“To create new things you have to remove yourself from what you are doing”

Oriol Broggi

The theatre production company La Perla 29 has celebrated two decades of existence in full swing, with new challenges and great performances. In recent years, Oriol Broggi has restaged Hamlet28 i mig [8 ½] and Els ulls de l’etern germà [The Eyes of the Eternal Brother], works that have marked his career. However, he has not only dedicated himself to revival; he has also embraced a way of doing theatre that defines him and makes him universally recognisable, beyond the grounds of the former Santa Creu hospital. The director likes to nostalgically look back and is self-critical like so few others, but he also knows that the show must go on and that last year’s experience at La Colline in Paris, where he staged 28 i mig for a month, represents an opportunity that he does not wish to let slip through his fingers. We caught Broggi rehearsing Coralina, la serventa amorosa [Coralina, The Loving Servant], by Carlo Goldoni.

Goldoni is hard, isn’t he?

When everyone said he was hard, I didn’t quite believe it myself. And now it’s upon me… When you do Hamlet, you already know the tone, and if you add a touch of drama to it, it picks it up. But here there is no possible drama. Everything is strident, comical. The first day of rehearsal, everything works: the first scene, with four screams, it’s over. When you start to do it seriously, all that falls apart. The first day you believe the actor, but the second day you don’t… We could also say: “Let’s not rehearse and do the play outright.” It’s all a matter of pure rhythm. You have to rehearse it a thousand times to make it work. You also have to bring it up to date with the style of theatre we have here. And, ultimately, you kick up a huge fuss.

In comedy, rhythm is essential.

In Goldoni, even more so. Otherwise, nothing is understood. There’s always a bit of love, a bit of criticism, almost nothing happens. Annoyances are always over silly things. In the evening, it’s all sorted out.

Why are you still doing theatre?

Lately, I have been very much reconsidering it. During the pandemic, I felt like I was coming to the end of a cycle. But I do theatre because I’ve always wanted to. The truth is that I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. I get up in the morning and I get ideas for scenes, for colours, for feelings. And I need to set them in motion, to run rehearsals. Whether it’s saying: “Now we’ll do this play and tell the story in this way” or “now we’ll try this scene, this rhythm, this moment, this situation in which…”. I feel like coming here, to the Biblioteca de Catalunya, and painting a piece of wood to put behind the actor. And the idea springs to mind to let light come in through a window and have the actor recite a text. I never think: “I want to talk about this”. That doesn’t happen to me. I don’t want to change the world or reinvent it. I want to work, to create…

Is your motivation more aesthetic than ethical?

I think so. I would separate the possession of a company and a venue and the possibility of doing things, of wanting to explain certain things. I also have a strong passion for the epic: the desire to tell that story. Not because it’s topical, but because it comes to my mind and I want to tell it. That is what pulls you in. I increasingly feel the need to pass the baton, to bring stages to a close, to change the set. I feel a bit overwhelmed with my ideas. Sometimes I think I’m repeating myself. I don’t think that repeating yourself is the opposite of risk taking. On the contrary, by repeating yourself you can take a lot of risks. But I get the feeling that there are some works that I’ve already exhausted. And maybe I need to stop doing theatre for a while to take a breather and see things differently.

Do you want to stop doing theatre?

No, I would like to change my perspective. Running a theatre and, at the same time, directing internally and externally, is a bit overwhelming for me. We are trying to open up the international scene as well as the space. It would be great if there were more of us to get everything moving: more creators, more programmers, more directors… Yes, I’m pretty exhausted.

Was the work 28 i mig that you did at La Colline in Paris in 2022 not just a summer swallow?

There are times when you’re in a place, when you’ve reached a certain degree of prominence, and you need to reinvent yourself. Or keep inventing yourself. The boundaries you have created start to be a constraint and you have to build new ones. Wanting to travel more to Europe, especially after the success of 28 i mig in Paris, is not easy. Maybe it’s that we don’t devote sufficient time to it. It takes time. This year we have tried. I am, for example, thinking about a Macbeth with an English group called The Tiger Lillies. We are now starting to work on this project. We are also forging contacts with theatres in Naples through Enrico Ianniello, hoping to tour 28 i mig a bit more. The pandemic cut short the tour of Bodas de sangre [Blood Wedding]… You have to invent projects, but to do so, you have to somewhat remove yourself from what’s happening at home. Just like when you do a play, you have to detach yourself from what the actor is doing in a specific scene to see how you will do the transitions, how the whole play breathes.

