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What the Lliure is

The Teatre Lliure in Barcelona was founded in 1976, and is one of the most renowned performing arts theatres in the country. It is currently directed by the stage director Juan Carlos Martel Bayod.
It has two venues - one in Montjuïc with one large and another small format auditorium, and the other in Gràcia, with a medium-sized auditorium. The performances presented at these venues are based on texts, ideas and proposals from various fields and theatrical languages, and are always the result of the desire to reflect reality.
The audience is a crucial part of the Lliure, and in each performance it acts as an assembly that shares individual and collective feelings, making the experience of the theatre a cultural pleasure.


The new theatre and a new company began life in the public realm on 2 December, 1976, with the première of Camí de nit, 1854, written and directed by Lluís Pasqual. It was performed in the renovated venue of the La Lleialtat consumer cooperative building in Barcelona's Gràcia district, by a theatre cooperative consisting of fifteen people with backgrounds in independent theatre, and varying degrees of experience, under the undisputed leadership of Fabià Puigserver. The central group also included Carlota Soldevila, Lluís Pasqual and Pere Planella.
Their aim was to create a stable theatre where continuous performances and the work done by the artists themselves were completely and solely responsible for the entire theatrical creative process, ranging from the design of the programme to how the audience was positioned in the theatre. The aim of the Lliure was to be a Catalan theatre "as something normal," and for this reason it was committed to the robustness of the great classical and contemporary international repertoire. However, at the same time it also offered a new way of understanding theatre, which made it accessible for its audiences and would define its style of theatre.
The "Lliure model" had a considerable impact in those years of political transition to democracy, which in the theatrical world were defined by a rapid process of professionalisation, and the struggle to achieve institutional status for previous experiences and a demand for new projects, perspectives and premises. But above all, critics and historians have emphasised the qualitative leap that the productions at the Lliure involved at a very early stage in terms of its text-based theatre, the high standards of its performances and its theatrical productions as a whole. After the first few seasons, all this meant the group had become a theatrical benchmark of the highest order.
There was a long list of performances from the first ten years of the Lliure that audiences undoubtedly committed to their imagination. But those audiences had not yet appeared in 1976. The Lliure decided to seek audiences that had yet to be invented at that time, but which were seeking theatrical initiatives they could identify with. Audiences who were able to appreciate the Lliure as an ethical and aesthetic catalyst, or perhaps even to make it their own. Indeed, the Lliure had been created within a community to provide a service for it, with the explicit motto of "an art theatre for everyone"; ultimately, the reason why it did not disappear, as so many other initiatives that took place during those years did, was because it established a synchronisation with its audience from the very beginning.
Apart from the theatre, the Lliure hosted the other performing arts: in the first two seasons it staged a dance production with Cesc Gelabert (which led to an ongoing relationship with the theatre as an associated company), a cançó recital by Maria del Mar Bonet, a collaboration with an avant-garde musical group - the Grup Instrumental Català - and a musical theatre performance (Ascenció i caiguda de la ciutat de Mahagonny) [Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny].
It was this same spirit that led to the creation of the Teatre Lliure Chamber Orchestra in 1985, with a group of soloists led by Josep Pons, which specialised in contemporary music. Today it has an extensive list of programmes, a back catalogue of recorded releases and prizes and awards, and performs the most ground-breaking music and reinterprets popular forms, while exploring the various genres of theatrical music.

The celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Teatre Lliure led to a series of reflections on the legal and organisational status that the institution needed if it was to continue to grow, as well as on the need for a new venue, after the theatre in Gràcia was found to fall short of requirements in terms of it capacity and to have limitations in terms of its theatrical technology.
At this point, the decision was taken to make the transition from a cooperative structure to a private foundation. The aim of this new legal institution was to establish a much more appropriate instrument for reaching a series of stable agreements with the local, autonomous regional and Spanish government bodies that would provide regular support for the theatre and its work. A new legal framework and a new venue for the Teatre Lliure led to two companies that were established simultaneously by a managerial team led by Fabià Puigserver, which consisted of Josep Montanyès, Carlota Soldevila, Lluís Pasqual, the architect Manuel Núñez, the lawyer Josep Maria Socias Humbert and Guillem-Jordi Graells.
The new legal instrument came into force in February 1988: it was the Teatre Lliure-Teatre Públic Foundation of Barcelona, chaired by Antoni Dalmau, and was accompanied by an architectural plan for the theatre's new home, based on the restoration of the old Arenes bullring; as well as a report outlining the characteristics of the plan for the new venue, the artistic manifesto and a highly detailed outline of its planned operations.
The content of the plan was based on ideas that were simultaneously an extension of the work that had been done since 1976, and new activities that the characteristics of the new headquarters would permit: the Lliure's own productions, co-productions, Catalan national playwriting, youth theatre, an increased number of music and dance productions, educational activities, parallel activities, documentation, publications, distribution and services for the public and professionals.
A round of interviews with the various government bodies then began, in order to invite them to join the board of trustees of the new foundation, and to provide them with information about the plan for the new theatre. The interviews bore fruit in 1989 with the incorporation of the Government of Catalonia, Barcelona City Council, Girona City Council and Barcelona Provincial Council as members of the Foundation's Board of Trustees. In the same year, the Foundation took the decision to take manage all the Teatre Lliure's work. The institution's international prestige was consolidated with its participation in the foundation of the Union of the Theatres of Europe.
The first plan, based on the restoration of the Les Arenes bullring, was rejected when the extension of the Fira de Barcelona trade fair area was planned on that location. As a result, Barcelona City Council offered the Palau de l'Agricultura as a future home for the theatre. On 24 October 1990, Barcelona City Council presented the keys to the building in a public ceremony attended by almost all the members of the Board of Trustees, and many other people associated with the theatre.
In April 1991 the architectural plan was presented with an enormous scale model, which transformed the old Palau de l’Agricultura into a theatre. This was the last public event attended by Fabià Puigserver, who died on 31 July 1991. His death came as a shock to the entire Lliure family and apart from the Theatre, to the entire world of Catalan theatre, in which he was one of the most outstanding figures. Under these circumstances, the realisation of his dream, a new venue for the Teatre Lliure, became not only a milestone in the institution's growth, but the best possible tribute that could be made to someone who had dedicated so many energies and dreams to it.
The addition of the Spanish Ministry of Culture to the Board of Trustees of the Teatre Lliure-Public Theatre Foundation of Barcelona, and its commitment to making the plan for the new home a viable one, provided a major impetus for the new project. After the death of Fabià Puigserver, Lluís Pasqual became the theatre's artistic director for one season, with Guillem-Jordi Graells and Josep Montanyès acting as his assistant directors. In 1992, Lluís Homar was appointed director of the theatre for a three-year term.

The redevelopment agreement was signed at the Palau de l'Agricultura by the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and the Environment; the Ministry of Culture; the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Catalonia; Barcelona Provincial Council; Barcelona City Council and the Teatre Lliure-Teatre Públic Foundation of Barcelona on 23 January 1995. The first stone was laid on 1 December in the same year, to mark the theatre's nineteenth anniversary, during a public event that brought together the Catalan theatrical world and the government bodies involved in the project.
The Teatre Lliure once again reaffirmed its unique status on the landscape of Catalan cultural institutions, as one of the rare examples where all government bodies are represented, albeit in an institution managed by a private foundation. Two noteworthy events also took place in 1995: the exhibition Fabià Puigserver Scénographe, at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Teatre Lliure Chamber Orchestra. Lluís Homar also continued in his post as director, for a further three years (1995-1998).
In 1997, Lluís Pasqual was appointed Commissioner for the Theatre City Project, an idea by Barcelona City Council to give overall coherence to the group of theatre venues on the mountain of Montjuïc.
The work at the Palau de l'Agricultura, which was scheduled and budgeted to last for three years, began in 1996 and lasted for nearly six years. The work was long and complicated for several reasons: it was a project which was virtually unprecedented, with great technical complexity. Furthermore, the government bodies party to the agreement did not always make their contributions according to the agreed schedule, and in addition to all those factors, one of the construction companies involved experienced serious problems. In spite of all these adversities, the enthusiasm and energy of the project's management team, led by Josep Montanyès, succeeded in overcoming the difficulties.
After Lluís Homar's second term as director of the Teatre Lliure, Guillem-Jordi Graells and Lluís Pasqual became joint directors until 2000. Josep Montanyès subsequently took over as director, and was entrusted with the inauguration of the new facilities. In the spring of 2001, an agreement was reached on the programme agreement for the next five years between the government bodies and the Teatre Lliure-Public Theatre Foundation of Barcelona. This included the general areas of programming and work, and at the same time, established the annual contributions to be made by Barcelona City Council, Barcelona Provincial Council, the Catalan Ministry of Culture and the Spanish Ministry of Culture.

