AIlan Bolt considers the stage to be “a magic place where everything can happen.” Eschewing realism, he aims instead for a kind of “magic reality.” Most often his stage is a field, a street, a town square, and in these humble settings he fashions a rough, vivid theatre which expresses the radically changing society of his homeland, Nicaragua.
Bolt, a 33-year-old Nicaraguan who is related to the British playwright Robert Bolt, has a dual role in his country—he is the founder and a member of the professional theatre ensemble Nixtayolero (Morning Star), and he is also director of Nicaragua’s National Theatre Workshop. Last December, he hosted a delegation of U.S. theatre artists (including Mabou Mines director JoAnne Akalaitis, playwright and poet Deena Metzger, Peter Brosius of the Mark Taper Forum, Naomi Newman from A Traveling Jewish Theatre and Joe Lambert of the People’s Theatre Coalition) at the fourth annual National Theatre Festival in Managua. Impressed by Bolt and the work of Nixtayolero, Lambert and the delegation arranged for an exchange visit.
In September and October Bolt and his eight-member ensemble were guests at theatres and cultural centers in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, performing original works from their repertoire (including the short farces Beware and The World, the Devil and the Flesh) and conducting performance and script-writing workshops at the Taper and other host theatres.
Nixtayolero makes use of a visually arresting style to express contemporary social concerns through myths and fables that are familiar to its largely peasant audiences. The plays are “about themes that matter to the audience,” Bolt says, but they are not, he hastens to add, rigidly didactic.
“Sometimes [a play] is just a story about someone within the community who’s funny. Sometimes it talks about revolution, or criticizes the government because something’s wrong, or criticizes the church. Sometimes it struggles with the problems of young people—we speak about everything!”
Such theatrical liberties are not lightly undertaken in a country with Nicaragua’s explosive political and military situation. Bolt, after studying in Spain and Germany in the late ’60s, joined the socialist Sandinista Front in 1971, creating political theatre events in Nicaragua before fleeing underground when a price was placed on his head for his activism. In 1977 he fled to Costa Rica (along with 50,000 other Nicaraguans) and organized a cultural group of dance, music and theatre artists there. It was only after the regime of Anastasio Somoza was overthrown in 1979 and a Sandinista coalition took over that he was able to return to his country.
There were few financial resources in a country that had just undergone a protracted civil war, Bolt recalls, but he soon created Nixtayolero, based in the city of Matagalpa, and worked to establish a network of theatre training that eventually resulted in the formation of more than 300 theatre groups—in a country with a population of only 2.8 million. The training system, the National Theatre Workshop, is based on a core of instructors who regularly come to Matagalpa for intensive study of dance, acting, directing, playwriting, criticism, design and theatre history. The instructors then return to their home cities and villages to share their skills with the directors and performers in local groups.
Bolt’s goal, in part, is to create a fusion of native theatre forms that will have popular appeal for his ethnically and geographically diverse country. His own theatre work partakes of three traditional Nicaraguan performance modes: “In the Caribbean region the tradition is big masks, rituals, healing ceremonies, music festivals. In the north, the Mesquito Indians have something different—very theatrical dances which tell stories of the community and the history of the people—they don’t speak, they sing. In the central plains area, where native Indians attained a high level of civilization, you can still find El Gueguense, the oldest Latin American play of the colonies, written in the 15th century, and mostly danced with masks, bells and mirrors. Everything is participatory. There is no separation between the stage and the audience.”
Bolt borrowed heavily from these communal theatrical forms to theorize about a new, contemporary theatre that could play to outdoor gatherings in villages, in city barrios, on coffee plantations. For him, theatre is a social tool—but its aesthetic elements are equally important. “We are fighting for beauty,” reasons, “not only for what is useful.” It may be a long time before Nicaragua’s political, economic and military situation is stabilized—but with a cultural leader such as Bolt, the country has not put aside artistic exploration for the interim.
Misha Berson is executive director of the Theatre Communications Center of the Bay Area.
Politics was his job, but the arts were his passion. Now former New York mayor John V. Lindsay will be combining the two—most likely in equal measure—as chairman of the board of directors of the long-dark Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. Lindsay’s appointment, announced in September, was widely applauded as a big step toward getting the theatre back on the production track. The controversy between the Beaumont and its parent Lincoln Center organization centers, in part, on whether an expensive interior renovation is or is not needed for the theatre to go back into action—which (along with the establishment of a resident Beaumont company) is new chairman Lindsay’s top priority.
