This past month I had the extraordinary pleasure of traveling to Colombia with New Perspectives Theatre Company to bring two short plays from their Women's Work project to the Alternative Theatre Festival (FESTA) in Bogotá. My friend Alexis Roblan's play Color Blue, which transports the circumstances of an al-Shabaab kidnapping to an American context with haunting results, was one of the plays selected, and I was thrilled both by the opportunity to work with Alexis and to travel to a place I had never been.
I had no idea what to expect, but after adjusting to the high altitude (which is no joke!) we had an incredible time. We were based in La Candelaria, a colorful, bohemian neighborhood with an exciting energy, extraordinary architecture, and some of the most stunning street art I've ever seen. We performed in the Sala Seki Sano, a beautiful black box theatre in the renovated stables of the old house that has become the Teatro la Candelaria. The crew there could not have been more welcoming.
Our trip coincided with Holy Week, and the whole city was buzzing with energy in the lead up to Easter. We got to wander through the Good Friday processions, get lost in the giant street markets, take in all the sights... and, of course, see a bunch of theatre by great ensembles from across Latin America! (Amnesia, an experimental piece by Medellín's Teatro Oficina Central de Sueños dealing with personal loss of memory as well as cultural forgetting and the specter of colonialism, was a personal favorite.) We even got to take a cable car up to the top of Monserrate, a mountain peak with a historic shrine and a panoramic view of the city. Climbing down on foot, while very picturesque, was pretty rough on the knees...
I also got a chance to get lunch and reconnect with my friend Juan Pablo Félix, a filmmaker and theatre artist from Bogotá who I know from my grad school days. It was great to get a local's perspective on the Colombian theatre and film industries and how they're evolving as Colombia itself evolves and its position on the world stage changes.
Our performances (in English with Spanish supertitles) were well received by our audiences, and it was a pleasure to hang out afterwards and discuss our work and the importance of international exchange in the arts with the other artists participating in the festival. (My Spanish, out of practice for quite some time, fared surprisingly well!) Afterwards, our group had the honor of sharing a meal with other artists at the home of Patricia Ariza, the legendary Colombian alternative theatre artist who founded the Teatro la Candelaria and created FESTA. (For a brief discussion of her life and work, check out this piece on HowlRound.) Her stories about the origins of the Colombian counterculture and her political activism were enthralling.
I left Bogotá deeply inspired and more convinced of the importance of international collaboration than ever before. If you ever have a chance to visit Bogotá, take it. It's a beautiful city with an energy like no other and an exciting artistic spirit. I hope my next chance to visit comes soon.