The Art of Revolution
Revolutions, as we know them, only earn such a distinction when they yield results, i.e. political and social upheaval. Failure garners these movements different labels: uprisings, revolts, terrorism. History is inevitably written by the winners, but thankfully we have art to help clarify some important points left out of these accepted narratives. This is where renowned Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón’s new play Escuela, gracing the FringeArts stage January 28-30, comes in. With the play, Calderón brings to light the paramilitary groups who fought against the regime of Augusto Pinochet, an oft forgotten piece of Chilean history, likely because of its lack of a conclusive finale. The 1988 plebiscite and democratic election that followed overshadowed their efforts with a façade of freedom, despite the many marks of Pinochet’s malicious junta still embedded in the government (including the man himself). Though Chile found itself a more peaceful nation in the election’s wake, this new calm did little to erase the traumas of the past.
From 1973 to 1990, Augusto Pinochet ruled as military dictator of Chile. He rose to power in the wake of a 1973 US-backed military coup, which toppled the previously elected socialist government and left its leader, Salvador Allende, dead by his own hand as bullets and explosives rained down on the presidential palace. This showing of extreme force was a fitting lead-in to Pinochet’s reign, a time characterized by an unprecedented campaign of political genocide. Approximately 200,000 Chilean citizens were exiled, 28,000 tortured, 2,279 executed, and 1,248 “disappeared.” A recent, shocking on-air radio confession by a former military conscript under Pinochet helped elucidate one method the military employed to effectively erase the remains of those perceived opposition they executed without restraint: dynamite. This systematic brutality carried out by the regime is unfathomably horrific and for the majority of Chileans the suffering endured under his regime remains in such visceral forms as physical scars, alienation from their homeland, and a baffling amount of unanswered questions about just what happened to their loved ones. Sadly, restitution and answers have been sparse over the last forty years. “Our national institutions failed to deliver timely justice for human rights violations so the arts have tried to deal with the trauma by addressing the subject from every angle,” Calderón, whose uncle was killed under the Pinochet regime, stated in a recent interview. He added, “Theater has become a way of exploring that trauma and also a slight consolation.”
Escuela, however, strives for more than mere consolation. In the aforementioned interview, Calderón spoke of the radical leftist fighters the work portrays and their subsequent erasure from history: “Many people [who] sacrificed fighting the dictatorship with all means possible could not find a political or social space in the neoliberal and restricted democracy that emerged after the free elections. That generation disappeared into oblivion when their radical energy became a liability for the new democratic process. Escuela tries to bring back to life their methods, ideas and portray their ultimate defeat. Theater can rewrite history and that’s something we actively try to do onstage.” Despite the fact that the narrative of these groups is a largely forgotten and unrecorded one, don’t expect Escuela to be conjecture-based historical fiction. In a recent interview with FringeArts, Calderón revealed that, in crafting the play, he invited people who had engaged in urban guerilla warfare during the late 80s to rehearsals and had them recreate the lessons they were taught under circumstances similar to that of the play. These lessons, along with countless political discussions with the cast throughout the process, helped shape what we will see onstage.
Despite its firm grounding in the issues that plagued Chile at the time, Escuela is not merely a sobering look at radical political action. The title, “school” in English, is quite literal. These paramilitary fighters were not all formally trained soldiers as one might imagine. They all came from different socioeconomic backgrounds, but were bonded by their wish to see a Chile free from Pinochet’s tyrannical grip. The play finds them meeting in a secret location, faces hidden by hoods to prevent any possible betrayals, and sharing with each other whatever knowledge they have to aid the cause. We as the audience learn with them, and in turn grapple with the troubling moral quandaries of committing acts of violence in the name of what one believes to be the greater good.
Revolutions are not exclusively waged on the battlefield. They can be found on stages, on screens, in books, on records, in galleries. Art has always been a means of thrusting radical ideas upon the world, and has throughout history gone hand in hand with sociopolitical action. Though the events depicted in Escuela have long since passed, their relevance persists. Theater has a way of capturing an urgency that is difficult to find in any other medium, and in turn is the perfect arena in which to explore the long forgotten efforts of these bold, dogmatic fighters of Chile’s paramilitary opposition. With Escuela, Calderón is staging his own revolution against the muted, redacted narratives that still hang over his nation’s recent history. Will you join him?
Escuela runs at FringeArts January 28-30. Click here for more information and to get your tickets.