‘The ones learning the most aren’t the actors with a disability, but rather the audience’

Clàudia Cedó

Retrat de Clàudia Cedó. © Paula Jaume Sánchez

Clàudia Cedó’s (Banyoles, 1983) relationship with the city of Barcelona can be traced by mapping out the theatres where her plays have been premièred. This playwright, director and psychologist was introduced to Barcelona audiences in Sants (Sala Flyhard), had her first big hit in El Poblenou (Sala Beckett) and really consolidated her reputation in Glòries (Teatre Nacional de Catalunya) and El Raval (Biblioteca de Catalunya). We talked to her about theatre, disabilities, psychology and public theatres, among other topics. At the same time, we went on a journey through her career, which is closely linked to her life story. Cedó, a story-writing machine, is currently riding high thanks to years of work, diligence and commitment to theatre. And to life.​

How did theatre come into your life? Did you act at school, did you do amateur theatre, or does it run in the family?

I got involved with theatre when I was 10, because the Municipal Theatre School was created in Banyoles. At that time, the mayor was Joan Solana, who was passionate about theatre, and he created this free school. I always say that, because you had to pay to play basketball and theatre was free, I ended up going for theatre [laughs]. My family had never taken me to the theatre, and there was no theatre tradition there. My sister and I always used to make up stories and put on plays at home, in which we combined characters from different stories and films. I was a bit of an outsider in my class; I wasn’t one of the most popular kids. All the geeks, the weird ones from different schools, ended up at the theatre school. That’s a common trend. 

Do you remember any particular show or theatre experience that has stayed with you from your childhood or youth?

My first memories from the theatre are from when I was a teenager. I saw The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the production with Montserrat Carulla and Vicky Peña, which came to Banyoles, and it really left its mark on me. Then, when I was a bit older, The Master and Margarita stands out. It was directed by Xicu Masó at Teatre Lliure. I also remember the atmosphere in the theatre in Banyoles. Those of us who started at the Theatre School set up a company when we were 14: Pocapuc Teatre. I began to help out at the school and directed the plays the younger pupils put on. At that time, there was a lot of theatre activity going on in Banyoles and, above all, there was a desire to do things well. We rehearsed a lot and took premières very seriously.

Did you use existing texts for the shows or did you write new plays? 

We did it all ourselves. We wrote Vida a mida [A Made-to-Measure Life] with David Marcé, the actor now known for the TV programme Polònia. We also adapted a story by Julio Cortázar called La autopista del sur [The South Motorway]. We usually started with improvisations then wrote the texts ourselves. I was involved in theatre throughout my teenage years and when I started studying psychology, I kept up with theatre too. Later on, I did a degree in dramatic arts at El Galliner in Girona. 

Did you ever think you would work in theatre? 

No, never. They never told me I couldn’t at home, but it was never considered an option. It was important to study for a ‘real’ degree, then theatre was a hobby. After a few years, when I’d started working as a psychologist, I realised I was thinking about theatre all day long. It’s like being married and not being able to stop thinking about your lover. So I left my husband and ran off with my lover!

Before creating Escenaris Especials in 2006 in Banyoles, you worked as a psychologist for a few years.

When I finished my degree, I worked at the Canaan Association in Pla de l’Estany for two and a half years, alongside people with addiction issues and people at risk of social exclusion. After that, I was a community worker and psychologist at various prisons. In the evenings, I taught people with autism at the Mas Casadevall Foundation. All the while, I was still studying theatre, and I thought: ‘Why don’t we do theatre with all these people?’ I went to Banyoles Town Council and proposed the creation of a group for people with functional disabilities within the Theatre School. As groups from Girona and other towns started joining us straight away, there was not much point in staying linked to Banyoles, so we created Escenaris Especials [Special Stages]. At the beginning, as I had studied psychology, I could only come up with exercises to work on psychological elements. Over time, we’ve realised that the ones learning the most here aren’t the actors with a disability, but rather the audience. They are opening up their perspective and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.

I gather that it’s not about getting the students with a disability used to the type of performance we usually see in the theatre or on TV, but rather showing the audience other ways of doing things and speaking on the stage.

Exactly. Other voices, other ways of expressing themselves. Sometimes, when I’m directing Escenaris Especials productions, I don’t know whether I should correct specific things the performer does or not. I’m always wondering whether I’m asking for things based on my own perspective, and I’m not understanding the actor’s choices. This happens with actors without a disability, too. Why are we always looking for a standard kind of body and performance? One example is a director telling a gay actor that he is too camp. Can you not play a president if you’re camp? Why do we always look for neutral bodies and gestures as a starting point? I find that very unfair. 

