In­ti­mate and in­tense

To sur­vive, theatre takes a dif­fer­ent and up-close-and-per­sonal form in a coun­try hard hit by the euro cri­sis.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

BREAK­ING through the bar­room chat­ter, a voice calls au­di­ence mem­bers down­stairs, to the base­ment of Madrid’s “Mi­crothe­atre”.

For­merly a butcher’s shop, this theatre bar in a for­merly un­de­sir­able neigh­bour­hood of the Span­ish cap­i­tal now uses its tiny un­der­ground cham­bers for a novel form of bud­get en­ter­tain­ment.

Pay­ing €4 (RM17.50) each – a frac­tion of the cost of a typ­i­cal theatre ticket in Spain – au­di­ences of about a dozen cram into a room a few me­tres square and sit close up to the ac­tors or lean against the wall to watch a 15minute show.

The Mi­crothe­atre was launched three years ago, af­ter the start of the five-year eco­nomic cri­sis which has hit spend­ing hard, not least on plea­sures such as the theatre.

On a Satur­day night, the 54 mini-shows per­formed back-to­back in the theatre’s five rooms of­ten sell-out, says the com­pany’s man­ager, Veron­ica Lar­ios, 35.

“A lot of peo­ple are un­em­ployed, a lot of peo­ple have had their salaries cut, so peo­ple have less spend­ing power in gen­eral now in Spain,” she says.

“This is a form that lets you spend time in the theatre, and spend just as much as you want to.”

On a re­cent evening, pun­ters could choose be­tween shows as di­verse as a com­edy set in a 1960s Span­ish kitchen, or a dark drama set in a torture cham­ber, where a young woman lay naked and weep­ing a few inches from the spec­ta­tors.

“It is a very in­tense ex­pe­ri­ence,” says one mem­ber of the au­di­ence, Be­len Gar­cia, a 36year-old econ­o­mist, on her first ever visit to the Mi­crothe­atre.

“You see the ac­tors right in front of you. If you stretched out your arm, you could al­most touch them.”

Five years of eco­nomic tur­moil in Spain have had a ma­jor im­pact on the­atres, which were al­ready in bad shape, driv­ing the­atres to seek new ways of draw­ing a crowd.

One in four Span­ish work­ers is job­less and at­ten­dance at shows plunged by nearly a third be­tween 2008 and 2012.

A fur­ther blow was struck last year when the govern­ment raised the sales tax on tick­ets for shows from eight to 21%.

“The im­pact has been bru­tal,” says Jose Martret, 41, an ac­tor and one of the men be­hind an­other minia­ture theatre project in Madrid, La Casa de la Portera.

In the Bo­hemian district of La Latina, this venue houses au­di­ences of 25 for shows run­ning an hour or more for up to €20 (RM87) a time.

The nov­elty here is that the plays are per­formed not in a regular theatre but in an old ground­floor apart­ment – and that the au­di­ences have kept com­ing.

Tonight its walls are decked out with hunt­ing tro­phies and gilded mir­rors, with thick red car­pets and a small al­tar to the Vir­gin Mary: props for a pro­duc­tion of An­ton Chekhov’s Ivanov, a clas­sic rarely staged in Spain.

Martret and the theatre’s codi­rec­tor Al­berto Pu­raen­vidia, a set-de­signer of 36, say they made a “kamikaze” gam­ble by pour­ing all their re­sources into mount­ing the show in March 2012, hop­ing it would run for at least three months.

“It was time to take a risk,” says Martret. “It is a dif­fi­cult time for the theatre. It is in per­ma­nent cri­sis.”

Ivanov ended up be­ing more pop­u­lar than they ex­pected and ran for 287 per­for­mances be­fore they switched to stag­ing dif­fer­ent shows, en­cour­aged by its suc­cess.

La Casa de la Portera and the Mi­crothe­atre do not bring in enough in ticket sales to pro­vide a liv­ing for the ac­tors and crew. But they see it as a bridge to other, po­ten­tially more lu­cra­tive projects.

At the Mi­crothe­atre, the man­ager Lar­ios says they have sold li­cences to venues in Ar­gentina, Mex­ico and Mi­ami to run Mi­crothe­atre shows, and are ne­go­ti­at­ing to do the same in Lon­don.

These are a few small signs of life in Spain’s theatre sec­tor de­spite eco­nomic ad­ver­sity.

Three years ago, a hand­ful of theatre pro­fes­sion­als launched, with­out any pub­lic sub­si­dies, a new theatre fes­ti­val, Rus­safa Escenica, with shows set in un­usual lo­ca­tions.

In a re­cent edi­tion of the fes­ti­val, more than 9,500 peo­ple bought tick­ets – sold for a min­i­mum of €3 (RM13) – to watch shows per­formed in florist shops, lo­cal swim­ming baths and else­where.

The fes­ti­val’s artis­tic direc­tor, Jeron­imo Cor­nelles, sees it as a shop-win­dow for the par­tic­i­pants’ tal­ents rather than a bread-win­ning en­ter­prise.

In a time of eco­nomic cri­sis, he adds, it has also been a means of protest against the govern­ment’s han­dling of the eco­nomic cri­sis.

“At times like this, you can take up a ban­ner and demon­strate,” he says. “Or you can do some­thing, build some­thing, and show that there is an­other way.”

– aFP

In-your-face-drama: The new fash­ion of stag­ing short plays in un­usual and tiny lo­ca­tions is help­ing to keep Spain’s theatre alive in hard times while treat­ing au­di­ences to act­ing just an arm’s length away.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.