With New York into a poet Alberto San Juan has achieved another small victory climbing that slope that Arturo Barea explained in The forging of a rebel. This time the slope is more theatrical, from a small independent theater in Madrid, the Teatro del Barrio, to the more commercial Teatro Bellas Artes. There every Monday night, San Juan and his band (Claudio de Casas on guitar, Pablo Navarro on double bass, Gabriel Marijuán on drums and Miguel Malla on saxophone and clarinet) will show this work based on the book Poet in New York and the conference that Federico García Lorca gave at the Residence for Young Ladies as soon as he returned from his trip to the United States and Cuba.
Today one can find Alberto San Juan in Rodalquilar reciting the bitter prose of Níjar fields by Goytisolo, premiering a work on poems by Antonio Machado or allying with the guitarist Fernando Egozcue in shows that range from poem to joke. San Juan says a new stage is beginning, one more as a minstrel, as a puppeteer. He is seen to be somewhat relieved of the burden of having directed and managed the Teatro del Barrio for more than five years. Stage in which the actor was able to grow as an author and director with works such as Ruz-Bárcenas or The king.
He looks mature and joker, quiet in his neighborhood in the center of the capital. In addition, he will premiere shortly with Álex de la Iglesia The fourth passenger, a film in which he stars together with Blanca Suárez, Ernesto Alterio and Rubén Cortada; and Test, Jordi Vallejo’s play that triumphed in Barcelona and now takes Dani de la Orden to the cinema. Gone are the more than 15 years with the Animalario company that ceased its operation back in 2012. Years of youth, media fame and highly successful premieres such as Alejandro and Ana: what Spain could not see of the wedding banquet of the president’s daughter (2003) or Urtain (2008). But this stage of minstrel that he says now to really begin was inaugurated just before the Teatro del Barrio opened in December 2013 with a play, Self-portrait of a young Spanish capitalist, which has been touring throughout Spain for more than eight years. “I did it for the last time this summer, I think I’m not going to do it anymore,” says San Juan.
In the work he presents now there is also that nonconformist root with the political reality present in the works he has been doing since 2012: “I denounce all the people who ignore the other half, the irredeemable half that raises their concrete mountains where they beat the hearts of the animals that are forgotten and where we will all fall in the last party of the drills. I spit in your face “, Lorca says in his poem New York.
The lecture he gives in the year 30 is the host. The work follows the lecture he gave at the Residencia de Señoritas in Madrid. People, after seeing the work, tell me that I have put my hand on Lorca and what is going on, it is literal. They cannot believe that what I say was written a hundred years ago. It describes the current moment very well. Logically there is a very clear mirror between one era and another. Lorca is in New York when the stock market crash occurred in 1929, the greatest crisis of world capitalism, followed by that of 2008, the effects of which we continue to suffer today. But in addition to witnessing that blowout, Lorca comes from a rural and agrarian Spain and reaches an advanced capitalist society. Go into shock. And he makes a very deep critique of what he sees. Lorca perceived that the capitalist system is not compatible with life. He goes on to say that it is: “a cruel economic system that will soon have to cut its throat.”
People tell me that I have reached out to Lorca, they cannot believe that what I say was written a hundred years ago
On the work are the poems: The Dawn of New York, 1910. Intermission, Ode to the King of Harlem, Dance of Death, Landscape of the Throwing Crowd, I cry out to Rome, they are blacks from Cuba and a loose poem The poet asks the virgin for help Are the poems said in their entirety?
Two of them not because I am not capable. First, its length is considerable but beyond that it is because they contain areas of mystery that are inaccessible to me, at the moment. Are Ode to the King of Harlem and Dance of Death. There are poems that I understand rationally, others emotionally due to the rhythm of their beauty and musicality, but there are others that neither on one side nor on the other. There are images of radical clarity as when he speaks of capitalism and says that it is “a cruel economic system that will soon have to cut its throat”, and there are images of an enormous mystery, some I assume, others I am not capable. And to say them like a parrot I prefer not to say them. I think that the montage comes mature and open to the Fine Arts, little by little I have been internalizing, embodying each text.
What motivated this new stage as a minstrel, always wearing the same black suit on stage, without scenery, pure communication with the public and immersed in a political theater and denunciation reminiscent of Dario Fo’s theater?
