portada de BMM


The 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. (...)

Time to stop navel-gazing
by Carme Portaceli theatre director

I 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 logical.

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.

A great opportunity
by Antoni Dalmau assistant commissioner
for the "Ciutat del Teatre" project.

When 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 better co-ordinated?

To 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 to nurse.

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. (...).