Street Theatre Experience Ignites Fire in Juancho Hurtado ‘11

Juancho Hurtado '11, far right, with theatre school students in Colombia.
Juancho Hurtado '11, far right, with theatre school students in Colombia.
Juancho Hurtado ’11 is a fire-breathing dragon. Well, not really. But he has experimented with the dangerous art of breathing fire this summer. His newly-acquired talent comes from his work at Teatro Taller de Colombia, one of the oldest street theatre groups in Colombia. He is studying street theatre there through the Emerson Grant Foundation, which was created in 1997 to promote collaboration with faculty on subjects that students find fascinating and worthwhile. His adviser and co-researcher is Professor of Theatre Craig Latrell, who stays in regular contact with Hurtado while he is out of the country. 

Teatro Taller de Colombia has its headquarters in the traditional Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota. Since 1972, it has largely contributed to the philosophic and artistic value of street theatre, and in 1993, it established the first international school for these flashy demonstrations, as well as for circus techniques. There, in the town of La Jagua, veteran actors train new ones, and members try to build support for the use of drama in open spaces. 

At the school in La Jagua, Hurtado works with children who might otherwise not be able to harness their creative talents because of their economic situation. His work mainly consists of helping them put on a play based on the myth of La Gaitana, a 16th century woman who led the armed resistance against colonization by the Spanish. According to the myth, a man named Añasco demanded that all the indigenous leaders pay him tribute. Gaitana refused to pay, and as a consequence, watched as Añasco burned her son alive. In need of vengeance, Gaitana and a hoard of troops attacked Añasco and his men by surprise. These and other elements of the story are mentioned in the 30-minute play, which is meant to teach the children acting techniques. The performance is far from a Shakespearean tragedy - the kids learn how to walk on stilts, fake a fight, and keep the beat on drums. These tricks make their project more like a circus act. 

With all the spewing of fire into the air, Hurtado’s project is igniting in him an interest in street theatre as a career. He is a double major in physics and theatre, so he is still debating between occupations in two very different fields. But he has felt close to street theatre for most of his life, which makes it a very possible option. When he was eight years old, he went to a rehearsal for his mother’s theatre group and immediately fell in love with it. 

“I especially like acting on the streets, without people noticing what’s going on,” Hurtado said. “We catch them off their feet and kind of get to see their natural reaction.” 

Although he does not know exactly what he wants to do after Hamilton, Hurtado would like to attend street theatre festivals around the world. Groups from Britain, Germany, the Dominican Republic and Brazil all participate in these annual extravaganzas. Hurtado has embarked on expansive journeys through the storylines of his previous performances, like Roberto Zucco, Big Love and Etta Jenks, and someday he plans to go on a real tour of the world.

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