“Playwrights should talk about things that affect them”

Jordi Casanovas

Retrat de Jordi Casanovas © Santiago Sepúlveda

Jordi Casanovas was going to be an inventor, but he was struck by the fever for theatre due to the Argentine authors Rodrigo García and Javier Daulte. One of the most prolific playwrights in the country, Casanovas created the company Flyhard and directed a threatre of the same name with revolutionary productions that hooked young audiences. Now he has a theatre production company and continues to write and direct. Documentary theatre fascinates him. In contribution to the genre, he wrote Jauría [Pack of Hounds] which is based on the events of La Manada [the Wolfpack]. He is currently writing another documentary play on language between Girona and Valladolid with a playwright from Valladolid, Lucía Miranda.

Your first calling was not the theatre. It seemed like you were a man of science, like you wanted to be an inventor ...

I had been convinced since I was 12 that I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted to be an inventor. I really liked to tinker around with my toys and my sister’s toys and create new toys. Everyone told me I had to be an engineer. And at 18 I was really sure about it. I started my degree in Telecommunications Engineering, but once I got there I was disappointed. It was very technical, not creative, and I had a crisis... Then I decided to do some theatre over the summer.

When I decided to change my major, I had the options of Theatre, Chess or Fine Arts school and took the most affordable one. For a year, I did Fine Arts in the morning and Telecommunications in the afternoon. I just had to cross Diagonal, but it was crazy and I realised that I had to stop doing mechanical work. While studying Fine Arts, I took classes at Sala Beckett. I kept going to class at the Institut del Teatre, writing plays and putting things together, first in Vilafranca and then in Barcelona.

Are there recurring themes in your work? How do you choose them?

Some people say that there is a lot of violence in my work, but it is more like a fear of violence, a terror when dialogue and the ability to reason ends. How is violence managed? Most of us, myself included, have no way of defending ourselves against violence, and that gives me nightmares. There is also a lot of violence that can be verbal or psychological. Sometimes I have been victimised and yet I have felt that I have applied some kind of psychological violence. And all this, of course, is still a mystery.

To start any project, we met with my company, the Flyhard, to find out what we concerned us, what was happening to us at the time, and to talk about it in the plays. It was clear to us that the audio-visual field did not interest us and that we wanted to invest completely in the theatre, move away from what was already there and do something different and younger. We were looking for audiences of young people who felt far from the theatre and told them that we were doing something for them. Some themes of the first plays anticipated events. This was the case with La ruïna [Bankruptcy] where we talked about the economic crisis a year before it exploded and everyone asked us how we were right about it.

You are a man of the theatre who plays all the roles: author, director, producer... In which do you feel most comfortable?

As an author I enjoy writing, but it’s a lonely job, because you have no contact with anyone else. Managing work is the opposite: creating a family and establishing relationships. The work of writing is internal, self-contained and isolated. When directing, during rehearsal you confront, debate, discover and conduct joint research. It’s more relaxed and less harsh.

And production work interests me for two reasons: for the times when you have no ideas or the ideas you have don’t interest you. Maintaining that drive in production is useful in case any of your legs fail. You have to be fresh and up to date.

Let’s talk about public aid for the theatre. Is it well positioned?

I think that we have strong subsidy policies in this country, but they have not been reviewed as they should. There are historical companies that have a dimension and do a job that has nothing to do with what they did before, but they have the same help as they did 40 years ago and the projects that have been promoted since then have not been reviewed... The public administration has a “laissez-faire” dynamic. In the meantime, today’s production companies and small companies are suffering a lot and do not receive enough resources.

There was an explosion of freedom in the 1980s and companies created by young people in their early 20s appeared. They had all the resources to grow dramatically, they had the talent and the help. They are now being run by public funds and are in the final stages — they have lost interest in the creative field. However, not all people who are now 20-something have the resources. It is customary to analyse that there is not as much talent as before, but it isn’t true. What is lacking is aid.

The first productions by these historical companies were a mess, but at that time they needed to go out and grow. We are in a new social paradigm in which creators must be free, which is why they must be given resources. A few months ago, the Tres per 3 group, formed by the companies Dagoll Dagom, Tricicle and Anexa, sold the Teatre Victòria to El Mago Pop. In their day, these companies were subsidised to buy the theatre. Will the money they got from the sale go back to society? No. They are doing things so poorly because of neglect. They are not reviewing how aid is being distributed and it’s a shame because there is more talent than ever before.

