I know I have been kind of absent on my blog recently so I hope this serves to let people know a little bit of what I am doing right now. I am leading another group of students through Peru and Bolivia and just this past Sunday we made it to Bolivia. Specifically, to El Alto and a theater company called Teatro Trono.
As an interpreter and translator for the group for much of our time in Teatro Trono I have found that it is a good way to “profundizar” or go deeper into the material we are learning. Nuestros dragones have had the opportunity since Sunday to be immersed in an art collective known as Teatro Trono or COMPA (Fundación Comunidad de Productores en Artes or the Community Foundation for Artists).
Iván, partner to one of our beloved Dragon’s instructors who is currently leading Group A in Andes and Amazon, welcomed us with a smile that made us feel right at home in Trono, a building, that also serves as café, gathering place, theater, and home and which was envisioned and designed by Iván himself. The building is a work of art and has many old relics and antiques and scraps from all over La Paz and El Alto that Iván has collected for years. Parts of old buses, historical balconies, windows from all across the city in various sizes and shapes make up the building façade.
Iván’s personality matches the building in part because he is a gentleman who is not only charming, but at the same time has a depth of personality and purpose that one cannot help but admire and want to get to know.
He tells us, as we tour Trono, that the house pays homage to the miners that are the populace of El Alto, one of the most socially and politically important centers across the Andes. In 1985, El Alto, perched just above La Paz and the capital’s eyebrow, was officially founded. Home to migrants from all across the country who have mostly come from mining backgrounds, the city’s population has exploded to over one million inhabitants. The mine shafts that are in the basement of Trono help to enact an important story of Bolivia of mining and also serve to make sure that Trono stays close to its roots of mining and struggle. At the same time, the rooftop of the Theater is where the artists wings can take flight. One can enjoy the view of the snow-capped mountains that wrap around La Paz and El Alto in a giant embrace, if the day is clear, and imagine all one’s dreams taking off into literal thin air, at 4000 meters.
In his “charla” or talk with us Iván stars as the protagonist, although he apologizes in advance that he has to tell us his story. On the contrary, I tell Iván, “qué no te de pena, queremos escuchar tu historia,” “don´t worry, we want to hear your story”. And he starts to tell us about his life, born in La Paz. When his dad died in the second guerilla of what was the movement that Che Guevara started in Bolivia for independence, Iván too wanted to live his life for something–he wanted to be a revolutionary, a “guerrillero” with a clear purpose.
Iván’s dad was pursued because of his involvement in the guerrillas. He therefore had many trades so that he could remain out of reach of anyone looking for him. He was a painter, welder, boxer, football player, plumber, etc. For all these trades he needed different instruments or tools so he had a red box full of whatever work element he might ever need. When his father died in `70 he left behind a widow and three kids as well as his red box full of tools from his various trades. Iván’s mom, Doña Elba, started selling the things inside the box, one by one, in order to provide food for her family and little by little everything in the box disappeared.
Iván, started using the red box as a play toy. He would hide in there and also use it, as his dad did, for storage. Whenever he would come back from the street he would stash different doodads in the box: pieces of wire, leather, glass, little trinkets, whatever he could find lying around outside. His mom would periodically empty out the box. He later realized that it was because there wasn’t much room in their house to have so many things, they lived in a 3 x 4 meter room after all. The years went by and the red box eventually disappeared.
Now, Iván has us Dragons, sitting around in a circle in his house, look around us. We are surrounded by every kind of trinket, antique, and thingamajig imaginable. Posters, frames, paintings, wall hangings, cover the ceilings and walls, and an eclectic mix of rugs lay obedient under our cross-legged feet. We take it all in for a second and then he says. “That red box is long since gone, but that same red box is now my house, where we find ourselves. We are all in that red box now.”
Aside from the red box that serves as the backdrop for the story of Trono’s mission. Iván started the theater company with 7 young at-risk homeless youth and it has grown since then. Next year Trono will turn thirty years old. Iván tells our group that after finding theater he had no need to be a “guerrillero” because theater is a revolution in and of itself, a tool used to transform people into better versions of themselves.
We can only hope that as dragoncitos passing through the door of Trono, we too have become better versions of ourselves. Through the workshops we have had that got us out of our heads and acting with our bodies and our hearts, we have found another way to interact with the world and ourselves. Un trabajo bello e interminable. A beautiful and never-ending work.