WHAT FUNCTION COULD
THE CITY OF THEATRE SERVE?
City of Theatre project, designed by Lluís Pasqual, was
presented at the close of 1999. The project set out the general
lines for the functioning of the new Montjuïc theatre centre
which will comprise the Mercat de les Flors and the new Teatre
Lliure and Institut del Teatre buildings. The plan was received
with distrust by some in the theatre world, who had not been asked
to participate in its development. What should the role of the
City of Theatre be in a context such as ours where both the public
and private theatre have yet to consolidate their positions? As
a further contribution to debate on this subject, we posed this
question to Hermann Bonnín, president of the Association
of Professional Actors and Directors of Catalonia; to Antoni Dalmau,
assistant commissioner of the City of Theatre Project, and to
theatre director Carme Portaceli.
The third way
by Hermann Bonnin, president of the AADPC
(Catalan Association of Professional Actors and Directors)
Today, the "Teatre Lliure" undoubtedly continues to
convey a way of performing and understanding theatre that may
for now prove to be more testimonial than operative- it is a matter
of opinion-, but maybe that is just what makes its existence even
more necessary. The values that prevail at the present time- i.e.
production, consumption, management and profitability- are contrary
to that conception based on craftmanship and team spirit which
has always characterized the "Teatre Lliure", to the
extent that it has at times put its very existence at risk. However,
in a kind of forward flight, the "Teatre Lliure" has
eventually found a way to formulate the principles that inspire
it anew and extend them to the "Ciutat del Teatre" project
which has recently been submitted to the City Council of Barcelona.
It is convenient to recall that the "Ciutat del Teatre"
(City of Theatre) is not a public works project that has been
suddenly and artificially brought upon the scene. It is above
all an initiative that, from a particular perspective,- that of
the "Teatre Lliure", of course- aims at achieving some
kind of cohesiveness between three theatre institutions that already
exist : the "Mercat de les Flors", the "Institut
del Teatre" (Theatre Institute) and the "Teatre Lliure",
three groups that have followed different, though complementary,
patterns of development which had not yet been expressly formulated.
The "Ciutat del Teatre" project signed by commissioner
Lluís Pasqual, from the perspective explicitly stated by
the "Teatre Liure"- one of the three theatre groups
involved in the project-, is not an ideologically neuter scheme.
As it has been said, it conveys a proposal that comes "from
the world of ideas, from a perspective of an ideologically committed
theatre understood as a public property put at the service of
social cohesiveness, progress and cultural action viewed as a
collective energization formula". This is a revolutionizing,
hygienic proposal that obviously deserves to be considered with
close attention. More particularly because the way its arguments
are expressed makes it appear as a proposal open to the participation
of the whole community and organically cross-checked with the
other two institutions involved in the project (the "Mercat
de les Flors" and the Theatre Institute).
We are now getting right to the heart of the matter and, therefore,
to the core of a possible debate. Whereas the "Mercat de
les Flors" is an institutional theatre- in this case managed
by the City Council of Barcelona- and the Theatre Institute is
a body that depends on the "Diputació", the "Teatre
Lliure", through its foundation, is an autonomous organization
which, by vocation, wishes to perform as a public theatre, financially
linked with public administrative bodies. And it is precisely
from such a perspective- that of a "non-institutional"
public theatre- that the "Teatre Lliure" brings forward
its proposal of global cohesiveness for the "Ciutat del Teatre"
project. This is therefore an original model, released from the
political dependence that hinders the official public theatre.
Premised on such a conception, the activities to be carried out
in the "Ciutat del Teatre" could constitute a new public
theatre offer that would be organically different from that of,
for instance, the "Teatre Nacional de Catalunya" (National
Theatre of Catalonia). A kind of "third way" running
on a line somewhere between the official theatre and the private
stage, rather similar in origin to the Italian "Stabiles"
of the nineteen seventies. Naturally, such a proposal has been
greeted with a certain amount of distrust and fear, not only by
the public administrative bodies- that understand that they will
no longer be able to exert direct political control over the sector-,
but also by private enterprises- that see how financial investments
in public theatre are increasing when, in our country, the overall
resources of the sector are shamefully scarce-.
