Staging Lives in Latin American Theater

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4338-8

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4337-1

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4336-4
Publication Date
April 2021
Page Count
224 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Staging Lives in Latin American Theater

Bodies, Objects, Archives
Paola S. Hernández

Staging Lives in Latin American Theater: Bodies, Objects, Archives examines twenty-first-century documentary theater in Latin America, focusing on important plays by the Argentine director Vivi Tellas, the Argentine playwright and director Lola Arias, the Mexican theater collective Teatro Línea de Sombra, and the Chilean playwright and director Guillermo Calderón. Paola S. Hernández demonstrates how material objects and archives—photographs, videos, and documents such as witness reports, legal briefs, and letters—come to life onstage. Hernández argues that present-day, live performances catalog these material archives, expanding and reinterpreting the objects’ meanings. These performances produce an affective relationship between actor and audience, visualizing truths long obscured by repressive political regimes and transforming theatrical spaces into sites of witness. This process also highlights the liminality between fact and fiction, questioning the veracity of the archive.

Richly detailed, nuanced, and theoretically wide-ranging, Staging Lives in Latin American Theater reveals a range of interpretations about how documentary theater can conceptualize the idea of self while also proclaiming a new mode of testimony through theatrical practices.  

About the Author

PAOLA S. HERNÁNDEZ is a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and in the Interdisciplinary Theater Studies program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she is also director of the Center for Visual Cultures. She is the author of El teatro de Argentina y Chile: Globalización, resistencia y desencanto and the coeditor of two volumes, Imagining Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century Theater: Global Perspectives and Biodrama: Proyecto Archivos; Seis documentales escénicos.  


“In Staging Lives in Latin American Theater Paola S. Hernández offers a remarkable account of the emergence of new documentary theater in Latin America. Through meticulous analysis of object-props, autobiographical performance, and reenactment practices, Hernández shows how archives come to life onstage and participate in reshaping notions of the self and the real. Staging Lives in Latin American Theater is an essential read for understanding how documentary theater contributes to redefining the archive and related concepts of truth-telling, testimony, and evidence in Latin America.” —Brenda Werth, author of Theatre, Performance and Memory Politics in Argentina

Staging Lives in Latin American Theater is a major contribution to the fields of Latin American theater and performance studies. Hernández offers a theoretically sophisticated and eminently readable analysis of how the theater of the ‘real’ comes to embody a broad range of aesthetic positions within the liminal space of fact and fiction. In each of the cases, the playwrights and performance artists mobilize the archive to flip accepted social norms and values around the concepts of truth and authenticity . . . Hernández’s theoretical range is remarkable.” —Analola Santana, author of Freak Performances: Dissidence in Latin American Theater

“A welcome, timely, and significant contribution to Latin American theater and performance studies, Staging Lives in Latin American Theater offers meticulously researched case studies of recent projects from Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, whose practitioners variously ‘kidnap reality,’ consider actors ‘stunt doubles of their own lives,’ self-consciously ‘manipulate’ the onstage role of the real, and employ theater as ‘evidentiary forum’ within the larger public arena. In this accomplished study, Paola S. Hernández encourages readers to reconsider the broader relationship between the effective and the affective, ultimately and importantly prodding us to complicate, question, and expand our own notions of the myriad roles documents—and the ‘authentic’—play in documentary theater produced in this hemisphere and across the globe." —Jean Graham-Jones, editor of Lola Arias: Re-enacting Life and author of Evita, Inevitably: Performing Argentina's Female Icons Before and After Eva Perón

Staging Lives in Latin American Theater is a brilliant study of what it means to bring (auto)biographical stories to the stage in a way that navigates fact and fiction, creating affective bonds. Audiences experience personal stories in a way that allows a profound connection to and reassessment of the past. Hernández at once affirms and rewrites Latin American (theater) history, mirroring the outstanding performances she analyzes.” —Stuart A. Day, author of Outside Theater: Alliances That Shape Mexico