Contemporary Spanish theater

Spanish playwright Sergi Belbel’s heroes live a daily routine not suitable for them. Each of the seven leading characters in his play «Morir» has a different story, staged on the minimalist set of two chairs and two tables. They live in an odd world, made up of images and desires. Belbel, one of the most important living Spanish playwrights, was born in Barcelona in 1963. He first became acquainted with theater while a philology student, encouraged by professor and playwright Jose Sanchis Sinisterra. Apart from being a playwright, he is also a director and translator. His first play to be staged in Catalan was «Calidoscopios y faros de hoy,» in 1986; in 1992 he became widely known with his play «Caricies,» which was staged throughout Europe. A year later, he staged «Despres de la Pluja» in Barcelona, which also became an international hit. As a director, he has staged plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Beckett, Mamet and others. Belbel was in Athens to watch the performance of «Morir» (written in 1994), which is being put on by the Stigmi theater group, in collaboration with the Cervantes Institute, every Monday and Tuesday at the Vassilakou Theater. The stage direction is by Yiannis Anastassakis. Tell me about the play. I wrote it between 1993 and 1995 and it deals with the feeling of inadequacy that sudden death causes people. We have all at some point said «goodbye, see you around» to someone and then never seen that person again. The play is not about death in general, it is only about sudden and unexpected death. For instance, you are in a bar drinking with a friend. Then he is killed in a road accident and you never see him again. You will always wonder: «What if he had left five minutes earlier?» Unplanned deaths always leave us wondering what would have happened had the timing been different. The play is complex. I spent more time on its structure than on its dialogues. I was inspired by an American documentary I watched on television about the story of a killer and the last moment of death of his victim. It shocked me so much I thought of writing this play. In general, I am inspired by things such as inter-family relations and what goes on around me, on the street, on the metro, everywhere. Are your plays set in contemporary times? Yes. «Morir» is set in modern times, but my latest play, which is now on at the Barcelona National Theater, is a game between present and past, although I usually don’t make any chronological references. Is there much response to your plays outside Spain? Yes, in fact, one of my plays, «After the Rain,» has been translated into more than 30 languages and was also performed here in Greece. Many of my works have been staged in Germany, as well as in France, Italy and Latin America. How is Spain’s contemporary theater scene? Is there a generation of 40-year-olds that is shaping it? The repertoire is complex in general. There is the generation of the so-called «bradomin,» named after a theater prize for new creators – I was the first one to receive it. Whoever received the prize joined that group, which determines Spain’s modern theater scene. There is a lot of theatrical activity in Catalonia, we are talking about a very good time for Catalan theater. Many works by Catalan playwrights have first opened abroad and then in Madrid, for instance «Morir» has never been performed in Madrid. What about the new generation of Spanish playwrights? There is a lot of movement. Between my generation and the previous one, there was a gap of 10, 15 years when nothing happened. Now, between my generation and the next, many new playwrights have emerged. There is something that we hope will change in the difference between Madrid and Barcelona: It is much easier for young playwrights in Barcelona to stage their works than it is in Madrid. Madrid theaters are larger and it is difficult for someone new to manage to present his work. In Madrid, one finds new playwrights’ work at small theaters, the so-called alternative theaters, but in Barcelona, it is easier for a new playwright to stage his work even in national theaters. Do you distinguish other playwrights of your generation in Europe? I know more about the actual writing, I’d say that German dramaturgy stands out. There are also some playwrights who may not be so young – some died recently – but have influenced contemporary theater – mostly British playwrights – and have, in essence, shaped Europe’s theatrical landscape. Talking with Yiannis Anastassakis, director of the show, I noticed that we have a lot in common. We talked about the same playwrights, there were many common references. Can a social play have political dimensions? Definitely. People in Spain today are fed up with dogmatism, they want social plays, but not the kind that identifies them with certain political parties or has an educational character. In Spain, the Brecht theater era is gone. People respond much to social plays and playwrights themselves refuse to become teachers. They are humble and don’t think they can influence people who to vote for or who to support. Social issues are what I am interested in the most. Apart from writing, you also translate and direct. That is my life, the combination of writing plays and directing. I feel more like a writer who directs than a director who writes, although in reality I direct more than I write. Directing was a learning procedure for me. When I direct a play by David Mamet, I am very attentive to the writing, it’s like school. In general, when I act as director I feel I am receiving a course in writing. I respect the writer whose play I am directing. Where is the meeting point between Chekhov and Beckett, Mamet and Shakespeare? I don’t find any common points. I just like them and the choice depends on my mood. I am interested in all kinds of theater, without requiring a link between them. I also enjoy alternating between different fields: large theaters and large productions, smaller productions for alternative theaters. Working for an alternative theater is more tiring (financially), but you have an entirely free space to work in. Does the state support theater? State sponsorships increase every year, even for alternative theaters.