El merolico desde su balcón Brings Theater at a Distance
The Mexico City-based theater company EFE Tres, whose mission has always been to bring classical theater to new audiences in new ways, has continued their efforts in this unprecedented time with a new/old staging for their solo show El Merolico as a Facebook livestream.* Now called El merolico desde su balcón (El merolico from your/its balcony) the show presents entremeses by Miguel de Cervantes with the ever-versatile Fernando Villa playing several characters with simple props and a multi-use overcoat. With each entremés at about 20 minutes and a total runtime of 55 minutes, EFE Tres seems to have a show tailor-made to enjoy under quarantine, even with the interruptions which are common in this time—children urgently needing help finding a sock, or dogs begging for a walk, as the case may be.
The livestream found ways to replicate the experience of live, in-person theater in touches which were both sweet and pragmatic. One such experiment was the first curtain call, posted as a separate video in order to test recording equipment in the apartment the company would film from and also as a way to call the audience to attention. First call, the show’s about to start. As the livestream starts, the audience is treated to video feed framed by a graphic of a theater curtain with the name of the show in the center. A disembodied voice (most likely director and producer Allan Flores) announces that the show will begin momentarily and asks the audience to take their seats. The curtains remain throughout the show to frame the common space of an apartment building in the familiar sights of live theater.
Of course, technology is imperfect. The frame rate of the recording is low which makes the feed somewhat grainy, at times the audio suffers from technical issues with the microphone, and some kind of tracking function will occasionally frame the actor’s face within a little yellow box. None of this detracts too greatly from the experience, and Cervantes’s interludes still get their due, but perhaps the most encouraging part of the experiment are the ways in which the show creates a communal experience among disparate audiences. Villa has a built-in audience of neighbors who watch from balconies and windows, shouting suggestions during moments of audience interaction, and also the audience of the livestream, who show their appreciation in time-stamped comments and reaction buttons.
At the end of his performance solo actor Villa makes another connection explicit as he explains to his audience of neighbors and livestreamers that the origins of the comedia were not too dissimilar from their own circumstances, as Spanish theater had also started out in the unused common spaces of buildings with people’s balconies as the best seats. And, he reminds us, we are lucky to have one-upped our theatrical ancestors by having a reach beyond our immediate physical vicinity as he thanked students watching virtually, friends in Canada, and the international live-stream audience for their attendance at the show. Even at a somewhat glitchy distance, live theater is proving itself resilient enough to continue bridging distances of time and space to create spaces of communal entertainment.
*The live performance took place Sunday May 17, 2020 at 12 pm (Mexico City)