•  Published on: 08/10/2016

Where is the Spanish scene?


If you are interested in theatre and you have a look around to the international theatre scene you can feel that there are several things missing, and one of them is certainly the Spanish one. If you are wondering what is going on in Spanish theatre, if there is anything going on and where the Spanish artists are I should tell you: you have to come and see.  This is so because there is a big internal institutional problem of projection and mobility of the spanish artist to the “outside”. Of course there are private companies that work really hard on their own to move and set tournées around the world, but it’s based on their own will. There are a few  institutional cultural programs like in AECID or Instituto Cervantes that work on promoting Spanish culture in the rest of the world, but theatre is a really small part of their plans.

This scene exists and it deserves some attention. So in the meantime you are planning your travel to Spain, I will give you a virtual trip around this Spanish hidden scene.

In this pretty big country (46 million people) the artistic life is concentrated between the two biggest cities, Madrid and Barcelona. Historically and culturally really diverse from each other, they are very different and with their own strong identity. And that is of course is reflected in the performances they produce and show: different style, different audiences and different language as well (In the region of Catalunya the first language is catalan, the second one is spanish).

In Madrid what you can find is mostly text theatre: physical theatre and contemporary dance aren’t so presents in the scene, just in specific festivals. One of the most interesting venues is Teatro de la Abadia one of the few places in the capital that has a usual international programme. The theatre is located in an old church and one of its newest projects is Teatro de la Ciudad (trans. The theatre of the city). Three famous dramaturges and directors of the moment, Miguel Del Arco, Andrés Lima and Alfredo Sanzol have started a creation project around the origin of the occidental theatre: Greek tragedy. They organized workshops around ideas like the dichotomy between myth and intellect in Oedipus, Medea and Antigone with professionals coming from different artistic areas. After that, thanks to the collaboration of three producers, they set three plays. This model guarantees a long period of work and three stable work teams. It rescues the repertory model but adapted to a new reality.

The most important contemporary theatre festival is: Festival de Otoño a Primavera, with national and international big companies that is sadly becoming smaller year by year. Madrid hasn’t got a dance house. There is a new project moving on, but not developed yet, La casa de la danza. There is a national stable dance company that produce ballet and neoclassical plays, but contemporary dance is present only in festivals like: Madrid en Danza, Territorio Danza or Danzamos that count as well with dance theatre and physical theatre performances, with international companies.   

In Barcelona they are more open to innovation: performances, visual technologies, physical theatre. An interesting venue is Antic Teatre, an independent venue that since 2004 has international and innovating multidisciplinary program, a stable collaboration with Berlin and artistic residencies.

Mercat de las flors is the dance house of Barcelona. It has a high quality contemporary dance program, international as well, that includes new styles like street dance and hip hop. They work creatively on new audiences projects based on participation.  

Famous festivals in this area are El Grec, located in a new Amphitheatre in Barcelona, with a theater program focused on local contemporary companies,Temporada Alta in Gerona that has a big international presence in contemporary theatre, dance and music and TNT: Terrassa New Trends, this year in his 8th edition, with emergent artists and new scenic languages that develops in the streets of Terrassa.

Between the two cities there is not a big movement of artists and ideas: the two scenes develop separately and due to style and language it is strange case that a play that triumphs in Madrid can be successful in Barcelona and vice versa.

From the point of view of the audience you can find in the Spanish scene a huge variety in styles and forms. During the weekend, in Madrid or in Barcelona, thousands of different shows are running almost at the same time: you only have to choose in this big unreachable sea of artistic proposals. From musicals and cabaret to opera or ballet, classic drama, new performances, circus, contemporary theatre, contemporary dance, political theatre, comedy. The offer is amazing. We can pinpoint three general categories: commercial theatre (privates), academic theatre (publics) and alternative theatre (an hybrid). There are many public theatres, where you can find classic drama, contemporary classic drama and contemporary Spanish authors and directors. This are still the predominant roles in the artistic creation, so we find several generations of traditional directors that rule the scene with a kind of conventional theatre.

Since 2008 due to the crisis,the production in public and private sector along all the country have been really  affected. It’s hard to afford big productions: so the main lines of production are on minimal budget: no set, just a few elements on the stage and not many actors playing. Instability is of course worse by the economic crisis, and if once in public theatre cache was guaranteed, now it’s not at all like this anymore. Even in public spaces they can propose you as an artist to get a fifty/fifty arrangement. Programming, it’s frequent in these last years to see shows from previous seasons as well as small budget companies even in big festivals and big theatres.
All these collateral effects could really damage the sector, make it dry and infertile although some critics say that this is the perfect environment for creativity and imagination. Without producers, sponsors, money or political support an artist can feel completely free to create. No limits to the imagination, no obligation. It is a double-edged sword. In this context there is a kind of explosion of independent venues known as alternative theatres. Settled in apparently unusual spaces for performance, like old garages, shops, basements and apartments, the main purpose of this places is to offer something different, an alternative to the commercial theatre promoted by big private companies and to run away from the static and hierarchical institutional theatre where the Italian style stage dictates his rules and where there is no space enough for creativity, freedom and innovation. But what happen if the price for this freedom it’s just job insecurity? The alternative theatre is now a controverted phenomenon.

