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Contemporary Theatre in Mayan Mexico

Tamara L. Underiner
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    Contemporary Theatre in Mayan Mexico
    Book Description:

    From the dramatization of local legends to the staging of plays by Shakespeare and other canonical playwrights to the exploration of contemporary sociopolitical problems and their effects on women and children, Mayan theatre is a flourishing cultural institution in southern Mexico. Part of a larger movement to define Mayan self-identity and reclaim a Mayan cultural heritage, theatre in Mayan languages has both reflected on and contributed to a growing awareness of Mayans as contemporary cultural and political players in Mexico and on the world's stage.

    In this book, Tamara Underiner draws on fieldwork with theatre groups in Chiapas, Tabasco, and Yucatán to observe the Maya peoples in the process of defining themselves through theatrical performance. She looks at the activities of four theatre groups or networks, focusing on their operating strategies and on close analyses of selected dramatic texts. She shows that while each group works under the rubric of Mayan or indigenous theatre, their works are also in constant dialogue, confrontation, and collaboration with the wider, non-Mayan world. Her observations thus reveal not only how theatre is an agent of cultural self-definition and community-building but also how theatre negotiates complex relations among indigenous communities in Mayan Mexico, state governments, and non-Mayan artists and researchers.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79750-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PROLOGUE: Incidents of Theatre in Chiapas, Tabasco, and Yucatán
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Until recently, my husband, Chris, worked in an independent bookstore in St. Paul, Minnesota. One day one of his colleagues asked him about the kind of work I do. “Research on contemporary Mayan theatre,” my husband replied. Another colleague, overhearing them, joined in. “Oh, she should talk to my daughter,” she said. “She’s a professional mime.”

    It is not unusual for people to mishear the subject of my work. To the U.S. ear, the words “Mayan” and “theatre” don’t go together as smoothly or as familiarly as do the words “theatre” and “mime.” This is partly a function of critical...

    (pp. xv-xix)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xx-xxii)
    (pp. 1-18)

    The beginning of the twenty-first century is a turbid time to be writing about culture, cultural identity, or any scheme by which human beings and our endeavors come to be categorized in some way. We emerge into this millennium accompanied by a cacophony of voices that echo from the street level “up” to the halls of academe, engaged in continuing debates over the nature of human affiliation and how to translate these debates into social and political policy at both the local and the global level.¹

    For example, I call this a book about “contemporary Mayan theatre,” but each of...

  7. CHAPTER 1. Indigenous Bodies, Contested Texts
    (pp. 19-44)

    Thepopul vuhrecords a powerful moment in the prehistory of the human race: before earthly time could begin, it reveals, one of the final deeds of its twin hero-gods was an act of theatrical illusion. In a command performance staged for the lords of the underworld, one twin apparently beheaded the other, cut out his heart, and then brought him back to life. When the delighted lords demanded that the trick be performed on them, the brothers obliged, with one key difference: this time it was not an illusion, and the beheaded lords did not rise again. Thus the...

  8. CHAPTER 2. “Más que una noticia . . .”: Mayan Theatre in Chiapas
    (pp. 45-77)

    In late summer 1996, several subway stops in Mexico City featured a billboard advertisement declaring: “More than a news item, Chiapas is . . .” Behind these words were pictured all the enticing flora and fauna that southernmost state has to offer: lush vegetation, colorful jungle birds, waterfalls, jaguars, monkeys—and a woman in native dress, weaving on a loom. The billboard assured travelers that Chiapas was still the unspoiled wilderness of exotic creatures—including the Maya—they might have heard so much about, before those irksome Zapatistas came, with their ski masks and their bullet belts, and scared everyone...

  9. CHAPTER 3. Transculturation in the Work of Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indígena
    (pp. 78-100)

    Given the history of twentieth-century rural and campesino theatre movements in Mexico, one might expect a group called Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indígena (LTCI), or Farmworker and Indigenous Theatre Laboratory, to have pursued an agenda of theatre for social ends, performed for or with local farmers and their families, aimed at the concerns of small communities in the Mexican countryside. Although this work is part of its activities, it is a small part overall. The term “Laboratorio” provides an equally good clue to the group’s work and working methods, calling to mind the experimentation of such artists as Jean-Louis...

  10. CHAPTER 4. Theatre and Community on the Yucatán Peninsula
    (pp. 101-120)

    Although the Yucatán peninsula first came to the world’s attention through excavations of its ancient past, in all of Mexico it is perhaps the region most oriented to the postmodern present, with its tourist-friendly mix of beaches, resorts, ruins, and Old World charm. But geography, politics, economic history, educational systems, and theatre also factor into the peculiarly Yucatecan cultural mix. This chapter examines the relationships among these factors, focusing particularly on grassroots theatre in the Mayan language as it has come to articulate new ways of understanding cultural belonging on the peninsula.

    Since the eighteenth century, the Yucatán peninsula has...

  11. EPILOGUE: Routes and Returns
    (pp. 121-130)

    About a year after my first research trip to Mexico, I had dinner with a U.S. dance scholar working on similar issues of performance and community. At the end of a long conversation about our respective projects, she fixed me with a hard look and asked, “So. After all that, where do you think therealMayan theatre is happening?”

    This book has been an attempt to address that question by situating “real Mayan theatre” within the very discourses of cultural desire the question itself reflects. I have argued the focus should not be so much on the target—a...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 131-154)
    (pp. 155-170)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 171-181)