By Paul Bedard
Learn more about our 10 year commemoration here
¡Olé! was a labor of love and pain and obsession. It explores the role of the artist, the spirit, shame, responsibility, and, ultimately, death. Personally, the piece is yet one more place for me to ask questions about my art, whether I make it to move forward or to hide; questions about love and sex, whether it’s good and worthy of some sort of “pride”; and questions about the places that made me, whether “American” or “New Yorker” really mean anything, and if I have a responsibility to these places. Should we, like poet Federico García Lorca believed, create art to confront our fears, love with proud intensity, and stay true to our homes, life or death? Or should we, as painter Salvador Dalí believed, strive to free ourselves from perceived responsibilities and constraints, create art to assist others doing the same, and seek to lead people towards complete “social emancipation”?
Dalí and Lorca’s story has long obsessed and troubled me. In making the show, we sought to chronicle their meeting, their semi-secret affair, and the years-long correspondence they kept, debating art and love and Spain and death. When Francisco Franco rose to power and Spain descended into war, it was clear that socialists and homosexuals like Lorca were not safe in Spain. Dalí, already making a splash in Paris, pleaded with Lorca to flee to Paris—or anywhere—and write in safety. But Lorca stayed.
Lorca spoke and wrote frequently during his life of “el duende,” a sort of life-force animated in those who, like the bullfighter or the flamenco dancer, bravely stare down and face what may kill them. After a brief stint in the United States, he returned—despite knowing Spain was unsafe for him—to his native Granada, where Franco’s forces could easily find him. There’s no doubt in my mind that Federico García Lorca knew what he was doing and what would happen. On August 19, 1936, he was assassinated. His body was never found.
Salvador Dalí survived. He moved around, fleeing Europe entirely when war swept the continent soon after Lorca’s death. Dalí’s career was long and notorious. His melting clocks and iconic moustache can be found on t-shirts and mugs around the world. He did what he had to and survived. He went where he could work, shot commercials for chocolate bars and Alka-Seltzer, denied the more controversial aspects of his life, and leaned into a popular eccentricity. All of this made his career and influence possible.
I wonder all the time, do I owe something to the United States or to New York, even as I rail against their oppressive systems and structures that make art so constrained and a dignified life impossible for so many? What aspects of my life still lie beyond reach because I’m not willing to face what frightens me, what may kill me? What aspects of my love still lie beyond reach for reasons of my own shame? I’m asking these questions all over again as our nation convulses with pain and death, incited by forces old and new. Withstand it? Fight the good fight within it? Or flee? Repress? Survive? Try to go somewhere else, somewhere with better support for the arts and for people? Make my work in struggle or in peace?
Creating, producing, and touring ¡Olé! was an incredible experience. It started with a visit Katie and I made to Spain in 2011. After a year of obsessing, researching, and writing, we had the opportunity to produce the piece with the support of a residency in New York before touring it to Hartford, Chicago, Rochester, and Prague.
We’ve remounted ¡Olé! more times than any of our other productions, giving me –– and I hope others –– the chance to ask all these questions again and again, in different places and at different times. Ten years into Theater in Asylum and seven years since ¡Olé!’s first staging, I’m as stuck as ever on these questions.
I’ll leave you with a final thought from that survivor Dalí: “The personality of Federico Garcia Lorca produced an immense impression on me. The poetic phenomenon presented itself before me suddenly in flesh and bone, confused, blood-red, vicious and sublime, quivering with a thousand fires of darkness. When I felt the incendiary and communicative fire of the poetry of the great Federico rise in wild, disheveled flames, I tried to beat them down, while already preparing the grill on which, when the day came, when only glowing embers remained of Lorca’s initial fire, I would come and fry the mushrooms, the chops and the sardines of my thought…”
Theater in Asylum (TIA) is a New York-based theater company founded in 2010 to joyfully pursues a theater of learning, empathy, and growth. With rigorous research and an ensemble-driven approach, we create performances to investigate our past, interpret our present, and imagine our future. We strive to offer space to question, space to process –asylum– for theater and conversation that challenges and empowers ourselves and our community.
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