We need theatre

March 16th, 2011 No Comments

But whether it relieves or agitates, whether it darkens or illuminates, it is never limited to a mere description of reality. Its function always consists in appealing to the whole man, in permitting the “I” to identify itself with someone else’s life and to take on what isn’t but may possibly be. Even a great instructive artist such as Brecht doesn’t act only with reason and arguments; he also resorts to sentiments and suggestion. (…) Art is necessary for man to be aware of and to change the world. But it is also necessary for the magic inherent to it.

We have taken the dust off a classic of the theory of art, “The Necessity of Art”, by Ernst Fischer (Barcelona: Nexos, 1985) in order to try to explain why one of the oldest forms of expression of creativity in the history of humanity, the theatre, continues, a lost thread of the ritual that twenty five centuries after its birth is still alive and well, despite the many setbacks it has endured. The cinema screen, the era of the “technical reproducibility of art” according to the concept developed by Benjamin, should have buried the theatre in the 20th century, but it didn’t, and nor is the digital era, with the interactive screen, managing to do so.

The surprise comes from the fact that the theatre is not only surviving because our generation and the previous are still its audience, but especially because new generations who have grown up in front of a screen, which not only suggested but invited participation in its splendid virtual universe, have renewed their confidence in live theatre as a form of expression of their uncertainties and concerns, as a form of entertainment, even as a ceremony of collective catharsis. Today, such as when the Greeks skipped the ritual to move down new roads and to begin to be a little less subjects and a little more citizens, “Theatre brings actors and spectators together for enjoyment or for meditation, or to make decisions on certain aspects of life, expressed through the myth or the parody”  (Vito Pandolfi, Història del teatre, Barcelona: Institut del Teatre, 2001).


In the last and vindicating essay of Josep Ramoneda, Contra la indiferencia (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2010), we find an explanation for why theatre survives, “The theatre, from my point of view, has two peculiarities which make it unbeatable: the singularity –each performance is a new show, for the actor and for the spectator– and the presence. The presence of the individual, as he is, on the stage. It is a person with a mask, some would say. Does a person, when he comes into contact with another, ever stop wearing a mask? We are animals with masks: theatre creatures”. A passionate defence of the theatre as an art form that broadens the field of vision of what the individual is capable of understanding and seeing. Art is necessary, a form of art like theatre is lasting for all these reasons, and within the theatre, the theatre of text, he who uses words, demonstrates, with an impetus unsuspected only a few years ago, that it is in full force.

If we pay attention to Pierre Bourdieu and we understand that social classes do not only continue to exist, but that the main cause of their segmentation is cultural and not economic, we should face the new technology with something more than simple-mindedness. Digital illiteracy will not be “the problem” of social margination, but not knowing how to read or write, for example will. We are not speaking, obviously, of the technical skill of reading but the capacity of comprehension and enjoyment of a text, and of the capacity of reasoned expression of ideas. We can also guess that the capacity of comprehension and… enjoyment of a theatre performance in the future will be a reason for social differentiation that requires a minimum active attitude from the spectator.

Kosmopolis 2011 will include, for the first time, a programme that pays specific attention to the theatre. Within the programme of the festival, two events will take a look at the new playwrights from Catalonia and from abroad with the intervention of emerging artists that show the latest tendencies in play writing.


In the first of the events, the Catalan playwright and journalist Pablo Ley (Barcelona, 1960) will talk with the Canadian dramatist of Lebanese origin Wadji Mouawad (Beirut, 1968), the creator of the so-called “tetralogy of identity and memory” performed internationally (Littoral, 1999; Incendies, 2003;  Fôrets, 2006; and Ciels, 2009). We need theatre, we were saying, for almost the same reasons that it was necessary two thousand five hundred years ago, in spite of all the transformations experienced by mankind. And when we begin to represent stories on the stage, we cannot get away from these roots.

In Littoral, the young Wilfrid sets off on a journey to bury his progenitor, which is, at the same time a journey in search of his own identity at the crucial time of his entering into adulthood. The Greek reminiscence is absolute. It is a replica of Oedipus’s’ “Who am I?” Mouawad was born in Beirut in 1968. He was only eight years old when his parents left Lebanon due to the civil war that swept through the country for over ten years and that then, in the mid-nineteen seventies, had only just begun. In his own words, the theatre became a way of “recreating the happy time of my childhood”. His tetralogy is a reflection on identity, memory, inheritance and affiliation, all of which are themes present in the complex societies of the first world, with the diverse origin of its inhabitants, i.e., with a set of different “pasts” that it is necessary to convert to the present.

