Mariano Pensotti’s Cineastas leads us to the question most often associated with Latin American theatrical production: what is Latin American theater today? Often, this question is addressed as if Latin American theater is in a process of emergence. Actually, what is now called modern Latin American theater emerged in the midst of the past century as artists came together with a common ideal for a theatrical movement that took into account the social and cultural revolutions throughout Latin America. The appearance of new protagonists, new stories, new actors, new audiences, and new spaces required the development of a different and complex dramaturgy capable of representing the diversity found across the continents. At times, this need for a theater that could encapsulate all of this diversity has led to an idyllic and naïve position, often associating these identities with a nostalgic ideal anchored in the past: the result being an oversimplification of Latin America.
In fact, there has been an expectation–especially in international circles–for Latin American theater to fit into a folkloric vision that draws on stereotypes and expects Latin American theater to be drawn from popular forms (street theater, carnival, and dances). There are many stereotypes regarding Latin American theater because it tends to be understood through categorical approaches that deny its relativity to world theater. Even at international festivals, Latin American theater is expected to contain magic realism, some type of Amazonian sensuality, the violence of dictatorships, and the tragedy of social terror. Even worse is the expectation that it sustain what is imagined to be an “original” theatricality founded in pre-Hispanic origins, as if it was possible that cultures could remain immutable throughout time. The main issue is that Latin American theater is often simplified as a whole, as if it came from one homogenous country. The presence of Pensotti in the US is significant precisely because he allows the audience to enter his plays through a human context rather than a cultural expectation. As many other directors from Latin America have done, he works through the tragedy of globalization in modern times. Of course, his work pertains to an Argentinian sensibility, but it does not deny a human understanding of the action onstage.
As a director and playwright, Mariano Pensotti defies all traditional expectations regarding theater and culture. He first began his career in cinema; by the time he was 25 years old, he had already directed a feature film and two shorts. These first explorations with film developed into an interest in the theater as he sought new ways to explore different means of artistic creation. As Pensotti has often declared, his excursions into theater allowed him a “do it yourself” education as he learned from experience rather than a formal education (though he does not lack education, as he has studied with some of Argentina’s most renowned playwrights and directors). In this sense, his theatrical training has been constructed through the stage work itself, allowing for the stage to become a space of inquiry and exploration. To understand his work, one should look toward his diverse influences, which trace an artistic vision from different forms of art, from literature to cinema, to music to visual art, including Wim Wenders, David Lynch, Asian cinema, Tolstoy, the Beat generation, Roberto Bolaño, and the music of the Velvet Underground.
Pensotti’s career displays a different approach to theatrical practice as related to playwriting and directing: he feels a need to combine different artistic experiences. His writing is often tempered by the interventions of the actors and the constant adjustments to the scene as he experiments in the rehearsal process. His work is also influenced by a group dynamic of collective creation, as demonstrated through his collaborations with the group Marea, founded in 2005. More than a decade after his first incursions into the theater, Pensotti has emerged onto the national and international theatrical scenes with a unique language and prolific trajectory. His performances have often been described as a “theater of the real:” he attempts to present real lives onstage that push us to reconsider what is fictional, as well as the creation process, which in his work derives from improvisation and experimentation throughout the rehearsal period. His theater is not an attempt to create a fiction based in real life, but to document and register a lived experience.
Pensotti’s art responds to a global preoccupation with the voyeuristic nature that characterizes our era. As he has stated, “I’m interested in the public display of the private… how the private can again become a part of the collective.” To speak of a Latin American theater, it becomes necessary for us to look critically, and with the fewest possible prejudices, back to the recent history of Latin America. The strength and vitality of Latin American theater was possible through the great confluence of unprecedented movements (from Augusto Boal and his theater of the oppressed to Enrique Buenaventura’s collective creations and Polvo de Gallina’s performance art) generated by actors, writers, directors, playwrights, and artists from many disciplines. The theatrical experience provided by Pensotti’s poetics continues to defy any static characterization of Latin American theater. Instead, he invites us to experience a hybrid moment that moves between the theatrical event, performance installation, and literary narration. As audience members we are invited to participate in this experimentation: we become co-creators of the theatrical moment through our active interpretation of what we see. The theatre of Mariano Pensotti presents us with an unexpected, live, and raw moment in human experience.
Analola Santana is assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Dartmouth College, where she teaches courses on Latin American theater and performance. Santana is also a professional dramaturg and translator and works with theater companies in Latin America and the US. This essay is reprinted with the permission of Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College.
“I’m interested in the public display of the private… how the private can again become a part of the collective.” –Mariano Pensotti