by Dr. Stefanie Claudia Müller
Els Joglars has become throughout its existence a political theatre group somehow criticizing especially the situation in Catalonia where an increasing number of people wish to separate from the rest of the country and create their own Republic. This has caused former director and founder Albert Boadella a lot of headaches as well in his position as a manager of the Teatros del Canal in Madrid years ago where nearly all political forces want to stop separatism and abuse groups like this for their own interests. In the cultural world, his political positions also provoked very different reactions.
Now in pandemic times, the group returned to the place where Boadella gained experience in cultural management and its complicated political implications with a two-year-old piece criticizing again Catalan nationalism and its intention to falsify history and facts. Like always the international renown artists combine different disciplines and offer a very amusing, but also intellectual demanding show. After such a long period without cultural life, Madrid’s public is more than happy to enjoy again theatre of all kinds, to leave home every now and the, and to have a good time forgetting about Covid-19 during a play like the one of Els Joglars. #spaincomesback
Laughing about yourself
“Els Joglars” means, in Catalan, “the minstrels”, and refers to the role played by minstrels in the Middle Ages. As such, their theater has a social and political function through irony and fable, putting the finger on the sore of all those uncomfortable questions for the established power.
With the current work “Señor Ruiseñor” they show in a very creative and original way how the Catalan nationalism becomes a ridiculous thing while trying to adapt reality and history to their needs instead of adapting their needs to reality. In Madrid, the play can still be seen until 20 of September in Teatros del Canal.
With this recent play, Els Joglars also recognizes the work of the Spanish artist Santiago Rusiñol who was born in Barcelona in 1861 and died in Aranjuez in 1931. He was not just a painter, but also a writer born into a family of textile industrialists. Rusiñol traveled to Paris in 1889, where he lived in Montmartre together with Ramón Casas and Ignacio Zuloaga.
A great season-opening in “Teatros del Canal”
Els Joglars shows in this first play in Teatros del Canal after the hard Madrid lockdown and many still ongoing restrictions how a Spanish artist is turned into a “pure Catalan” with simple lies. All his heritage is suddenly destined to the nationalist cause. But this Catalan story could also take place in Nazi-Germany, since it shows the similarity of stupid racist behavior and thinking of some Catalan separatists with the darkest part of German history. With great humor and talent, they show how all this small-minded behavior triggers hatred against everything considered being Spanish and in the end also against all opponents.
In an interview the actress and in part responsible for the “mise en scene” of “Señor Ruiseñor”, Dolors Tuneu , explains why it is difficult for the group to get contracts right now in Catalonia where separatists are still ruling in the regional government: “Of course there exists political bullying somehow for a group like us”. After the declaration of a Catalan Republic in 2017 and after following political arrests of the people who were responsible for it the cultural situation has changed a lot in the normally very vivid Barcelona where one of the oldest Spanish theatre companies, Els Joglars, nearly never plays.
Tuneu, who was born in the Catalan capital, believes that this is a small-minded behavior, but she is hoping to travel soon abroad again with their works: “Normally we also play quite a lot in Mexico, Portugal, and Germany where they appreciate our work a lot”.
Theatre in pandemic times
But with Covid-19 everything has changed and also for Els Joglars survival is now difficult. These nights in Madrid when their acid humor not just fills the theatre again, but also the bars and restaurants close to “Teatros del Canal” it seems like life turns slowly to normal again. But Tuneu who studied acting at the Col·legi del Teatre and the Institut del Teatre of Barcelona reconfirms that it is very difficult to start new projects right now.
Funding is difficult and also the reopening of the theatres is sensible, not just in Spain. But Tuneu who also is a dancer and dominates like many of the company’s members various disciplines, stays optimistic that times soon could become good again for Spanish artists due to the longing of people to disconnect, also in her home region: “Little by little”.
Against all anti-democratic forces
But for sure Els Joglars will never give up its acid humor. It has always been characterized by its critical spirit in the face of current politics, and they have included politicians of all stripes in their works, from Franco to Jordi Pujol, passing through Felipe González and Pasqual Maragall. Although this attitude has led the group to various clashes with the authorities, they continue to provoke – here, there, and everywhere.
The first and most serious of them happened when the director of the company, Albert Boadella, was arrested and imprisoned for eight days, in December 1977, for the performance of the play La Torna, at the time that Spain was passing through the dictatorship to democracy. The group has also been declared “non gratos” in various municipalities.
In 2003 Els Joglars premiered the first film written, directed, and performed by the company, and produced by Andrés Vicente Gómez: “Bon voyage, excellence”, a cartoonish vision of the last days of the dictator Franco. But the film was not shown by the large Spanish cinema chains which shows the problem Spain still has got to recognize its own controversial history and condemn or at least discuss certain facts openly.