Carme Portaceli

New head of the Catalan National Theatre (TNC)

“The TNC must be a gateway for Catalan theatre”

“We want to be accessible to artists but also to the public” “Our role is to provide confidence, enthusiasm and hope”

The TNC recently appointed Portaceli as the new artistic director of Catalonia’s National Theatre for the 2021-2027 period. She will join the theatre as a programmer in September and is excited to take up the post after being in the running for it eight years ago. She will take over from Xavier Albertí, who is still responsible for the 2020/21 programming. Portaceli, a committed and stubborn director (as she likes to call herself) is the first woman to head the TNC (as she was at the Teatro Español in Madrid). However, she points out that this distinction should not distract from a career that began in 1982 as assistant director to Fabià Puigserver. Her aim is to maintain and expand the community of artists and audiences and to turn the TNC into the gateway for the internationalisation of young contemporary dramatists and directors. Despite the current health crisis, she aspires to lead a significant emergence of Catalan theatre in Europe.

As a pillar of Catalan theatre, what can the TNC do in the current Covid crisis?
It must be open to the community in the face of a health, professional and economic crisis, especially for an entertainment profession that has lacked security for years. The current conditions are treacherous. Public theatre seems to be the only one that can survive if this situation goes on for much longer. Yet, I trust it will be short-lived. Hospitality will be one of my main lines of conduct. We want to be accessible to artists but also to the public. I don’t want to lose a single one of the spectators that Xavier Albertí has managed to attract. This shortened season ended with 84% attendance, which is an extraordinary figure that I don’t want to decrease.
What is the role of a national public theatre?
According to the TNC’s programme contract with the culture department, it must seek excellence, bring the performing arts closer to the people and give value to the artistic activity of the sector. When I agreed to take over the Teatro Español in Madrid, attendance was 28%. The works put on were undisputed classics but they did not attract enough audience. I left with a 78-80% attendance rate. I did it by bringing the stage proposals closer to the audience. In five months, and giving many women a chance, I turned things around. Incidentally, this served to contradict the thesis that women do not contribute to the public. We need to be a mirror of who we are, and we can take advantage of the fact that we have authors and directors of real talent.
How does the Teatro Español compare to the TNC?
The budget of the Teatro Español, which is Madrid’s municipal theatre, is not in line with its importance. It really is unthinkable in any country in Europe. One of its few advantages, in economic terms, is that the box office revenue stays in the institution to be reinvested in future programming. But more than economic value, what matters in a public theatre is the social impact. We can’t lose a single member of the TNC’s audience and at the same time we must open ourselves to an even more diverse audience in terms of age, ethnicity, gender and class.
Companies have resurfaced since the 2008 crisis. What’s their role in the TNC?
They need to be there regularly in residences. And we will also help them with both financial and artistic resources so that they can grow.
What about providing research grants, such as those from the Carulla Foundation or the BBVA, as a solution to the crisis in the coming months?
For now, we have no plans for that but we will always have channels to ensure we can put on theatre and strengthen the community. In the face of this virus or others that may come, we must be prepared to work with other media or formats. This is a situation that we are already talking about with other European associates, rethinking the role that public theatres should play. Our role is to provide confidence, enthusiasm and hope through culture. We need to put fundamental issues on the table, so that the theatre is a meeting place. If it can’t be face-to-face, we’ll look for another way. But being there is very important.
Radio theatre productions are also now resurfacing, for example.
We will do whatever is needed to keep the theatre and the community active. We will also propose some actions that can be taken if, when the time comes, theatres have to be closed again. As Lorca put it, “theatre must reach every corner”.
What would you say about the TNC’s long-awaited international connection? It’s always dreamt of but almost always postponed.
We will activate it in my first season. There are currently five countries in southern Europe and Brussels in this international project. On the day I was appointed, the Belgian institution, the KVS theatre, announced “future collaborations with the TNC”. We will start like this. Because if there were a lot more players it would be very difficult to agree at first. It will have basic guidelines that will allow for promoting new work in a coordinated way. And we will lead it from the TNC. There are four international projects, as well as permanent agreements.
The TNC has three rooms but can also put on pieces in conjunction with other institutions.
The TNC must be a gateway to the world, a place of entry and exit to allow new artists to come and also access other parts of the city or other municipalities so as to reach the public. Both new audiences and artists need to understand that the TNC is their home.
Have you arrived to manage the TNC at a good time?
I understand from the media that I’m the first woman to become the artistic director of the TNC. I was also the first woman at the Español. But keep in mind that I have a long history and my patience and stubbornness have ended up winning. In theatre (as in many other fields) women find it a little more difficult than men.
What about your other work, the TNC demands exclusivity?
When you enter a contest you don’t know if you’ll win it or not. It is advisable not to stop your artistic life even if you aspire to a position. I had a handful of projects going on but I’m only keeping two [one of these is international] for the coming season because the producers wouldn’t have had time to find a replacement. They are talking to the TNC to see if they will allow me to see them through and they will be compensated with a pay cut.

interview theatre

A life in theatre

Carme Portaceli will become the first female director of the Catalan National Theatre when she takes over from Xavier Albertí in September 2021. A founding member of the Spanish Academy of Performing Arts, in 2005 she set up the International Stage Factory and from 2016 to 2019 was in charge of the Teatro Español in Madrid. Portaceli’s professional career in the world of the performing arts began as an assistant to Fabià Puigserver at the Teatre Lliure in 1982, for the play Splendor and Death of Joaquin Murieta by Pablo Neruda that was directed by Puigserver. As a stage director she has gone on to direct more than 70 shows.

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