- The Creative Process of Els Joglars and Teatro de la Abadía. Beyond the Playwright by Simon David Breden
Breden's book ushers us literally to the rehearsal room of two of the most prominent theater troupes in Spain. Els Joglars, established in 1962, is the longest running company in Spain. Teatro de la Abadía, founded in 1995, transformed and renovated the deteriorated Madrid stage in the late twentieth century. Breden's book is evocative and relevant for the field of Spanish theater studies in which the research of the staging process is often compromised by a focus on plays and productions. In recognizing the advantages of researching performance as a process that gains momentum in rehearsals, this book continues a line of inquiry that studies theater as a collective practice that requires analytical tools beyond the textual interpretation.
The first part of the book studies Els Joglars' history, work ethos, rehearsal practices and staging procedures. Breden offers a well-researched account of each area, which he illustrates through landmark stagings by the troupe.
Since its beginnings, Els Joglars has embraced a rehearsal practice that places the body at the center of everything. The company's early work with mime serves as an example of this, exploring ideas physically ever since Boadella experimented with a "devised spontaneous occurrence" (68) in El Joc (1970), which subsequently became routine. This approach consists in using improvisation games to elicit scenes that are later incorporated into the play. It was in the company's early years that both the body and devising were adopted as methodology; in due course, the play is given its definitive shape in the rehearsal room. Their infamous banned production, La torna, marked the adoption of a work ethos that involves, first, a period of research and a set of improvisations to work out ideas that will be developed in order to set the dramaturgy of the play. The final step is usually more conventional and is aimed at fine-tuning the play before opening night. Els Joglars aims at educating the audience in the crafting of a show and, therefore, they share details in this regard in the production programs.
Breden studies the methodology of Els Joglars' theatrical practice in chapter 2, in which he perceptively describes the company as a "devising collective, with Boa-della highlighted as the 'front man'" (88). Devising was initially a tactic to avoid censorship and ultimately became a defining trait of the company. The author offers a detailed analysis of the rehearsal process for which he uses the show En un lugar [End Page 203] de Manhattan (2005) as a case study. In this respect, Breden's approach is singular and offers a model for future research projects. He interviewed members of the troupe and used notes and video recordings of rehearsals, some of which he attended. The greatest strength of this book is its focus on the process of theater-making and how the elusive material produced out of rehearsal becomes relevant and useful. Breden walks us through the games that facilitate devise theater. On the other hand, he asserts that Els Joglars' rehearsal process is free but structured, devised but researched and, finally, actor-centered but also director-guided. Indeed, the author notes that while Boadella's planned plotlines are recognizable in the final product, they also assume and incorporate the relative autonomy of actors in the creative process.
Part two takes a different approach. Teatro de la Abadía is one of the most renowned venues in Madrid. Upon its inception, a group of actors were trained inhouse and cast in the first two productions. Admittedly, the methodology employed in part one is not the same as in part two. Breden acknowledges the challenges presented when analyzing the creative process of a venue that commissions most of the productions it programs. Thus, his approach here shifts to a first-person account for a case study of a Teatro de la Abadía production that he...