Diversifying the Classics | Theater Festivals
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Theater Festivals

ANNOUNCING LA ESCENA – LOS ANGELES’ FIRST HISPANIC CLASSICAL THEATER FESTIVAL

September 21-23, 2018 will bring LA ESCENA, Los Angeles’ first Hispanic classical theater festival, to the Greenway Court Theater (544 N. Fairfax).

 

Cutting-edge Mexican company EFE Tres will present Lope de Vega’s El príncipe inocente (The Innocent Prince), a meditation on political power and culpability reimagined as a dialogue in a prison cell, and El Merolico (The Mountebank), a reworking of Cervantes’ comic interludes as delivered by a traveling performer in small-town Mexico (in Spanish, with English subtitles).

 

Playwrights’ Arena will present the fourth Golden Tongues, brand-new comedia adaptations from LA playwrights in staged readings: Madhuri Shekar’s School for Witches, or Friendship Betrayed, based on María de Zayas’ La traición en la amistad; Janine Salinas Schoenberg’s Like/Share, a riff on Calderón’s Los cabellos de Absalón; and Michael Premsrirat’s La locura de los ángeles/The madness of angels, adapted from Lope de Vega’s Los locos de Valencia.

 

Sylvia Blush and Jean Carlo Yunen Arostegui will direct Women and Servants, Lope de Vega’s exploration of class, loyalty and desire in a very modern Madrid. The play, only recently rediscovered after 400 years, has been translated into English by UCLA Professor and LA Escena director Barbara Fuchs.

 

Schedule and ticketing information to follow. For inquiries, please write to LAEscena2018@gmail.com.

 

LA ESCENA is made possible by the UCLA Center for 17th– & 18th-Century Studies, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Center for European and Russian Studies, Latin American Institute, and Departments of Spanish and Portuguese and English, as well as by the generous support of UC Riverside’s College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

 

For more information and updates, follow us on Facebook (La Escena Festival), Instagram (@la_escena_festival), and Twitter (@LAescenaLA), and keep an eye out for our hashtags #diversifyingtheclassics and #laescenafestival

 

2018 Nuevo Siglo Drama Festival at The Chamizal National Memorial

The 2018 Nuevo Siglo Drama Festival will take place April 7-14, 2018 at The Chamizal National Memorial (El Paso, Texas).

 

This year’s festival will feature contemporary plays by Luis Valdez and Xavier Villanova as well as original versions and adaptations of classics by Lope de Vega, Calderon de la Barca, and Cervantes. This is a new direction for the festival, which has traditionally focused on Hispanic classical theater.

 

On Saturday, April 7, Los Actores, a company from El Paso will perform Luis Valdez’s Bernabé, a play about the personal and spiritual journey of a man who is widely believed to be crazy and suffers social marginalization in a small town in Mexico. Bernabés deep connections to his mother, the natural environment, and his Aztec ancestors accompany him on the way to the play’s dramatic conclusion.

 

On Sunday, April 8, the XIPE Colectivo Escénico of Puebla, Mexico will present Aquerón: The River of Tragedy, by Xavier Villanova. Featuring actresses Aline L. Bernal and Cinthia Pérez Navarro, and directed by Martín Balmaceda, Aquerón is an allusive and highly symbolic account of human migration from Mexico to the United States, which calls attention to questions of personal and cultural identity, social injustice, power and vulnerability.

 

Wednesday, April 11 will bring Nuevo Siglo’s first classic, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño. Cuba’s Jazz Vilá Project, a company dedicated to encouraging youth interest in theater, will present Calderón’s timeless reflection on free will and predestination, the story of King Basilio, Segismundo—the son he has imprisoned—and the revolt that imperils a reign.

 

Another canonical favorite, Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna will be performed on Thursday, April 12 by Ciudad Juárez’s Telón de Arena theater company. In the words of Telón de Arena’s Perla de la Rosa, Lope’s famous meditation on despotism, justice, and solidarity is as relevant as ever in today’s Mexico, a “betrayed motherland,” where “the voices of the characters in this mythical town echo in the depths of our hearts.”

 

Rosaura, Paula Rodríguez and Sandra Arpa’s adaptation of Calderón’s Life is a Dream told from the point of view of its main female character, will be staged on Friday, April 13. Teatro Inverso, a Madrid company that aims at preserving Hispanic classical theater through modern interpretations, sees Rosaura, not Segismundo, as the driving force for change in the story, as she asserts herself in a patriarchal society. Using modern theatrical techniques, Rodríguez and Arpa actively engage audiences in Rosaura’s fight to right the wrongs she sees around her.

