The Sala Beckett and the Zero Degree of Theatricality: From Lluïsa Cunillé to Carles Batlle




Students who have attended the seminars and workshops habitually offered by José Sanchis Sinisterra (b. 1940) at the Sala Beckett, Barcelona's preeminent experimental theatre laboratory, frequently recall with enthusiasm an exercise in which they are encouraged to contemplate what is know in Catalan as el grau zero de la teatralitat (the zero degree of theatricality). According to the exercise, Sanchis asks one of his students to remain on an empty stage, ostensibly without performing, virtually doing nothing. Then, at the conclusion of fifteen minutes, he asks the other students to analyse what they have observed. The exercise consistently engenders surprising results in terms of the extensive list of features and gestures that the students are able to perceive, for it compels them to contemplate the powerful "zero degree', or limits, of theatricality that are signified through the mere presence of the actor within a bare space, a performance stripped down to its minimal quintessence. Viewed through the lens of what has been a nearly twenty-year history of pedagogical and creative endeavous at the Beckett, Sanchis's exercise may be taken as a parable of minimalism that alludes to the theatre of the legendary Irish playwright who gladly lent his name to the sala, yet it is also a reflection of a predominant attitude that has informed the work of many of those actors, directors, designers, composers, dancers and playwrights who have had a relationship with this locale. An aesthetic based upon the axiom menys és més (less is more) has permeated the walls of the Beckett, evident in its programming of contemporary drama, its seminars, and even its logotype. It is a setting in which reisk, experimentation and pedagogy are emphasized over commercialism and frivolity; and where subtlety and discreetness are given precedence over hyperbole and excess.

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Copyright © 2007 Taylor & Francis Group. This article first appeared in Contemporary Theatre Review 17, no. 3 (2007): 370-84. doi:10.1080/10486800701405842.

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