You studied at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and came to live in Barcelona during the first few years of your degree. What was your relationship with the city like?

Retrat de Clàudia Cedó. © Paula Jaume Sánchez Portrait of Clàudia Cedó. © Paula Jaume Sánchez

To be honest, my relationship with Barcelona has been much less fruitful than I would have liked. I lived in Horta, I was just starting my degree and I never missed a class. So I spent all day on the train and at university. I get the feeling I didn't enjoy the city as much as I could have, discovering different places and making the most of its cultural offering. I studied all day every day, then on the weekends I went back to Banyoles for rehearsals or shows. Later on I lived in Cerdanyola del Vallès, because it was closer to UAB. I think I’ve been able to discover Barcelona more recently, now that I’m older. 

During those years, did you go to the theatre in Barcelona? If so, what was your relationships with those theatres?

I remember the big theatres being completely inaccessible at that time. I could go there to watch the odd show, but it was like travelling to a kind of temple, far away from my reality. Now that I’ve worked in them I don’t feel the same, but in those days that was the impression I got. I saw it as another world. I really started to come into contact with the Barcelona theatre scene when my relationship with the Sala Flyhard began.

Tortugues: la desacceleració de les partícules [Tortoises: Particle Deceleration] was the production where many theatre-goers discovered you. How did you end up at Sala Flyhard, hidden away on Carrer d’Alpens in the Sants neighbourhood?

Jordi Casanovas had seen De petits tots matàvem formigues [We All Killed Ants When We Were Little], a kind of Western we put on in Banyoles with the company El Vol del Pollastre, and he really liked it. Jordi told me about Sala Flyhard, and when he left his role there as artistic director, Clara Cols rang me. I remember it well; I was surprised that they called me. They commissioned me to write a play. I was beside myself, I couldn't even sleep at night. I had the idea for Tortugues in my mind, so I told them about it and they really liked it. 

In a short space of time, we saw Tortugues at Sala Flyhard, Et planto [Transplant] at the Tantarantana and L’home sense veu [The Man Without a Voice], also at Flyhard. Then, your name reached a much wider audience in the 2017–2018 season, when you were chosen to be the resident playwright at Sala Beckett.

First, I submitted another text, not Una gossa en un descampat [Julia and the Empty Lot]. I didn’t know much at the time, and I wasn’t as familiar with the Barcelona theatre scene as I am now. I applied without really knowing what it meant to be the resident playwright at Sala Beckett. In this precarious situation, it’s not common to hear: ‘Go and write a text. We’ll pay you to do it, and then we’ll put it on’. That’s very unusual; all playwrights have drawers full of plays waiting to be put on stage.  

What was the first text you submitted to Sala Beckett about? 

I was in a village near Girona one day and I asked a guy in a wheelchair where I would find the nearest café. He said: ‘I’ll come with you’, and we went for a coffee together. He had a great sense of humour. He was very sarcastic; I really liked him. He didn’t have much mobility, and he told me that when he was a teenager, a group of boys beat him up and threw him down a ravine. Since then, he had needed a wheelchair. That story really affected me and I couldn’t stop thinking about the boys who did that to him. What had become of them? Did they know he was quadriplegic? I wanted to talk about the consequences of our actions. That was my original idea.

Then I lost a child, and as I couldn’t think about anything else, I started to write about that. Now that a few years have gone by, I wonder how I wasn’t more scared. I had just been through a really traumatic event and I never thought it would become a play. I just felt such a strong need to write, so I didn’t hesitate for a second.

The text Una gossa en un descampat is based on your experience with perinatal death. It was premièred at the Grec Festival in 2018 and triumphed with both critics and audiences. There was a top-quality artistic team behind it, with Sergi Belbel as director, stage design by Max Glaenzel, and Maria Rodríguez and Vicky Luengo in the lead roles. What are your memories of the play?

I remember it as more of a personal experience than a play. It was all very intense, going through such a hard life experience, but at the same time being able to share it and feeling understood by your community, because there are actors helping you to tell your story and an audience crying with you. I went to loads of performances. I’m not sure why, but I wanted to see them all. It was all very cathartic. That play helped me to grieve.

I bet plenty of women and couples still talk to you about it. 

Yes, a lot of people who were going through the same thing came to see it. At a certain point I had to take some distance, because it was all too intense. I had already been through all the phases of grief and I was at a different stage, so meeting a couple who had just lost a child stirred things up for me. Then I ended up being a psychologist, which didn’t do me any good.

