New Book Examines the Culture of Spanish Theater

April 13, 2012

The theater in Spain has a long, rich and vibrant history that links its political, social and theatrical culture, according to a new book co-edited by University of Virginia Spanish professor David T. Gies.

"A History of Theatre in Spain," to be published in May by Cambridge University Press, goes beyond the texts of plays to consider the economics, theater spaces, props, costumes, how actors were trained, the publishing of texts and the political climate in which the works were created and performed. It is co-edited by Maria M. Delgado, professor of theater and screen arts at Queen Mary, University of London.

"What's original about this book is that there are lots of histories of Spanish theater which study the texts. This is a book that is looking at Spanish theater, not from the interpretation of the plays, but as theater," said Gies, who teaches in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese in the College of Arts & Sciences. He was granted a knighthood in 2007 by His Majesty Juan Carlos, King of Spain, in recognition of his academic achievements and devotion to promoting Spanish culture.

Gies and Delgado invited experts from Spain, England, the U.S., Canada and France to contribute to the book.

The collaborators chronicle the development of theater and theater spaces during several eras – the Middle Ages, Renaissance, the Spanish "Golden Age" (which coincides with the Shakespearean era in England), the 18th century, the 19th century, the Spanish Civil War and the 20th century – including considerations of theater as an art form and industry and the development of a national identity.

The final three chapters are devoted to interviews with three leading contemporary theater artists: actor and director Nuria Espert, director Lluis Pasqual and playwright Juan Mayorga.

Gies, an expert on 19th-century Spanish theater and culture, said, "The stunning thing is that we have discovered that upwards of 30,000 plays were written, performed, published, and sometimes published in multiple editions, and reviewed – during just the 19th century."

Gies equated the 19th-century devotion to theater going to our modern-day obsession with television. "In 19th-century Spain, they had dinner and then went to the theater. And they went every single night to a different performance."

The Embassy of Spain in London will hold an invitation-only gala event to launch the book on May 3.

An expert on the literature of Enlightenment and Romantic Spain and contemporary Spanish film, Gies is the author of 15 books and critical editions of Spanish literature, including "The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture, "Theatre and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Spain" and "The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature."

– by Jane Ford