 

The festival will close on Saturday, April 14 with El Merolico: Entremeses Bululuados, performances by Mexican company EFE Tres Teatro of Miguel de Cervantes’ fast-paced entremeses, or comedic interludes. Combining the figures of the “merolico,” a typically Mexican kind of charlatan street merchant, and the “bululú,” a traditional figure in Hispanic theater who performs several roles in a one-man-show, EFE Tres will transport to modern-day Mexico three of Cervantes’ short works for the stage: “El Viejo celoso,” “El retablo de las maravillas,” and “La cueva de Salamanca.”

 

For more information, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/cham/planyourvisit/2018-siglo-festival.htm.

A Weekend at Almagro in the Festival’s 40th Year

 

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In 1978, three years after the death of the military dictator Francisco Franco, the city of Almagro, Spain and its corral de comedias hosted its first ever Festival Internacional de Teatro Clásico. Reviving the classical theater of Spain’s Golden Age was perceived by some as problematic due to its association with Francoist notions of Spanish greatness, and was not unanimously supported. Forty years later, the festival has become a space where artists, educators, journalists, and audiences from Spain and abroad critically interrogate past and present by questioning cultural norms and exploring alternative voices and visions. The festival is a testament to the quality, vitality, and relevance of Spanish classical theater.

 

Almagro’s corral de comedias was built in 1628 and is the only extant baroque popular theater in Spain. Its rediscovery in 1953, television debut in 1967, and rebirth as the soul of the Festival in 1978 also transformed Almagro as a whole. For several centuries in the medieval and early modern periods Almagro was a center of economic and military might, but it later fell into decline. Today, nearly all of Almagro’s historic structures are in some stage of repair and revival, and several sites besides the corral are used as spaces for the festival’s theatrical productions and accompanying cultural activities. These include the medieval Palacios Maestrales (which house the Museo Nacional del Teatro), the sixteenth-century Antigua Universidad Renacentista and Plaza de Santo Domingo (Espacio Miguel Narros), the seventeenth-century Hospital de San Juan de Dios, and the nineteenth-century Teatro Municipal. The magic of the festival is partly due to the symbolic and aesthetic weight of these spaces.

 

But what does a weekend in Almagro actually look like for the average visitor? I was able to explore the city and its major sites and museums, enjoy a leisurely visit to the corral de comedias, and see four productions over two evenings, all of which were worth sharing here.

 

The adaptation La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream) [vv. 105-106], whose producers include Moma Teatre and Teatros del Canal, successfully stripped Calderón de la Barca’s classic down to its “essence” (the stated goal of its dramaturgs), which is as deep, dark, and disturbing as the interdependent prisons of the play’s four protagonists: Basilio, a tortured king who imprisoned his son based on a grim prophecy; Segismundo, a prince whose only reality is a prison tower and the teachings and treachery of Clotaldo, his warden and tutor; and Rosaura, Clotaldo’s long-lost daughter, who helps Segismundo claim his throne as she reclaims her honor. Calderón’s play naturally leaves the audience with more philosophical questions than answers, and this adaptation’s pared-down cast and script, impactful makeup and wardrobe, and stark, chilling set made those questions at once more urgent and accessible.

 

Lope de Vega’s El perro del hortelano (The Dog in the Manger)—the story of a jealous noblewoman and her vacillating secretary maneuvering their way into marriage—was masterfully produced and performed by La Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (CNTC). A delightfully anachronistic set and wardrobe (powdered wigs, anyone?) added something new to a well-worn play, as well as another dimension to the superb, comical physicality of its seasoned actors. Slightly unsettling was the apocryphal presence of a blindfolded and bare-chested, dancing and dart-wielding allegorical figure representing Love, which proved distracting but not devastating.

