December 9, 2013
Tárrega Festival: taking the streets by storm
A whole Catalonian community grabs the spotlight for four days of theatre culture
TÁRREGA, Spain — Greek theatre was political because people (mainly from Athens) gathered in the same space to discuss topics which concerned the polis. The whole polis would be involved in this sacred and civilian event. Theatre was a truly emblematic, powerful form of expression and a relevant celebration.
More than 2,500 years later, similar manifestations may be found around the world. This is the case of Tárrega, a town in Lérida, Catalonia, where a performing arts festival has been held every year over the last 33 years. FiraTárrega is an exhibition focusing on street and site-specific theatre, dance and circus. The Fira’s goal is to offer performances to vast audiences and to promote theatre as show business. In this sense, there is space for artists, producers, programmers and managers to close deals. Indeed, the Fira Tárrega’s web page defines the event as “an international market for performing arts.” Founded in 1981, it is a great shopcase to get to know what’s going on, with special emphasis on street performance, visual and unconventional shows. One of Fira’s stated goals is to open the doors of international markets to the theatre companies that participate in this exhibition.
The Fira fosters Catalonian productions, but it also invites foreign companies and a special guest. Focusing on Mexico, this year’s festival was held September 5 through 8. Apart from Mexico — the Festival’s highlight — there were also British, Italian, French and Chilean companies as well as groups from the rest of Spain. Fira’s artistic director is Jordi Durán, who did a great curatorial job with an exquisite, varied programme.
This year, the most popular shows at the Fira included (remor), a dance-theatre piece by Balearic Islands’ company Res de Res. Running a minimalistic 11 minutes, (remor)’s set is a reproduction of a prison cell. There was also Carvalho contra Vázquez Montalbán, by Catalonian company MVM; 10 anys d’ absència, a play with a “happening” performance held in a Tárrega library. Lo único que necesita una gran actriz es una gran obra y las ganas de triunfar, by Mexican company Vaca 35, consisted of scenes from Jean Genet’s The Maids, triggering a powerful connection between two women who oscillate between their roles as actresses and maids. Whose Are Those Eyes?, by Catalonian company Macarena recuerda Shepherd, was borne out of the group’s passion for film noir and hard-boiled thrillers as well as 1930s comics. Whose Are Those Eyes? is a role game for viewers, who get involved in the plotline and follow instructions to create their own story. The streets thus become a stage, blurring the limits between reality and fiction. In Ârtica, by Catalonian company Ponten Pie, viewers are bus-driven to a building in the outskirts of Tárrega. Upon arrival, they receive warm clothing and enter a small wooden house — a magic, poetic and snowy world. One of Fira Tárrega’s surprises was Mexico’s Verdades como puños, a collective creation performed by young students from the Centro Universitario de Teatro (UNAM), directed by Catalonia’s Ernesto Collado. Humorous, witty and moving, Verdades... explores the rich, complex identity of Mexico today.
Apart from this eclectic, high-quality programme, what really strikes visitors is the way the whole town is taken over for the festival’s four-day duration. Hordes of people from Tárrega and from the rest of Spain, and festival programmers from all over the world are attracted by the Festival’s performances, held on streets, parks, theatres, clubs, schools, libraries and small exteriors transformed into auditoriums.
The whole town gets involved, truly moved by the Festival’s goings-on. Audiences celebrate, and they can be heard discussing what they have just seen. FiraTárrega has something for everyone, for children and for elderly folk. In a scheduled or spontaneous way, they crowd around streets and parks, and also stand in line to get their tickets. Needless to say, walking round the streets from one venue to another, or trying to grab a bite are true adventures and exercises in turning mission impossible into something possible.
Due to Spain’s economic woes, people prefer free admission shows in the streets, and this is one of the reasons why this festival is so popular — even if unable to pay the price, the Festival’s goods are available to everyone. In this recent edition, if festivalgoers could not afford the 15-euro tickets to see the renowned Catalonian choreographer and dancer Sol Picó at the Teatro Ateneu, they could at least watch an excellent foreign production for free, such as La máquina de Esquilo, staged by a Mexican company that offered fun, didactic versions of Aeschylus’ tragedies, adapted for all ages.
Even if hundreds of people crowded Tárrega public spaces, it was very difficult to measure audiences in free-admission shows with no previous seating arangement —parks, for example. But official Fira numbers give us a hint of the Festival’s repercussion and its artistic, social and economic impact. The FiraTárrega figures demonstrate that culture may and indeed is profitable and, therefore, worth investing in. Other than the economic-financial side to it, from a social point of view, FiraTárrega proves that theatre has a strong appeal and helps communities get closer together, thanks to the power of the Thespian arts.