ARTS 649
Performing Latin America(s): Politics, Culture, and Society Onstage

Claudia Nascimento

Course Objectives

As Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez remarked in his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture, Latin America’s violent history includes colonization and seventeen military coups. For economic and political reasons, many of its citizens have immigrated or left for exile. The main goal of this course is to examine how Latin American and Latino artists tell the continent’s history via performance. In that, we will look at the intersection between individual experience and larger socio-political contexts in the works of artists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, as well as those living in the United States and Europe. Though the focus of the course is theatre, at times we will also draw from other art forms.

Course Readings

Play anthologies: 

-Three Plays by Griselda Gambarro. Northwestern University Press, 1992.
-Latin American Theatre in Translation. Xlibris Corporation, 2000.
-Colombian Theatre in the Vortex. Bucknell University Press, 2004.
-The Methuen Book of Contemporary Latin American Plays. Methuen, 2004.
- The Theatre of Nelson Rodrigues. FUNARTE (Brazil), 2001. 

(Articles, reviews, and other readings will be available online in Blackboard/Course Documents)

Course Schedule

Military Coups and Latin American Political Theatre. 



-Gambaro, Griselda. “Information to Foreigners.”
A drama of disappearance, an experimental work dealing with the theme of random and meaningless punishment in which the audience is led through darkened passageways to a series of nightmarish tableaux. 


-de la Parra, Marco Antonio (Chile). “The Small History of Chile.”
Four teachers and a principal of a high school attempt to give classes in a classroom where “neither the materials nor content exist to teach; there are no maps or flag, there’s no history, there is forgetting, therefore there is no country.”  Not only do the necessary utensils not exist in the school, but one of the teachers states that “the history of Chile has become lost.” 

Additional readings


-Taylor, Diana. “Theater and Terrorism: Griselda Gambaro’s ‘Information for Foreigners’.” Theatre Journal, 42: 2 (May, 1990). 165-182.


Performance and Censorship 


Additional readings


-George, David. Flash and Crash Days: Brazilian Theatre in the Post-Dictatorship Period. Excerpts. 


-Graham-Jones, Jean. “Broken Pencils and Crouching Dictators: Issues of Censorship in Contemporary Argentine Theatre.” Theatre Journal 53, no. 4 (2001): 595-605.


Protest and Activism 



Lucky Strike. Teatro de la Candelaria.

With the collective creation Lucky Strike Teatro de la Candelaria confronted their audiences with Colombia’s new identity as a major player in the international drug trade. 

Additional readings

United States:

-Broyles-González, Yolanda. El Teatro Campesino: Theatre in the Chicano Movement. University of Texas Press, 1994. Excerpts.

Luiz Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino (United States, California) was the cultural wing of the United Farm Workers union, a popular theater that took its material directly from the lives of its audience in the bean fields of California’s central valley. With a pointed political mission, the theater, and its driving force Luis Valdez, went from agitprop to Broadway. 


-Boal, Augusto. Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatre Communications Group: New York, 1985. Excerpts.
Brazilian artist and activist Augusto Boal’s book challenges the very premise of Western theater, starting with Aristotle and the first dramatists, and explores what social constructs lie behind the traditional theater form. Central to Boal’s thesis is an attempt to bring spectators into an active role with the drama, encouraging them to comment on the social situations they see presented and suggest potentials for change. 


Taylor, Diana. “Making a Spectacle: The Mothers of Plaza De Mayo.” In Radical Street Theatre. Editor Jan Cohen-Cruz. London: Routledge, 1998.


The Family in Performance 



-Santana, Rodolfo. Never Loose Your Head Over a Swedish Doll.
Haunted by their dead mother’s photographs, two brothers engage in fierce dispute over a Swedish doll. 

            Additional readings


Race and performance: Latin American and Latino artists 



-Triana, Jose. Medea in the Mirror.
The play is a re-setting of the Medea story in the Cuban revolution of 1959. As Maria, a young mulatto takes her revenge on Julian for abandoning her for someone else, mirroring the events that took place when Castro ousted the Batista regime. 


