Published on January 7, 2015
The history of theatre in Spain encompasses a great span of time and genres starting from the religious plays of Medieval Iberia to the edgy productions of contemporary Spain.
The Golden Age of Spanish theatre took place between the 16th and 17th centuries. This period was marked by the impressive number of plays written and produced-- around 30,000 plays had been written by 1700. After Spain victoriously ended the seven-century war with the Moors, the reigning monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella united the whole of Spain and established the infamous Inquisition to secure Roman Catholicism in the country. This greatly influenced the direction of the arts in Spain, as themes of Catholic faith and doctrine were predominant in both visual and theatrical arts.
Unlike in neighboring England and France, every major city in Spain had its own local theatre companies. Dramas were extremely popular among the public, and actors were worshipped and followed. The theatre was a place where people could escape their reality and plunge themselves into the fictional world created by playwrights. In spite of being well-loved by the crowds, most theatre companies were small, poor traveling groups consisting of three or four actors playing multiple roles. They used solely benches, boards, and curtains to set up a stage wherever they went. The more established theatre companies performed at the so-called “corrales,” which were essentially the courtyards of religious organizations.
The Spanish audience had a lot of power in the theatre; the group of especially avid theatre lovers, called the “mosqueteros,” could stop the whole play in the middle of the performance if they didn’t like it. To please such a demanding audience, theatre companies spent a lot of money on luxurious clothes and props. Moreover, they had to produce as many new plays as they could, as the Spanish playgoers refused to watch repeats.
One of the most well-known and productive dramatists of the Golden Age was Lope de Vega, who wrote over 2,000 plays throughout his life-- 470 of which made it to the stage. Lope ignored the classical rules of drama. His plays were usually 2.5 hours long and presented a blend of tragic and comic elements, as is typical of romantic dramas. Lope’s writing versatility enabled him to cover a great variety of issues, from the themes of passion and love in “dramas of the cloak and sword” to the theme of honor in his plays about historical figures.
Another famous Spanish playwright of that time was Calderón de la Barca, who was especially remarkable for his works of tragedy. Considered a theatre prodigy during his youth, Calderón quickly become a highly demanded dramatist for the royal courts and the Church. His plots were very exciting and interesting for the audience, thanks to the amazing adventures and challenges through which he put his brave sword-and-cloak characters. Though most dramas included supernatural elements, Calderón managed to keep his works thoroughly Catholic and appropriate to the royal court’s audience.
The first physical theatre was built in Madrid in 1607 under the influence of the Italian theatre. The capital continues to house the vast majority of theatres in the country. Among them are Teatro de Zarzuela, Teatro Español, Teatro de la Comedia, Centro Dramático Nacional, Teatro María Guerrero, Centro de Nueva Tendencias Escénicas, and the Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico. Both classical and contemporary dramas are popular in Spain today. Experimental and foreign plays are warmly welcomed in this country as well. Summer is definitely a great theatre season, as you can enjoy watching plays not only indoors, but also outdoors. Some cities also offer such unique experiences as “supper theatres” in restaurants.
Besides classical and contemporary dramas, operas are also very popular. Spain gave the world such incredible voices as Victoria de los Angeles, Teresa Berganza, Montserrat Caballé, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Alfredo Kraus. The Teatro Real in Madrid is a major opera house in Spain. Ever since its inauguration by Queen Isabel II in 1850, it has undergone numerous reconstructions as well as name changes. However, by the 19th century, this theatre had gained a reputation as one of the best opera houses in Europe and had become famous for staging operas by Verdi and Wagner.
If you are pursuing an academic degree in Theatre studies or looking into a career in creative industries, you should come to Madrid. Here you will find a wide array of theatres offering all kinds of experiences, from small outdoor productions to classical operas. Free sponsored plays are offered throughout Spain during the summers, so we recommend that you check them out from May to August to get the best out of your time there. There also plenty of other opportunities in the theatre industry, including public relations and art journalism. No matter what kind of experience you are looking for, you will definitely enjoy it to the fullest in the capital of sunny Spain!
Apply now for the chance to intern in the theatre industry with some of our top partner companies! Gain valuable work experience while also discovering the beautiful city of Madrid.