BUILD­ING A MAS­TER­PIECE Na­tional The­ater

Howler Magazine - - Community - By José Ger­ardo Suárez Monge

The Na­tional The­ater of Costa Rica is the coun­try's prin­ci­pal the­ater, lo­cated in down­town San José next to Juan Mora Fernán­dez Park. Its con­struc­tion was au­tho­rized on May 28, 1890, when San José had just 20,000 in­hab­i­tants.

In the colo­nial pe­riod be­tween 1577 and in­de­pen­dence in 1821, there was very lit­tle artis­tic or the­atri­cal ac­tiv­ity in Costa Rica be­cause of wide­spread poverty and the op­po­si­tion of the Catholic Church. Af­ter 1821, plays had to be held out­doors or in pri­vate venues, with all-male casts. Most plays were re­li­gious in na­ture.

In 1837 the first The­ater of San José was built in a hall with a straw roof and a ca­pac­ity of 70 peo­ple, who had to bring their own chairs. In 1846 an­other the­ater was built, a wooden build­ing with a tile roof with a ca­pac­ity of 200. Its in­au­gu­ral per­for­mance caused a scan­dal be­cause one of the ac­tors was a woman.

In the first decades of the 19th cen­tury, Costa Rica en­tered a promis­ing eco­nomic pe­riod when it be­gan ex­port­ing cof­fee, at first to Panama and then to Chile and Europe. A grow­ing num­ber of young peo­ple were ed­u­cated in Europe, and the coun­try be­gan to open it­self up to new ideas about the dra­matic arts.

In 1847, plans were made to build a na­tional the­ater fi­nanced by pri­vate stock­hold­ers, as the gov­ern­ment lacked the money. In 1850, the Mora The­ater (later Mu­nic­i­pal The­ater) was built and served for many years as Costa Rica's pri­mary venue for the dra­matic arts, but it de­te­ri­o­rated over the years and was fi­nally de­stroyed by an earth­quake in 1888.

Pres­ti­gious in­ter­na­tional tour­ing groups

The Na­tional The­ater, Costa Rica's most op­u­lent struc­ture, cel­e­brated its 220th an­niver­sary last year.

Con­struc­tion of the Na­tional The­ater.

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