Meeting Spanish Playwrights: The 2021 AAT Playwrights and Translators Meeting

During the second week of December 2021, UK-based translators and OOTW colleagues Kate Eaton and Rachel Toogood, following an invitation from the Asociación de Autores de Teatro (AAT, the Spanish playwrights association), participated in the ‘Encuentro de dramaturgos con traductores’.  This annual event, which has grown in scope since its inception and has taken place online during the pandemic, is a chance for playwrights from Spain to meet translators from a variety of countries.  Here, Kate and Rachel tell us about their experience and the playwrights they met.

This year there were translators from France, Italy, China, and Romania as well as from the UK. Owing to the continuing pandemic, the meetings were virtual, each of us, in our respective dwellings, hosted a busy ‘at home’ whereby we welcomed what amounted to a small auditorium’s worth of playwrights into our living rooms for some international playwright/translator ‘speed-dating’.

This was the first attendance at the event for both of us. Although the pandemic inevitably formed the backdrop to the encounters, it did not (with one exception) inform the subject-matter of any of the plays. During the course of the week we met between us over 30 playwrights (there was some overlap) and in preparation, we read over 50 plays. As in previous years, the pieces covered a wide range of themes and the playwrights themselves ranged from first time writers to ‘old-timers’ with many plays under their belts. Some had previous experience of being translated, some did not, but the resulting conversations between playwrights and translators were rewarding and illuminating.

We would love, of course, to be able translate all the plays ourselves.  As there are only two of us, however, and the plays are many, we are writing this blog to share the names of the playwrights (along with a brief synopsis of each play submitted) for the benefit of our fellow translators – to each play their translator and to each translator their play!

As in previous years, the playwrights were allowed to submit only one play for consideration for the event. In order for colleagues to get an overview of each writer, we have, where relevant, provided links to the playwrights’ own websites or other media such as the platform Contexto Teatral. There is also a link to the play and writer directory on the Spanish Association of Playwrights website here:

If you are interested in connecting with any of the playwrights that we have met, please contact Kate and Rachel via kteaton364[at]gmail[dot]com and rachel.l.toogood[at]gmail[dot]com and we will put you in touch with the writer in question to further your conversation.

The following list is of the writers we met in alphabetical order:

Laura Aparicio: Al otro lado… Hambre, Papel, Tijera. Two women sit on opposite sides of a table in a small room. One is a scientist conducting trials of a new drug, designed to assist those with traumatic memory loss. The other woman, her subject, is there, not exactly of her own volition, but because the continuing receipt of her welfare benefits depends upon it. This play explores the role of memory in constructing identity, the space that women inhabit (or are allowed to inhabit) in the workplace, in society and at home, and the way that their stories and their bodies are often erased and pathologized by others and by themselves.

Eugenio Asensio: Nadie se acuerda ya de ti is a pleasingly off-kilter comedy that takes place within the confines of a secondary school. A teacher has been suspended from her teaching duties and sent to work in the school library. She is replaced by a substitute teacher with little teaching experience. A complicity grows between the two women, and the substitute teacher decides to fight her new friend’s corner and have her reinstated. Other members of staff are reticent about revealing the real reasons behind the suspension and it is unclear until the end of the play just who is telling the truth and who is a dangerous fantasist.

Jorge Aznar: Set in Germany in 2014, La mejor de las suertes is the story of Nasser, a Syrian refugee and Otto, a privileged German who lives with his parents and neither works nor studies but lives the high life. After a one-night stand between the two men, they meet again at the refugee camp that Otto has decided to volunteer in. They soon realise that they have more in common than they first realised, and their feelings grow stronger. Reminiscent of Cordelia Lynn’s One For Sorrow, the play examines the reaction of an ostensibly liberal middle-class family’s reaction to taking in a refugee from the Middle East.

Manuel Benito: Based on a largely unknown true story, Un cadáver exquisito is a laugh-out-loud black comedy about two men, a Pole and a Bulgarian, who steal Charlie Chaplin’s body after his death and demand a ransom from his widow Oona. Based in Switzerland and herself an immigrant, Oona refuses to cooperate with the Swiss police, who want to make an example of the body snatchers to the rest of the immigrant population.

