The new season of performing arts starts next week in Madrid with a significant increase in musical theater. “Madrid has become the third international city for musicals, behind New York’s Broadway and London’s West End,” says Yolanda Pérez Abejón, Managing Director of the production company Stage Entertainment, the company that owns the two largest stage spaces from the capital: the Lope de Vega Theater and the Coliseum Theater, with capacity for 1,500 and 1,400 spectators respectively. At Lope de Vega it has been performed for 12 years The Lion King and in March they will replace the Tub for a show that they prefer to announce in a few weeks. She is the only woman with responsibilities among the megaproducersa small group of theater owners where they program and premiere the shows they also produce.
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They operate on the taste of the public with a billboard that they broadcast, mainly, from the axes of Gran Vía and La Latina. “Clearly we have created a new audience. There is a generation that has grown up with musicals. Now 80% of the public of the lion king he is from outside Madrid, who come to see him and spend the weekend in the city”, he adds. Although Pérez Abejón refuses to give an annual income figure, he assures that in a good year they sell a million tickets, although the normal is 600,000. “It has been difficult for us to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, but now we are at 2019 levels,” he says.
Being owners, producers and programmers, “they know how long they can keep a work on stage until it stops being profitable,” Jorge Sánchez Somolinos, manager of Performing Arts at the SGAE, tells this newspaper. It was precisely the copyright management entity that sold Lope de Vega and the Coliseum for 58 million euros in 2016 to the Dutch company Stage Entertainment (together with the English fund Rockspring Property Investment Managers).
Somolinos prefers to underline another profile of owner, producer and programmer, such as Antonio del Castillo, from the Teatro Infanta Isabel, or Juan Jiménez, from the Teatros Luchana and Teatro Galileo. Although he would like to see more variety in the musical offer on Gran Vía and that The Lion King give way to other productions, he believes that there is variety in the programming of Madrid’s commercial theatre. “The luck is that all these owners generate variety and, in addition, offer their stages to other production companies to show their products,” adds Sánchez Somolinos, who sees no tension between commercial and public spaces.
The founder and president of the Smedia Group is Enrique Salaberría, he is the owner of more than 3,000 seats distributed between the EDP Gran Vía Theater, Alcázar Theater, Infanta Theater and Fígaro Theater. The businessman does not hide his discomfort with the public theater, a stumbling block in the way of his interests. “Public theater has no mission right now. They are not in the business of building audiences, they are just unfair competition with a much bigger budget. We do not live from subsidies, we live from the public, ”he says without hot cloths.
We ask the businessman what is the purpose of public theater. “One, let it be seen; two, create an audience. The function of public management is not to redistribute wealth among actors and that no one sees the function. Because, in addition, they do not let it be seen: in four weeks they remove it from the poster. The theater needs time to grow. It is essential that he matures on stage. This is not the cinema, it is not a finished product. Now the public theater does not allow productions to grow or mature. It is the private theater where the proposals grow and develop for several years on the bill”, he maintains.
He also believes that the diversity of the Madrid billboard is due to the private theater, not the public one. He recalls that in its theaters there are 60 active shows, with comedies, musicals, concerts, dance, classical, drama, contemporary, varieties, opera, zarzuela, magic… “We want to cover all audiences. We even have a show with a pregnant actress telling about her experience. We are less restrictive and censorious than public theater”, maintains Salaberría. Regarding the empire and the control of the public’s taste, he assures that the best critic that private theater has are the spectators, “that is why critics have ceased to exist”. He is not comfortable with those who reject his successes, which he defines as popular theater and compares with what Shakespeare and Molière did.
Nothing in the pockets
Both Enrique Salaberría, Yolanda Pérez Abejón and Jorge Sánchez Somolinos maintain that the public has lost its fear of the health crisis. Now the public fears inflation and the war in Ukraine. “People put their hands in their pockets and there is no money for leisure, only for the basics,” says Salaberría. The other great owner, programmer and producer of the theaters in Madrid is SOM Produce, owners of the Rialto Theater, Nuevo Teatro Alcalá, Teatro Calderón and Teatro Nuevo Apolo, with almost 4,500 seats. They have commercial successes like the musical billy elliotbut its CEO Marcos Cámara has declined to tell this newspaper about his experience.
Jesús Cimarro is the owner of Pentación, he is director of the Mérida Festival, president of the Association of Producers and Theaters of Madrid and, above all, the most influential businessman in the performing arts. He is the owner of the more than 2,000 seats that he has with the Reina Victoria Theater, the La Latina Theater and the Bellas Artes Theater. Other mega producer of the scenic spaces in Madrid that warns that 12 musicals will be premiered in the new season that is coming. “We are at the height of Broadway,” he maintains.
In his opinion, the programming of Madrid’s public theaters is “repeating” and they have stopped covering the repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries. “I do a repertoire at the Fine Arts Theater, with performances like The kiss of spider women, Lady in red on gray backgroundwith José Sacristán, or The wars of our ancestorswith Carmelo Gómez”, he indicates.
Cimarro’s programming also practices drama, humor and music. The new season will be decisive because the capacity will not decrease. So he thinks it will be important to cover the billboard with the most popular and varied montages. “Now we are at 60% of the 2019 box office. We need to recover the lost quotas and that the Administrations understand that culture is an important source of income”; Cimaro says. As much as to give it the place it deserves in the General State Budgets. And he leaves a question for whom it may concern: “What would Madrid be without museums or shows?”