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Prostíbulo Poético at Teatreneu
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Prostíbulo Poético at Teatreneu
If you happen to pass by Gràcia’s Teatreneu on a given Saturday night, you are likely to find the restaurant packed and a crowd gathering out in the street. I’ve seen various memorable shows at the Teatreneu in the past, in the larger, upstairs theatre, which is about the size of the main room at the Cinema Verdi, a good performance space for a play or musical production. I’ve also enjoyed the intimacy of the downstairs theatre space, which lends itself well to more intimate performances. On a recent Saturday night, my husband and I were invited to attend a performance there of El Prostíbulo, which has been enjoying a good run in Gràcia since last spring.
If you are familiar with Hermann Hess’s novel The Steppenwolf, it may come to mind as you cross the threshold into the dark, hushed room behind the heaving bar/restaurant located in the main entrance. This is the Magic Theatre, where anything can happen.
The impression is further reinforced by the presence of Madame Taxi, played by Sonia Barba, who is also the director of the show and of the poetry ensemble, El Prostíbulo Poético, an alternative poetry company originating in New York and installed in Barcelona six years ago by one of its New York founders, the poetess Kiely Sweatt. When Sweatt returned to New York in 2011, she passed on the directorship of the group to the highly energetic actress, writer and director Sonia Barba, who was already then a member of the troupe.
We chose our seats near the front of the room, which upon entry was dark but for the shadow of Madam Taxi and a handful of her chicos y chicas sitting still on the stage. There was a low hum of voices as the room flooded with anticipation, and in a corner, the piano player named Feroz drew us further in, as the room slowly reached capacity. Believe me when I say, being able to pull in a full house on a Saturday night for a poetry reading - indeed for any production which has been running for months, particularly in these economically distressed times - is no small task. But as the lights went up, there sat Madame Taxi in an armchair, playing to a crowd. Alongside her, a group of young women stood provocatively dressed, and a topless, long-haired man with bulging biceps—identified as Lobo—knelt on all fours beside them. Then the Madame spoke, inviting us to leave the outside world behind and indulge in the seduction of words, to listen as the stories of each prostitute unfold.
From that point on, the rhythm of the show didn’t falter. Our attention was drawn from one point of the room to another as each poetry prostitute took the stage, or occupied a space in the room, calling our attention to an ancient and nearly lost art. No one yawned or looked at their watch as Glori Hole, intimidating with his dark painted eyes and red polished nails, balanced himself precariously on a ladder while he revealed the intimacy of his capture, the depth of his hunger and his yearning for revenge. We watched as each personality was revealed. Nastia performed her striptease, Vahído cursed her absent principito, Roxy Jukebox sang to us with a powerfully seductive voice, Dante took control of the stage and shook the room to applause, and a beautiful woman called Mad begged for love and cried in isolation under a spotlight. Meanwhile, Feróz played on indifferently and the entire room listened attentively. Then it was our turn to cross the border between spectator and performer and be drawn further into the experience. And this is where El Prostíbulo becomes the Magic Theatre.
Though there is no obligation to participate, it is well recommended. After the first half of the show, where you have observed and heard each performer recite, there is a shift in the room, the space metaphorically opens up, the poets come closer and the audience is invited (for a the price of a euro a session) to choose a performer for a private reading. I sensed many people were either uncertain what was to happen next or were initially too timid to risk the invitation. Having seen the Prostíbulo Poetico perform in other venues around Barcelona, I bought a handful of tokens for me and my husband, who, like various others, was reluctant at first to take part. Slowly, people began to rise, approach a poet and ask for a reading. Clients were gently escorted by poets behind a curtain or through a stage door, to a private place where they received what has unfortunately become a nearly forgotten joy in these dry times, a private recital, the chance of being the recipient of a love poem, a story of enchantment, an intimate verse. My husband followed Roxy Jukebox through a hidden door under the stage and spent his chip on a song. “How was it?” I asked him when he returned to his seat. “Molt bé. Tenia una veu estupenda. M’ha cantat 'Cry Me a River',” he said, looking pleased with himself for taking the chance.
This is not the opera, or the cinema or Broadway. It’s cabaret and performance art; it’s poetry with pasties, collons and heart. It’s a rousing excuse to hit the theatre on a Saturday night. Performers and performances change. The poets who performed on the night we were there were the following: Dante Alarido, Glori Hole, Lobo, Mad, Nadine, Vahído and Madam Taxi. Nastia was the evenings dancer and Feróz provided the music.
Find out more about the Prostíbulo Poético and their upcoming performances on their Facebook page here.