Basically, there is not much difference between Oriol Broggi’s La Perla 29 and Declan Donnellan’s Cheek by Jowl.

They are English. At La Perla 29 we don’t have the support they do. Here, on the contrary, it’s all slaps in the face. I don’t go against anyone. To grow you have to invent loads and work really hard. In Paris we saw that it worked. We had very good reviews and the audience was captivated by our energy. There we realised that we could do it. Sometimes, as I said, to create new things you have to remove yourself from what you are doing, from yourself, to take on new challenges that question you.

This season you have returned to Els ulls de l’etern germà, a play you premiered in 2002. How have you changed since then?

At that time I didn’t question the things I pondered so much. It was a cheekier gamble. I had less hang-ups. You acquire hang-ups over time. That’s why you need to take a break from time to time to shake them off… Repeating this show didn’t work out so well for me. I was a bit stiffer. I think the energy and strength I had at the beginning were less cowardly.

Retrato de Oriol Broggi © Frederic Camallonga

You must be the only director in this country who has been able to restage a play.

It’s impossible here, because it’s very hard to maintain a company. But they are different repetitions. With Hamlet we started again from scratch. Peter Brook did The Tempest four times! When you have something left to do, you always think: “What if I approach it differently? When you go to a performance and you see the play, you say to yourself, “Why did we decide to do it this way? Maybe we don’t need this set design or these costumes, this idea is unnecessary…”. You realise it later and you want to do the play again. We like repertory theatre, having been able to do The Nativity Scene for three years, that next year we can do The Best House in Naples again, that we’ve been able to do Antigone three years in a row…

Which play would you do again?

I want to do Macbeth and The Tempest, with Lluís Soler. And I would do Hamlet and King Lear again.

Would you do a third Hamlet?

Absolutely… I thought that, emerging from the confinement of the pandemic, we would want to ask all those questions. But, while we were rehearsing it, I realised that I don’t know… I would redo the plays that didn’t turn out well, like El cercle de guix caucasià [The Caucasian Chalk Circle]. Something went wrong. Those plays that didn’t quite work. The ones where you would have appreciated being able to rehearse a bit more. Rehearsing is so beautiful…

I thought that when asked why you keep doing theatre you would answer: “Because I love rehearsing…”

That’s it. I like rehearsing, tweaking the set, the costumes, the props, between rehearsals. When the actors leave, you have all sorts of things in your head and you can repaint the floor, change the chairs… If I could change everything, I’d even change how the audience is arranged.

Do you get the feeling that, after Wajdi Mouawad, nothing else has happened in contemporary European theatre?

I am not very well versed. Three years ago I was asked to direct Catarina e a beleza de matar fascistas [Catarina and the Beauty of Killing Fascists], by Tiago Rodrigues, and I had a hard time getting into the play. I’m not up to speed. I go back to Mouawad because I find him exciting. I know he’s a bit repetitive, insistent… Next year we’ll do Tots ocells [All the Birds], which is marvellous. Just casting the actors, giving them their roles, everyone is very excited. I miss seeing contemporary theatre evolve and burgeon every day; but it’s impossible to create immense and great works that can last.

Would you have liked to have directed Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem?

I really liked it, especially that character. You can see I’m not very clued in: I miss things.

Are you the least anglophile of the Catalan directors?

Yes, Shakespeare is different. We have done plays at the Biblioteca, but I haven’t done many. I’m more into French and Italian works.

Why Italy?

When I travel to Italy I feel something special, a really strong connection. And they have such a wealth, not just of authors, but of forms, of ways of doing things. Now that we are rehearsing Goldoni, which takes place in a small square in Venice, you see there is a European core, that there is Forests. What the great directors have brought to the stage in recent years is the result of Italian influence.

Italian comedy… And French drama?


Why do actors and actresses come back to you?

