Brincos y saltos –Leaps and Bounds– was the name given to a course in theatrical exercises designed by Rosa Luisa Márquez for the Department of Drama of the University of Puerto Rico in 1979. The purpose of the course was to stimulate the artistic talent of university students so that they in turn could be catalysts of such talent in children, special communities and the elderly. In the design of the course, experiences in popular theaterwere combined with the rigor and discipline of Gilda Navarra’s courses in pantomime, now reclaimed from the academy; Myrna Casas’ explorations of collective creativity; and Dean Zayas’s liberating experience of teatro rodante (Traveling Theatre). Brincos y saltos is also the title of a published collection of experiences and thoughts, and a manual of exercises, on the course.
The context of the course was the period of the 1960s and 1970s, when university student movements were closely linked to the social circumstances of Puerto Rico. Young people from the university joined the workers of the Río Piedras campus of the UPR in their demands, and they took part in the strike by employees of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company. They also expressed their opposition to obligatory military service, due to the Vietnam War. All these issues came together with a concern for the survival and defense of Puerto Rico’s national identity.
Along with this effort, Anamú, a group working in popular theater, was founded at that time. Anamú advocated the use of a language and a dramatic space close to the spectators to deal with issues of fundamental national importance: unemployment, immigration, the war. Short works, adaptations of stories and pieces by young Puerto Rican and Latin American playwrights, were presented, on request, with a sense of humor and a political point of view. These included Pipo Subway no sabe reir by Jaime Carrero; Preciosa y otras tonadas que no llegaron al Hit Parade, including texts by Luis Rafael Sánchez, Alfredo Matilla, Pedro Juan Soto, and Pedro Pietri; Historias para ser contadas by Osvaldo Dragún; Ya los perros no se amarran con longaniza by José Luis Ramos and Jorge Rodríguez; La huelga by Jaime Barbín; and Bahía sucia, Bahía negra, a collective work.
Café theaters such as La Tierruca, La Tea and La Tahona arose and became established in Old San Juan. They offered their spaces as meeting places where one could look for imaginative solutions to problems of time and space. The diversity of activity stimulated the creation of original texts and the use of many spaces where it was possible to interact directly with the public. And all this together moved Anamú to open a small, 80-seat space of their own in Barrio Obrero, a working-class area of San Juan. At the same time, it linked its activities to those of other dissident theater movements in Latin America, the United States, and Europe, which were seeking answers to questions of both form and content: These included the Teatro experimental de Cali (Experimental Theater of Cali, Colombia), the Teatro del oprimido (Theater of the Oppressed) in Brazil and Argentina; the Living Theatre, the Bread and Puppet Theater, the Teatro campesino (Rural Theater), the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the United States; and Bertolt Brecht.
It was fertile territory for creative work. Artists from different media, such as the graphic arts and theater, came together to produce works like El tajo del alacrán in the theater and El taller alacrán in the graphic arts, which stand out for the multiplying effect they had. Pedro Santaliz took to the streets to work with aficionados in neighborhoods and among students to create El nuevo teatro pobre de América; Miriam Colón began her Traveling Theatre in New York; Luis Rafael Sánchez successfully opened La pasión según Antígona Pérez; Tirabuzón rojo did experimental theater. People were listening to Roy Brown’s Fuego, fuego, fuego, to Andrés Jiménez’s revolutionary décimas, and to El Topo’s Antonia and Verde luz. Tahoné, Haciendo punto en otro son, Silvio and Pablo, La Nueva Trova, all were receiving high praise.
During the same period of such stimulating theatrical activity, Sunshine and Ricky Muratti performed sketches in the hallways of the different colleges on the campus of the university. They shared stages with Eddie López and his Rayos Gamma. At the same time Pablo Cabrera and Victoria Espinoza directed Anamú’s plays, Gloria Sáez costumed them, while Gabriel Suau enriched their publicity campaign with attractive photographic posters.
The course called Brincos y saltos was made up of all this raw material, and in 1979, the idea of teatreros ambulantes (traveling theater group) arose from the course in the form of a group of young people who developed theater workshops in and for our communities, beginning with the lived experiences of the people themselves. The Teatreros put on their shows in schools, institutions for the young and for the elderly, psychiatric hospitals and rehabilitation centers. The course has generated theatrical texts for broad audiences, too, such as Trapitos al Aire and Foto-estáticas, which have been presented in the United States and Brazil.
The group called Los Teatreros ambulantes de Cayey came into being later, also inspired by Anamú. For four years, an interdisciplinary student group from the Cayey Campus of the University of Puerto Rico traveled around the island and to nearby towns staging short works by Latin American storytellers and playwrights. After completing their university studies, Los Teatreros are putting the theatrical techniques they learned in college into practice in their respective professions – thus enlarging the place of art in everyday life. Brincos y saltos has done what it set out to do.
Author: Dra Rosa Luisa Márquez
Published: September 29, 2008.
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