Talking about the political situation in this country was a personal necessity. And besides, he had a hunger to know, to ignore less. And I realized that this hunger was very widespread. People were interested. Finding a space of my own where I am not afraid of being ridiculed and work for myself as raw material. And yes, I always wear two black suits. The tuxedo they gave me for the 2009 Goya gala (edition in which San Juan receives the award for best performance for Under the stars), which must be a very good cloth because it holds up well. And the other is the suit he wore at the play Hamlet Directed by Will Keen in 2012.
The change towards a theater of urgency, of political denunciation, which began with Self portrait, opened a documentary and historical review vein in his work.
In 2012 Animalario had been dissolved, I was left without a stable source of income. I told myself that I had to do something that didn’t cost a penny. I needed two things: to find a way to be able to work with total freedom, without direction, without production, without costume designer, without scenery. And, perhaps most importantly, facing the need to know how we got to this, because a supposedly stable and prosperous democracy was suddenly rebelling as a failed, corrupt, and immature democracy. How was it possible that unemployment, evictions, precariousness, poverty would skyrocket … And it was necessary to pull back, at the moment in which the great agreements that founded our life together were made: the Transition.
I am thinking about a show about the founding of Spain on an exclusive basis, which has generated huge problems that still persist
Will you continue with this type of theatrical line?
I am thinking of a new show in this minstrel-puppeteer format, it has to do with the history of the concept of Spain, from the Middle Ages until now. How we went from being able to be Jewish, Arab or Christian to, suddenly, after a colonization war, only being able to be Christian. This foundation of Spain on an exclusive basis has generated huge problems that still persist. But I also believe that this is not immovable, the idea of Spain can be reformulated, there are enough hopeful elements to do so, to build a community in which no one is excluded. I want to mount it accompanied by a band of pasodobles, as if it were a small municipal band.
Now, are you more liberated after five years directing the Teatro del Barrio?
I have been out of his management for two years. And yes, they were five years of total immersion, directing the programming and activities and producing one play a year in which he directed, wrote or acted. Now it is directed by Ana Belén Santiago. The cooperative of the Teatro del Barrio was created between ten people. Now we are no longer ten, we are five hundred and fifty cooperative members. The idea was that the theater did not depend on one person or a group of people. At first he identified a lot with me, people even told me “your theater.” Nothing further.
A small format room in Madrid is almost a miracle. The first stumbling block is paying rent that is burdensome and monthly. El Teatro del Barrio does not have a school to support itself economically like other venues in Madrid, Replika, Mirador, Cuarta Pared … How have they achieved it?
Thanks to his own productions and tours. That is the livelihood of the Teatro del Barrio. And the theater box office. There have been very good times like with the tour of the work The king, which generated a surplus, Ruz-Bárcenas or now that Malena Alterio and Luis Bermejo are with Those who speak scored by Pablo del Rosal when we have the information. They are small productions, the profit margin is little, but adding bolus after bolus makes money. There have also been bad times in which we have had to pull the share capital, the fees of 100 euros of the 550 partners. Then we have been able to replace it, but there were hard times, yes.
I don’t care about political parties, flags or acronyms. The way of organizing political parties is hierarchical and that does not serve me
Lately it is frequently read: Alberto San Juan is no longer from Podemos, could you better explain his relationship and position?
My organic link with the party lasted less than a year and it was to support Miguel Urbán. But I have voted for Podemos since it was founded and in the following, what Yolanda Diez says about organizing a confederal structure to attend elections in which no political party predominates is sounding to me very well. I don’t care about political parties, flags, or acronyms. The form of organization of the political parties does not serve me. They are hierarchical. This does not interest me. The institutional and electoral sphere is one of the fronts but it is not the only one, not even the most important. To transform society, it is necessary to continue developing an alternative institutional framework that arises from civil society, something that became very evident in 15-M. I think that energy was eaten up too much by going to the electoral stage. Now you have to regain that vigor. There are still many people in the field of communication, housing, health, energy or education who fight for social transformation. And it seems to me that we must work to build bridges between the institutions and the street. But the street is not demonstrations, the street is work.
Therefore, did it not cost you more in the last elections for the Madrid City Council and the Community to vote for Podemos?
No, because being very critical of some aspects of Pablo Iglesias, at the same time, I appreciate him and there were people on that list who seemed very good to me. But I am very clear that in the next elections I will vote for Mónica García. What’s more, I think García and Yolanda Díaz are going to understand each other.