This morning [2 May], at rehearsal, I was about to lose my nerve and I thought: “Don’t get worked up, because tomorrow we have to keep on working and then we have to do more stuff. It’s not worth it…”. An atmosphere is created, a climate, in rehearsals, that is respectful, that seeks to make this a game that we all play together. I’m not talking about good vibes, but about the feeling that we’re doing something special together, and that I’m the director, I organise and I ultimately call the shots, but the actor has the peace of mind to explain things in their own way. And that this doesn’t end there, but that we intend it to carry on, to achieve something great.

There are some really important people who, if they have two projects on the table, always pick you.

That’s what happens with Clara Segura. Out of trust… But it’s also true that we’ve worked together on these projects we’ve done, with these actors. We’ve picked them up, we’ve gone for lunch and we’ve asked ourselves: “What could we do together? Calling an actor to propose a role is different from doing a play together. I’ve also been refused…

Are you nostalgic?

Yes, but increasingly less so. I was a teenager and a very nostalgic young person. At that time I had trouble letting go of something, an object, because I was afraid it would be lost. I like to be rooted to things and I appreciate melancholy within the everyday world, within joy. I feel uncomfortable when everything is cheerful and that’s it; frivolity stimulates me, but I don’t know how to create it. I would like to be able not to be nostalgic and to keep up with the times, because being nostalgic ultimately means that you keep up with the times by thinking about previous things. I like familiar terrain. Until ten years ago, for example, it was difficult for me to travel to places I didn’t know. Now, on the other hand, I go to places that I don’t know at all and that might even scare me. When it comes to theatre, I like to be in a space I am familiar with and to be able to step out of it. Aesthetically, the nostalgic, orangey hue allows me to explain life better. I find melancholy useful.

Don’t you think that one of the keys to the success of the Biblioteca de Catalunya as a theatre is this nostalgia?

Audiences come to see shows at the Biblioteca because they have reference points, perhaps from the Lliure of the 1970s and from us. I think it’s a good thing, but it’s not complete if you don’t add another touch to it. Now we are trying to find a way to renew it.

Are you aware that La Perla 29’s management of this space in the Biblioteca de Catalunya for almost twenty years generates a great deal of envy within the theatre sector?

Yes, but we created it from scratch. If someone else wants to do it, let them do something similar. I think we’ve risked a lot in the works we’ve done, in a direction that has allowed us to earn some money to be able to pay for the space. It is hard to innovate or take risks in this respect.

How do you picture the Biblioteca in five years’ time?

I think it ought to exist without me. It’s not that I have to leave, but someone different has to come in, someone who gives renewed impetus to relations with the team, with the audience, with the walls. The space is key. We also need to renew the rapport with generations, with new social, ethical and aesthetic perspectives. You get worn out, from tiredness and from yourself. I imagine that with someone different, with a similar team, a team that has moved on. What Peter Brook said about artworks, that style emerges when people step back a little. When the artist disappears, style appears. The style of La Perla has to eventually emerge when I disappear. I should be doing other projects.

That’s generous of you.

It is a private company with a public mission. The envy you mention arises when you mix public and private. We are private, like Dagoll Dagom, but we do things like a public theatre… In the last ten years, more plays have been performed at the Biblioteca that I haven’t directed than have been done by me. Many companies have started here, from La Brutal [David Selvas] to the Companyia Solitària [Pol López, Júlia Barceló and Pau Vinyals]. But I have to step back for a while.

Is there room for everything?

No. And the Biblioteca de Catalunya must not become a theatre that programmes and that’s it. There must be room for very different stories. I believe that we are a performing arts centre where projects are born in-house, our own productions. We also have guests, like Oriol Pla’s Travy, which will come next season. Halfway through, we do co-productions.

Space makes a big difference, doesn’t it?

The space and the way of doing theatre. Anything won’t do: we have to understand one another. The approach is part of the productions.

You applied to direct the TNC a decade ago. Would we have lost the Biblioteca?

Yes… In five or six years’ time I’ll be thinking about this big theatre thing again. And it will be too late. We need to finish getting our project right, and I need to get some air for a couple of years… And do stuff.

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