Photo: Ben Hopper

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Short history and overview of the street arts and circus

The first examples of street theatre in Catalonia in the 20th century are found in the time of the Spanish Civil War with the Guerrillas del Teatro, small wandering groups who performed didactic and propagandistic material without literary pretension.

Years later, towards the end of Franco’s dictatorship in the 1960s, people began to retake the public spaces, and theatre shows, mime and street festivals were reborn. However, it was not until the 1970s, coinciding with the rise of the ‘Third Theatre’ in Europe, that we saw the appearance of a search for new forms of expression.

The leading company was Comediants, created by Joan Font in 1971. Their theatre took the medieval tradition of carnival, popular festival and play, and mixed it with a wide range of techniques including music, circus and fireworks. Comediants managed to renew the imagery of folklore and the custom of appealing to the audience.

There was also a boom in companies and creators who took the street as their venue. There were acts like La Cubana and La Fura dels Baus, pioneers of a way of relating to public spaces and audiences, and creators like Carles Santos and Albert Vidal, geniuses of performance who filled festival works with an ironic and political discourse.

In 1981, Tàrrega town council commissioned Comediants to create the Fira de Teatre al Carrer. This now draws some 147,000 spectators each year. Other festivals, like Al Carrer (Viladecans), La Fira Mediterrània in Manresa, and Festus in Torelló, appeared over the following decades. Other companies came into being including Sémola Teatre, Xarxa Teatre, Sarruga, Artristras, and, recently, Obskené, Fadunito, and Insectotròpics. There are currently over seventy active street theatre companies in Catalonia.

The circus also underwent a marked renewal during the 1970s with the appearance of groups like La Tràgica or the Circ Cric with Tortell Poltrona. Other companies, like Los Galindos, the Germans Totó or Petit Circ de Carrer, also came into being and festivals dedicated to the circus arts soon began to appear. These included one in La Bisbal, the International Clown Festival of Cornellà, and the Trapezi festival in Reus. Despite the lack of resources, schools and organisations were also born, such as the Rogelio Rivel Circus School, the Ateneu Popular 9 Barris, or, in 2004, the Association of Circus Professionals of Catalonia. The ACPC is an independent private entity whose purpose is to promote the circus in the country’s cultural, social and economic life.

Moreover, in 2008 the Catalan administration began the First Integral Plan for the Circus to discover the needs of the sector and promote its growth. Despite this, there is still a shortage of venues and, according to the circus schools, a need for greater public and private financing.

In 2015, the Street Arts Platform was born. Its aim was to bring all the street theatre festivals, fairs and shows together under one umbrella organisation. However, Catalonia still lacks a good exhibition circuit and the festivals have ended up taking on the role that the theatre schools should fulfil.

Jordi Aspar & Bet Miralta

— Founder and Artists, Escarlata Circus

What are the most important challenges for circus / street arts in your country, particularly when it comes to marketing and audience development?
"When the circus or street arts place themselves in the service of capitalism and play the same commercial games, they lose their meaning and function. Shaking up public spaces, taking poetry to the street, and remembering for once that the street is not only a place to consume, we can also find food for our souls and minds. In short, these are political acts, like all events humans produce. The important thing is the act of sharing and participating in the street spontaneously, and finding other meanings to our presence as human beings."

Photo: Josep Guindo