Since Lucía Carballal (Madrid, 1984) began to write, she understood that dedicating her life to the theater required her to be in constant movement: at the age of 18 her first work directed to a university group was born, shortly after she dropped out of Philology and Political Science studies to enter the RESAD (Royal School of Dramatic Art).
From there he moved to Barcelona with the aim of finishing his degree in another context. And from here to Berlin: five more years of soaking up learning. Meanwhile, Carballal was defining herself to reach today with a rich and broad artistic career, consecrated as the author of more than ten plays. He has also worked as a scriptwriter on television series such as Vis a vis, and as a writing teacher.
But actually, as shown in The last, a recently published book where he brings together five of his best theater texts, Carballal’s merit and exceptional character are not only related to the sum of his works, the good reviews and the awards won – from the Eurodram to being a finalist for the Calderón de the boat–, but for his kaleidoscopic gaze at the present, for the daily life and intimacy of his language.
This volume, edited by La Uña Rota, is presented in the first place as an exercise in the recovery of theater as a literary genre equally worthy of being at the news tables; and also, as the exposition of the author’s acuity in the face of moral conflicts and relationships –between co-workers, friends, families or a couple of writers–, without ever offering unique answers.
“Lucía Carballal places a deformed mirror at the entrance of these texts: in this you will become without the questions, without the doubts, without the falls. The place of refuge can be transformed with a conversation, with silence, in the place of combat” , writes Elena Medel in the prologue of The last, urging the reader to be curious and open to dialogue.
At the age of 37, he has accumulated a vast biography and at this rate he still seems to have a long way to go. Is working tirelessly a choice or is it also related to the precariousness of the profession?
The interesting thing is that creative work is not actually quantifiable. The last few years have been very productive and demanding, I have written plays that have been premiered, worked as a screenwriter, I have taught classes, and this has been possible thanks to a previous stage more erratic in appearance, in which I felt that I was looking for my place, but in which all those projects began to take shape. Only you know what level of commitment you are with your work, regardless of how many things you present out there. Stopping is a luxury in any case.
Despite this, in most descriptions she is associated with the words “female and young playwright.” It is something that also tends to happen with female writers, locked in categories that undervalue them compared to their male counterparts.
Look, it’s funny. A few months ago they invited me to give a talk with other authors. I asked what the topic was, imagining the answer, which was indeed women and theater or something similar. I suggested that he rethink. He wore several of those and couldn’t take it anymore. While my colleagues talk about their work, the authors continue to be grouped and summoned to talk about our exclusion, which is, indirectly, a way of excluding ourselves. But it is a difficult matter, of course. Stopping talking about inequality won’t make it go away either. The fact of being a woman, a woman who tells the story, entails a series of difficulties, some very evident in our daily lives and others very profound, still difficult to name.
Despite the fact that many current works can be acquired later in book format, it seems that readers are not used to reading theater. Why does this happen?
I think, as you say, it’s a matter of habit, but it doesn’t make much sense. When I was a teenager, before I ever went to the theater, I read Blood Wedding by Federico García Lorca, works by Valle-Inclán, by Shakespeare, and I remember that they impacted me more than any other reading I did at the time. In promoting the reading of theatrical texts we need the collaboration of the cultural media, which echo novels, essays, poetry books, but hardly theatrical texts. Editorially, an interesting work is being done in this area that is already beginning to be recognized.
It is true that there are things that are lost when there is no stage, but is there also something that a reader gains in front of a spectator?
Definitely. Save time, the possibility of stopping, of imagining. The meaning of the theater is its ephemeral nature, but the theatrical text has the ability to endure, to travel with ease. Many people write to tell me that they were not used to reading theater, but that they have really enjoyed reading these plays.
It seems easy to imagine her writing a novel or a book of short stories, although judging by how she presents her literary work in The resistance he doesn’t seem to be very attracted to the idea. Is this work an explicit critique of how the book industry works from within?
