Earlier in the month while we were touring Casco Viejo with Sobrina Chiquita we were permitted the opportunity to enter Panama’s National Theatre.
The theatre was ordered closed for an indefinite amount of time by the National Institute of Culture while the Technological University of Panama (UTP) carries out structural studies on the building. How did we gain entrance then? Well, it helps when you have a friend who grew up in Casco Viejo and knows how to use her nostalgia card with the security guard.
The theatre building is a magnificent structure located diagonal to Plaza Bolivar. It was officially inaugurated in 1908 and has undergone at least one restoration but it’s been 40 years since the last structural repairs. The last restoration took place between 1971 and 1974, when all the furniture was replaced and the facilities were modernized, with new sound equipment, lights and air conditioning. Humidity, boosted by the proximity of the sea a few steps away from the theatre, had worked its way through the structure and part of the original construction of the building collapsed. Another refurbishment forced the theatre to close between 2001 and 2004, while some of the artistic details, unnoticed despite their value, were uncovered from layers and layers of paint.
The first and second floor of the theater, has about 853 seats with elegant boxes and polished rails throughout. There are beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the main room by the Panamanian painter Roberto Lewis. As we stood on the stage looking out it was clear to see that this lovely gem was in need of restoration and repair.
The theatre has been an important home for many of Panama’s major cultural events from opera and ballet, the International Film Festival (IFF) and folkloric and symphonic concerts. A board of trustees has been formed to manage fundraising and the restoration of this Panameño cultural gem and it’s hoped that the repairs will take place in early 2016. At an estimated cost of $10 million dollars that might be a bit of a stretch but who knows, they might just be successful because of the cultural significance and because it’s in the city and not…in the campo.