Children’s Theater on the Rise

Children’s Theater on the Rise
By Marc Killinger

It will be something of a debut when the theatre company La Balanza shows its fifth version of «Hijo del Sol» (Son of the Sun) this Saturday at the Catholic University Extension Center. The vanguard theatre group’s presentation of «Jota I, la Hermana J» (J, Jimena’s sister) at the 12th Manizales (Colombia) Latin American Theatre Festival created a sensation they hope to repeat in their hometown. «Jota» is an adaptation of the beloved Chilean children’s stories series, «Papelucho.»

«Children’s theatre is becoming more professional,» says La Balanza director Veronica Garcia-Huidobro. «More spaces have been created for it since 1993, and everyone is taking it more seriously.»

Theatre groups reach children in several ways: by presenting traditional plays in schools, the most typical method; by bringing telling folk tales to life; and by creating new works. It is clear that such groups are reaching thousands of Chilean children of all ages.

Three years ago the Catholic University Extension Center (CEUC) decided to make a serious effort to support children’s theatre. The three versions of its Educational Theatre cycle reached some 35,000 1st through 4th graders, and its Entreteninos (Entertaining Kids) program, the most recent version of which starts started this week, has reached some 35,000 preschoolers.

«Each time we present a show the audience is more demanding,» says CEUC artistic program coordinator Alicia Herrera.

This is confirmed by Juan Pablo Saez, co-owner of San Gines Theatre in Santiago’s lively Bellavista entertainment district. He said his children’s theatre audience is just important as the adult one, and hence he must carefully select the works he shows. Luckily, there are now many to choose from.

La Balanza theatre group has three children’s plays in its repertoire, «Misterio Violeta» (The Violet Mystery), for children ages 3 to 7; «Mitra, la Alquimista» (Mitra the Alchemist), for ages 8-12; and «A Medio Filo» (Halfway) for ages 14-18. Director Garcia-Huidobro says the plays deal with such universal educational themes as self esteem, children’s relationships with their parents and aging.

«El Libro de Rebecca» (Rebecca’s Book), another children’s play on the local scene, was written by Benjamin Galemiri for a competition sponsored by UNICEF tht called for content showing adolescent rejection of discrimination.

Finally, a number of groups create children’s versions of classic plays. The Compania Itinerante de Marco Yavar has presented such plays as «The Ugly Duckling,» «The Three Little Pigs,» «Merlin the Magician» and «The Little Prince.» And using colloquial language similar to that used in folktales, the actor Hugo Medina and his La Luciernaga troupe has presented Shakespearean works for children as young as three. Hector Noguera uses a similar approach to present works such s «La Vida es Sueno» (Life is a Dream) by the Spanish Golden Age writer Calderon de la Barca.

Here is a listing of some of the children’s theatre productions currently showing in Santiago.

— «Hijo del Sol,» Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at Catholic University Extension Center, Alameda 390.

— «El Concierto de los Pajaros» (Concert of the Birds), Oct. 4-8 at the mall Plaza Tobalaba and Oct. 12-16 at Mall Plaza Vespucio.

— «El Principito» (The Little Prince), Sunday Oct. 1, noon, Teatro Arena, Jaime Guzman 3265, Nunoa