All the city's a stage in theater-crazed Buenos Aires

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The Independent Travel

All the city's a stage in Buenos Aires, where a surge of interest in the dramatic arts has rendered every street corner an amphitheatre and every pub a theater.

"There's a lot of acting going on in Buenos Aires - in the bars, in the buses, in the streets," said director Ricardo Bartis, in the courtyard of a small theater he has set up in what was once a private house.

In Buenos Aires, a city of about three million people, there are currently 198 theaters, 180 of which are small-scale, independent operations.

The city government has a budget of some 3.7 million pesos (one million dollars) to support independent stage productions, but the number of such ventures has exploded from 360 in 2008 to 600 this year, theater officials said.

"Unfortunately, because of the limitations of the human body, we can't mount our productions on the rooftops," said Bartis.

But pretty much every other sort of physical space, it would seem, is fair game.

Makeshift theaters have popped up in reclaimed houses, in old workshops, and in converted garages across the Argentine capital, many offering dramatic fare on a par with what New York and London have to offer.

A leading local figure of the city's thriving theater scene, Carlos Rotemberg, says the theater he runs in a coverted garage seats 100 people, and also houses a school where some 200 aspiring actors take part in the productions he is staging.

Buenos Aires has a long tradition of fostering independent theater, but passion for the dramatic arts has reached fever pitch in the past few years, and led to a proliferation of acting schools and programs.

"It's cheaper than psychoanalysis where each person is the central character of their own private melodrama," said Bartis, a respected figure on the underground theater scene here.

Performing a play before an audience on stage, "each person can be Antigone, Oedipus, and kill their father," he said archly, rattling off some of the most dramatic roles of classical theater.

Cesar Matus, director of the Argentine Association of Independent Theater, said there was a revolving door between commercial and independent theater that had been beneficial to both.

"Many of the brightest stars of our commercial theater scene got their start in the independent circuit," Matus said.

"At the same time, many established stars return to their roots on the smaller stages" of the independent theater, he said.

For most of the amateur thespians acting is purely a labor of love. Payment, when there is any, is meager.

That's the case for amateur actress Marcela Santanocito, 42, who has earned next to nothing despite a grueling rehearsal schedule two or three days per week - on top of her day job as an audiologist.

"I don't earn much - 1,000 peos (250 dollars) for three months work," said Santanocito, who nevertheless described her vocation as an actor as "thrilling."

Her upcoming appearance at The Korintho Teatro, a 30-seat space filled with plastic folding chairs, will be in the modern classic "No Exit" by Jean Paul Sartre.

Her director Lis Rivas, 24 said that in theater, she has found "a way to put our (acting) profession on full display, and to unfold the magic that television simply does not have."

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