Quepos, a town on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and the gateway to the renowned Manuel Antonio National Park, has experienced strong foreign influences throughout its history, whether through farming or tourism. Because of this, according to the leaders of a cultural organization in town, Quepos never developed a strong identity of its own.
That’s something those leaders – local youth coordinator Kenneth Morales, consultant and executive director Hernán Quirós, Argentinian artisan Mara Cantarelo, and educator and musician Franklin Mejía – hope to address through the Copaza Theater, which they created to promote cultural development, peace and economic growth in Quepos.
“This theater has been here for eight years now; it began as a need to search for a mechanism that could promote social peace and reduce violence,” Quirós told The Tico Times during our visit to the theater. “At that time there wasn’t an adequate public space for the Quepeña family to come and where the tourists could get an experience exchange where they’d learn the local culture.”
The theater’s projects have included plays; an artisan market with handcrafted goods by women from Quepos; visits by national and international artists, musicians, and writers, and a social support platform for people facing any sort of crisis.
On a warm, humid afternoon at the theater, located next to the Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, The Tico Times sat down and spoke with Morales, Quirós, Cantarelo, and Mejía about their vision to develop the identity of Quepos and showcase its history. Excerpts follow.
Tell us about your work.
KM: At Copaza we’ve held different courses and workshops, and plays with a social projection for the community. We also have artistic presentations such as contemporary and urban dance; a computer room to help young people; and cooking courses.
The Copaza Theater has also worked to bring plays both on a national and international level. We’ve been doing this to promote culture in Quepos… there really is a lot of culture here that’s unacknowledged, but we’re trying to rescue it.
HQ: We began bringing public shows that were being done in San José… music, dance, the National Dance Company, the National Theater Company and music groups. We even brought Editus and various other national prize-winners for dramatic arts.
How has the history of Quepos shaped its current identity?
FM: Quepos’s identity emerged with the Standard Fruit Company’s settlement in the 1930s… when the government gave concessions to that transnational [company]. Many workers from outside of the area were needed, so there was a big influx of people from Nicaragua, Guanacaste, Puntarenas, the Meseta Central, the south and Panama.
At the end of the 1950s, the banana activity ended because the African Palm activity began. Things changed because it was a different activity. People changed. Culturally, Quepos suffered because the Standard Fruit Company left and many of the people in charge left. These people were North Americans and there were many North American traditions.
Then, from the 1970s onward, Quepos has its first big tourism transformation with the opening of the Manuel Antonio Park, which granted it a great boom.
When you put together a play, what is the process you go through?
HQ: The play must have a background that goes along with the organization’s values: solidarity, civil participation, and respect towards diversity.
KM: We also do a cultural study, which is according to the market because a play corresponds to a market. It’s a product that you have to sell. At the beginning we did plays with a specific message with a bit of sentimentalism, but unfortunately the message didn’t get communicated, so we went for more humorous works in order for people to come here and laugh.
MC: Every time there’s a new program we do a casting, and super talented people come here. These are people that didn’t even know they had talent. Generally, we do plays with new actors because others have matured and have gone to work in San José.
We also have this support system that has helped a lot. It changes their lifestyle and friendships because they see each other three or four times a week. Some of them who have dropped out of school go back and finish it. The results are there, and growing.
How would you define Quepos’s current identity?
KM: I’d say Quepos is in a transition in which people are accepting cultural offerings.
HQ: It’s been immersed in such cultural diversity that there’s no common factor that brings it together. We’re in a process of seeing how we create or construct that identity. It’s historical memory in a context that has become multicultural, because we have people from all over the world who live here and visit us.
What motivates you to go on with your dreams and aspirations as an association?
KM: I want it to promote peace… and help many young people to carry on through culture.
FM: I’m a defender of authenticity, and I want to keep contributing for us to continue being Ticos. It doesn’t matter if we have this invasion from other cultures. We should take advantage of that, promote ours and share it. It’s very important for the people, especially young people, to learn to love what we really are. To love our country.
HQ: This is a medium in which you can help as well as being helped to grow as a person to create a more just society.
MC: In my case, I’ve got a thirteen year-old daughter and I’m motivated for her and her friends to be able to develop themselves through art. I’m also motivated for myself because service for me is a way for me to be happy. It’s my biggest source of happiness.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.