Arts & Entertainment

Home for retired Argentine performers scrambling to survive

By Rodrigo Garcia

Buenos Aires, Jun 3 (EFE).- They devoted their lives to the unstable world of show business and, when they became old, they had to face a retirement with restrictions. They are the guests of the Casa de Teatro de Buenos Aires, which for more than 80 years has been welcoming retired artists with economic problems and now, in the midst of a real crisis, is juggling things to survive.

“Here there are dancers, singers, actors, directors, producers, tango singers …” actress Linda Peretz told EFE, adding that she has lived since 2016 at the home, an elegant art deco building designed for the occasion by architect Alejandro Virasoro (1892-1978) and located on downtown Santa Fe Avenue.

Among the residents is Fernando Ortega, who for years was a flamenco dancer for the iconic Lola Flores. “Tomorrow, I’m going with two companions to the doctor. It’s a community where we all help each other. Living together is difficult, but since each of us has our own room, we’re OK,” he said.

In all, 30 people receive lodging, food and medical care at the home. They are all over age 65 and look after themselves, having each spent at least 15 years in an artistic career and having no other place to live.

Although staying at the Casa de Teatro is free, a while back – Peretz said – the residents decided to make a contribution. “They put 1.7 percent of their retirement pay into the Casa del Teatro as a symbolic act,” she said.

There’s a waiting list to get in, but the coronavirus pandemic is not the best time to admit new residents. “Fortunately, up to now nobody’s gotten sick (with Covid-19), because if someone were to become ill, it seems to me that we’d all be in danger of getting infected,” Peretz said.

Argentina’s economic situation – a deep recession – doesn’t help matters either. The home is privately managed, supported mainly by public aid and donations, as well as by the boutique where it sells clothing donated both by famous people and anonymously. And it is in deep debt to the state Treasury.

“We owe eight million pesos ($84,000) and we won’t get to the end of the month. We have a deficit of 500,000 or 600,000 pesos ($5,275 to $6,330) per month. We’re juggling,” the Casa de Teatro’s president said.

The home opened in 1938 on the initiative of soprano Regina Pacini, the wife of former President Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, who governed from 1922-1928. “She understood that actors and theater people had to have a place to live when they didn’t have any more money to handle things alone or family to take them in. So, this is the ideal home, unique in the world,” Peretz said.

The 10-story building with its roof shaped like a stepped Inca pyramid has everything: bedrooms, a chapel, a kitchen, a dining room and sitting rooms.

Two floors are rented to the National Theater Institute, on two other floors the Regina Theater Complex has its offices and down below there is a museum dedicated to Carlos Gardel and another to Doña Regina.

“Our driving force, our spiritual leader, our mother. I think that not having children also pushed her to take care of the theater people like a spiritual mother,” the president said of Pacini.

Also downstairs is the boutique, with garments at economical prices that were worn earlier by stars like Mirtha Legrand, Susana Gimenez and Nacha Guevara.

“A woman who has a wedding ceremony and comes to buy an outfit of Mirtha Legrand. Imagine! She’s the queen of the party! She gave us so much and we’re very grateful,” said Peretz regarding the actress and performer who is currently 94 and is the honorary president of the Casa de Teatro.

At present, the pandemic has forced the home to suspend social get-togethers, where in former times there was no lack of singing and dancing by residents who had devoted their lives to those pursuits.

Fernando Ortega recalled as if it were yesterday how in the late 1960s he met Lola Flores in Buenos Aires: “It was the happiest day of my life, to have met her. And she told me, ‘You have to go to Spain.'”

And so he went with “La Faraona,” who he said was a “huge star” and a wonderful human being, and to be one of her dancers opened up for him a window of opportunities, such as creating his own dance group with which he toured Europe.

After years of intense work, he returned to his native Argentina in 2000 to take care of sick relatives. “And it was a little late for me to return (to Spain) … And here I’m getting along great in this house,” said Ortega, who has been living at the center for 10 years, an historic location that, despite the health crisis, is continuing to provide for its residents.

“If they want me to leave the Casa de Teatro, I’ll wrap myself in chains on Santa Fe Avenue and stop traffic,” said Peretz, who after a lifetime making films and a career in theater and television said that she has the good health, energy and love to keep on fighting.

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