When I was 16 or 17 years old, I wrote stories and poems that I don’t know if I would be able to read now. It was my first approach to writing. But when I discovered theater writing I felt that it was the place for me. So, in reality, I have had little contact with the world that reflects that work, which is that of the great publishers and the stars of the narrative. I chose it because I wanted to explore the question of admiration in the couple and I looked for a professional field that was not my own but that I knew enough to be able to portray. I remember a literary meeting to which they invited me and in which I lived for days with dozens of novelists. Seeing them there together they fascinated me, they seemed to me of another species. I perceived them as soldiers of writing, very strict and acid with each other, people who work more alone than me and in an even more hostile context than mine. I received a feeling of hardness and literary militancy that is present in the work.
What he does know well is scriptwriting for television series, How different is it to write for theater or in this format?
It has nothing to do with it. Television is an industry above all else: each episode has cost an enormous amount of money and resources that must be amortized. His main vocation is to entertain, beyond the artistic or sophisticated that he allows himself to be. This radically conditions the writing, blurs the sense of authorship, the very conception of the project, its times. The main thing is to understand this and the great challenge, to find a way to reconcile it with your own concerns. The aspirations of the theater, at least those of one type of theater, are more purely artistic. In the theater you want to offer the best, not the most entertaining, without fear of anyone changing the channel.
How has the process of publishing The lastWhere do you gather a job from previous years?
Seeing this book, with the five works together, was for me like looking at a photo album. Start with The storms which premiered in 2016 and which is a work that drank from the crisis, from my previous years living in Berlin watching so many Spaniards come to Germany to find a life. It was my first premiere in a public theater. And it goes up to The actress and the uncertainty, a short play about the pandemic in 2020 and premiered at the same theater, the National Dramatic Center. So a panoramic landscape appears that I had not seen before. I felt shame, I felt very exposed all of a sudden. I also found it exciting: I visualized all my effort at once. In the whole process Carlos Rod, the editor, who is one of the smartest and most sensitive people I know, was decisive. At first it alerted me that retrospective books like this stir things up in the author. I didn’t understand him at the time, but later I knew what he meant.
It is striking that in none of the five works collected in The last is positioned for or against a character, and therefore not in the conflicts or discussions that they have between them.
If something characterizes the moment we live in, it is the ideological noise and the constant invitation to give an opinion. And it is very important to ask what impact this has on what we write. Perhaps one day we will live in a world in which all fictions pass all citizenship and values tests, perhaps we will go there, but let’s think for a moment what that means and if it is what we want. Ethics occupies a lot of space in my personal life, which I understand as an exercise in self-awareness, self-criticism, a much more expensive personal learning project than the so-called positioning, which would be very easy for me to proclaim in my works. I do not write to show myself as an exemplary citizen, that can only harm the work and it would also give me a bit of shame, really. The question is whether we want to really talk about certain topics or just simulate a conversation.
Another common thread of all the texts is that the protagonists are women, and incidentally, a criticism of classical masculinity is sensed.
It is natural that there are many women in plays, as there are in life. Women and some of the so-called feminine issues are universal issues because they are human. Whether they have scope or interest or ability to transcend only depends on how they are treated. As a reader, being familiar with traditionally masculine points of view or themes is part of my wealth, my heritage. The reverse should work the same. When a man claims not to feel challenged by what women write, the only thing that gives away is his own limitation.
Although it is not to praise him, the therapeutic language (self-realization, affective responsibility, search for identity) is also a constant in the texts, explicit even in works such as An american life or in The storms. Why are you interested in therapy as a tool to build a play and its characters?
I am interested in psychoanalysis and it seems to me a powerful tool to decipher reality and also to compose it. It is very broad and fun intellectually. It has to do with the origin of the movement of the characters, with the unconscious images that push them, with the irrationality of their search. But I think that when those terms are mentioned in my works it is usually done from irony. Some characters like Olivia from The storms or Linda in An american life they seek the meaning of their life through therapies that fail. In other words, they pay strangers money to help them live, which is fun, desperate, and totally understandable actually.