Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá

April is one of the busiest months for cultural events in Bogotá, and this year things are kicking into especially high gear with the 14th Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro (Iberoamerican Theater Festival), which takes place every even-numbered year here in the capital. Though the festival is relatively young, it has enjoyed remarkable success in the years since its founding in 1988, and is now one of the largest theater festivals in the world.

The official name highlights theater works and performance from Spanish-speaking countries, but theater and dance troupes come from all over the world to present their work to supportive Colombian audiences. The festival has become a launching pad for Colombia’s young and rising theater talents, as well as a popular place for groups to stage international debuts of new works. The schedule is enough to make anyone’s head spin, and it is impossible to see all of the different presentations without the help of a time machine or some other kind of magic, but here are the important things to know if you’re planning to venture into Bogotá’s theatrical whirlwind:

What: The event calls itself a theater festival, but in reality it encompasses far more than just two- or three-act plays on a stage. From the colorful, madcap parade that marks the opening of the festival to the closing ceremony, these 17 days fill the city with free street performances, contemporary dance, children’s plays, discussion panels, storytelling, classical dance, concerts and, of course, plenty of inventive local and international theater. This year’s edition will feature works from 27 different countries across six continents, welcoming performances from countries as diverse as South Korea, the Czech Republic, Australia, Turkey, Mexico and South Africa, among many others.

The opening parade, 2010

The opening parade, 2010 – photo courtesy of Oscar David Gonzalez

Each year since 2002, the festival has also showcased works from a particular country as an “invited guest of honor.” This year, perhaps in an effort to create extra good will for the Colombia selección heading into the World Cup, the country of honor is neighboring Brazil, which will present eight different works, the most by any country other than Colombia. This seems to be an especially popular choice as far as the audience is concerned, as several of the Brazilian shows are already close to sold out.

Why: The first iteration of the theater festival, back in 1988, was staged in honor of the 450th anniversary of Bogotá’s founding. Creators Ramiro Osorio and Fanny Mikey, a beloved figure in Colombia’s arts world, brought together theater groups from 21 countries for a week in April, under the theme “An act of faith.” That faith paid off, as the festival has continued to expand and draw increasing numbers of participants and spectators each year. The 2012 iteration offered almost 1,600 total performances in front of an estimated audience of 2.8 million spectators – about one-third of the total population of Bogotá – and numbers are expected to be even higher this year. One of the main tenets of the festival is the idea that world-class theater should be accessible to as many people as possible – the organizers hope to encourage cultural exchange and greater understanding through the inclusion of works from a diverse range of countries, but they also place a strong emphasis on including street theater and free performances, both as a way to show support for the legitimacy of street performance as a valid genre of theater and to ensure that people who may not be able to afford the more expensive events can still participate in the festival.

Musical performer in the 2010 festival

Musical performer in the 2010 festival – photo courtesy of Viviana Calderon

When: The 2014 festival will take place from April 4-20. Expect it to be especially full of out-of-towners, as the regionwide vacation week of Semana Santa (Holy Week) falls during the second week of the festival.

Where: Due to the incredibly high volume of events crammed into these two weeks, the festival is spread out across the whole city, with performances in a total of 56 different venues. The Casa de Teatro Nacional, Teatro Nacional Fanny Mikey, Teatro Hilos Mágicos, Teatro R101, Teatro Nacional La Castellana and Teatro Libre de Chapinero all host multiple performances, while the majority of free and street acts are located in the city’s plazas and parks, including Parque Nacional, Parque de Usaquén, Plaza Bolívar, Parque El Tunal and Parque Simón Bolívar. The Downtown 7-27 theater will be the site for most of the festival’s concerts, which include Colombian bands ChocQuibTown, La 33 and Puerto Candelaria.

LAN Airlines and its affiliates get you there for the curtain with daily flights to Bogotá.

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