Carrying on with your professional journey around the theatres of Barcelona, you then went from El Poblenou to Glòries. Last year, in the middle of a pandemic and with maximum capacity at 50%, you premièred Mare de sucre [To Be a Mother], another big hit that was sold out before the first night.

Mare de sucre has been a wonderful journey that we’ve been on as a team. When the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya (TNC) commissioned me to write a play, the only good idea I had was that we had to do this one with Escenaris Especials. I’ve been working with Anna del Barrio, Berta Camps and Marta Iglesias for a long time, and we already know what creating with people with disabilities involves. It means more time and more money. And when you’re putting together a production, it’s important for that to be clear from the beginning. After so many years working on our project, it was lovely to be able to create a play with professional actors (Maria Rodríguez, Ivan Benet and Teresa Urroz) and actors with a disability, without the ‘social theatre’ label. 

In fact, there’s going to be a spin-off of Mare de sucre.

Exactly. Els àngels no tenen fills [Angels Don’t Have Children] came about as a documentary theatre piece, within the Verbatim series at Sala La Planeta. We interviewed women with disabilities about everything surrounding maternity, with Andrea Álvarez and Marc Buxaderas. You’ll be able to see it at Teatre Akadèmia in June. 

Among the many things you do, you were also part of the programming committee for Teatre Lliure, created by Juan Carlos Martel when he won the public bid. What was this experience like?

First of all, I’m really happy, because during that time I learnt a lot, from people like Victoria Szpunberg, Albert Lladó, Marc Artigau and so many others. I became aware of the importance of politics in decision-making in a public theatre like the Lliure. Ideological positions influence the decisions made by programmers and cultural managers. Which shows do you choose to be part of a theatre’s programme? Isaias Fanlo and I looked after the more social aspect and made sure we listened to various groups, like Tinta Negra, and their struggles. We gave our opinions, but we didn’t have the power to make decisions. In terms of accessibility at Teatre Lliure, there have been noticeable changes: now there are a lot more accessible performances for all kinds of audiences.

Retrat de Clàudia Cedó. © Paula Jaume Sánchez Portrait of Clàudia Cedó. © Paula Jaume Sánchez

Still at Teatre Lliure, but this time in Gràcia, you’ll be premièring Síndrome de gel [Ice Syndrome] in March. The play talks about ‘resignation syndrome’, which many refugees suffer from when they arrive in Sweden, and you wrote it with Mohamad Bitari.

This has been one of the most difficult plays to write yet. As the subject of refugees and asylum is so far away from my reality, I was not at all sure whether or not I was writing from the right viewpoint. In the end, I realised the most sensible thing to do was to find a companion for the process, which is where Mohamad Bitari comes in. He’s a journalist and writer of Syrian and Palestinian origins. He held me accountable and reminded me that my perspective is a Western one, and he recommended books like Orientalism, by Edward Said. I think it’s our duty to be aware of the position we’re writing from. It’s been a very interesting process, because I’ve got closer to a reality I knew nothing about. The production is directed by Xicu Masó, who was my teacher at the Theatre School in Banyoles, so I’m really excited about it. 

Then what? I’m sure you have a lot more projects in the pipeline.  

I’m writing a play commissioned by the TNC for next season, and scripts for the cartoon series Jasmine & Jambo. Jordi Oriol is writing for the series too, and the music is by Marc Parrot. I’m having a whale of a time! I think I can say now that Canto jo i la muntanya balla [When I Sing, Mountains Dance], which I adapted for the stage, will be back at the Biblioteca de Catalunya. I’m also turning the family play Les croquetes oblidades [The Forgotten Croquettes] into an animated film, and the production company Lastor Media has bought the rights to Mare de sucre from me to make it into a feature film, which I’m delighted about.

If teenage Clàudia who went to theatre school in Banyoles found out about all of this, what do you think she would say?

Her mind would be blown. I can’t even believe it now! I keep on going and working, and in the end it’s always the same: some projects reach more people than others. Sometimes you stop for a moment and go: ‘Look how lucky I've been’. Because this is a tough, precarious world. It all comes down to the fact that if you get paid for writing, you can spend a lot more time doing it and thinking up all sorts of stories. I’d be happy if I could write for a living and get paid enough for rent and basic expenses. I invest the same energy whether I get paid peanuts or a fortune. Which I probably shouldn’t say in public, thinking about it! [laughs] 

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