presented with the slogan “An Act of Faith in Colombia,” to bolster confidence and international trust during a violent period in the nation’s history.  The event has since grown into a highly anticipated international celebration of all the performing arts, in which most of Bogota becomes a stage.  Though many performance troupes vie for participation, only the best are selected for this singular, world-class event.  Over 100 performing arts companies of only the highest quality from 80 countries, spanning 5 continents, will take their places in the bullring, on stages, in libraries, up in the air, at shopping centers, on the streets and in public squares to showcase the carefully selected performances. Well over 2.5 million attendees are expected to descend upon Bogota to revel in this spectacular experience.
The FITB performs almost simultaneously with the Festival de Teatro Alternativo / Alternative Theatre Festival.  Founded in 1973 by Patricia Ariza, also the founder and director of the festival’s organizing body the Corporación Colombiana de Teatro, the Alternative Festival will present works by 160 international performance companies over a two-week period.    With a focus on the vitality and trends in Colombian theatre, the performances will be mounted at many venues throughout Bogota.  Master classes and workshops are also scheduled, in addition to special programming.     
Amongst the many theatrical offerings and festivals in Bogota there is sure to be an event to satisfy any visitor’s taste for the dramatic, comedic, whimsical and fantastic.  Be sure to review the Festivals tab for an overview for details on events like the FITB, Teatro al Parque and the Children’s Theatre Festival
Today, Bogota is fortunate to be the home of nearly one hundred live theatre venues.  Traditional opera and zarzuela (a Spanish cousin to operetta) shine at the Grande Dame of Latin American theatres, El Teatro Cristobal Colon (el Colon).  Audiences can see large productions at venues such as the Teatro al Aire Libre La Media Torta, an outdoor amphitheatre which can seat up to 10,000 spectators and the Plaza de Santamaria bullfighting ring.  Politically charged themes have been explored at Teatro la Candelaria since its founding by Santiago Garcia in 1966.  Beginning in 1968, Teatro Experimental La Mama –a Colombian sister Company to New York’s La Mama Theater, has expanded its audiences mind and artistic experience with intellectually experimental performances.  French language productions are offered is the theatre at Bogota’s Alliance Français.  Children’s theatre can be viewed at the Fundación Rafael Pombo and Fundación Jaime Manzur.  Spectacular marionette shows are mounted at the Hilos Majicos and Fundacion Jaime Manzur, while Libuela Dorada, founded in 1976 as a children’s theatre, is today one of the leading venues for music and dance festivals, in addition to staging an original repertoire.  Casa Ensemble, founded by Alejandra Borrero, one of Colombia’s most famous actresses, houses performance spaces, a school of drama and an art gallery.  For midnight madness, improvisation and innovative productions, head to Teatro R101.  R101 and others such as Astor Plaza and the Auditorio William Shakespeare host festivals ant theatre companies that don’t have their own stage.  Works can also be experienced in non-traditional venues such as shopping centers, cafes and private living rooms.  The Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango and the Centro Cultural Gabriel Garcia Marquez also provide wonderful performance spaces.  Classes in stagecraft are also offered at several venues, like the Taller de Colombia where performers in circus technique, street performance, fire breathing and other exciting carnavalesque arts learn their craft. 
Teatro Callejero or Street Theatre, one of the original forms of artistic expression, can be experienced in all areas of Bogota.  From the fire-breathers, jugglers and magicians who often entertain motorists at stop lights and spectators at fairs, to festivals of street theatre or the performers at the Friday night spectacle of the Septimazo (along the Carrera Septima) which usually includes stilt-walkers, living statues and mimes, or actors who portray famous denizens of the historical center, La Candelaria, during interactive ghost tours. 
Audiences also seek-out a select group of street musicians, such as the singer whose uncanny incarnation of Cuban Salsa goddess Celia Cruz has earned an international fan base, or the dead-ringer for the dramatic Mexican romancer Juan Gabriel and the artist who brings the most famous tanguero Carlos Gardel back to life with his reedy voice, the poise of a cigarette and a tip of his hat.  In one of the best traditions of street theatre’s ability to be immediately relevant to its audience, The Legion of Affection, a theatrical group created as an outreach effort for the nation’s displaced and disaffected youth, has found success in its efforts to provide alternatives to the lure of drugs, crime and gang life.  Street Theatre is also an important component many festivals, and spectators can also see wonderful performances at the annual Street Theatre Festival.
Adaptations of international works have also found a home on Bogota stages, with perhaps Greek Tragedy and Shakespeare being the most prevalent.  Recently the city viewed excellent versions of Neal Labute’s Fat Pig, titled La Gorda and Un Dios salvage (The Savage God), a work by French playwright Yasmine Reza at Teatro Nacional (a Tony award winner for its Broadway run).  Teatro Libre de Chapinero presented an interesting scene-to-stage adaptation of the film Trainspotting. And Teatro Nacional’s production of Hitchkock’s 39 Steps, or 39 Escalones, made an intriguing leap from screen-to-scene at Teatro La Castellana.  A Dosteyefsky cycle, beginning with Crime and Punishment, will also be mounted. Teatro Tierra transposed what is considered the best book of the Colombian oeuvre, La voragine (The Vortex),  for an at times surrealistic theatrical experience.  Un beso de Dick (Dick’s Kiss), the story of new love between two male teenaged soccer players, has been enjoying great success not only throughout Colombia, but also at international venues.   Melodrama, a novel by Colombian writer Jorge Franco, was adapted for a powerful stage performance at the Teatro Bellas Artes Bogota.  Of course, these are just some samples of recent performances. 