What role should public theater play?

The last public theatre commission I had was in 2012. I had another in 2019 from the Teatre de València. If a playwright were only dependent on public theatre, as is the case with many of my peers, he would not be able to survive. Fortunately, I’ve been able to write some comedy that has worked, but there are playwrights who tow a riskier theatrical line and are not as popular, so what they receive from public theater is not enough to live on by itself. In these cases, I would have already folded. This is dangerous and also unfair.

For the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya to radically block 90% of the dramaturgy in Catalonia or to bet specifically on three or four playwrights, it would seem very good if there were resources for everyone. But there are none... Authors who need this public support to live and to continue to experiment and grow in a particular creative line simply do not have access.

What reasons do you think there are for betting on certain playwrights or companies and not on others?

I think it happens due to neglect and conservatism. Managers are getting older. They entered with tremendous mental and creative freedom, but they are now about to retire. When you are 20 years old, you want to change everything and when you are 60, you think more about retiring and don’t want to complicate things. I do not know if there will be a generational shift at some point or if a way of doing things will become ingrained and repeated. And that is crucial in the theatre sector.

Juan Carlos Martel has directed Teatre Lliure since the sudden departure of Lluís Pasqual. Do you see a change in tack?

Right away, at least, this generartion of companies with people around the age of 30 who had not had the opportunity to enter a public theatre finally have it with Martel. What does that mean? What will happen to them? If their only mainstay is public theatre, they will hardly make it because they will not have continuity, because Teatre Lliure must give everyone a chance. And if they have no continuity, they will probably have to quit... But if after going through Teatre Lliure they can make the leap to more commercial theatre, they may find a way to continue working. For now, we can only examine what Martel has done since September 2019, when he started the job. He has been great at finding people who were ready, who worked hard, but who never had the resources. Now the question is whether this is just a little boost or will there be more possibilities?

Today Teatre Lliure is launching productions of companies of young people that can’t tour. Forty years ago, Dagoll Dagom, Comediants, Joglars and La Fura were companies that made their money doing shows around Catalonia. Running a season just in Barcelona is very tiring. As a producer, we are always looking for a play that will tour a lot, because that means work for the whole team for a long time.

How can this dynamic be changed?

We have few resources, but I am very reluctant to ask for more in the cultural sector because I think there are areas that need it more urgently. In fact, I have always asked for the opposite, that there be no subsidies. The paradigm shift would be to see what would happen if all the aid granted to private companies and theaters dried up. Everyone should work to attract audiences, because viewers will be the source of their income and all together that would change a lot. There is a deeply entrenched caste system in the theatre scene.

That is a radical opinion...

I don’t want it to happen, because it would cause many people to suffer. If it could be done without anyone suffering, I wish we could start from scratch and see who finds their way, who has the talent, who is explaining interesting things and not the other way around. Now many audiences swallow the productions offered to them and not necessarily the ones they would like to see.

What should the theater talk about?

A playwright is an antenna of what is happening every moment. I think that I and all my colleagues talk about things that affect us, whether from a personal, political or social point of view.

Lately you have been more interested in documentary theater, which speaks of real-world testimonies and brings them to the stage.

I came to this at a time when my career was already firmly established. I don’t make anything up. I only experiment with how to present it, using technique. I play a lot with tension and dosing techniques to maintain interest. It is a mathematical exercise and also an act of intellectual or moral questioning.

When you start to investigate these subjects based on real cases, not everything is black and white. There is a lot of nuance, such as in Jauría, a play I wrote based on a girl’s gang rape by a group of boys known as La Manada. Information from the media came immediately every day. However, we researched the facts for a year to concentrate them into an hour and a half of shows, showing the intricacies and different perspectives. This project is dangerous because it is very delicate. It is a story about people who are still alive, but at the same time we have extraordinary results. The prosecutor saw Jauría and was very moved by it. If two hundred judges come to see the show one day and some who have prejudices start to question them, then we will be accomplishing something we could not have imagined could be achieved with a play.