In any event, the boundaries between public and private enterprises
are not really clear-cut (and maybe it's a good thing), at least
in terms of theatre offer. Institutional theatre is greatly, even
exceedingly concerned with immediate profitability and the demands
of market forces, while private theatre often flirts with the
idea of artistic exigency and cultural commitment. That is why
we cannot bring discredit on a project like the "Ciutat del
Teatre". Catalan theatre has no institutional tradition,
this is a fact and, nevertheless, it is precisely from its independent
position that it has made its voice articulate and widely recognized.
Nowadays, the irruption of an enterprise that aims to develop
a solvent and competitive theatre industry opens doors to a dialectic
into which we ought to go more deeply so as to reconcile and eventually
complement the different spheres of activity and responsibility.
At present- or at least for the time being-, Barcelona boasts
a municipal theatre (the "Mercat de les Flors) which hosts
international productions and co-produces shows with local companies,
a Theatre Institute that contributes to the promotion of its theatre
groups by organizing performances on its different stages, and
the "Teatre Lliure", which is characterized by a peculiar
poetical approach to theatre and a singular mode of management.
Now, the "Ciutat del Teatre" project proposes an alternative
space that would be common to all three institutions. In principle,
this is a good thing. A very good thhing. (...) It is natural
and even coherent that the theorical formulation of the "Ciutat
del teatre" project should be impregnated with and based
on a philosophy and/or ideology which is already part of our common
scenic imagery taken as a frame of reference as well as a starting
point. Therefore, it is very important that the "Teatre Lliure"
or, rather, the "Ciutat del Teatre" project designed
by Lluis Pasqual, should be understood essentially as an inseminating,
instigating, generating (or whatever you wish to call it) agent;
(...) And that is a function which, in my opinion, the structure
that will be created in a near future should guarantee : the action
of a living organism that feeds on the understanding and collaboration
between all the professionals of the sector and the society for
which it is intended to work.
Some of the driving ideas behind the project are orientated towards
that goal : the creation of a "theatre city" for professionals
that would be run on the basis of an open structure instead of
a pyramidal one, a kind of "Renaissance" city, a "Republic"
city, a free port, "a woven fabric with a weft of shared
facilities and a warp of artistic projects". A "theatre
city" that would operate in the legal form of a consortium,
under a "transversal" managerial system, and whose programme
of artistic performances would be open to private initiatives
through official submissions. (...)
The fact is that, in our country, the concept of public theatre
has not taken root in the fabric of our society. It is true that
this concept is not backed by either a model or a tradition, but
this does not mean that it should give rise to feelings of defensiveness
or culpability. Public and private are terms which are neither
antithetical nor, of course, irreconcilable. And there is no reason
why they should be. It is not the case in any other place, so
there is even less cause for such opposition in our country where,
historically, private enterprise- we call it civil society nowadays-
has always been active in the field of culture, often substituting
for political powers by taking on certain. responsibilities. (...)
Therefore, all the agents involved in the sphere of scenic arts
should leave complexes behind and keep on working so that the
"Ciutat del Teatre" project might soon become a reality
(and, why not, move ahead to build a "Ciutat de les Arts"
(City of the Arts) if the project were to be extended, through
further co-ordination, to the music facilities also located in
the Montjuïc neighbourhood).
Approximately one year ago, the Catalan Association of Professional
Actors and Directors, together with the Theatre Institute, organized
a series of gatherings and debates which led to conclusions that,
today, the Catalan "Coordinadora de Profesionals de les Arts
Escèniques" (Association of Scenic Arts Professionals)
is adopting as a starting point for the development of the sector
and its relationship with state and local administrative bodies.
Consequently, the "Ciutat del Teatre" project ought
to be contemplated within the terms of reference of that document
which already considers theatre a "public property",
therefore worthy of official protection within the framework of
an overall policy that should also regulate the amount of public
funds available to be invested and let local bodies have greater
responsibility in the decision-making process. It is precisely
by means of the afore-mentioned "Coordinadora" that
we have to ensure the presence and freedom of expression of the
professionals of the sector in all the governing bodies appointed
to run the "Ciutat del Teatre" through its own Consortium.
by Carme Portaceli theatre director
still remember the night that Fabià Puigserver came to
the Palau de l'Agricultura to see a rehearsal of Combat de negre
i de gossos by Koltès, in September 1988. (...) He told
me that he really liked the place and that it was a good setting
for the new Teatre Lliure building. (
) Some time later,
he began work on the new Teatre Lliure project.
