The Spanish Civil War is burned into Spains collective memory perhaps their greatest scar, and it has created a permanent effect on their languages, art, literature, and theater. The theater in Spain at the time was used as a vehicle for change, and the contemporary theater that depicts it shows that just as it was used for change then, it is used to encourage change and healing today.
In the 1930s, Spain was a country in turmoil. Unrest between the divided elite and working classes and the devastation that the Great Depression wreaked on Spains existing economic problems meant that the people were desperate for change. In 1936, Spains socialist party won a narrow victory against the nationalist party, and they immediately put their plans for reform into effect. They sought to secularize the government, create labor unions, and enact other reforms that threatened the wealthy elite that had been in power for so long. The widespread violence that resulted from the nationalists attempt to seize power back from the republicans is now known as the Spanish Civil War.
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Much of the war was fought not with weapons, but with propaganda. Both the republicans, also known as the Popular Front, and the nationalists used education and the arts in their cultural crusades in order to justify their respective ideologies. A key weapon in this fight to win over the populace was theater. Seeing its importance and efficacy in conveying messages to the people, both sides went as far as to establish official organizations to create and circulate their brand of cultural instruction (Parker 215). On the left, the Alianza de Intelectuales Antifacistas (alliance of antifascist intellectuals) created several groups: Nueva Escena, Teatro de
Arte, y Propaganda, and Guerrillas Teatrales. On the right, the nationalists had the Junta Nacional de Teatros y Conciertos (national committee of theatres and concerts). Both sides wrote essays explaining the roles of the theater in their respective ideologies, and while the right thought restoring Spanish theater to the days of autos sacramentales and mystery plays would best serve their mission, the left wanted to purge the bourgeois plays thathad dominated Spanish stages, and instead return the stage to the masses with avant garde political plays (Parker 215).
Reaching into the theatrical roots of Spain has propagandistic power, and both the left and right sought to claim cultural images to prove their dominance as the true essence of Spain (Parker 216). Nationalist playwright Gimenez Caballero likened the goals of theatre to a bullfight:a series of symbols that inherently lead the spectator to the absolute truth of the divine (Parker 219). Incredibly, the companies of both sides performed several of the same Golden Age plays in order to convey their discordant messages.
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