Out of the Wings

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Gabriela Roepke

Personal information
Surname: Roepke
First name: Gabriela
Born: 1920, Santiago, Chile

Gabriela Roepke was born in Santiago in 1920 and was a co-founder of the Teatro de Ensayo theatre company at the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile.  Her own formation as a playwright began with her involvement with the Teatro Experimental at the University of Chile in 1941, as well as her experience as an actress and a teacher of theatre history.  Roepke has studied at the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and the Juilliard School.  In 1966 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship while at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia.  She has written eight plays, which include plays for children, as well as poetry and essays.

She is now in her nineties and lives in New York, having worked for the most part of her career in opera and voice training.


Persistent themes in the work of Gabriela Roepke are those of solitude, youth, memory and time.  She explores the internal and ‘spiritual’ experience of the individual in the context of a modern culture which values industry and material productivity above all else.  In this way she follows in the traditions of the North American dramatists Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller who critiqued a culture orientated solely towards material success.  However, despite this general comment on modern society, Roepke has not been received as a ‘socially committed’ dramatist concerned specifically with her own geographical, social and cultural framework.  Roepke’s theatre offers us a lens which reveals a world that goes beyond small-minded bureaucracy and voices the universal experiences of melancholy, loss and absence while championing the humanising force of art. In Roepke’s drama, the imagination holds a liberating power which can transcend the prosaic reality of everyday life.


Stylistically, Gabriela Roepke’s theatre defies easy classification.  It is often described as ‘psychological drama’ while also being absurd, fantastic and comedic.   And perhaps unsurprisingly for a dramatist who is also a poet, there is a strong poetic vision and symbolic charge to her drama.  Roepke’s writing betrays a careful attention to language; it is literary, elegant and fluid.  However, as Tennessee Williams derived his poetics from naturalistic detail and psychological realism, these qualities are embedded in Roepke’s evocation of ordinariness, everyday speech and her psychological insights.

Roepke’s theatre celebrates what is romantic and beautiful through her use of expressive elements such as the haunting waltz which recurs in A White Butterfly. Yet any risk of descending into something sentimental and saccharine is tempered by her playful introduction of the absurd.  Some of her characters could also be described as grotesque.  Luisa’s mother, for example, in A White Butterfly, is an exaggerated persona embodying the ugly traits of possessiveness and cruelty.  But Roepke’s use of the absurd provokes a humour which is never cruel; rather it is tender and forgiving which is perhaps what she meant when she talked about wanting to create ‘una sonrisa teatral’ through her drama, ‘a theatre of smiling’.

Plays in the database
Other works
  • Roepke, Gabriela. 1954. La invitación (The Invitation) (in Spanish)

  • Roepke, Gabriela. 1955. Los culpables (The Guilty), later titled Juegos silenciosos (Silent Games), 1959 (in Spanish)

  • Roepke, Gabriela. 1955. Las santas mujeres (The Holy Women) (in Spanish)

  • Roepke, Gabriela. 1957. Los peligros de la buena literatura (The Dangers of Good Literature). In Apuntes 18 (1961), 24-40 (in Spanish)

  • Roepke, Gabriela. 1964. El bien fingido (The Feigned Interest) (in Spanish)

  • Roepke, Gabriela. 1965. Un castillo sin fantasmas (A Castle Without Ghosts) (in Spanish)

  • Roepke, Gabriela. 1965. Martes 13 (Tuesday, the 13th) (in Spanish)

Useful reading and websites
  • Bello, Andrés. 1982. El teatro chileno de mediados del siglo XX, pp.163-72. Santiago, Andrés Bello (in Spanish)

  • Ehrmann, Hans. 1970. ‘Theatre in Chile: A Middle-Class Conundrum’, Drama Review, 77 – 86

  • Knapp Jones, Willis. 1961. ‘Chile’s Dramatic Renaissance’. Hispania, 44.1, 89 - 94

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 5 October 2010.

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