Javier del Barrio: El hijo de Bean Nighe. Winner of the XXVII Concurso de textos teatrales dirigidos a público infantil, Javier del Barrio’s tender play for children is clearly inspired by the author’s family links to Scotland. Set in a Scottish coastal town, six-year-old Angus is haunted by the figure of Bean Nighe, the female spirit in Scottish folklore regarded as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld, whom he encounters in the woods as she washes clothes on the banks of the river.

Translator Kate Eaton in rehearsals at the Out of the Wings festival (Photo: Terry Cripps)

Ana Díaz Velasco: Mareas muertas. Every neap tide on the shores of a fishing village on the Galician coast, the dead come back to the land from the sea to seek vengeance upon the living. One such ghost is Ezequiel, drowned in a shipwreck sixteen years earlier, whose widow Teresa is now married to the man Ezequiel blames for his death and who is also the adoptive father to their son Julian. Ultimately it is Julian who is lost in the gravitational pull between the living and the drowned, as, Hamlet-like, he seeks to avenge his father’s death.

Maruxa Duart: Utopía. A collection of 15 plays for children. Maruxa Duart includes a variety of plays in her collection, including Lobo y Mendigo, a modern-day classic story, told in the style of a fable. And Wael y las Estrellas, in which a troubadour tells the story of Wael and his journey of escape from the war in Syria. The collection includes plays for both young children, but also young people of an older age range.

Mátame is a dark comedy by long-time Catalan playwright and performer Manel Dueso which traces the story of a pact between a man who runs a bar and is tired of living (but afraid of killing himself) and an old associate of his, a convicted murderer, recently released from prison, with a longing to be re-institutionalised. Added into the mix are the wife of the bar-owner who is a former prostitute and semi-talented chanteuse and their precocious, dance-obsessed daughter, who, although possibly deluded about her true ability, dreams of going to the USA to dance for ‘the president of New York,’

Victoria Enguídanos: Dependencias. In this hard-hitting three-hander we see women depicted in their 20s, 30s and 40s, all suffering from the pressures of modern day society – to be thinner, have the perfect partner, home, and life. We see the toxic relationships the women have with food, drugs, work, and abusive relationships and how they are dependent on each other and these addictions in equal parts. Described by Enguídanos as the play she wishes she had seen when she was 15, Dependencias has been widely performed in schools both in Spain and Latin America.

José Ramón Fernández: La colmena científica. Multi-award-winning playwright José Ramón Fernández brings us this epic historical drama commissioned by the Teatro Nacional to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Residencia de Estudiantes. The play features famous residents such as Juan Negrín, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Severo Ochoa and José Moreno Villa and foregrounds the coexistence of the arts and science, of dialogue and tolerance.  http://www.españ

This absurdist and experimental first play by Juan Fleta, En Rusia no hay cucarachas, explores issues around migration and xenophobia from the perspective of a couple of alarmed cockroaches dwelling timorously in a basement, eager to protect their environment and fearful of encroachment from the outside world.

Translator Rachel Toogood

Paco Gámez: Katana.  At the turn of the millennium an adolescent slays his whole family with a Japanese sword. Some years later the young man has been released from prison and is seemingly rehabilitated and living a normal life. A playwright, living somewhat precariously with his partner and young baby, seeks to interview the young man and write a play about what motivated this horrific crime. The boundaries between fact and fiction start to blur and as the playwright slips further into the darkness, he starts to question his own identity.

Elena González-Vallinas: Contenedores de penas y otros residuos útiles e inútiles is an expressionistic and poetic piece from a writer with a highly original voice. The play deals with the devastating trauma of sexual abuse within a family and the havoc caused by the inability to confront the truth by those closest to both perpetrator and victim.

