Burning down the House

This is the beautiful deco Bolivar Theatre, in Quito, Ecuador, which opened in 1933 with an audience capacity of 2,400.  Whenever I travel I try to visit these grand architectural icons as they often say much about a country’s society and culture, and I was stuck by the grandeur of this one.

Sadly, this is what it looks like on the inside now.  In 1997, after a few years as a cinema, a lengthy restoration process took place, which succeeded in recapturing lost audiences. In 1998 the theatre dedicated itself to promoting culture in Quito, becoming The Theater of the City. 70 events, both national and international, were presented in 1998 and the first half of 1999, bringing more than 70,000 visitors. The future was bright. However, on Sunday, August 8, 1999, a gas leak caused a fire to erupt in the kitchen of the multinational chain Pizza Hut, which was occupying a business area on the ground floor of the theatre. The fire consumed over 70% of the building.

And why am writing about it? Well, as I travelled around Ecuador I was delighted by the lack of international franchises – not a Starbucks to be had, or the greasy stink of a MacDonalds to be sniffed.  The Ecuadorian government clearly has a very tight rein on allowing these companies in.

However, there was a notice on the door of the Teatro Bolivar (to give it is proper title) that explained what had happened, but also went on to say that Pizza Hut refused both to accept responsibility for the fire or help fund or take part in any of the restoration. So much for corporate social responsibility!

The day following the fire, the Theater and Hotel Enterprise of Quito planned the Process of Restoration for the Bolivar Theater that would include a number of principal actions, including initiating legal and public actions to put pressure on Pizza Hut to recognize their responsibility for the fire and to continue to produce cultural events in the Bolivar in the process of rising out of the ashes. The restoration process is clearly a slow one, but the members of the Bolivar Theater Foundation and the Bolivar’s audiences are determined to return their beloved theatre to its original prominence, as one of the most important cultural venues in South America .

The places in which we make theatre can be as important as the performances themselves and represent the significance of creativity in and to a culture. So when one is destroyed by an international corporate giant that then refuses to accept its role in that destruction, it makes me especially angry.

So next time you pick up the phone to order your pizza, please think again and choose a company other than Pizza Hut.

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