The Great National Theater (GTN) turns 10 years old. various artists, from Juan Diego Florez until Wendy Sulca, have stepped on its imposing stage. Not counting international ballets and symphonies. Due to its architectural characteristics and its high technology, it is considered a first-rate artistic venue and one of the five best in South America.
Approximately one and a half million Peruvians have attended its productions in this decade of creation (a figure from the Communications Office) and more than 200 shows will be held in its anniversary year.
Nevertheless, the GTN is still seen as a distant, distant, foreign space. It may be the second, third or fourth option when a person from Lima is looking for entertainment. Why? We asked the artistic producer, Fernando Urcia Castanedawho has been developing interesting proposals such as ‘Cafe Concert‘ either ‘out fest‘, shows that seek to fuse the classic with the modern to attract more viewers, but is it working?
THE NATIONAL THEATER, CLOSER
Fernando, why is there a cold relationship between the Gran Teatro Nacional and the population?
Many people think that it is an elitist space or that it has exuberant prices. So, that, added to the fear that Peruvians themselves have of approaching the performing arts because we consider that it is not a space where we can feel comfortable, makes the theater look so distant. One thousand times prefers to pay a ticket to the cinema, where you feel comfortable, than to a theater.
As the GTN is a new, imposing theater, that alienates people indirectly. But they do not realize that this is not true. I bought my ticket to see ‘Cinderella’ and it cost me 40 soles and I’m going to be in the audience. It is a gift to have such an accessible price, and there were prices of 20 or 15 soles (the tickets are already sold out).
What is failing cultural management that does not bring culture closer to Peruvians?
I believe that we are doing enough to bring theater closer to different entities. The theater has different programs that seek to bring the population closer to the theater. And not just as a one-time spectator, but as a regular spectator who understands that the performing arts are not far from us.
What is the GTN doing about it?
The GTN programming has a vision that tries to encompass the different genres that exist, musicals, dances, and theater, but that mark a broad panorama of what is currently happening. An example of this is the ‘Afuera Fest’, a festival that is designed for groups that have a certain history and that each (edition) has a different content. We have had cumbia on one date, on another salsa, rock, indie, reggae, Afro-Peruvian, Andean music. This year we have had that. It is a way to make everyone feel identified with the artistic proposal of the GTN.
The peculiarity of ‘Afuera Fest’ is that each group is given a classic piece that they have to reverse and convert to their own style. So, we’ve had DJ Shushupe play a classical piece. To Liberato Kani, who does hip hop in Quechua, playing Swan Lake.
Is that formula bringing people closer together?
That formula helps a lot. First, because we have listened to classical pieces all the time and we have not realized it. We have heard it in the ringtone of telephones, in commercials, in cartoons and we do not recognize it as classic pieces. ‘We have heard the march of the bullfighters in a noodle commercial, for instance. By giving the classic piece to an artist and having them cover it, the artist realizes that it is also interesting. That happened to us with ‘Eight kings’. They received a classical piece by Bach, from the classical baroque, and the timing that Andean music has is almost the same, it was very comfortable to make an adaptation.
What about the ticket prices for the shows produced by the GTN?
There are prices of different types. Some international productions or those that we do not produce, have their own prices. But the activities that the GTN programs jointly with the casts have affordable prices or are absolutely free. There are cheap rates the highest price is 40 soles, when that same function could cost 200 soles. There are possibilities to be able to approach.
It is known that for Argentines it is part of their routine to go to the theater, how much longer do we need to be at that rate?
What happens is that Argentina or Mexico have a very different approach to the performing arts than we have had. People know about theaters. One goes to Corrientes, in Argentina, and one does not see a theater, one sees seven or eight theaters in the same street, with totally different functions.
We come from a time when our artistic production was not so good or great either. We come from a time of terrorism in which theaters closed instead of opening. So the productions were smaller and smaller. Rather, we, in recent years have seen an increase in theaters, plays, theater groups, music, dance, more interesting proposals.
Are we one of the countries with the least attendance at the theatre?
Honestly, I couldn’t tell, but I do know that our turnout isn’t as big as it should be. But I am also seeing that there is more and more assistance. The goal of the GTN is to get closer to the people, ‘Café Concierto’ is an example of that. To attend a ‘Café Concert’ all you have to do is sign up for Joinnus, put your information and enter a contest for about 120 locations. We usually get 300 or 400 applications.