With the exception of zarzuelas, the Musical Theatre genre as it is known in the U.S., UK and elsewhere is relatively new to Colombia.  Recently, Spanish language versions of the classic The Little Shop of Horrors thrilled audiences at the Arlequin, and Brecht’s Three Penny Opera made a stunning turn at Teatro Libre de Chapinero.   In 2009 Bogota welcomed international touring companies of the newly translated Spanish language version of Cameron Macintosh’s Oliver!, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats (in English with supertitles) at the Coliseo Cubierto el Campin, and the wildly successful High School Musical.  All shows performed to very excited audiences and further demonstrated that companies must stop in Bogota when touring South America. 
A Little History...
Leading up to the 17th century, Colombia’s theatrical experience was largely limited to the influence of the verses of Spanish classical theatre, as is illustrated by the first play known to be penned by a Colombian, Laurea Critica (The Critical Laurel Wreath), a one-act satire in baroque verse written in 1629 by Fernando Fernandez de Valenzuela. 
Over time, as Colombian dramatists began to trust that their individual voices should be heard, theatrical venues were created to stage their works.   At the beginning of the 19th Century, burlesque entered the Colombian theatrical lexicon with the socially critical play The Convulsions by Luis Vargas Tejada, a playwright also known for his tragedies and dramas. One of the most famous works set in Bogota was not written by a Colombian, but rather Robert Montgomery Bird of Pennsylvania, U.S.  The Broker of Bogota opened at New York City’s Bowery Theater in 1834.  It enjoyed an extensive run and an international tour.
Theatre, always a lightning rod for political discourse and the exploration of social themes was the perfect outlet for Colombian writers and politicians alike.  In August 1885, purportedly to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the “discovery” of the New World by Christopher Columbus, President Rafael Nuñez wrote the following words announcing that Bogota would be endowed with one of the finest theatres in the Americas:
“…A lively meeting was held at the Palace last night, the sole purpose of which was to agree on the basis for building a theatre.  I go away a bit from politics, merely to indulge in artistic matters inspired by my love for theater, as we will forget a little of our plight and contribute to the promotion of Colombian theater.”
For all of his conviviality, the President made this declaration in an attempt to distract national attention from a potential civil war.  The project proceeded on a site destined to hold majestic theatres, having first been home to the Coliseo Ramirez (erected in 1793), and then the Teatro Maldonado (opened in 1871).  When El Teatro Cristobal Colon was officially inaugurated in 1895 with a sterling production of Verdi’s Hernani, some 17 years before the Colon Theatre of Buenos Aires, Bogota’s high society entered an Italian-style masterpiece designed by architect Pietro Cantini.  The design is made more significant given the challenge that Cantini was faced with: scaling down a typical proscenium theatre to fit the allotted space.  His achievement was astounding and the Colon stands today as not only an invaluable part of Colombian patrimony, but as an international architectural treasure as well. 
With the opening of the Colon, troupes from France, Spain and Italy made their way to Bogota.  These hearty thespians endured harsh traveling conditions for two months at a time over treacherous terrain in order to perform at the new theatrical jewel of Latin America.  The performances the companies gave left an indelible mark upon the audiences’ psyche and held sway over what Bogotanos believed a theatrical experience should be.  During this time Colombian dramatists were finding their voice in greater numbers, especially as class divisions became more of a focal point. 
With the passing centuries, the Colon has come to be known primarily for staging zarzuelas and opera, with occasional plays gracing its stage. Bogota Brilliance will keep our visitors updated on the progress of an $8,000,000 USD renovation project that is currently underway.
While the Teatro Colon was reserved for the Colombian upper middle-class and the politicians who represented them, the Teatro Municipal was the venue of choice for the lower and working classes.  On any given night fiery speeches could be heard along with plays that reflected the audience’s struggles and desires.  The Municipal was also used by liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, for his Friday night political rallies.  Gaitán’s assassination in 1948 set off a wave of violence called the Bogotazo, which eventually led to the Municipal’s demolition by the government in charge at the time.      
In 1971, the 2,000 seat movie theater Teatro Colombia was purchased by the municipal government and named Teatro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in honor of the slain leader.  This theatre has just enjoyed an extensive renovation, and installation of state-of-the-art technical equipment.  The Teatro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán will once again welcome an audience when the inaugural performance of the XII Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota opens with a gala on March 19, 2010.   
The transformation of other defunct movie houses such as La Faenza and Astor Plaza into live theatre venues are also enjoying great success. 
From the dramatic to the fantastical, a clown spectacle or a musical extravaganza, from the comedic to the harrowing, intellectually challenging or light farce, Bogota theatre has a seat waiting for you.
Below is a brief list of Colombian Playwrights:
Eddy Armando
Nohora Ayala
Piedad Bonnett
Enrique Buenaventura
Andres Caicedo
Emilio Campos (Campitos)
Daniel Galeano
Luis Alberto Garcia
Santiago Garcia
Eduardo Camacho Guisado
Antonio Alvarez Lleras
Jose Fernandez Madrid
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Esteban Navajas
Jairo Anibal Nino
Candelario Obeso
Manuel Zapata Olivella
Ramiro Osario
Luis Enrique Osorio
Jorge Plata
Jose Dominguez Roche
Carlos Jose Reyes
Gustavo Andrade Rivera
Fabiano Rubiano
Jose Maria Samper
Luis Varga Tejada
Carlos Arturo Torres
Fernando Fernandez de Valenzuela
Jose Maria Vergara y Vergara