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Lorca and Artistic Freedom

Stages of Resistance
Headshot of Anne Garcia Romero
Photo by Barbara Johnston, University of Notre Dame

This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series!

In these times, I look to Federico García Lorca for inspiration. In the face of totalitarianism, he wrote powerful plays that challenged cultural, societal and aesthetic norms. His passionate characters rail against artifice, hypocrisy, and injustice. His artful dialogue builds new linguistic pathways for comprehending the incomprehensible. He created a theater company that brought classic plays across Spain to rural communities that had never seen a play. Yet Lorca’s remarkable life tragically ended when fascist forces shot and killed him in Granada, Spain on August 19, 1936. In his brief thirty-eight years, this poet, playwright, musician, visual artist, actor, director, and lecturer created an astounding body of work which continues to transform world theater.

In early 2016, I began writing a new play, Lorca in New York, which explores Lorca’s transformative trip to New York City in 1929. During a recent workshop of the play at Chicago Dramatists, I was talking with my director Leah C. Gardiner about how much Lorca’s experience speaks to our present moment. Lorca left a dictatorship in Spain to travel to a democratic United States and was able to experience a new level freedom. In New York, he connected with African-American writers and artists, Latin American painters and patrons, Spanish academics and musicians, Anglo poets and intellectuals, and witnessed the traumatic Wall Street crash, all which deeply influenced his writing. As a gay man, he also found greater personal freedom in New York. Lorca experienced a version of this country that celebrates diversity and equality.

During his U.S. trip, Lorca started writing The Audience (El Público). In his play, he experiments with form and character as Enrique, a director, searches for authentic theater. Lorca’s diverse characters include a white horse, a man covered in vines, Shakespeare’s Juliet, a female ballet costume, a shepherd, and a magician. His characters debate sexuality, love, death, and the meaning of theater. Enrique exclaims, “It’s only by breaking down all the doors that a play can justify itself, using its own eyes to see that the law is a wall that will dissolve in one tiny drop of blood. I am disgusted by a dying man who draws a door on a wall with his finger, and sleeps peacefully. A real play is a circle of arches where the air, the moon and living beings can enter and exit, and nowhere be at rest.” Lorca creates a theater where access, freedom and nature co-exist to create opportunity, possibility and complexity.

Lorca teaches me that playwriting is a gift and an essential outlet in these times. He shows me theater’s potential to speak truth to power. He reveals how our stages need to reflect the cultural, social, economic, and aesthetic diversity of our nation. Now more than ever, he reminds me that we need to experience narratives that shed light on communities that have been underrepresented in the theater. Lorca demonstrates how, as theater artists, we must continue to express the inexpressible, to learn about lives unlike our own, and to create worlds which shed light upon our shared humanity.