 

La Joven Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (“The Young” CNTC, comprising actors under 28) took on Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna (The Sheepwell), highlighting the most sinister aspects of this hyper-canonical play, and making the audience’s collective skin crawl with distress and disgust. A town terrorized by a despotic commander eventually rebels, kills him, and then conspires to claim the murder as a collective, crying out under torture, “Fuente Ovejuna did it!” The play is often celebrated for its portrayal of group solidarity in the face of injustice, but the most powerful scenes in this production are the ones in which the townspeople abandon their friends through inaction and cowardice, or rabidly revel in death and debauchery. They seem to be poisoned, and not just by the commander’s abuses, but by the ominous presence of the Catholic Kings. Just minor characters in Lope’s play, Isabel and Ferdinand are always in the background here—literally. In costumes and makeup reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, they slowly circle the stage from opposite directions, drawn to each other as if possessed, and portray nothing less than evil. In La Joven’s Fuente Ovejuna, the sickness that spreads through authoritarian violence starts at the very top, and infects everyone.

 

The Catholic Kings, frozen onstage as the audience enters for Fuente Ovejuna.

 

La Calderona, produced by Cía and Pau Pau Productions, is a two-actor—plus one DJ—hip-hop-inspired reflection on the world of the comedia and the life of one of its most (in)famous actresses, María Inés Calderón. Raps and ballads narrate the rise and fall of La Calderona—a mistress of Philip IV, the Hapsburg king who locked her in a convent after stripping her of their son—, as well the stories of other figures central to her triumphs and tragedies, including a scorned queen and a scathing priest. It took a surprisingly short amount of time for Adidas and rap battles to feel like natural spectacles in Almagro’s famed corral, a space well utilized by the actors, who at times invaded the patio and occupied the balconies.

 

What else is there for the visitor to see and experience with just a weekend in Almagro, outside of its historic buildings and churches, restaurants on the plaza, curbside craft fairs, and affiliated performances in the style of “off-Broadway” and “after-dark”? First, there is the lace—in shops, on the plaza, filling the city’s Lace Museum—, intricate, handmade, worthy-as-a-gift-to-your-grandmother kind of lace. Just ask the grandmothers sitting on benches outside of the festival venues when the first round of plays lets out around 10pm—talking with their friends, dogs playing at their feet—because that’s what they do on Friday and Saturday nights, even when the festival is not in town. Then there are the eggplants. Yes, small, pickled, pimentoed eggplants bobbing around in barrels until they’re plucked out for you to enjoy right at the stand, bent slightly forward, juice dripping at your feet. And somewhere between irreverent, tourist-kitsch and treasured local legacy is the cross of the Order of Calatrava, ubiquitous symbol of Christian conquest. You’ll find it on your bottle of pilsner beer, on every trash receptacle in the main plaza, on costumes in more than one play (including Fuente Ovejuna)—and in the same embattled consciences that look upon the statue of Diego de Almagro, a brutal but celebrated conquistador of Chile and Peru, seated on his horse at the far end of the plaza, as if guarding the National Theater Museum.

 

Go to Almagro. Sleep in a sixteenth-century lodge. Take a picture on the steps of the corral’s stage. See as many plays as possible. Eat the eggplants. But, if you can avoid it, don’t go to the party alone because the festival is just that: a celebration of the survival, renewal, and reimagining of a timeless theatrical tradition, and a communal exploration of the contradictory, violent, materialistic, and yet forever hopeful world it was born in—a world that feels so strangely familiar because it is also our own.

 

The requisite photo on the steps of the corral’s stage, which is dressed here for a performance of La Calderona.

 

For a lovely retrospective on the Festival’s 40 years, visit http://festivaldealmagro.com/descargas/libro_conmemoracion_40ediciones.pdf

 

Payton Phillips Quintanilla

Ñaque: A Theater at the Margins

A bare stage. Two actors. A tambourine. Such are the essential elements of ñaque, one of the Spanish baroque styles Agustín de Rojas enumerates in El viaje entretenido, his probing reflection on early modern theater. “The ñaque were two men…,” de Rojas explains, “They wore a scraggy beard, and played the tambourine; they lived happily, slept in their clothes, walked barefoot, ate hungrily, and in the cold of winter they did not feel the fleas.” In its austerity, the ñaque seems out of a place in an artistic era more commonly associated with grandeur and ornamentation, an anachronism better suited to a modernist stage. Yet, among its many admirers were Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Francisco de Quevedo, some of the greats of the Spanish Golden Age.