From the basis of Fabià's Palau de l'Agricultura endeavours
and his efforts to obtain a commitment from politicians, always
a difficult task in our country - a struggle which was to last
for years and in which I imagine he must often have wondered whether
it was worth going on and whether he would ever really achieve
anything - there finally emerged the new Teatre Lliure. In my
opinion, it is a debt we all owe to Fabià.
I suppose the coincidence that the Palau de l'Agricultura was
next to the Mercat de les Flors (actually, just in front of it)
must have led to consideration of the possibility of joining both
of them into a single project. And it was the need to expand the
Institut del Teatre that made the whole idea of the City of Theatre
I have to say that I found the idea rather disconcerting at first,
but I must admit that our politicians have accustomed us to distrusting
them. In time, considering the matter a little more deeply, though
within the limitations of my almost total ignorance of the area,
I realised that I had better make a mental adjustment and take
on a more advanced attitude, if possible one corresponding to
the century which has just begun.
If there is one thing I find intelligent in the entire project
it is the presence of the Institut del Teatre within the same
area. Why? Because the place is in need of revitalisation if it
is to be seen as alive, and the best way to achieve this is by
bringing in young people and creating life inside. Bringing in
the student actors was, in my opinion, a marvellous solution,
perhaps the only one.
All too often, we speak of the need to change old structures which
no longer serve the purpose they were designed for. This is no
easy task for us alone, when all around us things are exactly
the same. At times, circumstances may radically change the way
we face reality. The City of Theatre is the type of undertaking
which I believe forces you to adopt a new attitude to theatre.
For example, I believe that our society has always been small,
closed in on itself, always anxious to preserve our own little
space, wary lest someone else might slip in and take it from us.
This fear, which is the result of an extremely conservative culture,
is done away with by such endeavours as the present one. These
projects force us to be open-minded full-stop; and to look beyond
our own navels, because an inward-looking, small-minded society
will not provide scope for fulfilment of all the project's full
ambition. The mere fact that there is a School of Theatre (the
Institut) within this city, forces us to be aware of the aspiring
young actors and directors and that there are different ways of
doing theatre, of conceiving drama.
) Another question, and one which I personally consider
very important, is to what extent the all-too-well-known tenets
of economic neo-liberalism are to be allowed to play a role in
the project. I believe that this is a project which, by its very
characteristics and its design by Lluís Pasqual, should
shut the door to this terrible tendency, if only terrible for
Art. Art can never be uniform, never.
In this space, a meeting place of such different worlds and disciplines,
the Institut del Teatre, Mercat de les Flors (a municipal theatre)
and the new Teatre Lliure, no one can plan and dictate what is
to be done and how. This must stem from the artists who work there,
from the people and proposals emerging from the Institut; this
is the genuine spirit of openness which is needed if this project
is to be a success, and by virtue of its aim to provide public
service, there can be no place for the overriding objective of
neo-liberalism; theatre as profit.
by Antoni Dalmau assistant commissioner
for the "Ciutat del Teatre" project.
you are talking about the "Ciutat del Teatre" (City
of Theatre), you have to start by clearing up quite a few misunderstandings
that, through sheer- and rather suspect- reiteration, allow practically
no opportunity for the public debate that should be conducted
about one of the greatest cultural projects Barcelona has the
possibility of carrying out over the next years. (...)
This said, it might be convenient to recall something as obvious
and repeatedly pointed out as the fact that the "Ciutat del
Teatre" does not exist yet. And, at the same time, even if
public institutions should not be disposed to adopt the proposals
contained in the Project presented to mayor Clos last November,
the decisions made a few years ago and the theatre infrastructures
that already exist in the surroundings of Margarida Xirgu square,
would equally oblige the authorities to establish a public policy
suitable to be applied in that particular area of the city.
This might somehow help to moderate the dramatic tones with which
some people have forcefully tried to colour the decisions that
have to be made in a near future. Let's state things clearly :
the "Mercat de les Flors" has been operating for some
time now, the Theatre Institute and the new seat of the "Teatre
Lliure" (the "Palau de l'Agricultura" building)
are almost completed and, some years ago, the block of flats located
in the middle of the square was officially classified as an area
reserved for public facilities. (...) So far, therefore, the only
public monies to be spent on the project concern expenditures
that had been budgeted a long time ago and funds that have in
large part already been invested in completed works.
