documentary theater on the housing problem

“We have all lived in one at some time. We drew it as children. We yell it to be safe when playing tag team. As teenagers we want to leave home. When we grow up we want to die in it. It is one of the first words we learn in another language…”. It seems like an easy riddle to solve, but these are some of the statements made by the playwright Lucia Miranda before launching the question that forms the backbone of his latest work: what is a house?

The first person who had to answer that question was herself, since the idea of ​​the project —a verbatim documentary theater play that arrives on February 17 at the Teatro de La Abadía, in Madrid— started from a personal experience:

“Me I got pregnant two years ago and then I begin to think about what kind of house I want my daughter to live in. At the same time, I live in a supergentrified neighborhood, La Latina, which has changed a lot in the ten years I’ve been living here and from which I’m sure we are going to have to go this April because (rental) prices have risen a lot and we can’t pay it,” says Miranda, founder of Cross Border, a cultural and social innovation initiative, made up of a theater company, a school and a research space .

In other words, in the life of this stage director, a “more philosophical” debate has converged on where her daughter would grow up happiest and a social problem as widespread as the inability to pay rent. To this is added, he explains, a personal context that has led him to discover numerous stories related to access to housing.

“I have a lot of circumstances around me that make me start to wonder about this and that the subject is also present in my daily coffees or when I go out at night. That makes me take a recorder and look for other people who have conflicts with housing for different reasons, that is, it leads me to widen the circle to see what value a house has on a physical level and what a house is on a conceptual level. Also, to see how the view has changed over the years, with COVID, because we have rethought everything”Miranda says.

True stories about evictions, gentrification, speculation…

That’s how it started to breed Housea verbatim documentary theater work (the one that collects real conversations and then transfers them to the stage) for which the director interviewed, recorder in hand, more than 40 people with different profiles in three cities of Spain.

Throughout these meetings, Miranda heard stories related to evictions, gentrification, real estate speculationsheltered homes, foster homes, problems arising from the 2008 crisis, the pandemic, the refugee crisis, migration, urban planning laws or mortgages, and has been able to create, with the sum of all those voices a complete polyphony that addresses one of the issues that most concern society.

It is a reflection on what a house is and how the right to housing is being exercised in this country

The starting point is something “as simple and as complex” as the word “house” and from there an “intergenerational” story unfolds that launches a multitude of questions to the public: When did your house begin to be called ‘the house of your fathers’? Do homeless people call the space where they sleep on the street home? Refugees, where do they find their refuge? How in a country with an estimated six million empty houses are there people homeless? How is the right to housing being exercised in Spain?

Javier Burgos

More than 40 interviews recorded and transcribed “word for word”

A peculiarity of the method that Cross Border is betting on is that the conversations recorded during the initial phase are later transcribed. “word by word”. About, 95% of the work is a direct transcriptionthat is to say, there is a minimal part of fiction in this work that premiered last December at the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona.

“It is transcribed as is and what I do is decide which part of the material becomes part of the play, because there are many hours of interviews. I do a screen and select characters. The actors receive the text of that transcript and the audio of the person interviewed”, explains the playwright, who points out that what the interpreters do is not so much “imitate” the real protagonists but rather “incarnate” them.

“The actor works with the breath, he pauses when the person pauses, it is very very faithful to the audio, you learn that audio like someone who learns that song. This is very special because it picks up the person’s rhythm, the person’s breathing, and that’s going to take you into a physicality,” he adds.

For her and her team, what this theatrical methodology allows is involve society in the process and illuminate a scenic material that can lead to a very deep reflection on very tangible issues that are in the daily lives of citizens: “We know that we are not giving voice from fiction, but from a tape recorder. It is a theater that is made with the people and with us, and we like that because it opens our minds. It goes beyond what they can think or what we can think”, he points out.

“I would love for politicians to come see it”

Among the protagonists of the piece, whose name Miranda changed “and little else”, is an architect who built more than 500 homes but who, as an inheritance, will leave some foundations to his daughter, a boy who has spent half his life in a residence for minorsa young Venezuelan refugee who got asylum thanks to a Nirvana song, a man with functional diversity who fights for his independence, an activist from the Mortgage Affected Platform (PAH) or a man from NASA.

There are, in total, twenty real characters who are played by a cast made up of five actors: Pilar Bergés, César Sánchez, Macarena Sanz, Efraín Rodríguez and Ángel Perabá.

“The youngest character i think he is 21 years old, who is a boy who has been living since he was 12 years old in a residence for minors. I interviewed him when he was 20 or 21 and he tells the story from when he was 12 years old to now. And the older character is an architect who is 67 years old and tells us about her life since she started studying architecture at 18. They are very different profiles”, summarizes the author, who considers that this plurality of experiences allows us to see that the meaning of the word “house” It is very different for some people and others.

All the people I have interviewed want the same thing. that’s pretty revealing

However, there is a desire or a need that connects them all: “I think that all the people I have interviewed, coming from very different places, having a different cultural and socioeconomic background, and also different ages, want the same thing That is quite revealing so that, for example, the political class came to see it, because it does not matter if you are 67 years old and middle class or if you are a kid from a juvenile residence. they all want the same thing“, emphasizes Miranda, who insists on how much he would like to see some political leaders sitting in the chair so that they listen to all the real stories he has collected.

I would love for you to come see it and, moreover, is that we have made verbatim of some politicians on the subject of housing. For example, Rafa Mayoral is one of the characters in the piece because there is a person who tells us about his problem and explains that he went to a PAH assembly and that he was there,” says Miranda.

Documentary theater drinks from reality to tell a story

The cast did a reading for the interviewees: “It was very emotional”

Before starting the tests, the team did an open reading in which the interviewees were invitedwho did not know each other. Miranda assures that that meeting was “very emotional”, that they cried, that they laughed and that they began to work as a group.

He also says that only some of them were able to attend the premiere in Barcelona, ​​but the rest will have the opportunity to find your own story now at the Teatro de la Abadía, since the company has organized a general showing just for them and their relatives.

In some way, it will be for the real protagonists of the work the culmination of a process that began when they decided to open the doors of their house to a playwright and her recorder. On the other hand, in no case will it mean a closure for the theatrical project itself, since it will continue to be very much alive during the time it is circulating on the stages.

During each performance, the public has the opportunity to give their opinion or share their testimonies, and this makes the piece continue to enrich itself: “There are people who have very different ideas than I may have and I think it’s good to share that space and listen to what is said. In Barcelona we had days when squatters came to see the piece and what they think about housing is important. In the end you have to select and voices are always left out,” says Miranda.

From the most natural – Documentary theatre: from the street to the stage – 12/10/17 – listen now

The premiere in Madrid of this work coincides with the Cross Border 10th Anniversarya company that would like to continue working on what they call “theater applied to education and social transformation”.

Among the most interesting works of the company is Party Party Party, another verbatim documentary theater show that in 2017 radiographed public institutes through interviews with mothers, students, teachers and non-teaching staff. Thus, they could talk about education, adolescence, immigration or identity.

“I think that in the next ten years we should dedicate ourselves to helping or promoting more projects like these throughout the territory because they are good for the community and we as artists feel good too”, says Miranda.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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