A Revolution in Ecuadorian Theater
The actor and director making waves in Guayaquil opens up to his friend, writer Susana Cárdenas Overstall. Forced to leave his home base of Madrid, Jaime Tamariz returned to Ecuador, bringing his talent to the stage and even private homes.
PHOTO: Diego Cadavid
Walking through the neighborhood of Las Peñas feels like going back in time. There’s the Río Guayas, Cerro Santa Ana and, at its foot, the wooden mansions that once belonged to wealthy families who made their fortunes during the cocoa boom more than a century ago. The glorious old homes have been transformed into art galleries, workshops and artist residences, and the neighborhood now shelters the city’s bohemian soul.
Jaime Tamariz is in his element. A creative, non-conformist pioneer, Tamariz doesn’t need to emphasize his current hot streak. It simply radiates from him. He has managed to foster a movement in Guayaquil’s cultural and theater scene, which lay dormant some ten years ago. “I didn’t seek out the theater, it found me,” he says. Fourteen years ago, Tamariz moved to Madrid to study film production, but he experienced a revelation upon discovering a theater school in the neighborhood of Lavapiés. “I always thought it would be something temporary, just a phase in my life, and look at me now.”
Since his return to Guayaquil, Tamariz has directed ten plays, produced 13 and acted in three. He has also developed the concept of “micro theater” in a home in the Miraflores neighborhood, where the audience fills rooms repurposed as stages. If the demand for his productions continues, the season won’t end.
People always say that Ecuador’s cultural activity is in the capital, but you’re pioneering micro theater in Guayaquil. What inspired this concept?
It started in Spain in 2009, when a group of actors got together to present short pieces and independent works in a house on the Gran Vía in Madrid. It was an exercise in survival, a response to the crisis. There was a need to bring the audience and the actors together, without big productions or budgets. I went to the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro in Bogotá and saw that micro theater worked there, and I thought to myself, ‘Why not Guayaquil?’’’
In a college neighborhood full of middle-class people who get around on foot, four 15-minute plays are developed in which the actors interact with the audience. For a few seconds, I think I’m watching street theater in London or New York, but no, we’re in the torrid port town of Guayaquil.
Madrid was pivotal in the life of Jaime Tamariz. He studied theater at the Centro de Nuevos Creadores, run by noted director Cristina Rota, the same school that produced luminaries like Penelope Cruz and Juan Diego Boto.
How did Madrid influence you?
I went there looking for life to surprise me. I arrived at a hotel with my suitcase, not knowing anyone, with just a guidebook to the city that a friend had given me. Spain was different back then. The Euro had just been introduced; you could find work, and it paid well. But things started to get expensive, especially housing, and the building boom hid a bubble, a fantasy. The people of Spain were riding the wave. Those were good times, because there was a lot of cultural production. I walked into a culturally active Madrid, and that really helped my development as an artist.
An accident led to Tamariz’s return to Ecuador. He came on vacation, but didn’t have the return permit that Spanish immigration required for foreign residents traveling abroad. It was a serious mistake: Tamariz was unable to return to his country of residence, and his projects in Spain ended abruptly. This situation gave rise to Daemon, the creative studio and production company that he funded with his business partner Denise Nader. They began writing scripts and adapting short films, which led to the opportunity to produce El Amante, an adaptation of Harold Pinter’s The Lover, in 2009.
Was it clear from then on that you’d dedicate yourself to theater?
No, because it seemed odd to do it in Guayaquil. I felt like there wasn’t much developed in the field. But just at that moment, there was a sudden surge. The local art scene began to thrive. New schools, like the ITAE, were founded, and Universidad Casa Grande offered the first degree in theater arts. Then, in 2012, the Teatro Sánchez Aguilar was opened, and directors like Santiago Roldós and Carlos Ycaza became more active.
But there was also a personal process that I had to embrace: my head and my heart were still in Madrid, even though life wanted me to be here. I had to let go of all that in order to create. And I thought, ‘Work with what you have, with what’s in front of you, with the people who want to work with you.
Why do you choose one play over another?
I’m interested in things that speak to the human condition. Where the audience has the chance to see themselves and understand why we are what we are, why we make the choices we make, why we hurt the people we love.
So you think that theater has power?
Yes, by establishing a relationship between the audience and the actor, because the public imagination actively participates in the story: that’s the power of theater. But there’s also a more ephemeral aspect: we’re there in a seat, and we’re also in the middle of a jungle. It’s fascinating to experience these two versions!
Which directors are important to you?
Romeo Castellucci, a very avant-garde Italian director. I saw a play of his about a woman melting on an operating table. Her skin melts, liters of silicon drip away. Magnificent! And Julie Taymor, the Broadway director known for Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass, based on the work by Horacio Quiroga.
¿Qué te inspira?
The audience’s response. Guayaquil has a reputation for being a city where culture doesn’t matter much, where there’s no audience for the theater, but we’re proving that to be false. Thing are happening in this city, and it has me hooked.
Where do you go to lose yourself?
Las Peñas, where my best friends live. There are people from all over. The great thing about this port city is its diversity.
Where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I miss Madrid. A little piece of me is still there. I have good friends, and I’m intrigued by the idea of going back one day. But right now I’m here. I’m not really one for plans. I live in the here and now. in