Revolutionary Fervour: Spain’s Youth Theatre

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Today is not a normal school day. The classroom is a theatre auditorium; chairs become seats in the stalls; and the blackboard is a stage. Hundreds of high school students wait impatiently for the play to start. They have the feeling that they are about to see a different kind of theatre, one made for them, for young people. For many of them, this is their first time at the theatre, a rare pastime for Spanish youth.

They are waiting for La Joven Compañía, an offshoot of the cultural association Jóvenes al Teatro, whose president David Peralto serves as its Artistic Director. “Jóvenes al Teatro was born from the worry we felt as a group of secondary school teachers and professionals in the national theatre network about the distancing we were seeing between young people and the theatre,” Peralto explains. The solution they came up with was “to create companies that would have young people aged between 18 and 25 years old engaged in all areas of the dramatic arts (performance, music, set design, production), led by a theatre professional who trains them so that the company produces plays with young actors, fundamentally aimed at young people.”

 

 

This method works. More and more young people attend the events in the Conde Duque theatre in central Madrid. Here, they put on everything from contemporary plays by emerging writers, to universally-recognised classics like Lord of the Flies by William Golding, or Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey, which will premiere in April and hopes to highlight the tragic reality of refugees through theatre. “All productions have one thing in common: they move their audiences,” adds Peralto. “We are convinced that one of the errors we’ve committed with youth theatre is that, by removing its edge so as not to offend young people, we’ve ended up doing things that don’t interest them. As with adults, you’ve got to tell young people things that interest them; things that excite, create controversy, unsettle, have an impact … In this way you really can create a link between theatre and young people, because they have to come here, to sit and live the emotion of the stage.” 

The members of La Joven Compañía know that this is something new, that they are spearheading a “revolution”, and that they are very lucky. “This project goes beyond producing a play. It’s about weaving a cultural fabric that is… that’s necessary. For us, it’s a luxury to tell people of our generation that culture is not a boring thing that you learn in a classroom, but rather something that enriches and transforms you,” explains Raúl Pulido. For another of the actors in the company, 23 year old María Romero, “the company is a way of expressing the youthfulness that gets discarded and forgotten.” Youth unemployment in Spain has been close to 50% since the financial crash, and many young people have felt obligated to emigrate in order to find a future. “The company is a reflection of the fact that young people have to wake up and react to what’s happening not only in our country, but also across the world.”

María, who did tourism at university before studying acting, refuses to believe the myth that an artistic profession is risky. “It’s a job like any other. It’s something I tell myself as well as the young people who, after watching our plays, ask about the uncertainty of the profession. If you like it, do it. Make an effort and believe in yourself.

Clara Garrido, also 23 years old, admits that it’s not easy to find openings in the field. She is currently studying costume design in Milan for her Erasmus year; and from this distance, she sees everything more clearly. “The obstacle that we young people face is the lack of experience and contacts.” For costume and set designers, joining a professional company is almost impossible because they don’t have castings like with actors. “La Joven Compañía makes the professional leap much easier. It gives you experience and teaches you things that without practical experience or contacts with different departments, are very difficult to learn. It teaches you how to work professionally. Right now, in real life. Because what they teach you in school is often utopian or obsolete,” Clara explains.

 

 

Pedro Sánchez, 24 years old, who works in the company’s Communications department, realised that he wanted to do something related to culture when, at 8 years old, they introduced a programme in children’s music at his school. “From a young age, being part of cultural projects has made me feel happy; it has encouraged me always to give the best of myself, to imagine, to play, to be free. Having cherished this memory, I feel that I have to work to make sure that many more people can live and feel what I did as an 8 year old.”

After four years in which thousands and thousands of young people have sat in the theatre’s stalls, Pedro says that this project is undoubtedly reaching young people, as well as the general public. “Evidence of this comes from the comments that we receive from excited teachers, who feel that we treat them with dignity and respect. Any artistic movement that introduces young people to culture also brings them closer to free thought, to emotion, to feeling. I think that we’re achieving our goals. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and many more hands are needed. But we’re growing all the time.”

This article was originally published in Youth Time print edition, 36th issue. Subscribe here, purchase one issue here.

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