Berny Abarca is a puppeteer, theater actor and producer. A member of the MTM Puppet Theater since 2010, he is today the producer of a production that marks the history of Costa Rican theatre:Como si fuera jugando” (“Like Playing”) is set to kick off a China tour, featuring 40 shows in three different cities starting August 5.
Abarca has always been a faithful spectator of the puppet theater and, at the age of 12, he became a member of the Cucaramacara puppet theater group. He participated in about 20 shows with MTM and Cucaramacara, and later produced the National Arts Festival and the International Arts Festival of Costa Rica. until 2014. He continues to produce shows and cultural events.
The Tico Times spoke to Abarca about the new play, its message and what it means for Costa Rican theater. Excerpts follow.
What is the “Como si fuera jugando” on?
The show is what we call a repositioning: an updated version of a show the company created in 1985. [by Quique Acuña]. At that time, the MTM wanted to create a play to talk about peace. These were difficult times. It was the Cold War, ideological polarization, etc. We realized that the piece is as relevant today as it was then. There are still many fights in the world and war is a constant threat. So we wanted to redo the game and do some updates.
What is the format of the game?
It is a show that uses different theatrical techniques: for example, black theater, which gives the impression that objects are floating; glove puppet; and puppets. The piece is not spoken. We wanted it to be understood in any country. We didn’t want language to become a barrier. All the weight of the piece rests on the music, from the likes of Herbie Hancock and Manuel Obregón. Music is a universal language, which is part of the message we want to convey. The piece is about technology and how humans can use their creativity to create things to their advantage but also to generate damage, like creating bombs, for example.
Tell me about this China tour.
China is a market that is beginning to open up to Western groups, which does not mean that it is easy [to perform there]. On the contrary, it is extremely difficult because of the negotiations, the language – they are quite selective about what they accept there, because internally they have a great capacity for creation. Last year there was an international call from UNIMA, International Puppetry Association, [for groups to perform in China]. We participated, passed the artistic selection process, and then were approved by the Chinese government. During the years I worked on it, I never heard of a band that sold out 40 shows in China or any other country.
This is cultural diplomacy. We consider ourselves cultural ambassadors, because when we get there, we will talk about peace, which is basically Costa Rica’s international policy. We are very happy that the work has an appreciated quality. In fact, it is more popular abroad than in Costa Rica. The piece has not been selected here for the International Arts Festival (FIA).
What is the impact of this realization on the Costa Rican theater?
Puppetry is often seen as a thing for children, as it is not real theater. This positions the puppet theater as a reference of what is done in Costa Rican theater. It’s undeniable. It opens our eyes to explore new markets, takes away the fear of thinking that all the shows we do have to be presented right here, or at most there in El Salvador or Nicaragua. We have the power to make an impact in highly competitive markets. We have already done it: MTM has successfully presented shows in Canada, Brazil, Chile, Spain. Costa Rica has quality and can produce quality products.
The other thing we want to show is that Costa Rica can export art – we don’t see art as part of the goods and services we can export, but we need to start seeing the possibilities of commerce and how we can link our artistic work to other sectors of the economy to achieve a symbiotic relationship between art and other commercial or diplomatic interests.
Who is in the cast of the tour?
We are four. Anselmo Navarro is our director and technical coordinator; he and Alvaro Mata, performer and designer, are both part of the first generations of the MTM. Sofía Navarro, part of the new generation, is Anselmo’s daughter; she used to watch all the shows when she was little, and now she performs them. The last person to join the group, who is also part of the new generation, is July Betances, who is Dominican. The group has always had many members from different countries, because Costa Rica is a bridge between countries. It has always been enriched by the contribution of many people from other countries.
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