What kind of public comes to the GTN?
Everything is very varied. And it has changed more after the pandemic. When we advertise a concert, tickets sell out on the hour. People know that there will be that kind of concert and they come and sell out. We had Vali Cáceres (Peruvian guitarist) and he asked: how many of the people who are here know me or my music? And out of 120, about 10 or 12 people said they knew him. That’s interesting because here you’re opening up another market and the public is opening up to listen to artists they didn’t know..
What criteria are used to select the artists who participate in these activities?
It depends on the type of show. For ‘Afuera Fest’ they must be bands that have a certain reception, that have their own style of music, that are available and can adapt to the challenge of the GTN, which is to cover the classic piece. So we try to see different musical genres so that none of them is repeated and each date is totally different from the other.
At ‘Café Concierto’, for example, we are looking for musicians who have a smaller format, more acoustic, with 5 or 6 people, who have a long history or who are in training, but whose music is interesting, we have to review the information What do we have of them?
Let’s say, a singer like Pharaoh Love Shady would have space in the GTN?
It’s complicated, I think I could have. We have had a greater opening, we have had Wendy Sulca for ‘Teatro en Grande’. The idea is to see the format in which people can present themselves, but it is also to have a previous curatorship.
What are you talking about?
To the fact that an artist can present a very interesting musical project. We check if it’s sung live, how it sounds on your recording and how it sounds live.
Nobody lip-syncs here?
They all sing live. We’ve had DJs or we’ve had Carolinativawhich is Afro-Peruvian music that mixes with hip hop, she has her tracks and her beats, but she makes her voice and her proposal is interesting and she says something and is talking about something, she represents something.
So here the door is not closed to any genre?
No no no. The idea of the GTN is to be able to accompany the artist. Tell them if you’re not up for a production yet, that you should work on this or that. There are artists who say they have their first single, but they can’t do a concert with one single and the rest covers. In addition to that, there are a number of artists waiting for this space. We have to select some against others.
How does culture transform people?
The arts allow you to connect with the truth, I always say that. Art does not lie, art allows you to connect with certain truths that you have inside and that, sometimes, we are immersed in a world in which we must pretend and not be. Art connects you with important fibers, not just the classical arts.
Does it sensitize people?
It connects you with emotional fibers that you are not aware of. A human being close to his emotions is a better human being.
Does it say much about a country that its young people want to be more soccer players than artists?
I believe that one tries to imitate what one sees the most. In that plane, because the diffusion or the strength that Peruvian soccer has is much greater. Your dream is to be what you see. But I also feel that there is more and more closeness to the arts.
What artists have stepped on this stage?
Has been John Diego Flowers many times, Nito Mestre, international casts from different countries. He has been to the ballet folklorico Amalia Hernandez. we have had Lila Downs. Symphonies from various parts of the world, ballet companies. Not only international artists, we have had Fragile, amanda portals, Chimango lares, Manuelcha meadow. There is an opening of the GTN for different expressions.
What is the goal of the GTN?
Personally, my desire is that the different artistic expressions of our country are increasingly represented. Not only the traditional and classic, but other artistic expressions. That there is a different or better closeness to the one that until now we have not been able to articulate. May this space be the space of all Peruvians.
3 FACTS ABOUT THE NTG
- The Peruvian architect Alfonso de la Piedra was in charge of directing the project for the construction of the general infrastructure and the Brazilian architect José Nepomuceno designed the acoustic structure and theatrical mechanics.
- For its acoustics, essential requirements were met, such as: Special loads for equipment and Perimeters closed by concrete plates and slabs 30 cm thick (at least) called ‘acoustic boxes’. The area also has 4 basements and 7 stories high where the lift platform for the stage, the cisterns and pump rooms are located.
- inside the theater, the main room is shaped like a lyre or horseshoe and is mostly made of wood (floors, walls, boxes, seats, veneers and stage). It has four floors and 1,415 seats, as well as 16 seats for people with disabilities. All seats offer the spectator adequate visibility of the stage and excellent acoustics from any location.
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