Arts & Entertainment

Open-air plays offer safe escapism for theater-starved Ecuadorians

By Cristina Bazan

Guayaquil, Ecuador, Jun 28 (EFE).- With tables and chairs set up two meters apart and stages installed over outside stairs, theaters in this Ecuadorian city hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic are looking to bounce back and provide much-needed entertainment in keeping with Covid-19 safety protocols.

“People are eager to go out, to enjoy the theater. They want to enjoy themselves a while, disconnect a bit from reality, and that’s allowed us to go back to work,” Fabo Doja told Efe.

Doja has a starring role along with Ana Passeri in “El amor es algo asi” (Love Is Something Like That), a so-called “despecho” musical that explores heartbreak and its accompanying feelings of longing, spite and resentment.

Tatiana Davila, a Guayaquil resident, recorded some scenes with her cell phone and joined with the other 150 theater-goers in singing along to the music outside the “Sanchez Aguilar” Theater.

“I thought it was incredible. It’s something different and there’s a very pleasant atmosphere,” she said.

More of these types of events are needed because people feel much safer in these spaces than they do indoors and enjoy the entertainment more, Davila said.

Open-air theater is an idea born out of the pandemic and the need to create spaces where people can enjoy themselves without feeling afraid, Ramon Barranco, the theater’s artistic director, said.

“We realized people were afraid, that they were apprehensive about entering the theaters due to fear of contagion,” he said, adding that a pilot plan was presented to municipal authorities and accepted “due to its seriousness.”

Approval was obtained to mount a cafeteria, a wine bar and a stage for plays and musicals in the theater’s outdoor parking lot – a small-format venue equipped to seat 150 people.

“We decided to start our summer season with this musical and we’re very pleased because it’s been a success,” Barranco said, recalling that during the first three weeks tickets for the musical sold out in advance.

The format also allows the actors to interact with the public, albeit while maintaining proper social distancing.

Passeri said that despite the measures taken to adapt the theater to the coronavirus era, the audience and actors alike were very concerned about coming down with that potentially fatal illness when performances were indoors.

“We’re now vaccinated, and you see people are at ease knowing they’ve come to a place where nothing is going to happen to them,” she added.

Carlos Gomez, who also attended the performance of “El amor es algo asi,” stressed the mental health benefits of the theater after a year in which these types of cultural activities were largely off-limits.

“Setting up these spaces is very good for the community, for the economy and for everyone’s mental health,” he said.

Hospital systems and morgues in Guayaquil were under such severe strain in March and April 2020 that some bodies of Covid-19 victims had to be recovered from the streets.

But with the number of new Covid-19 deaths in Guayaquil having fallen to an average of seven per day and occupation of intensive-care beds down to 75 percent, the city was able to ease its coronavirus restrictions.

Marcela del Rio, president of the foundation that manages the “Centro de Arte” Theater, which also will provide open-air entertainment starting July 10, told Efe that those performances will include musicals and plays for adults and children.

“This year has been very tough for the cultural sector. We’ve been very hard hit. Now we see people are very willing and we hope this is now the definitive (re-opening) and that little by little we’ll be starting back up,” she said. EFE

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