The story of Molito started as puppet theatre in Chile in 1974 in the dark days of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Juan Opitz was about to graduate from the University of Chile’s theatre program, when the theatre school was closed on September 11th, 1973, the day of the coup d’état. Juan had been working as an assistant to the “Minister of Government,” travelling by boat to bring theatre to remote communities who had never seen theatre before. When he was not picked up in the first sweep of so-called dissidents, he fled Santiago.
To survive, he and a friend travelled as itinerant puppeteers. They invented a puppet called Topito who was a little mole born underground but unique because he had eyes to see. When Topito decided to come up to see what was happening in the world, he had many adventures, including an encounter with a nasty frog whose chest was covered with medals, and a female puppet who carried the scales of justice but whose pockets were filled with garbage. Children loved the story, but it was also a way to say things that couldn’t be said, and all the audiences knew it. Juan later got a job teaching theatre at the Catholic University of Talca, where he put on a play that was meant to be a history of theatre.
Unfortunately for him, he slipped in the figure of Oedipus whose eyes shed tears of blood at the tragedies he saw. The play was warmly received, even by the 14 military officers in the audience, until a reviewer asked: “What was Opitz really trying to say?” At that point Juan went into the real underground, moving from safe house to safe house, until he was arrested for putting on a play considered “defamatory of the military.” He was jailed for three months and then released. He crossed the border into Peru and went into exile until he made his way to Canada where he became a percussionist and sound engineer.
Juan told me the story and we decided to resurrect it as Molito. My sister, the artist Colleen Sullivan, caught the magic of the story and agreed to illustrate it. Molito is a now a story of friendship that celebrates music and the world under our feet.
Molito lives in the underground and, with his drum, plays the sound of the earth’s heart beating. He meets an ant in the underground park who tells him about a place called the upperworld. Unable to explain it, Carlota tells Molito to go and see that world for himself. Molito discovers the upperworld is simply the inverse of his world. After a series of adventures, Molito meets musicians who are thrilled with the sound he brings them. Molito decides to build a tunnel to connect both worlds and the creatures of the underground come up to meet the people in the market and play the music of the world dancing.
The Music of Molito:
Visit Molito at his website, and check out details about the Molito Launch Party in Toronto on December 11.
Rosemary Sullivan’s latest book, Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape and a House in Marseille, won the Canadian Jewish Book Awards Yad Vashem Prize in Holocaust History/ Scholarship. She is the author of eleven books including Cuba: Grace Under Pressure with photographs by Malcolm David Batty (2003); Labyrinth of Desire: Women, Passion, and Romantic Obsession (2001); and the national best seller The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out (1998). Her 1995 biography Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen, won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction, the Canadian Author's Association Literary Award for Non-Fiction, the University of British Columbia's Medal for Canadian Biography, the City of Toronto Book Award and was nominated for the Trillium prize.
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