Folk legends, explorers and giant ships – summer theatre in Santiago

January has come and gone and with it a month´s frenzy of theatre, dance and music that has characterised the first weeks of every year in Santiago for the last 19 years. Santiago a Mil is an international  theatre festival that runs for about three weeks and consists of shows and spectaculars of all shapes, sizes and forms from a variety of countries. The name of the festival derives from the original price of the tickets (mil pesos or roughly 2 USD) and although the price has increased slightly over the years, there are still a number of shows free.

This year I decided to make the most of the free shows in the festival (being rather broke after 6 weeks in Southern Africa) and so I researched what was showing and when. In an attempt to get more people involved in the festival, who would not normally frequent the theatre, many of the shows took place in barrios outside of the city centre and the usual theatre districts. So, one of the advantages of the free shows is that they take place in the streets and plazas. This is great from the point of view of open air theatre and it is a great way to enjoy the long, summer evenings in the city. But the downside is that with thousands of people and no real organisation for many of the shows, unless you are keen to push and shove, you may not have the best view of the performance.

This happened to us at the first show we went to, which was a look at the life of famous Chilean folksinger Victor Jarra who was killed following the 1973 military coup. The show moved through the streets of the suburb which unfortunately made it very difficult to see, unless you were right at the front. So in the end, we missed most of the show until it reached the amphitheatre of the Museum del la Memoria (Museum of Memories) where it finished.

Even without having seen most of his life story, the finale was very well done and recounted howVictor was brutally tortured and murdered in the National Football Stadium along with many other people opposed to Pinochet.

The second show we went to was about the life of Charles Darwin and his explorations in Patagonia and the Beagle Channel in the far south of the continent, especially his fascination with new cultures and peoples as well as nature. This show was in the same amphitheatre I just mentioned and so we thought that arriving about 30 minutes beforehand would be sufficient to get a seat. We were wrong and the steps of the museum were packed. This meant that we ended up sitting behind some people in a flat area in the middle of the amphitheatre which did not have the best view. But still, the show and the classical music and the way the actors used the stage they had constructed was incredible. It is very difficult to try and describe this show in words, so I will try and let some photos do the talking…

The stage consisted of two levels and 6 wide screens which were used to show amazing images of the people who used to live in Patagonia etc. This photo shows Darwin and the Captain of The Beagle (and the top of the head of the person infront of me)

The Selk´nam tribe of Chilean Patagonia fascinated Darwin. They used to paint their entire bodies for various cultural ceremonies.

The show ended with a grand piano being turned into The Beagle and Darwin and the Captain “onboard”

A very clever montage filled the screens at the end of the show

Having learnt from our previous experiences, for the final show we wanted to see, we were well prepared. We got there nearly 90 minutes before the show was due to start and already there were queues waiting for the stands to open. This show occurred in the Plaza de la Constitución outside the government palace, La Moneda, in the city centre and so everything was constructed for the event. An hour before the start, they opened the gates and we got decent seats on one of the stands. Then it was just a case of waiting until the show started, and it was definitely worth the wait.

The show was called Titanic and was performed by a German Theatre Group to commemorate 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic (April 2012). We had absolutely no idea what to expect (apart from the obvious storyline of a sinking ship…) as “the stage” was simplythe plaza surrounded by stands.

The “stage” before the show -metal, scaffolding, tubes, and something vaguely resembling part of a ship, but really nothing else gave away any of what was to come.

All I can say is WOW!!! This is probably one of the most technically challenging, yet so finely tuned, theatre spectaculars I have ever seen (and I have been lucky enought to see many of the big Broadway musicals…). Again, I can only try and describe it through photos, but I doubt even these will do it justice.

The show started with the clinking of the ironsmith´s hammers and the sounds of the dock as the ship was being contructed. Soon there were drums of fire all over the stage and workmen hurrying about as the ship slowly began to form infront of our eyes. A lone musician playing the digeridoo, provided the only music at this stage.

Slowly the scaffolding started to rise to form the back of the ship…

And then with the deck in place in the middle, the poles which had been lying on the ground were slowly raised to form the bough of the ship…

Finally, the ship was complete…

and it was celebrated with fireworks from the bough and the deck!

After all passengers and crew were “onboard”, the ship set sail and thanks to many fire hoses and trucks hidden behind the plaza, water started spraying from the bough which looked exactly as if the ship was cutting through the ocean´s surf!

The guests and crew were soon enjoying the luxuries the Titanic had to offer. This was done as a parody and much of the food was thrown into the audience.


One of the workers onboard trying to plug the first leak from the collision with his walking stick!

Clearly his walking stick was not effective and before long there were leaks everywhere and the poor guy was soaked.

Soon there was water spraying everywhere, yet still the chef was trying desperately to work…

Water, water everywhere…

And before long, the mighty ship started to sink…

With music adding to the frenzy, the stage was chaos…fire, water, people running and abandoning ship…

And thanks to quite a strong breeze, the spray from the water started to soak the audience and so it was time to put the camera away!!!

Phew, I am exhausted just writing about the play and looking at my photos again. The cast received a well-deserved standing ovation as they all stood amongst the rubble of the Titanic, soaking wet, but smiling!!!

My account of only three shows, out of probably at least a hundred, is just a taste of what the Santiago a Mil festival offers people. It truly is an amazing few weeks in the theatre world, but the only pity is that with everything squashed into such a short space of time, it is really difficult to make the most of everything on offer. I will have to plan well in advance for next year´s festival…

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