Week of shows planned to mark theater’s birthday

The Teatro Popular Melico Salazar marks 85 years this month, and the time was not without trouble.

The sprawling theater, the largest in Costa Rica, occupies the block north of Parque Central. That also happens to be where the city hall was at the end of the 18th century and later became a military barracks. Later it was the site of a boys school closed due to earthquake damage.

The Ministerio de Cultura and Juventud plans a six-day celebration next week to mark the birthday.

The current structure opened its doors as the Teatro Raventós in 1928. It carried the name of Spanish businessman José Raventós. Less than a year later, the building became a theater as the owner, Raventós, tried to find other sources of revenue besides theater and opera. The theater at that time could seat 2,250, according to the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud, which provided the history.

On April 23, 1967, after a showing of the Christopher Lee horror film “Dracula, Prince of Darkness,” fire broke out and heavily damaged the structure. It remained vacant for a decade because there was no insurance.

In 1976, the government took over at the urgings of  Guido Sáenz, the author and musician who was serving then as culture minister. The restored theater opened with “Carmen” in December 1981 and then reopened after more work in 1985 as the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar, The name is that of a well-known tenor.

The central government has been upgrading the theater for the last 11 years. The current administration has invested some 1.2 billion colons or about $2.5 million. Restoration started in 2002 with workmen rebuilding the facade that had been damaged by downtown air pollution. The German Embassy helped.

Some $325,000 has been invested recently in an audio system. The big job was upgrading the electrical system and the installation of security cameras. Officials hope that this work will be completed in December.

After the electrical work is finished, there are plans to paint the entire structure, install carpeting and install power saving electrical lights. Also planed is a new cyclorama, the large curtain that is a backdrop to the stage.

The week of festivities begins next Monday, Oct. 7. with a performance of the Costa Rican Music All Stars.

Tuesday, Oct. 8, the Asociación de Grupos Independientes de Cultura Popular presents a night of folklore and popular culture.

Wednesday, Oct. 9, Coco y su Pandilla performs an elaborate puppet show,

Thursday, Oct. 10, the Compañía Nacional de Danza  presents “Cuerpo Translúcido” followed by stand-up Comedianne and actress Marcia Saborío.

Friday, Oct. 11,  the theater hosts the inauguration of Festival Internacional de Cine Paz con la Tierra as well as a special show honoring the theater itself.

Saturday, Oct. 12, there is a grand finale with the  Orquesta Filarmónica de Costa Rica and the show “Somos Latinos.”

All shows are at 7:30 p.m.  General admission during the week is 4,000 colons with discounts for students and seniors. The Saturday show admissions range from 2,000 in the upper gallery to 8,000 colons in the better seats.

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