Culture, On Stage

Bataklan: education through theatre

In Colombia, Bataklan are breaking with tradition by teaching artistic subjects to move children away from violence and educate them with values such as respect and companionship.

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Olga Briasco

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Theatre, music or dance are platforms from which to educate and raise awareness in society, and it is the actor who is responsible for communicating the message and making sure it gets through.

This responsibility was given to a group of arts professionals, to interpret and investigate visual and sound work from the perspective of being an actor and performing.

So, with ideas, objectives and communal projects, the arts company Bataklan Theatre was formed in 1997, led by actress Nayibe Barón Acuña and the dramatist Jorge Valencia Villegas.

Their first project was the children’s story ‘Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz’, a free interpretation of the original text by L. Frank Baum, directed by Jorge Valencia Villegas. “Art is marvellous for working towards a culture of peace and the resolution of conflicts, to show life from other perspectives”, maintains Nayibe Barón.

In 2003, they expanded  their scope and worked on a programme that was more focussed on raising social consciousness. The jump towards an adult audience and the ambition to “bring history closer to society” was possible thanks to the experience acquired since the organisation’s beginning and the incorporation of professionals from other artistic disciplines.

As a result, and coinciding with the commemoration of the bicentenary of Colombia’s independence, the group presented the works ‘Histories of the axe and machete’ and ‘10th April, one day later”, by Jorge Valencia Villagas and also ‘I took Panama’ , ‘New seasons, or the rights of man’ and ‘Ilion’ by Luis Alberto García. They are pieces that respond to the necessity of “making history known”, he says.

But Bataklan doesn’t just keep within this environment and, in collaboration with the Secretary for Education of the Capital District, it develops projects in order to bring the world of performing arts closer to young people. It is also a tool to “raise awareness and bring children closer to aspects that they aren’t used to”.

This is the case for ‘Boys at the theatre’ or ‘The artists arrive’, where students have the opportunity to see one of the theatre productions by Bataklan so that, afterwards, they can become actors.

Nayibe Barón explains that they look to “bring children closer to the experience of the performing arts within schools, and to allow access to different artistic disciplines”. This is done through workshops in which they involve students in areas such as theatre, dance, music, creative writing or circus acrobatics, among others.

Jorge Valencia Villegas

They also use art to engage with children who live in the poorest parts of town in Bogotá, so that they can escape, for a few moments, from their reality. They highlight that “We work together with the government secretary on a training programme for children in vulnerable situations, who live in the more underdeveloped parts of Bogotá”.

They develop this programme together with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an organisation that, Nayibe stresses, “has always taken the position to give artistic training in areas where there is no contact with art”.

For the organisation, one of the flagship programmes was the four-year development in the borough of Caracolí (Bolívar City) to “transmit a culture of peace through art”. In collaboration with the government secretary, they teach children acrobatics, theatre and urban music performed with “unconventional percussion”, using earthenware jugs and sticks.

The fruits of this learning became visible in the group performance that took place in October on Séptima Street in the city, which had more than 40 children participating. This work has not continued because “the funding stopped”, but the actress remarked that the spirit still goes on, thanks to “the alumni who continue to practice and work in a team”.

Nayibe Barón

The diversity of Bataklan is so broad that it can develop activities of distinct natures. For example, in collaboration with the Unipanamericana University of Bogotá, they work on problems “from the perspective of art and the theatre”, issues such as the lack of communication inside organisation and poor quality of life or customer service.

Lack of funds

In their opinion, it is a “shame” that the projects depend so much on the grants and handouts from the state inasmuch as “the children who benefit are always less than the total children who need help”. All the same, specifically in Colombia “we are always in crisis because the resources for the arts are very few and, many times, the project can’t continue”.

The founding partner recalls that “we had projects with an amazing impact which, because of a lack of funds, we had to suspend or cut short” and puts it bluntly: “it’s the big fight that we have”.

The situation with resources also affects the actors, making it difficult to disseminate their work. “There is an increase in groups which work and do research within their own companies to get the work known”, a process which is “sometimes very slow”.

However, it highlights the work of the education secretary to bring the arts closer to children and the efforts to “create spaces in which professional groups can get closer to schools and children have the opportunity to see a work performed by a professional group”.

Future projects

For this year, the organisation has new hopes and projects. Among them the pilot programme “Jornada Complementaria” stands out, led by the culture secretary, whose aim is to offer alternative free activities regularly to schools.

As part of this programme Bataklan will work at Manuel del Socorro Rodríguez School, in the Rafael Uribe de Bogotá area, to support break dancing, hip hop, rock pop and Andean music groups, who are working for peace. The project, which benefits from more than 170 students, comes with foundation classes in complementary disciplines such as stage presence, singing or physics and maths combined with music.

Some of their stand-out aims are the projects in countries like Chile and Venezuela, as “the youth of Latin America suffer the same problems with vulnerability as in Colombia”. This step has not yet been taken because “we haven’t found any funding”.

For their part, they are working to get a theatre with a capacity of 300 people. “Because we don’t have a proper theatre and we wanted a space with capacity for at least 500 people, the costs are very high and we need to adapt to the availability of the venue.

As she tells us, sometimes school halls “are not prepared for a staging and the work is more complicated”. For all of this, Nayibe sighs that “one day, we’ll have our own theatre”.

Translated by Daniela Fetta – Photos supplied by the interviewees

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