To honor one of our foremost playwrights, the Puerto Rican Legislature directed that the Matienzo Theater be renamed for Francisco Arriví “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the theater in Puerto Rico, and for his artistic legacy to Puerto Rican culture, which have earned him the title of the ‘Father of Contemporary Puerto Rican Theater.’”
Francisco Arriví was born in Santurce, in the capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Education at the University of Puerto Rico, majoring in Spanish language and literature, and taught in that field at Ponce High School from 1938-1941. While there he founded the Tinglado Puertorriqueño and presented his first one-act plays, Club de solteros (1940) and El diablo se humaniza (1941). Upon his return to San Juan he worked at the Escuela del Aire [School of the Airwaves] of the Department of Public Instruction (now Department of Education). He directed a number of dramas and wrote scripts for radio series. In 1945 he revived the Tinglado Puertorriqueño and presented his first three-act play, Alumbramiento (1945), followed by María Soledad (1947).
In 1949 he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to study theater at the University of Columbia, like his contemporary René Marqués. After returning to Puerto Rico he was for many years the director of programming for WIPR, the government radio station. In 1951 he presented his play Caso del muerto en vida.
In 1955 Arriví wrote the first of a trilogy of plays under the title of “Máscara puertorriqueña” [Puerto Rican Masquerade], addressing the controversial topic of racial prejudice in Puerto Rico—a theme that had not been openly discussed in the theater since Alejandro Tapia’s La Cuarterona. The three plays are: Bolero y plena (which is in turn composed of two plays: Medusas en la bahía and El murciélago); Vejigantes, staged at the first Puerto Rican Theater Festival in 1958 and awarded a prize from the Institute of Literature the following year; and Sirena, dramatized by the Experimental Theater of the Ateneo Puertorriqueño in 1959. Arriví also wrote other plays, including Un cuento de hadas and Teatro plural.
In 1956, the year that the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP, Spanish acronym) was established, Arriví helped design the project to support and encourage the theatrical arts in Puerto Rico. The culmination of this project was the first of the ICP’s many Theater Festivals, held in 1958. Arriví later became the director of ICP’s Theater Program, a position he held for twenty years, until he retired for health reasons in 1980.
Arriví also wrote poetry collections: Isla y Nada, Frontera, Ciclo de la ausente, Escultor de la sombra, and later, En la tenue geografla (1971) and Ceiba, areyto, cemí, coquí (1980); and collections of essays and articles: Entrada por las raíces, Conciencia puertorriqueña del teatro contemporáneo (1938-1956), and Areyto Mayor. His radio and television series scripts include: Héroes de la guerra, Hacienda Villa Real, Páginas de nuestra historia, and Alma de la leyenda.
In 1982 Arriví was named “Humanist of the Year” by the Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades (Puerto Rico Foundation for the Humanities).
Author: Dra. Ivonne Acosta
Published: September 03, 2014.
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