Alfrezo Sanzol ©LUCÍA QUINTANA

The second act aims to be an example of the theatre that is written here with Josep Maria Miró (Vic, 1977) and Pau Miró (Barcelona, 1974), examples of some extraordinary work by Catalan playwrights, and with Alfredo Sanzol (Madrid, 1972), a veritable event in the Spanish box office in recent times.

Catalan playwrights have produced such notable successes in the last few years that it has been very difficult to take one as an example. One of the most brilliant playwrights from the first wave of the new era of playwriting in Catalonia, Lluïsa Cunillé, is not yet fifty years old, for example, and between her and Josep Maria Miró, the youngest playwright present at Kosmopolis, there is a difference of fifteen years in which we could point out twenty names of Catalan playwrights whose plays are of such quality to be present at the box office in any city. The choice, therefore, was difficult. But we were not swayed by the accumulation of successes with the public in any specific CV, but we were looking for a creative trajectory that brings the present to life. Pau Miró and Josep Maria Miró wonder, through their theatre, why the world is as it is and what we can do to understand it.

Pau Miró

Pau Miró creates characters with a certain dose of innocence, and even naivety. But obviously, they cannot be extracted from the fact of living in a world that works in a way that is different from them. They are perplexed with reality, which helps us to relate to them. They are beautiful, carriers of light, apparently unmasked, people that we wouldn’t mind knowing, such as the prostitute in Plou a Barcelona (2004) or the boy that arrives at the laundry in Lleons (2009), with his shirt covered in blood. He often places these characters in hostile environments, where they are at a disadvantage. A city, for example, which in the case of Búfals (2008) and Lleons is the environment of the unexpected, uncertainty, insecurity and despite all of this, that which, in competition with the others, we want to be ours. The city which we sense in Lleons is an area of conflict and of opportunity, but an implacable place. It is a city that has similarities with the DF of Amores Perros by Alejandro González Iñárritu, which penetrates our house, despite the walls that we build to defend ourselves.

Josep Maria Miró

Josep Maria Miró writes perfectly ideologically worked plays. He rebels, for example, against a world that permits spaces of scandalous impunity. In La dona que perdia tots els avions (Premio Born de Teatre, 2009) a woman, sitting on the porch of a colonial house while she waits for the plane that will take her home, suddenly goes blind. At her side, there is a man, a native from this tropical island that attracts so many western visitors. The man is there waiting for her decision. Will she stay in the country? Will she want the same that many others have asked for before? Trapped in the culture of feelings, of the need for doses of sensations that the hyper atrophied consumer society provokes, the western traveller finds in the Third World the possibility of climbing up a few steps in that direction. Or going down a few steps. In our world there are places where it is possible to go very far to satisfy the dark side of the human being. Here, the transgression from sacredness (in the Passolini sense of the term sagrado), from the basic moral norms of cohabitation among men, from human dignity, is free.  But Josep Maria Miró does not only question “the world”, he also interrogates himself openly about his world.

Gang Bang (Obert fins a l’hora de l’Àngelus), which is opening this month of March 2011 at the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, is one of the most daring pieces that has been written in this country in recent years. A father enters a sex parlour looking for his son; there we discover the double life of many highly respected characters such as men from politics, the business world or the church in Catalonia. But the challenge goes further and reaches this same character who seems so lost in this place and at the same time so endearing in his attempt to rebuild a broken family. Gang Bang reminds us, with its bravery, of Plaça dels herois by Bernhard or the El balcó by Genet, works that caused a deep sense of discomfort in their day, but which at the same time generated interesting debates.

Alfredo Sanzol is a wonderful snake charmer: he counts his premiers by the success of the public. From searches on Google, he ends up working with random elements and with this material, articulated in the form of a brief story, he searches for the formulation of the deep human experience, a sensation, an unsolvable paradox or an unsolvable contradiction which is at the bottom of the plot that he relates. What we have just referred to is behind the trilogy Risas y destrucción (2006), Sí, pero no lo soy (2008) and Días estupendos (2010).  Often situations created by Sanzol are absurd (they have a Becket-rooted contemporarity). In Días estupendos, a bull fighter decides to give up his job, on which his whole family depends, because he has run over a cat. The circumstance is absurd and touches on unlikelihood, but the point of arrival is not without sense. Often an apparently banal accident places the human being face to face with fundamental contradictions. What’s more, in the same play, parents receive a letter from their son who is at camp in which he says that he wants to “desert”, and he prefers to be adopted by his monitors. From outside, the letter makes you laugh, but it places the poor characters of the parents in a difficult situation; in the midst of flying accusations we realize that the son, more than a project in life, had been “the stage that had to be fulfilled” in a race for various possessions.

In this edition of Kosmopolis, we will get a taste of what has seemed most interesting in this “necessary theatre, the “magnificent patient” of which a critic such as Marcos Ordóñez spoke about only a few weeks ago in El País.

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