At 60 years of life, Els Joglars company is back from almost everything. He opted in 1962 to bring satirical shows to the public that move away from the politically correct and have had to pay some tolls for it: controversies, censorship, lawsuits, bomb threats, trials and even a stint in jail that ended in a legendary escape . For this reason, today they are not afraid of “modern bonfires” and they do not fall into widespread self-censorship either; they understand the theater as a space of absolute freedom and they will never stop, they say, putting their finger on it.
“The theater is a sacred space of freedom. Morality is a personal thing that can change, and with what is venerated now in 20 years the opposite will happen. Art doesn’t have to have morals“, defends Ramon Fontserè, who this year also celebrates his first decade at the head of the company’s management, after in 2012 Albert Boadella, the company’s founder, passed that witness on to him.
There are several round figures, therefore, the ones that Els Joglars celebrates this 2022: the 60 years of experience (it is the oldest active private theater company in Europe), the 10 years of Fontsère as director and 40 works produced and released in the country.
His new show, “a great vindication of freedom of expression”
The show that has allowed to reach that last number, Bring out Aristophanes! premiered last January in Zaragoza and plans to tour throughout Spain. Malaga and Madrid (February 4 and 9 respectively) will be the next places where this new comedy will stop, which travels to the origins of theater to pay tribute to the creator of satireto a libertarian symbol that has always inspired the company.
Fontserè explains that Aristophanes’ theater was very “cathartic” and represented well that “hygienic” capacity that humor has. It works perfectly, he says, as an opposition to “fanaticism” and to “remove iron” from certain dilemmas of society, but he points out: “It was not a friendly theater for the public. He said, ‘although he is a beggar, a poor merchant, I’m going to tell you bitter but true things, because comedy also knows how to tell the truth. He was a man who knew very well how to portray the people, the bad things, the vices, the beliefs of society.”
“We focus on the infantilization of the adult world that entails living in an illusion, in a Disney World“
It does not seem by chance that the company has lit up this show at this time of social polarization, political tension and general uncertainty, although they emphasize that, above all, Bring out Aristophanes! is “a great vindication of freedom of expression” in a time of overprotection.
“Our proposal aims to vindicate the freedom of art at a time when it is being victimized by an overprotective society. With a contemporary dramaturgy, combining music, dance, literature and the visual, we focus on the infantilization of the adult world that entails living in an illusion, in a Disney world, where the art must be correct, easy and that does not hurt. Vaseline art. On the idea that art should be alien to morality, we built a show where the Aristophanes, the Chaplins or the Molières embody the laughter of the dissident before a society based on the religion of feelings”, the company points out in the summary of the construction site.
60 years telling, from humor, the history of a country
Fontserè delves into these ideas. He emphasizes that Boadella built Els Joglars “against the current”, with great “lucidity” and “enormous courage”, and affirms that these characteristics are not the ones that predominate at the moment in the artistic field. “Today there is comfort, and that is a brake. We wish there were more companies like ours to do this type of theater, to touch on the issues that are really in society, with that hygienic mission of theater, of catharsis, of provoking doubt”.
In the new show a professor of classics dismissed from the university he is interned in a Psychocultural Reeducation Center due to the mental consequences produced by the cessation. His knowledge of the classical world makes him assume the character of Aristophanes at times and, thus, between reality and fiction, he imagines the Greek playwright as a model of freedom in the face of a society increasingly full of “untouchable taboos”.
“Many of our shows mark the time of this country over 60 years“
as seen on Bring out Aristophanes!, the works of Els Joglars have another common characteristic beyond the interest in awakening critical thought: they are, in most cases, chronicles of the stage that citizenship is going through. “Many of our shows mark the era of this country over 60 years. One can know things about the Franco regime, about when you entered the Common Market or about nuclear power. Finally, this of Shakespeare is fulfilled, when in Village Polonio says: ‘Treat comedians well, let them lack nothing, because they are the compendium and brief chronicle of the times'”.
These Catalan minstrels have also been writing the chronicle of their time from the stage. It said a lot about an era, for example, the fact that a theatrical premiere ended with a court martial, as happened in 1977in Reus, after the performance of the return, a work that dealt with the last execution with a vile club in Spain. Forty-eight hours after that performance, the police showed up at the house of the then director, Albert Boadella, with the order to function ban by the military authority, and with a summons to go to the military court, where he was to appear before a court-martial.
After the second statement, the playwright was prosecuted, arrested and imprisoned in the Modelo prison in Barcelona for an alleged crime of insulting the Armed Forces. What did not seem foreseeable is that he could escape using his acting skills: Boadella pretended to be sick and, once in the hospital, he disguised himself as a doctor and was able to escape through a window in an escape also historical.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most unique events linked to Els Joglars, but it is not the only one. That same year, for example, after the premiere of M-7 Catalonia in Madrid they faced a bomb threat alluding that the work was a “judeo-masonic-separatist cabal”.
“Think I’m from the generation of Teledéum (premiered in 1983). Sometimes I thought we were going back to 36. That really It was a dispute between two sides, among those nostalgic for Franco and the Spain that was beginning to come out of all this. It was a time of reparations, complaints, attacks on the theater, on the van… An actor of ours was stabbed so that we could not act (…) In the hotels we sometimes had policemen”, recalls Fontserè in the balance he makes.
From conventional censorship to “modern bonfires”
Now, according to the company, social networks are those “modern bonfires” in which everyone who dares to comment or share any type of content is judged: “Almost unintentionally you fall into them and, what are you going to do? These are the times,” says the actor, who believes that the networks they have a very positive side and another “manure heap”.
“They have become the censor. I have read many people who suffered Franco’s censorship and before you knew who they were, but now (the censors) we are all. In addition, before the one who was censored had the sympathy of the people, now not, now the one who is censored has antipathies. This has changed”, adds the director of the company, who maintains that “many of the productions of Els Joglars from the 80s or 90s would be impossible to do today, they would be massacred in the networks for the topics we touchedfor everything, but before this was done and nothing happened”.
“Many of the productions of Els Joglars from the 80s or 90s would be impossible to do today, they would be massacred in the networks“
This does not mean, he specifies, that they have fallen into that widespread “political correctness that induces self-censorship.” Els Joglars has been changing topics to the rhythm of social changes and has followed its own path along the path of satire, without stopping dealing with bitter truths: “We have touched all the subjects that we have believed that it was necessary to touch“, assures Fontsère.
Without going any further, the show that precedes the one that has just been released, “Señor Ruiseñor” dealt with an issue as controversial as that of the ‘procés’, which led them to receive very harsh criticism.
“There are people who got very angry and people who support us (…) In Barcelona, there were people from the public who came to congratulate us and he told us ‘it was about time we could laugh with all this delirium'”, says the actor, who, like the company itself, is back and is not afraid of the repercussions of the shows.
“Politicians themselves are already a spectacle“
At the moment, the team is very focused on the tour of Bring out Aristophanes!but its director, asked about other current affairs that might deserve an Els Joglars show, assures, with a laugh, that “For themes, we live in great times”.
“One of the things that could be discussed is, perhaps because I will be one of them shortly, the the old people who go to the bank and, if they are not up to the technology, they feel expelled from this world. It’s awesome, a whole life working and when you go to get money you don’t know how to do it, they don’t explain it to you… this must be a Kafkaesque thing”, he says.
On the other hand, no one immediately comes up with issues directly linked to the political situation: “It’s just that now politicians themselves are already a spectacle. They have already tried to do theater but it is a very bad theater, which lasts very little. It can’t last even one season,” jokes Fontserè.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.