February 24, 2016

Two-month fête for Bard’s 400th anniversary lacks backing from City Culture Ministry

The Buenos Aires Shakespeare festival may be all about celebrating the Bard but this year politics got in the way.

The festival, which includes a variety of activities honouring the man many describe as the greatest English playwright will run for two months, until April 23. The first festival in Latin America to honour William Shakespeare will have its longest edition this year, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

During the presentation of the festival yesterday at the British Embassy, the tensions that marked its planning became evident. In attendance were the British Ambassador to Argentina John Freeman, Buenos Aires Shakespeare Festival creator and organizer Patricio Orozco, actor Roberto Carnaghi, who received the 2016 Shakespeare Award, public media chief Hernán Lombardi and unexpectedly no one from the Culture Ministry.

The group of reporters, actors and cultural operators were overwhelmingly surprised by the absence of Buenos Aires City Culture Minister Darío Lopérfido — who was sworn in last December — because the City has been backing the festival in the previous years, when Lombardi was at the helm of the ministry. Instead of Lopérfido, Lombardi, who is the chief of the Federal Media Network and Public Contents, attended the event and announced that the festival’s closing ceremony will be held at Tecnópolis, the science and technology exhibition centre which was placed under his ministry’s wing along with the Kirchner Cultural Centre when Lombardi took office in December.

This comes after the recent closing of the San Martín Theatre for repair works announced by Lopérfido, who is Lombardi’s successor at the City’s Culture ministry. The San Martín, BA’s leading public theatrical centre, had been undergoing renovation since 2012, under Lombardi’s supervision, but the newly-sworn-in minister said the theatre couldn’t stay open and be renovated at the same time and proceeded to shut everything down until mid-year to prepare it for a fully operational reopening.

Lopérfido has been under fire from large groups of artists and human rights activists, who have been asking for his resignation, following his comments in late January when he denied the number of people disappeared and killed by Argentina’s 1976-1983 civic-military dictatorship was of 30,000 and mocked the longtime efforts of local human rights groups.

The first Shakespeare festival in Latin America was created in 2011 by Orozco and the City’s Culture ministry has offered to co-produce it through private companies since the second edition. In 2014, Lombardi upped the ante and started to sponsor the festival instead of just co-producing it, in an attempt to ensure free access to most of the festival’s activities.

Political spat aside, the organizers were forced to cut the number of activities as the Culture ministry refused to lend its support and notified Orozco in mid January, a little more than a month before the festival was slated to start. However, the organizers are confident more sponsors will emerge throughout the festival’s two months.

In addition to not providing funds for the Shakespeare Festival, the Culture ministry is not supporting the project with venues for performances and other activities either. The number of shows, workshops and events was drastically cut, leaving a two-month long festival with sizeable gaps in its programming. Some events were cancelled or postponed, organizers said, until new sponsors can be found, and for now the festival is divided into stages. The first stage, which will last until Saturday, includes the Shakespearean Walk, films and international guests who will offer workshops, conferences and will perform on stage.

Shakespeare Award

Since 2014, Orozco has honoured outstanding cultural personalities for their contribution to spreading the Bard’s works locally and internationally. Argentine actor Roberto Carnaghi received the award at the British embassy yesterday, while Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh were honoured during Orozco’s visit to the UK earlier this year. An award will be also given to Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro on Saturday at Paseo de la Plaza.

Carnaghi was very happy and moved by the recognition. “Shakespeare didn’t write for a single social class; he wrote for everybody. He made everybody enjoy and laugh with his works,” said the actor.


Celebrated international figures are participating in the event. English actor George Irving will star in the one-man show Anthony Unbound directed by British teacher and director Penny Cherns on Saturday at 5pm at Paseo La Plaza, Sala Pablo Picasso (Av Corrientes 1660). The play is in English with optional simultaneous translation into Spanish. Tickets cost 200 pesos and can be bought online at www.festivalshakespeare.com.ar

Cherns and Irving are also offering training classes for actors, where they work on Shakespearean texts. The sessions began yesterday and continue today and tomorrow from 5pm to 8pm at the British Arts Centre.

Professor James Shapiro will talk about 1599 and 1606: Two years in Shakespeare’s life, in a conference on Saturday at 2pm at Paseo de La Plaza, Sala Pablo Picasso. The US academic will discuss his books 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and 1606: the Year of Lear.

In his books, the academic and Shakespeare expert explains the Bard’s works and shows how the socio-political context affected his life and work. There will be optional simultaneous translation from English into Spanish. Admission is free but tickets should be booked in advance at www.festivalshakespeare.com.ar

On Friday, the local public will have the chance to watch on screen the West End theatre version of The Winter’s Tale starring Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh.

The show — with Spanish subtitles — is at the British Arts Centre (Suipacha 1333) and tickets can be bought at the venue (50 pesos).

Shakespearean Walk

The traditional Shakespearean Walk, which is billed as a family event, will take place on Sunday at 10.30am. The activities consist of a city tour while listening and interacting in a Shakespearean tale. The meeting point is at the Planetarium; cancelled if it rains. Admission is free but previous registration on the festival’s website is required.

Online Marathon

This new activity invites Shakespeare fans to register on the festival’s website, request a username and participate in the game by answering questions related to the Bard’s work and life. The competition ends on April 23 and the five winners will get interesting prizes.