British-born actor-director John Neville will succeed John Hirsch as artistic director of Canada’s Stratford Festival when the latter’s term expires at the end of the 1985 season. Over the past 13 years, Neville (a naturalized Canadian citizen) had headed the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton and the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, and was onstage this season at Stratford as Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Mr. Malcolm/Major Pol lock in Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables.
It took 110 years, but The Lambs (America’s oldest theatrical club) has for the first time presented its prestigious Shepherd award to a woman, namely Dorothy Loudon, who is currently starring in Broadway’s Noises Off. Loudon follows in the footsteps of John Barrymore, Irving Berlin and other male theatrical greats.
Costume designer Dunya Ramicova was honored this season with one of DePaul University’s eight Distinguished Alumni Awards. The Czech-born designer, who has been a resident artist at Yale Repertory Theatre since 1977, most recently earned raves for her costumes in Peter Sellars’ controversial production of Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte for the Castle Hill Festival in Massachusetts.
Susan Medak has joined Northlight Repertory Theatre in Evanston, lil., as managing director. Her former job at People’s Light and Theatre Company in Malvern, Pa., will be handied by Kathleen A. Cherry and Greg Rowe.
Michael Sirota is the new managing director of the Boston Shakespeare Company, and Richard Heeger has taken on similar duties at New York’s Theatre of the Open Eve. Delaware Theatre Company of Wilmington has also appointed a new managing director, Dennis Luzak. American Conservatory Theatre founder and general director William Ball has taken over the duties of stage director for the first time in four seasons—his production of Harold Pinter‘s Old Times began performances in San Francisco Oct. 24. Ball had ceased directing plays for a time to concentrate on raising funds for the company.
Film director Alan Pakula (Sophie’s Choice, All the President’s Men) has been named to the National Artistic Council of the Santa Fe Festival Theatre. He joins Angela Lansbury, Schuyler Chapin and Virgil Thomson, among others, on the theatre’s advisory board.
Simon Levy took over the duties of artistic director of San Francisco’s One Act Theatre Company in September, replacing Ric Prindle, who left the theatre to become a drama professor at California State University, Hayward. Levy is a veteran of some 18 One Act productions, including the current Taco Jesus by Michael Lynch.
Remember these names: Luisa Amaral-Smith, Jeff Bennett, Mary Agen Cox, Kayce Glasse, Scott Fults, Raan Lewis, Gregory Rue and Bob Rumsby. They’re the eight young actors selected for the Alley Theatre of Houston’s Young Company this season. The octet made its debut in September in the Alley’s mainstage production Tales from the Arabian Nights, and will be cast in the Alley’s outreach program TREAT. The company is being sponsored by funding from Texas Eastern Corporation….Moses Goldberg, producing director of Stage One: the Louisville Children’s Theatre, joined some 500 other representatives from 40 member nations at the International Congress of ASSITEJ in Moscow during September. Goldberg is the vice president of the U.S. branch of the worldwide association of theatre for children and young people.
Subscription expert Danny Newman was awarded the Bronze Star by the United States Army for using his “imperfect command” of the German language to persuade a group of armed German soldiers to surrender to the Americans in World War II. Ceremonies took place Sept. 12 at Chicago’s Civic Opera House…American Theatre Arts of Hollywood presented its annual Lifetime Achievement in the Entertainment Arts Award to the Japanese film director Masahiro Shinoda, who is well known in his country for some 25 films, but has just begun to be appreciated in the U.S. Shinoda received the honor Oct. 13 at a screening of his film MacArthur’s Children, about post-World War I Japan.
More Than Clothes
The work of designer John Conklin is being showcased at the Hartford Stage Company in an exhibition entitled John Conklin: Towards the Dramatic Event, a Designer’s Odyssey. Running Oct. 9-Dec 23, the exhibition features drawings and models from Conklin’s designs for the HSC as well as the Netherlands Opera, the New York City Opera and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Conklin has designed more than 30 productions for the Hartford company, including 1964’s inaugural production of Othello, the more recent productions of Kean, Cymbeline, The Greeks (above) and Three Sisters, and the upcoming productions of Anatol and The Mystery Plays. Artistic director Mark Lamos describes his collaborations with Conklin as “the greatest joys of my creative life. John’s designs never simply ‘dress’ the stage or the actor’s bodies. They are another way of communicating the text—a feeling, an idea, a metaphor.” Conklin will be one of 11 designers profiled by Arnold Aronson in TCG’s forthcoming book American Set Design.
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