The transformational role of theater in “Cultivating the Square”
Matthew Feinberg and Susan Larson’s article “Cultivating the Square: Trash, Recycling and the Cultural Ecology of Post-Crisis Madrid” takes two specific examples of such “cultivation” into account: “Ésta es una plaza” and “El campo de cebada”. In citing the activities taking place in both of these re-claimed and re-defined urban spaces, theater is highlighted by the authors as an example of the culture these spaces are developing (and which is simultaneously developing them). Both of these spaces have welcomed microteatro and other theatrical productions that transform the space temporarily into a theater. Because of the unique spatial, material, and social interactions that define it, theater is an essential aspect of the cultural practices found in these transformed spaces.
If we consider the theater as a space, a space which Foucault ventured to call a heterotope because of its unique properties, it is multiple in its own definition. Although essentially all spaces, as envisioned by human geographers, are necessarily multiple due to the multiplicity of human experiences within them, a theater is designated as a transformation of space into anything the imagination can create. The practice of theater in the two cited spaces in Madrid seems an appropriate activity in a space that is calling to be redefined. Although not necessarily intended as a stage, the space that is occupied by a theatrical performance becomes transformed in a similar fashion by the collective imaginary of the actors and their audience. The space is seen and treated differently and thus is opened up to multiple possibilities for the spatial interactions that take place. If an abandoned concrete area can be re-envisioned as the set of Don Juan Tenorio, it can be transformed into innumerable other spaces as well when its human spatial practitioners designate it as such.
If theater is capable of transforming space, it can also transform objects. In any given play, a broom turns into a tree, a chair into a horse, a blanket into a king’s robe. In the case of the “trash” referred to by Pardo in the article, theater can adopt most any discarded object that has been considered unusable or nonfunctional and temporarily assign it new meaning. As with the space in question, theatrical uses of the objects in question open the door to new possibilities for further creativity. While the old broom may not have a function after the play is over, the public has seen it as other than what it appeared to be before the performance, and therefor may realize the creative potential that the object has when re-appropriated by certain cultural practices. Theater is capable of seeing “trash” as infinite possibility and facilitates a reconceptualization of the discarded material.
The reconceptualization and re-appropriation of these spaces and objects that theater facilitates evidently necessitates the participation of a public who is willing to enter into the proposed imaginary world and suspend their disbelief, thereby agreeing to see the concrete slab as the house of Don Juan. Theater thus connects the “non-place” and “trash” with the residents of the area who are ultimately responsible for the proposed change. The rehearsal is not only theatrical in its most literal sense; it is an active practicing of social/spatial interactions that will ultimately determine the identity and newfound function of these two spaces in Madrid and foster a society with a new and innovative collective spatial imaginary.