Juan Pablo Heras: Inspired by Catcher in the Rye, the award winning Juan Pablo Hera’s play «La Verdad»* follows Acuña as he meanders across Madrid in search of the truth. Earlier in the evening his roommate Sánchez asks him to disappear for the night so that he can invite a girl over. But after returning to his room to retrieve something he has forgotten Acuña hears the girl saying ‘no’ to Sánchez. In attempt to find out what is happening he knocks on the door, but Sánchez reassures him that everything is OK and Acuña leaves. His meanderings prompt him to search for what really happened that evening.

*Please note that «La Verdad» has already been translated into English, but translators who would like to connect with Juan Pablo about translating this play into other languages or find out more about his other work are still welcome to contact us.

Markel Hernández’s thoughtful, haunting and at times comedically surreal play Vivir de Alquiler examines the destructive effect that economic precarity, inter-generational silence and an inability to confront reality has on a family, a house, and a nation.

Valle Hidalgo: Dulcinea toma la palabra.  The fair Dulcinea Del Toboso is tired of being merely a figment of Don Quijote’s imagination and takes Cervantes to task for giving her not one word to say in his whole darn book. In this diverting monologue, aided and abetted by her antagonist Aldonza Lorenzo, Dulcinea takes centre stage and silent no longer gives her own side of the story. Valle Hidalgo has successfully performed this one woman show worldwide. Both she, and Dulcinea are keen for the play to be translated into English – Dulcinea potentially has a lot to say on the subject of translation…!

Víctor Iriarte: Budapest: un silencio atronador. In this prize-winning play (Premio Lope de Vega 2019) veteran playwright Victor Iriarte takes the long-suppressed story of Spanish Diplomat Ángel Sanz Briz (who during the closing years of the Second World War was instrumental in saving thousands of Jews in Hungary from transportation to the Nazi death camps) and turns it into a piece of epic theatre. The play and the critical essays that accompany it are surely important additions to the annals of Holocaust literature and as such ripe for translation.

Jorge Jimeno trained originally as an engineer but discovered theatre in 2000 and has since worked as an actor, director and producer, but primarily a writer. Cumbre mundial is an absurd comedy that seeks to address the existence of poverty in contemporary society. The writer’s experience of working in developing countries is clear in this play that portrays a meeting of UN representatives from rich countries, poor countries and civil society. Their meeting takes an unexpected turn when an anti-establishment activist masquerading as a waitress interrupts their humanitarian planning.

Experienced screenwriter and author Eugenia Kleber only turned to playwriting in 2017. Since then she has written a number of plays including Carne de tu carne, a powerful piece that explores the impact of a terrible crime committed by an adolescent (now imprisoned) on those around him. The play does not seek to apply a motive or to explain to the audience exactly what has happened but instead charts the devastated emotional landscapes of two women, previously friends, both of whom have suffered an unimaginable loss.

Javier Liñera: After more than 20 years on stage as an actor, award winning Javier Liñera turned to writing. Yo no quiero ser Sylvia Rivera deals with Sylvia Rivera’s journey to seek justice for the death of her fellow LGBT and transgender rights activist Marsha P Johnson. Written as a lyrical homage to both women, the text reads like a song scattered with magical realism of glittering carp that rise up from the Hudson and turn into ballroom divas during Pride in Rome.

Juan Luis Mira: Maquillando cadáveres.  This deft chamber piece for 3 actors interrogates the dynamic between power and art and the compromises an artist has to make in order to earn a crust. Leonardo Da Vinci is summoned to the Vatican Palace after the untimely death by poisoning of Pope Alexander VI. He is offered a princely sum to do a superlative mortician’s job on the dead Borgia Pope’s hideously swollen features. Whether his artistic scruples will allow him to accept this unique assignment or not is the grist of the play.

Pedro Montalbán Kroebel: Inspired by the three metamorphoses of the spirit in Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra, Un inocente decir sí is a play about two couples striving to free themselves from the daily grind and their petit bourgeoise lives. In an attempt to liberate themselves they travel to Africa to build an orphanage. What transpires is a road to self-discovery which surprises them all.

