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Actors out of work in Venezuela

venezuelan theater 2017

Russian translation: Актеры Венесуэлы остались без работы

By Roberto Lahoud

As a Venezuelan actor and playwright, I have written more than seven plays and performed on more than 20 stages in Venezuela and Argentina.

Choosing to work in drama and the performing arts is a troublesome road almost everywhere in the world. But today theaters and actors in Caracas face impossible odds. If you add art to the everyday problems, you can get a VIP ticket to the grave.

At least that is what is happening to the best and greatest of the drama companies here.  

To put this in a historical perspective, the last greatest drama company of Venezuela was Rajatabla, a group very well known, even in other countries, because of the social impact and amazing creations of a great many artists, like Carlos Giménez, whom if you now Google returns a retired ex-Cuban firefighter and Mayor of Miami, Florida. Venezuela once boasted some of the most important South American playwrights from the 20th century: Isaac Chocrón, César Rengifo and José Ignacio Cabrujas.

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All of those great artists are long dead and a new generation of artists has taken the reins of drama, aiming both to entertain and communicate revelatory truths to our people, at least on non-commercial stages.

But many of out largest theaters, where opposition artists used to produce shows, have been closed because of huge debts. Others fell to other forms of  government harassment. Today, the big theaters rarely produce challenging artistic ideas.

Take the Teatrex in El Hatillo, one of the many theaters in the uptown zone.  El Hatillo was a commercial space where even comedians got shows, and which often boasted a  full house.  But over the past few years, even going out at night has become difficult, as more people simply don’t have cars and the streets are way too unsafe.  The theater is now closed.

One of our outstanding young Venezuelan playwrights, José Alejandro España, believes that “drama needs to survive beyond the availability of stages, or the viability of projects.” He defends the idea that artists should never give up on art, because giving up is something that artists do not do. But when people are afraid to even go out in the streets, even art without venues is hard to sustain.

And another cultural result of impoverished theaters is the prioritisation of the most commercial art over meaningful drama.  

Commercial plays are usually made now for the “micro-theater” format and are always about sex, since that is what sells.  People are looking for escapism when they go to the theater. They’re tired of hearing about politics and the everyday problems that are discussed consistently on a daily basis here.

Being an artist in Venezuela is pretty much like being part of an unseen NGO. Bringing people to theaters during a crisis such as the one we currently have, is a titanic feat which sometimes  can only be seen as a work of charity. Even if you get a full house, the payout is not prosperous.

Most actors get other jobs. I left an important drama company in Venezuela after the pay could no longer justify the hours of work. The job was simply  too consuming  for a pittance that would not last more than two days. I used to receive enough money from working as an actor to at least eat and have fun from time to time, but that changed as inflation, now at 750% per year, increased.

I still have fond memories of dining with fellow actors at different restaurants in uptown, but increasingly we had to change our ways.  I have always liked to keep some savings, but even this became impossible. Today I cannot even afford to live on what I get paid in a full-time mainstream job.

And this is just the story of theater in Venezuela; other artistic disciplines like ballet and modern dance fare even worse.

If it had to be written as a play, the state of drama in Venezuela today would be a tragedy.

Written by

Roberto Lahoud is a Venezuelan writer and actor who received a BA in Communications from Universidad Central de Venezuela and is currently struggling with the "Should I Stay or Should I Go" (courtesy of The Clash) dilemma with his country. He may be reached at lahoudrob@gmail.com

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