Colombia: Iberoamerican Theatre Festival of Bogotá

Every two years, the Colombian capital is taken over by a carnival of performing arts. The Iberoamerican Theatre Festival of Bogotá has become instrumental in boosting the international careers of Colombian artists. This year’s event, under director Anamarta de Pizarro, takes place from 4-20 April. 

What impact has the festival had on the Colombian theatre scene since its establishment?

Before the festival started in 1988, the only things that were passing through Colombia were classical performing arts, like Spanish ballet for example. There was very little new contemporary work being performed at that time. But when the festival was introduced, it began to teach the public to see new things, to allow themselves to be surprised. It also helped people who were working in the performing arts, as they began to create work in response to what was happening in the world.

How popular is the Iberoamerican Theatre Festival of Bogotá with the general public and how would you describe your demographic?

We get the sense that people here feel very proud of the festival and want to come along to see a lot of the shows. In a country like Colombia, which doesn’t have a long theatre tradition, so we try not to present one particular type of production. We include things like cabaret and huge spectacle events for younger audiences. Every night we have Carpa Cabaret, during which we present different bands so people can go partying every night after the theatre. But whatever we programme, we always look for excellence in performance.

Ubu Rey by Fortebraccio Teatro © Simone Cecchetti
Ubú Rey by Fortebraccio Teatro © Simone Cecchetti

How do you extend the reach of the festival and what is its legacy?

We have two other components that are really important to us. The first is the school of the festival. Over 17 days, many of the directors, choreographers and practitioners who are performing at the festival hold workshops and classes. We also have another programme called VIA. It’s a showcase where producers and directors of festivals from around the world are invited to see work by Colombian and Latin American artists. This year we are presenting 42 Latin American companies, 36 of which are Colombian.

Professional festival programmers from around 60 countries are interested in coming to watch the work on offer. But we don’t want these directors and producers to just come and watch, and then return to their countries. So we help the showcasing companies to negotiate an opportunity to perform their work abroad. It’s about opening a window on the region for the world to see. Companies which have performed at VIA in previous years have been invited to festivals and engagements all over the world; Mapa Teatro, for instance, perform frequently at the festival and recently became the first Colombian company to be invited to Festival d’Avignon.

Matando el tiempo by Colombian company La Maldita Vanidad © Juan Carlos Mazo
Matando el tiempo by Colombian company La Maldita Vanidad © Juan Carlos Mazo

ISPA changed the dates of its summer congress in order to coincide with the festival. How did this come about?

Two years ago we invited some of the ISPA team to attend the festival and see what happens in the city. Usually the most important theatre festivals in the world happen in small cities like Edinburgh or Avignon. Yet even though Bogotá is a city of eight million people, the whole city gets involved with the festival. It’s a carnival with a real party atmosphere – a city transformed by performing arts. When the ISPA team saw this, they were really surprised – and that’s why they decided to change the date of the congress and come during the festival. I’m sure it will help the performing arts in our country; it’s important for us to have people come and see what’s going on, and also to make contact with new groups and companies.

Cineastas by Argentina’s Marea © Carlos Furman arte
Cineastas by Argentina’s Marea © Carlos Furman arte

How do you secure funding for the festival?

We aren’t guaranteed money from the government; every two years we have to apply for a grant, which usually accounts for between 10-12 per cent of our budget. About 25 per cent comes from private sponsors, and 10 per cent comes from international support, for example from the British Council. The rest, around 50 per cent, comes from revenue taken at the box office. Because it’s so important we sell plenty of tickets, we have to ensure that people feel really connected to the festival and want to see what’s on offer. While this type of funding model is not easy to incorporate, it does give us a lot of independence about what we do and how we do it.

Top image: La Verità by Compagnia Finzi Pasca © Viviana Cangialosi

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