The original purpose is to create a new space (physical and ideological) where emergent companies and artists can starts their projects, but as well a place for all these proposals that cannot find a way out in the institutional cultural circle due to their form, smallest or unconventional, and to their contents, often too critical or politically incorrect, to be selected by public theatre. The presence of these venues contributes a lot to make the Spanish scene dynamic, creative and always challenging itself. It helps as to open the performances to new kind of audiences, due to social and economic accessibility. But there is a dark side.

There is not a big connection, osmosis, between the alternative scene and the public spaces. It’s arduous that a play created by a private company in an alternative theatre get till the stage of a public space. The myth of the “trampoline” happens in very few cases. These venues are private and try to be independent but this model in most cases is not profitable. From 2012 the state apply to your work a 21% VAT (before it was just an 8%). If you sell carrots or porn magazines is so much more cheaper! (During the protests against the rise in VAT, several theatres reacts selling carrots or porn magazines giving a ticket for the theatre “as a present”). It’s really hard in Spain to work “only” in theatre, and it is sadly ordinary in alternative theatre to work without legal contracts and with other jobs at the same time. A small part of these venues receives grants or subsidies: these are the more consolidated ones with long term projects, connected with other areas like the education. To survive, the rest need to showcase many pieces even at once, and as well programme commercial shows.
Even Though all this there are some interesting projects going on and great artists that I want to introduce to you.

An interesting case of collaboration between private and public sector is LaZonaKubik. La Zona is a big producer of mainstream spanish movies and performances. They started a nice project with Kubik, an alternative venue in Madrid. They sponsored four different creation process in the theatre with four young and talented directors: Julián Fuentes Reta, Carlota Ferrer, Antonio Ruz and Lucia Miranda. The presence of two women is sadly relevant because in the Spanish scene there is a male prevalence. The producer decided to invert in contemporary creation and all the projects counted with research labs, work in progress with audience presence in Kubik, and then they were programmed in the National Drama Centre of Madrid. The four projects had a high quality standard and also had a great reception by critics and audience alike.

For private companies that are working nowadays in Spain, is hard to find its own place in the Spanish, and hopefully, international scene. We find for example La veronal, a young company from Valencia that explores contemporary dance theatre with a very personal language.

El conde de torrefiel (they have been collaborating since 2005) works especially on new dramaturgy. Both of them have high aesthetic sensibility, they always analyze our contemporary world very critically and with really good quality. In dance, Israel Galván mixes the tradition of Flamenco and contemporary dance with extraordinary results.  Matarile Teatro works on contemporary dance, theatre and performance with poetic, irony and strengthens. With Daniel Abreu you can enjoy and feel the beauty of every movement he creates, with his personal style and great ability. This last year one play agitated the scene: Cuando deje de llover, (When the rain stops falling) directed by Julián Fuentes Reta. It won at the national awards Premios Max in three categories: best play, best director and best actress. An incredible hard play to direct and to perform, with four stories about four generations of the same family between different times and places. With no doubt one of the best play of the year. Nadadores nocturnos (Night swimmers) directed by Carlota Ferrer and awarded with Best Revelation Play is as well a very good contemporary play.
These two shows achieved being critically and audience wise successful as well as making a sustainable box office. Hopefully this kind of shows will set the mark for the future theatre of Spain.


Giulia Bonnat graduated in History of Theatre at Turin University (Italia) and MA in Cultural Management at Universidad Carlos III of Madrid (Spain). She had an internship in audiovisual communication at Universidad Autónoma in Barcelona (Spain).
She has been working for five years as a cultural manager between Barcelona and Madrid. Her current job is at Sala Cuarta Pared in Madrid, an off-theatre founded in 1986, and an actual emblematic representative of the contemporary theatre scene in Spain.

She ie specialized in communication in theatre, creating and maintaining audiences, new technologies applied to communication, public relationship with press and public institutions.

She believes in culture as a cultivation process that sows and grows in our minds and actions, and culture develops thanks to the arts. They can turn ordinary events into experiences. Especially performing arts: they are necessary for making creativity flour and create critical thinking, basis for the craft of truly free individuals. They can really help us to better understand our condition of human beings in a contemporary world. Her challenge is to promote this kind of arts using artistic skills in cultural management  like creativity, intuition and aesthetic sensibility.