Antonio César Morón: Teatro de alarma.  This play was written during the first (very strict) lockdown in Spain when theatres were closed, actors were unemployed, and the world was being turned upside down. Although written to the situation in Spain at the time, the playwright envisages that, if translated, it could be tweaked to reflect the domestic situation in the translator’s target country. The play is part of a series that deals with states of alarm and crisis.

Miguel Palacios: El hombre del saco is an exuberantly anarchic black comedy that takes place in a sinister shadowy world (floating somewhere between the ancient and the modern) of state-sponsored terrorism, compromised artists, restricted press freedoms and dubious goings-on. The play had its beginnings when the author was part of a residency at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 1998 and was first performed in Spain in 2000. It speaks equally well to our own beleaguered times.

Julio Provencio: And breathe normally. Julio Provencio is a playwright, director, producer and arts manager. Written in response to the Brussels airport and Paris Bataclan terrorist attacks, this thoughtful play is presented in one voice that carries you through the protagonist’s journey as he returns home to Madrid from Paris the day after the Brussels attacks.

Nieves Rodríguez Rodríguez: Aquí duermen ciervos. Nieves Rodríguez Rodríguez is a playwright and researcher with the Txanka Kua theatre company. Aquí duermen ciervos is a contemporary poetic play that brings together different points of view and languages to confront the current political and humanitarian crisis of European immigration. With an abundance of beautiful imagery this piece presents the crisis through the eyes of a child, the eyes of their parents and social media. The written text is interspersed with beautiful illustrations and pictorial content.

Juanma Romero Gárriz: Playwright, screenwriter and director Juanma Romero Gárriz founded the Vuelta de Tuerca company in 2003. El fuego amigo is written in a singular unique voice and recounts the murder of Spanish cameraman José Couso by U.S. fire after a U.S. tank fired at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad during the 2003 Iraq invasion. Written in verse in a lyrical poetic style it is an evocative tribute to the war correspondent’s death.

Rafael Ruiz Pleguezuelos: Saturno en agosto. It’s 1986 and 23 years after Sylvia Plath committed suicide. César Descalzo, a writer whose fame comes largely through being one of Sylvia Plath’s lovers, is visited by Professor Bright, a Plath specialist. César thinks that the professor has come to see the letters between him and Plath first-hand, but nobody is prepared for the real reason of Bright’s visit. Saturno en agosto by award winning playwright Rafael Ruiz Pleguezuelos takes a series of unexpected twists and turns that leave you absorbed from start to finish.

Xabier Suárez de Lema: Afuera están los perros.  A famous actress in her 60s prepares for a live television interview. She reflects on a career which has been lived in the public gaze and a private life that has been kept firmly under wraps. When she discovers through a friend, that a radical right-wing political group is planning to out her as a lesbian during the live TV interview she has to decide how she will react.

Carlos Zamarriego has written a poetic and playful piece Anoche soñé que me soñabas that takes the audience on a journey from the wakeful darkness of the theatre into the sensory darkness of the sleeping/dream world. Who controls our dreams, our memories? Who writes/rewrites our past or our future? What really happens when we’re sleeping? Can we invade each other’s dreams? How can we translate ourselves between the waking and sleeping world and into a better state of being? At times reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (but with memories being enhanced rather than erased) this is a thought-provoking and original play.

Antonio Zancada: Set across the span of 22 years, Estúpida by award winning playwright Antonio Zancada recounts the story of Cristina, her mother Basilia, and her best friend Estefanía. After being jilted at the altar by Desiderio and discovering that he has run away with Estefanía, Cristina spends the next 20 years in her family’s shop still dressed in her wedding dress, waiting. Award winning playwright Antonio Zancada’s play picks apart the complex character of Cristina in an original and unique play.

At Out of the Wings we are always keen to meet playwrights and their translators.  All are welcome at our monthly play-reading sessions and we host events throughout the year to promote theatre from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds.  To stay in touch with us, join our mailing list or follow us on social media here

Update 09 02 2022:  please note that this summary is not a funded call-out.  Translators who are interested in translating any of these plays will need to discuss and explore payment, and possible funding opportunities, directly with their writers, before making decisions about whether to commit to a collaboration.