Will we see more and more documentary theatre in the listings?

Documentary theatre must be performed rigorously. What I do is dramaturgy using found material. I don’t provoke it. This kind of theatre will remain in the lineup as long as it’s good quality. It can’t be done fast and cheap. Now we are going to launch a project with Lucía Miranda, an author from Valladolid. We have been preparing for it for two years, conducting interviews on language and travelling between Valladolid and Girona. We go both to the area that is most hostile to the Catalan language and to the area that celebrates Catalan the most to ask questions such as these: Why does it make us angry to listen to someone speaking another language? Why does questioning linguistic immersion in Catalan-speaking areas hit you right in the gut? From this research, we will try to write an interesting play.

Retrat de Jordi Casanovas © Santiago Sepúlveda Portrait of Jordi Casanovas © Santiago Sepúlveda

So what other projects do you have in the pipeline?

I’m rewriting Sopar amb batalla (2010) [Dinner with Battle], a black comedy that will debut again. I’m also writing Alguns dies d’ahir [Some Days Yesterday] about how a family experienced the political situation before and after the referendum on independence was held on 1 October 2017. I will include an epilogue about the protests of October 2019 following the ruling of the Supreme Court, which convicted the politicians imprisoned due to the events of 1 October 2017. I present a family with different perspectives and try to analyse how it experienced this in all its complexity, not only viscerally or as emotionally polarising. There will be a father, mother, son and daughter, and it will be directed by Ferran Utzet. This genre exists in British and American theater, such as the work of Richard Nielson, an American author who was commissioned by the Public Theatre to write three plays about families talking about the political situation in the year of the election won by Donald Trump. I’ll try to ride that wave. It won’t so much be a plot piece of what happens to the family, but how they experienced, debated and discussed what happened in those days. It will be an interesting journey for the viewer to remember everything that happened, but differently than documentaries have done.

What is the current situation for playwriting in the country?

After seeing that the generation before us and my generation are succeeding abroad, many people are encouraged to write theatre thinking that they can make a living off it. Playwrights such as Jordi Galceran, Pau Miró, Esteve Soler and Marta Buchaca are doing so. Dozens of playwrights are making a living in the profession, sending texts around the world, so we have open markets. Abroad, it is known that Catalan dramaturgy is dramatic comedy with social content, encapsulated in plays such as El principi d’Arquímedes [Archimedes’ Principle] by Josep Maria Miró i Coromina and Els jugadors [The Gamblers] by Pau Miró. Viewed from abroad, these plays are part of a whole, a way of doing theatre, but we do not use this circumstance to promote Catalan theatre abroad. As a producer, I have toured abroad with the titles Idiota [Idiot] (which I also signed as an author); El test [The Test] by Jordi Vallejo; and Laponia [Lapland] by Cristina Clemente and Marc Angelet, to be performed in Mexico, Argentina, Madrid and elsewhere. With all these exportable plays, any that come after them already have a wide open path. We may be going through a rough patch with commercial shows here, but not abroad. Now is the best time in history, because we have open doors all over the world.

Do we have a problem with getting young audiences into theatres? Or are they more attached to audiovisual productions?

Audiovisual content has always been present in my work. I imbibed a lot of Dragon Ball. Personally, I discovered theatre late, in my early 20s, and discovered it when I saw that it was talking about me. Theatre that speaks of today, even if it still needs to be polished, hooks you more than a play written one hundred years ago. La rambla de les floristes [The Florists’ Boulevard], which is being performed at the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, can be wonderful. Many secondary schools have gone to see it, but it’s not the kind of theatre that will get those kids hooked. It would rather make them think that theatre is archaeology. We have to take them to see things happening now. Public theatres have the power to attract coaches full of students, but it doesn’t move them in the right direction.

With the television series boom, have you received any offer to write screenplays?

I’m having a great time in theatre and I have enough to live on. The theatre is more solid. It will always be there. Series draw attention. I consume and watch them myself, but maybe a bubble is being created around them. Many actors now appear in three series at once and it’s crazy. Only one channel is being populated and the others are being neglected. And if Netflix disappears, it will all sink. The theatre, on the other hand, will withstand storms and hailstorms.

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