 

Pairs of actors may no longer walk barefoot city to city dragging a chest behind them, but the appeal of the ñaque form endures. Among those contemporary companies deploying the conventions of the ñaque to engage with the audience are Mexico City theater companies EFE Tres and Cabaret Misterio, whose collaborative project was performed at the 42nd annual Siglo de Ora drama festival at the Chamizal National Monument. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry V, ¿Qué con Quique Quinto? presents the audience with Foca, Zote, and Ariel, traveling actors aboard the Nautilus Cabaret. Among the repertoire of plays they carry is the story of a young Enrique V (Henry V), or Quique for short, who reigns over the Kingdom of Children Everyone Ignores and must face the Kingdom of Censorship. With laughs, live music, and an innovative production, director Andrés Carreño attempts to bring the classics to a younger audience.

 

EFE Tres and Cabaret Misterio, however, are only the most recent companies to bring the ñaque style to Chamizal. Attendees of the 2005 Siglo de Oro festival also saw a play performed in the ñaque style with the production of Seis oficios, a saber. In a two-woman play based on Fernando de Rojas’s La Celestina and Gil Vicente’s Barca do Inferno, director Maritza Wilde and the Bolivian company Teatro Ñaque depict two women who attempt to enter heaven but are denied entry for their previous sins even as others with more severe transgressions are allowed in. Audiences are faced with questions about justice and the disparity in its application.

 

A theater at the margins, a poor theater, the ñaque dispenses with theatrical trappings, allowing the actor’s voice and body to become central to the performance. Ñaque remains timeless because it creates an intimate space out of the auditorium in which contact and exchange between performers and audience is unencumbered. At its core, it is a reflection on the relation between actor and spectator.

 

Rafael Jaime.

Siglo de Oro Drama Festival at the Chamizal National Monument

“At a time when Shakespeare’s plays are being televised to millions thanks to the British Broadcasting System and P.B.S., it is gratifying to know that the dramas of his Spanish contemporaries also have some opportunity where their theatrical expression before the public is welcomed and realized.” So wrote Donald Dietz, a professor of Spanish at Texas Tech University in 1979, after his visit to the 4th annual Siglo de Oro Drama Festival at the Chamizal National Monument (El Paso, Texas). Considering Shakespeare’s remarkable popularity in any number of cultural contexts — from high school classrooms to international festivals, and films as well as television — Professor Dietz’s observation still holds today: there are precious few venues in the U.S. where one can take in a play by Félix Lope de Vega or Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

 

Every year since 1976, theater companies, theater lovers, and scholars from around the world have gathered in El Paso to celebrate Spain’s Golden Age of theater, which spanned the 16th and 17th centuries and included not only Lope and Calderón, but Miguel de Cervantes and Tirso de Molina, the first to put Don Juan on stage. According to Susan Paun García, professor of Spanish at Denison University and president of the Association for Hispanic Classical Theater (AHCT), in the United States Chamizal is “the first festival of its kind – and [the] longest-running” to pay homage to Spain’s “enormous wealth” of classical theater, which was produced at the same time as Shakespeare’s, and predates France’s greatest era of theater (including Molière, Pierre Corneille, and Jean Racine), serving as inspiration for some of France’s best works, such as Corneille’s The Liar – based on Juan Ruiz de Alarcón’s The Suspicious Truth.

 

The festival was conceived by Franklin Smith, the first superintendent of the Chamizal National Memorial, as a way of commemorating the U.S.’s bicentennial (1976) and, in the words of Walker Reid (a retired director of cultural affairs at Chamizal) “of fostering a positive relationship” between the U.S. and Mexico, particularly following the resolution, in the 1960s, of a century-old international border dispute over some 600 acres along the Rio Grande, called the Chamizal. Since its inception, the festival has become a mainstay in the area, and an annual recognition of the region’s Hispanic heritage. Always popular with people from near and far, it is now, for park ranger Gina Hernandez, “its own establishment,” with many locals who grew up with it attending with their own kids. And it has been an international affair from the start, with actors from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Spain, and with more recent contributions from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

 

What has changed over the years? Today, the festival is truly bi-national, with parallel events in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. It has also added an educational outreach program, which takes the plays into community schools. Pablo Jasso, a theater teacher at Bel Air High School (El Paso) has his students perform a Golden Age play every year and attends Chamizal’s performances with them. So, although Donald Dietz’s observation of Shakespeare’s predominance still rings true, for more than 40 years the Chamizal National Monument has done its part to diversify theater-goers’ options, with, as Professor Dietz put it, most gratifying results.

 

Paul Cella