tlf news

Vol. xviii #1

March, 1998

La Fragua...
Perseverance on a Grand Scale

Orlando Cajamarca Castro

"The more hostile the environment,
the more necessary is artistic presence."
--Hans Magnus Enzensberger

The day after my arrival in Honduras I found myself in the midst of a group of parishoners intoning hymns and praises to the beat of an amateur band that plagiarized popular tunes. On the altar of the church, like the orchestra conductor, a tall and thin priest with a Quijote-like bodyframe, high forehead and long, straight white hair that curved around his prominent shoulder blades like a tamed serpent, retold the gospel events in fluent Spanish rhythms sprinkled with anglicisms, translating their meaning into the everyday reality of the mestizo congregation who listened with enthusiasm, joy and interest. A few hours after the Eucharist, the same priest who celebrated the Mass once again played conductor; only this time not in the sacred precincts of the church but on the wooden planks of his secular theatre. This reminded me vividly of the historical role of the Church as vehicle and conductor of the richest theatrical tradition of the Western World.

The first time that I heard of teatro la fragua was towards the end of 1989 when I started to receive their mailings with the same persistance that (as I would discover several years later) they had been applying to the work of their theatrical project in Honduras. The envelopes from la fragua (always inviting our financial solidarity with the cause) offered as the main course news about the tenacious work of Jack Warner and his group of young Hondurans. la fragua's beautifully illustrated calendar became an expected and necessary tool for my own troupe's annual planning.

In 1995 the Interamerican Foundation awarded me the Dante B. Fascell Interamerican Development Grant. The grant was intended to give me the chance to get to know models of community intervention with similar charisms to the project I have been working on for 15 years in Cali. I've come to call that charism "Theatre and Community: Creativity as an alternative model for development". I knew immediately the best way to use the grant: to travel to Honduras and share a few days of this vital experience.

El Progreso is a hot tropical place in northwestern Honduras, surrounded by extensive banana plantations which foreign corporations have been exploiting for innummerable years. It is a typical third-world town awash in appalling poverty, horrendously deficient in education, housing and public health, in dire need of investment in infrastructure and in the creation of sources of employment; the sort of place where theatre (to the neoliberal mind) might be an interesting option when everything else has been solved. But El Progreso boasts a beacon of light that has continued beaming day after day for eighteen years.

teatro la fragua is an experiment in theatrical creation guided by Jack Warner S.J. Jack is a member of that elite guild of men of the theatre who become a point of reference for us theatrical creators, to help us ward off the loneliness we tend to experience -- especially those of us committed to a theatre by, for, and of the marginalized and oppressed sectors of society.

The Cultural Project of la fragua is a developmental pole fundamental to the life of El Progreso. teatro la fragua has managed to spark an ever-growing interest in the community which attends performances and which develops its own creativity by participating in the workshops in dance and theatre at every level which the teatro offers regularly.

The work of la fragua begins with a group of young actors formed in the very process of teatro la fragua's sinking its roots in the town. The theatrical experimentation of this group has been enriched over the years by visiting actors (national and international) who share for various lengths of time this creative experience. Thus teatro la fragua trains its own actors who mount their own productions; these not only contribute to raising the population's cultural level, but also serve as Honduras' theatrical ambassador in countries such as El Salvador, Colombia and the United States.

la fragua's theatrical labor extends out towards remote regions with productions which carry on one of theatre's historical functions (a function to which the theatre, at least in Iberoamerica, owes a great deal of its development and consolidation): evangelization. Theatre helps to spread the gospel message of justice, love, and spiritual salvation, of respect and of focusing our interests and goals towards the service of the "least of our brethren" who are daily building the true history of humanity. Thanks to this evangelizing work, la fragua has found paths of communion with its audience, who find in theatre a dynamic and hopeful relief -- as well as a source of entertainment and recreation and a platform from which to examine their own reality.

The artistic creation of la fragua, in addition to its evangelizing mission, mines the rich univeral and Latinamerican theatrical traditions, allowing its actors and its audiences to enjoy masterpieces that extend from a didactic synthesis of Lope de Vega to pieces from the Chicano theatre of Luis Valdés. Armed with this theatrical repertoire it extends its production to the student community and to the general public in the environment, making sure that Honduras' popular theatre boasts the highest artistic standards.

la fragua understands that it must sink its roots deep into the guts of the community if the project is to be sustainable. And so the actors, who themselves spring from the popular sectors, apply the experience they have acquired in the formal context of la fragua to the regular artistic formation and direction of groups of young people that share their free time under the "divine" protection of the altars and the attics of churches. The sessions begin with a prayer of thanksgiving; then the young men and women direct body and soul to the earthly communion of the theatre. Idle time becomes creative time that stimulates the spirit of cooperation, instead of that unproductive idle time that breeds drug-addiction and the proliferation of the related antisocial behavior -- that unproductive idleness which is their own worst enemy.

And all of this is infused with a deep Christian love that teatro la fragua practices day after day, guided by their spiritual as well as earthly leader, Jack Warner, who has chosen this path as his life ministry and mission. This is what truly holds teatro la fragua together; any hope of state support (which reposes brain-dead in the dead-letter office of the political constitution of all our countries) is non-existent.

I was able to share, with all the friends at teatro la fragua, the common elements in our theatrical development -- elements that spring from the inherent difficulties our countries have in common. Talking with Jack and the guys at la fragua, I came to understand the universality of doubt; the harsh truth and the uncertainty of the creative tomorrow; the inevitable exigencies of the immediate; the vertical weight that primary and secondary needs create, relegating the spirit and the arts to a back room. And we played a ping-pong game of mutual encouragement of our common belief: that in these times, betting on theatre and on the growth and development of the arts is, without a shadow of doubt, a bet that generates vitality and energy for a society in crisis.

Thus it is necessary to invert priorities. If before we were the optional dessert for the time when everything else has been solved, we must now be the main course that stimulates the values on which all aspects of development must be built: values such as justice, solidarity, tolerance and respect. For it is the theatrical experience that invites collective creation, stimulates group process, allows the birth of levels of organization, of critical and self-critical development. The theatrical experience expands the levels of reflection about our social reality, and thus teaches us how to set goals and objectives that will lead us in the search for solutions guided by reason and understanding; solutions which promote individual identity, growth and enjoyment, as much for the person who is fighting to achieve them as for the one to whom they are directed.

I laid down a bridge together with my friends at la fragua; a bridge that will surely allow our interchange to become a permanent flow which will enhance the theatre and the development of our Latinamerican cultural heritage.

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teatro la fragua

Jesuit Development Office

4517 West Pine Boulevard.

Saint Louis, MO 63108-2101

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