Esteban San Juan: “Cities are known by foot, you have to mix with their people and their artists”

Interview with Esteban San Juan, Director of the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá in Oaxaca, Mexico


Teatro Macedonio Alcalá was inaugurated on September 5th, 1909 as a Casino Theatre named Luis Mier y Terán. It was in the thirties that the name was changed to Macedonio Alcalá, in honor of the outstanding Mexican musician and composer of the 19th century. Following the earthquake of 1999 the theatre underwent a major refurbishment  to open its doors in 2004. Esteban San Juan, architect in charge of the restoration and current Director of the theater spoked with us.


With 107 years of existence, the Macedonio Alcalá Theatre is one of the best preserved and equipped coliseums in the country. It recently went through a long refurbishment process that you were in charge of. How was that remodeling process?

To this question I will mention a phrase from Octavio Paz: “A society is defined, not only for its attitude towards the future but against its past: memories are no less relevant than its projects. ”

The remodeling and rehabilitation was due to many social factors: Return to a society its history and its cultural vitality. The restoration was a challenge from the analysis of written memory – initially its historical-political uses, to the preservation of an eclectic architecture, the passion to discover a Oaxaca in different scenarios.

It was a theatre that showed for decades performing art and various manifestations such as zarzuelas, magazine theatre, boxing arena, wrestling, political events, conferences and cinema. Presentation of well-known exponents in the field of vernacular music, classical, contemporary ballet, opera, literature awards.

You are an architect and urban planner, you have worked in the cultural area, in projects that, through urban planning, seek to preserve and rescue the cultural heritage of Mexico. How have these last years been in charge of the Macedonian Theatre since the inauguration?

Four years of rehabilitation were enough after the major surgery we did to the site. Theatrical mechanics, theatrical attire, audio and sound, carpentry, air conditioning and others were intervened without altering the original architecture. That is why it makes sense, to have an architect in charge of the theatre.

We architects have to be universal, socializing with culture is the first priority. Today, neighborhood and street relations have been lost to transform the city, you have to know them with their artistic expressions. Cities are known by foot. You have to mix with your people and your artists.

After its restoration, the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá has served as an example of how it is possible to return something that was already lost to a city. Its identity. 


What kind of shows can be found in the theatre, and what are the bets for the next seasons?

As for shows, the plan is a project that channels and integrates to different festivals in the country. Generating tax incentive schemes -for entrepreneurs- that support culture, add transmissions of international concert and opera season, and especially touring workshops with Latin America .

Currently, is there any type of network and touring of shows in Mexico? 

The networks that exist are managed by each state cultural project. The request is that the Centennial theatres hold the first National Congress, in order to interact with the initial federal proposal of Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.


How do you expect your participation in OLA to benefit the Macedonian Theatre and its relationship with the rest of Latin America? 

Having the opportunity to enter this important network in Latin America, opens the doors to know and apply the operational experiences of different scenographic spaces. Experiences in management models that will have to transform the modus operandi of government subsidies.

I am convinced that in the near future they will step on Mexican and Oaxaca lands as the best experts who will show us the way and a solutions from their experiences. And you will know that culture has no distances or borders, thanks for allowing us to show with humility what we are.