When Daniel Goldman went to study abroad for year in Argentina, he had no idea it would shape the rest of his life.
Goldman is now artistic director and founder of CASA Latin American Theatre Festival, the UK’s premier festival of Latin American drama, which returns this month, to be held at the Barbican and Rich Mix.
It could have been so different for Goldman, who at the time was part-way through a degree in Spanish and Portuguese literature, and considering a career in investment banking.
“Instead of being an English assistant in Spain, I went to theatre school in Buenos Aires,” he explains.
“I thought a it would be a good place to speak Spanish and I was enamoured at the time with the writer Borges, but I wasn’t planning on being a theatre maker or a director or anything.”
This was in 2001–2002, a time of crisis for Argentina’s economy, with unemployment exceeding 25 per cent and a climate of political and social unrest.
“What was incredible was the response to it by artists and theatre makers. It was so inspiring to see theatre respond to huge social issues and audiences going to the theatre to engage in dialogue. It made me decide that it was theatre that I wanted to do instead of investment banking, which was part of an original plan.”
Goldman’s idea was to “build a bridge” between the socially engaged theatre he found in Latin America and UK theatre culture, taking inspiration from the casas de cultura – houses of culture – he discovered in Buenos Aires.
“They’re basically houses that have been converted into art spaces, where you’ve got a theatre on one floor, a gallery on the next, and instead of bedrooms you’ve got an art gallery or tiny theatre space. The aim with CASA is that we’re a home for all of Latin American culture.”
Since it began in 2007, CASA has quietly grown a formidable reputation. This year it welcomes companies from Chile, Venezuela, Columbia, Argentina and Ecuador and a range of productions from mime to farce and drama.
Highlights from the programme include the UK premiere of La Araucana, which sees four actor-musicians play more than 15 instruments in a wittily subversive take on an epic poem that recounts the conquest of Chile.
Revolution and resistance are themes that run throughout the festival. Población Arenera is a bawdy satire about a 1940s boxer who inspired revolution, while Bar Ensueño is a tale of drinking and dissent from Chile.
Most of the pieces include English subtitles, though these are not always necessary. For his show Mime, Argentine Jorge Costa, who Goldman jokingly describes as Argentina’s answer to Buster Keaton, builds an hour of material based on the first sound or movement the audience makes.
“Call it high brow or not,” says Goldman, “but we want to celebrate things about Latin American culture that are beyond tacos and salsa.”
CASA Latin American Theatre Festival is at the Barbican Centre and Rich Mix from 10–19 October.