Chileans to Know - Andrés Pérez: Artist, Actor, Director and Playwright

Andrés Pérez (1951 – 2002) was an artist, actor, dancer, director, choreographer and playwright. His greatest legacy, aside from Chile's most popular play, "La Negra Ester," was creating theater that touched the hearts and imagination of a wide audience, in Chile and abroad. He brought a new perspective to theater in the country, mixing theatrics with acrobatics, drama with music and song. He offered his audience an escape from their daily lives to enter a wondrous world, even if for a couple of hours.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

Born in Punta Arenas, Andrés Pérez lived in Santiago after having spent his adolescence in the northern city of Tocopilla. He studied for two years at a seminary school and engineering at university, before studying theater at the Universidad de Chile.

His theatrical origins are in street theater. In an interview he stated that after finishing university he performed out of necessity. "We had to do street theater because we didn’t have money to pay for a theater. With other actors, we had just graduated from university, they weren’t calling us for TV, a place one thinks you can make money, so that drove us to the street."

As a result of his work in street theater in Chile, in 1982 he was invited to go to France to work and study with Arianne Mnouchkine, founder of the Théâtre du Soleil.

 Andrés Pérez - Courtesy of Gran Circo Teatro
Andrés Pérez - Courtesy of Gran Circo Teatro

There, he said he earned a Master's in street theater: "I learned the traditional art of comedy. They specialize in working with masks, pantomime and circus techniques. The theater is alive and every day we ask ourselves 'what is the theater?'"

Pérez saw theater as a mirror of society. In an interview he once said, "Actors are translators in a space and in that moment of time of the words written by the author. Actors translate using their bodies, their voice, their imagination and their art."

La Negra Ester. Photo by Clara Salina
La Negra Ester. Photo by Clara Salina

On his return to Chile in 1988, he and his former university classmates reunited and created the Gran Circo Teatro. Pérez said that as their first play, he felt the need to tell a love story. This love story was to be "La Negra Ester," a key piece in Chilean theater history and the most successful Chilean theater production nationally and internationally, thanks to the explosive festive spirit it generated among spectators.

The play is an adaptation of "Las Décimas de la Negra Ester" by Roberto Parra, younger brother of Violeta and Nicanor Parra, which is a biographical depiction of his relationship with a prostitute in the Chilean port of San Antonio.

Of "La Negra Ester," Pérez once said that the mounting of the play "was done with sheer joy, without expectations... we were happy to have been reunited among friends."

Pérez wrote and acted in many plays until his death in 2002. For one play, "La Consagración de la Pobreza," Pérez raised funds through seven months of selling food on the streets. The theater company also mounted an adaptation of Popol Vuh, the creation story of the Maya.

 La Huida - Courtesy of
La Huida - Courtesy of

He adapted "El Desquite," a work originally by Roberto Parra that is set in the 1920s in the outskirts of Chillán, and portrays the institution of patronage as an exercise of power, especially towards women. Internationally, the play opened in Germany and was later adapted for cinema and TV by Chilean director Andrés Wood.

Pérez's last play, "La Huida," which he wrote, directed and starred in, opened in 2001. It is about the persecution of homosexuals in Chile from the years 1927 to 1932 during the government of General Carlos Ibáñez

Andrés Pérez, brought a new perspective to theater in Chile. He and Gran Circo Teatro not only worked with Chilean lore, but also brought traditional plays, like Shakespeare, to audiences and always with a twist.

Of his work, Andrés Pérez said that he liked to intervene and transform places. He liked the idea of the public entering a place and leaving the one they came from behind: "That you enter La Negra Ester's cabaret, a Shakespearean castle, or the circus of the Consagración de la Pobreza. It has to do with your childhood, when one created houses, a tree house, a tent..."

If you ever see an announcement of a play by Gran Circo Teatro, whether it be their latest work, or "La Negra Ester," don't hesitate, buy tickets and prepare for a guaranteed escape and a fun night out.


Off the Record, 2001

Eight part Interview, May 2001


La Negra Ester (complete)

La huida (fragments)

Gran Circo Teatro

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