The Republic of Ecuador (Spanish: República del Ecuador) in north-western South America, which also includes the Galápagos Islands, is home to various indigenous peoples, which by the 15th century were incorporated into the Inca Empire. The territory was colonized by Spain in the 16th century, gaining its independence in 1822 and becoming a sovereign state in 1830. The ethnic diversity of Ecuador includes a majority that is Mestizos, followed by people of European, Amerindian, and African descent (see Latin America).
The theatrical forms practised in the cities of Quito and Guayaquil between 1600 and 1700 were no different from the rest of colonial America. Mystery plays, playlets and comedies were represented in colonial Quito. In addition to Spanish companies, there were other touring theatre troupes, including from Lima, which came to the cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca to perform their dramas. The “dance-theatre”, which developed from the local folklore of each region with the addition of certain “Christian rituals”, was very popular during this period. Mario de Andrade studied the theoretical underpinnings of folk theatre of the Americas, and its complex relationship with the Muerte-Resurrección (Death-Resurrection) theme, in its stagings, masks, dances, colourful costumes and choreography. These forms of colonial Ecuadorian theatre remain popular today, and elements can be found integrated into the contemporary productions of certain Ecuadorian puppeteers.
The first clear indications of puppetry in Ecuador are to be found around 1920 and point to performances in Quito at the school, Colegio Salesiano Don Bosco, which hosted popular glove puppet shows (cachiporra or guignol). During the 1920s, we can also find mentions of foreign companies in Quito and Guayaquil which mixed puppetry with circus and magic. Ten years later, Vittorio Podrecca and his company, Teatro dei Piccoli, performed at the Sucre theatre in Quito.
In 1950, the Casa de la Fantasia (The Fantasy House) was set up and continued until the mid-1960s, developing extensive puppetry work in the field of education. This group was composed of the art critic Arístides Meneguetti, of Uruguayan origin, Carlos Vascones, Walter Franco Serrano, Maruja Orrequia and Hebert Castro (another Uruguayan). These puppeteer-educators toured the suburbs of Quito with educational shows written by members of the group, or with adaptations of fairy tales by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.
Companies Since the 1970s
This kind of popular puppet theatre was taken up during the 1970s by Ecuadorian artist Fernando Moncayo. Moncayo was author of more than twenty works; one of these, Historia de la memoria perdida (The Story of a Lost Memory), resembles texts from pre-Colombian America. Moncayo was trained in Bogotá, Colombia, at the Universidad de Arte, and with local puppeteers. He worked extensively in the poorest suburbs of Quito, presenting works such as Apología del delito (Apology of the Crime) which introduced a local popular character, the detective Paco Tillas. In 1973, together with Claudia Monsalve, he founded the group La Rana Sabia (The Wise Frog) which became very popular, due largely to the success of its street shows. Their repertoire included original writing, such as Cuéntame un Cuento (Tell Me a Story), La Rana Sabia encuentra un tesoro (The Wise Frog Finds Treasure), and adaptations of children’s classics, including Juanito y los Fantasmas (Juanito and the Ghosts), an adaptation of La Calle de los fantasmas (Ghost Street) by Javier Villafañe, and Jean de La Fontaine’s fables (such as “The Ant and the Grasshopper”) for adult audiences. The company actively participated in international festivals in Colombia, Brazil, Finland, Spain and France. They also had a museum collection which included 200 puppets from Europe, Asia and the Americas, and an archive of material relating to performance. La Rana Sabia initiated the first exhibition of puppets in Ecuador at the Cronopios bookshop in Quito.
Other Ecuadorean puppet companies of note include the company led by Ana von Buchwald in Guayaquil, who first developed puppet shows with students, and later formed her own company in 1984: Las Marionetas del Teatro Experimental Guayaquil (The Experimental Puppet Theatre of Guayaquil). She organized training workshops for children and adults; her repertoire included a number of pieces for young people (from the fairy tales of Charles Perrault to her own personal writings) and for adults, among which are included El vendedor de pollo (The Chicken Seller), Nada nuevo (Nothing New), El retablo de Maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show), Asamblea de mujeres (Women’s Committee) and El consejero titular (The Councillor by Name).
It is worth mentioning the original work of Patricio Estrella, a talented puppeteer. Estrella trained at the following: in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Épée de Bois (Wooden Sword Theatre); in Argentina at the international workshop of the Escuela Internacional de Teatro de America Latina y el Caribe (EITALC) of Entre Rios; and at the theatre puppetry school, Escuela de Teatro y Marionetas Libertablas, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He founded in 1986 the company El Retablillo-Espada de Madera (The Wooden Sword Booth). In addition to this, the Wooden Sword Foundation, which was created in 1989, brought together professional artists who aimed to develop an experimental space for research, performance and social action, also mixing genres and techniques: live theatre, object theatre and puppetry, shadow theatre and black theatre, for example. Notable among their repertoire are the shows El tío Carachos (Uncle Carachos), El dictador (The Dictator), Las catilinarias (The Catilinarias) by Juan Montalvo, Arlequín, servidor de dos patrones (Harlequin, Servant of Two Masters) by Carlo Goldoni, and Ana la pelota humana (Anna, the Human Football) by Raúl Pérez Torres. The company participated in a number of international festivals in France, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile and Colombia and were awarded the prize for best puppeteer at the international theatre festival Pereira in Colombia, as well as first prize in the international puppet festival, Con Ojos de Niño (Through Children’s Eyes) in Buenos Aires.
Other groups have also contributed to this lively artistic and cultural scene, some of which had been in existence for many years: La Rayuela (Hopscotch), led by Petronio Cáceres since 1975; Amanecer (Dawn), led by Héctor Santana since 1977; Los Saltimbanquis (The Mountebanks), led by Víctor Ramos since 1980; and La Pájara Pinta (The Painted Bird), led by Felipe Vega de la Cuadra, founded in Cuenca in 1981. Later groups include: De Sol a Sol (From Sun to Sun) which was founded in 1987 with the director Adalina Anese in Guayaquil; La Serpiente Emplumada (The Feathered Serpent) under the directorship of Alejandro Jovel Ayala in Quito; and Trapichillo, also in Quito, led by Augusto Labanda. More recently, the group Ojo de Agua (Spring) was set up in 1997, mixing live theatre with puppetry.