-Rodrigues, Nelson. Black Angel.
The play uses the frame of Greek tragedies to expose the characters’ dealing with interracial marriage and internalized racism. 

            Additional readings

-Lane, Jill. “Keywords in Latin American Performance.” Theatre Journal: 56. 3 (October 2004) 456-9. 

-Graham, Robert. The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940. University of Texas Press, 1990. Excerpts.


Class in Performance 


Puerto Rico:

-Ramos-Perea, Roberto. Bad Blood: the new immigration. 


-Reyes, Carlos Jose. Soldiers. In Colombian Theatre in the Vortex. The banana region of Colombia has one of the bloodiest histories of labor relations in the world and remains a terrifying place for peasants and workers. The play refers us to a crucial event in Colombian labor and social history and  in the development of the nation’s armed forces and labor unions, the great strike of 1928.


Women and Performance: feminism and gender 



-Vilalta, Maruxa. A Woman, Two Men, and a Gunshot. In Women Writing Women: an anthology of Spanish American Theatre of the 1980’s. SUNY Press, 1997. 


-Vargas Llosa, Mario. “La Chunga.” The Methuen Book of Latin American Plays A Gambler recalls the day he traded his girlfriend to pay a debt.  

            Film excerpts

Portillo, Lourdes. Señorita extraviada (2001).

Documentary about the femicide in Juarez, Mexico. 

Additional readings


Latinos in Exile—consequences of the military coups in South America 



Triana, Jose. Night of the Assassins.
In this parallel between Greek tragedy and 1950s Cuba, Triana nimbly walks the tightrope between the narrow, familiar motivations that incite parricide and the broader strangulation of human impulses that ignites defiant politics.

Film excerpt

-Tangos: The Exile of Gardel (1986)

Additional readings 


-Van Gelder, Lawrence. “A Metaphor of Parricide Tells of Cuban Repression.” New York Times. June 17, 2000.





Puig, Manuel. Kiss of the Spiderwoman.
A political prisoner and a gay man share a cell.  

United States:

Moraga, Cherríe. The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea.
An apocalyptic play written at the end of the millennium, Moraga uses mythology and an intimate realism to describe the embattled position of Chicanos and Chicanas, not only in the United States but in relation to each other. Drawing from the Greek Medea and the Mexican myth of La Llorona, she portrays a woman gone mad between her longing for another woman and for the Indian nation which is denied her.  

            Film excerpts:

Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1985) 

            Performance Slides


            -The Book of Job, by Teatro da Vertigem 

            Additional texts


Albuquerque, Severino. Tentative Transgressions: Homosexuality, AIDS, and Theatre in Brazil. University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. Excerpts.


Latino Theatre and Border Performance 


United States:

Nilo Cruz, Anna in the Tropics. Dramatist’s Play Service, 2004.
The winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Anna in the Tropics is a poignant and poetic new play from Nilo Cruz set in 1929 in a Cuban-American cigar factory where cigars are still rolled by hand and “lectors” are employed to educate and entertain the workers. The arrival of a new lector is a cause for celebration, but when he begins to read aloud from Anna Karenina, he unwittingly becomes a catalyst in the lives of his avid listeners, for whom Tolstoy, the tropics, and the American dream prove a volatile combination.

            Film excerpts

            United States/Mexico:

The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey, with Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco. 

            Additional readings

Nedelsky, Jennifer. “Law, Boundaries, and the Bounded Self.” Law and the Order of Culture, Robert Post, ed.


The Post-Dictatorship Generation in Brazil: Teatro da Vertigem, Cia. Dos Atores. 

            Performance excerpts

Rehearsal: Hamlet, by Cia. dos Atores.

An adaptation of Shakespeare’s play to the post-dictatorship context. 

            Play excerpts

            Apocalypse 1,11, by Teatro da Vertigem

A comparison between the experiences of political prisoners and the massacre at São Paulo’s penitentiary. 

            Film excerpts

            Carandiru (2003)

            Film about the massacre at São Paulo’s penitentiary. 

            Additional reading

-Tatinge Nascimento, Cláudia. “Teatro da Vertigem: Fall as Creation”   TheatreForum 24 (2004): 35-44.