In the light of such plain truth, the problem at hand appears
much simpler and all that pessimistic, prejudiced fuss makes way
for a reality which is much easier to approach : we have a few
theatres that will be ready to open to the public next summer
and we now have to find some common ground upon which to base
decisions about how that set of facilities located at the foot
of the Montjuïc hill ought to be organized and managed. It
is evident that the opening of those theatres will alter Catalonia's
theatre map considerably and that it will undoubtedly affect the
current "status quo", but it is equally true that the
political decisions which were the starting point for the creation
of those new theatre infrastructures were made a long time ago
and that, whatever their final location and even if they had been
built in different parts of the city, they would exist just the
same. So, why shouldn't we take advantage of their present physical
concentration given that it allows significant operational economies
and an overall theatre policy which, at least, is bound to be
complete the description of the current situation, we still have
to mention the ordinary operation costs for that set of facilities.
Some people have pointedly displayed an awed concern over the
magnitude of the figures published in the newspapers in rather
confused terms, forgetting that the figures stated concern the
current budgets worked out for the whole set of theatres concentrated
in the Montjuïc area, and that any additional contribution
of funds from public bodies would in fact be much smaller than
those currently being spent on the Liceu opera house or the National
Theatre, while serving to finance a much higher number of stage
productions. Therefore, this is not really a matter of money-
given that budgeted expenses are perfectly acceptable-, but what
is actually at stake is the cultural model that local public authorities
want for the Barcelona of the twenty-first century, and the question
is whether they consider that we are already "quite well-off"
as far as theatre is concerned- as Mr. Miró i Ardèvol
stated with satisfaction a few weeks ago-, or whether they actually
intend to let Catalonia and its capital city play a starring role
on the European stage. On the other hand, it is true that there
are some sectors-led by people who are up to their neck in commercial
theatre- that consider that the facilities which are soon to open
in the Montjuïc area are in fact quite "dispensable",
but, now matter how loudly they voice their criticism, it does
not seem logical that such sectors should be allowed to determine
the potential and distinguishing features of our theatre and delimit
the scope of the cultural ambitions a country like ours is entitled
All things considered, the project conducted by Lluís Pasqual
is not merely concerned with the definition of the limits to such
cultural ambitions- a matter that, naturally enough, falls outside
its assignment as it remains the responsibility of our democratically
elected politicians-; the project is centred on a much simpler
issue : the organization of a set of theatre houses and spaces
with a view to achieving the necessary overall co-ordination and
planning a series of artistic programmes of a certain standard,
as well as making sure that the existing structures provide comfortable
and effective accomodation for the spectators, more particularly
if we consider that the future "Ciutat del Teatre" is
not located either in downtown Barcelona or in an easily accessible
neighbourhood, at least for the time being. This is therefore
the main orientation to the project, which also includes some
comments and claims concerning the programme of performances which,
all things considered, seem to be quite relevant, among them the
definition of what public theatre should be like at the beginning
of the twenty-first century.
As regards the concrete model outlined, to sum it up in a few
words, the project championed by Lluís Pasqual endeavours
to move the theatre world forward by breaking out not only of
the current compartmentalized system- each theatre house operating
on his own, with the costs and malfunctions such a system implies-,
but also of the conservatism trap and the modes of operation which
existing national theatres are still burdened with, even though
their limitations have been widely made manifest.
In short, the suggested course of action would be to consider
all the theatre facilities- including those run by the "Teatre
Lliure", naturally- as parts of a common "package"
and to gradually develop a show planning system that would be
based on previously defined artistic programmes, subject to official
submissions, so that the future "Ciutat del Teatre"
might effectively be open to all those creators who have something
interesting to offer. On the other hand, we could take advantage
of the presence of a drama school in the neighbourhood by establishing
formulas for a really close collaboration between the professional
and academic worlds.
This is a model which is not only debatable but actually much
debated- which was only to be expected-, but it has the advantage
of avoiding many of the stumbling blocks that traditionally stop
that kind of project from being finally successful, and of no
limiting the sector's legitimate and necessary ambition to individual
and rather small-minded conditioning attitudes. (...).