Imagining the Future of the Left: Teatro La Re-sentida at the Schaubühne
by Joseph Pearson
24. April 2015
»La imaginación del futuro« is a polemic, by Teatro La Re-sentida, about today’s Chile, and more broadly about the future of the Left. Director Marco Layera says that his country is at its most important political juncture since the deposing of Socialist president Salvador Allende, on 11 September 1973.
»La imaginación del futuro« plays with the figure of Allende, and how a team of PR advisors might save his image and the country’s future, on the eve of his famous farewell speech. Allende’s text foresaw that »sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open through which free men will pass to construct a better society«. Has that future generation arrived? Will it be able to keep Allende’s promise?
When I met them, Layera’s team had flown in the previous evening for the F.I.N.D. festival. Now they are vigorously caffeinating on a Thursday morning in the Schaubühne’s café. We sit down and Layera shakes his head when I ask him if the play is a historical piece about Allende.
»No. We visit the past, but as a fiction. The goal is primarily to speak about the present«, he explains.
Contemporary politics is at the centre of debate. Since 2011, Chile has seen mass youth protests on its streets. The most important issue has been education, the demand for greater State engagement, and for the abolishing of private higher education. But this issue has been bundled with others such as economic inequality, and rights for the indigenous, sexual minorities, and women (abortion is still illegal in Chile). These youth protests – called the »Chilean Winter« (although they have lasted many seasons, and are still going on) – are a decisive break from a prolonged period of muted civil discontent, since the 1990 overthrowing of Pinochet. The generation of 1990, says Layera, enjoyed its freedom from authoritarianism a little too comfortably. The new generation has arrived, and the young are angry.
Layera explains the protests’ context. Demonstrators have risen up against a left-wing government, »which forgets its ideological predecessors, which only administers a system that is the continuation of the left-over dictatorship. When Chile recuperated democracy, there was the hope for meaningful change, but now there is only disillusionment. Today’s pragmatic left-wing government uses the figure of Allende for its convenience. They relativise him; he is a form of marketing. So, in the play, we are faced with a contradiction between past and future«.
»La imaginación del futuro« plays with this myth of Allende, fictionalising and comically reimagining him. This provoked misunderstandings during a four-month tour last year, to almost a dozen cities in France.
Layera explains, »The past is represented in the body of Allende. In our play, he portrays a decrepit, doddering, sleepy old man. For that reason, we have been highly criticised. But this fiction permits us to show that Allende is the repository for a dream that nobody is able to make real. In Chile, the piece wasn’t very controversial. There were some individuals who were bothered by it, but in Chile there’s been an evolution where people are able to decontextualise the icon of Allende, and understand our intentions. 90% of the audience understands what we are doing. In France, for example, we faced a lot of critique, reactions that we never saw in Chile«.
»What is it about France’s – or other European countries’ – relationship to Allende that is so different to Chile’s?«
»France followed our revolution very closely, and many French leftists identify very strongly with the figure of Allende. France also received many Chilean exiles. There is a distanced romanticism abroad, making him an untouchable figure«.
»It’s always easier for untouchable figures to be from other countries«, I add.
»It is easier and more cowardly«, Layera says, »We discussed for a very long time whether it was necessary to articulate that this play is not historical, because we think it quite clearly is not. The play does not intend to provide a hypothesis about why Allende’s revolution failed. Many have asked us, ‹don’t you remember the intervention of the United States?’ and we reply, ‹do you really think we could forget?’ But this topic does not fit in this play. This is not a play intended to glorify Allende, precisely because normally when you see a play about Allende, you expect a glorification«.
We drink our coffee and turn from the icon of the past to the imagination of the future. I wonder whether Allende’s promise can be fulfilled, that »sooner rather than later… free men« will launch a new revolution.
Layera says, »It has taken twenty years since the toppling of Pinochet to bring people out on to the streets. Before this time, it was counterproductive. It made one feel culpable to march against the government that brought back democracy. But the current generation is finally tired of it, and no longer accepts today’s political transactions. This reminds me of what was happening in Allende’s time. The question is what will happen now: will there be another coup, another dictatorship?«
»What do you think will happen?« I ask.
Layera is pessimistic: »What is interesting is the way these leftists have humanised capitalism. We live in an époque when, through consumption, we are able to become better human beings: buying organic food, for example«.
»You consume left-wing products instead of being a real activist – « I follow him.
»Yes, that’s it. You can sit in your own home very comfortably and be politically active on the web. You can do it by what you ‹like’. We are ‹auto-complacent’«.
While the Left sits on its laurels, and has been co-opted by corporate interests, we need to ask how alternative solutions for democracy can be reached. The domestication of Chile’s left wing, which ended the Pinochet era, provides a point of comparison for the old Left in Europe, entrenched too in corporate interests. Will new alternative political parties, such as Podemos and Syriza, be the answer? Will technology be a catalyst for change? Or will our dependence on technology, as a tool for aggrandising narcissism, prove a greater impediment? Will the youth tear themselves away long enough from their mobile phones and laptops to take the streets?
Layera says, »Our audience are people, generally on the left, whom we expect think similarly to us. At least in Chile, right-wingers are less likely to attend our performances. So we wish to confront those within our group, ultimately to agree on something. It would be too easy simply to attack the right wing, business and corporate interests, and those opposed to left-wing thinking. This is all too common. We desire instead to engage in an auto-critique, one that involves both ourselves and the audience«.
What then can Europe learn from Chile? Like the post-Pinochet generation, have we too become overly comfortable, too focused on ethical consumption, too stifled by the anomie of digital me-culture? And how can we rally for change when our myths of revolution are not only mired in failure, but marketed and exploited? Is the iconic Allende a hopeful figure, or a terrible warning?
von La Re-sentida
Regie: Marco Layera
Premiere war am 25. April 2015