The refurbishment of the Palau de l'Agricultura involved the creation of two new auditoriums: the Teatre Fabià Puigserver with a capacity of almost 800 spectators, and the Espai Lliure, with a capacity of around 200 spectators.
The Teatre Fabià Puigserver opened its doors on 22 November, 2001, with the première of the opera L’adéu de Lucrècia Borja [The farewell of Lucrècia Borja]. Before the performance began, the Teatre Lliure Chamber Orchestra performed a fanfare written by Carles Santos, and an enormous image of Fabià Puigserver that covered the entire proscenium was unfurled. It was a heartfelt tribute by the Lliure Family to the man who had dreamed of that new space.
The Espai Lliure, the smaller auditorium, was inaugurated on 1 February 2002, with 12 ballen Serrat [12 dancing Serrat], a dance performance based on songs by Joan Manel Serrat. The new venues contained all the features provided by theatre equipment with state-of-the-art technology, while respecting long-standing theatrical traditions.
In the2001/2002 season, about 40 productions were performed in the three venues that make up today's Teatre Lliure, and they were attended by more than 70,000 spectators. Two months after the beginning of the following season, 2002/2003, Josep Montanyès, who had made it possible, died suddenly on 10 November, 2002, ending an era in the history of the Teatre Lliure.

The Foundation appointed Àlex Rigola (born Barcelona, 1969), the theatre's new director on 18 March 2003. Rigola, who had been a member of Josep Montanyès' team of advisers, was at that time a stage director who belonged to the new generation of artists in Catalan theatre, which had become consolidated during that decade. He was assisted by the artistic management team of Carlota Subirós, Salvador Sunyer, Joan Ollé, Guillem-Jordi Graells, Narcís Puig, Xavier Albertí and Víctor Molina, either throughout his entire term of office or on a sporadic basis, and maintained the commitment to the most daring contemporary creation across the entire range of performing arts, with its hallmark being the inclusion or presence of young directors and creators of all kinds – Roger Bernat, Jordi Prat i Coll, Dani Salgado, Carol López, Rodrigo Garcia, Pau Miró, Sergi Fäustino, Nao Albet and Marcel Borràs, Julio Manrique, Jordi Oriol, Jordi Casanovas, Albert Serra - commissions of new texts and the dramatic residency of Lluïsa Cunillé, the creation of the Radicals season of new theatrical languages and ideas, international programming - with names including Thomas Ostermeier, Jan Lauwers, Javier Daulte, Robert Wilson, Peter Sellars, The Wooster Group, Robert Lepage, Jan Fabre, Eric Lacascade, Kristian Lupa, Christoph Marthaler, Anatoli Vassiliev, Romeo Castellucci, Sasha Waltz, Stefan Kaegi, Daniel Veronese, Frank Castorf, Declan Donnellan, Toneelhuis, Claudio Tolcachir, the Berliner Ensemble, Heiner Goebbels - and productions produced by the Lliure and co-productions, which maintained the profile of the Lliure at major theatres and at events all around the world. This programming also continued to feature the regular presence of two of the Lliure's historic resident companies: Gelabert Azzopardi and Carles Santos.
In the institutional sphere, subsequent programme agreements were approved which consolidated the major outstanding challenge of providing financing for activities with contributions by the various government bodies. Another major development was the restoration project for the Lliure building in Gràcia - in the building that the La Lleialtat generously donated to the Foundation, which had to be closed for safety reasons at the beginning of Rigola's term as director, and reopened its doors in September 2010, after a comprehensive refurbishment and technical adaptations.
The 2010/2011 season ended Àlex Rigola's eight-year term at the head of the theatre, during which he achieved the best attendance figures in the Lliure's history until that point, in terms of occupancy and the number of spectators.

Between the 2011/12 season and 2018/19, the theatre was directed by Lluís Pasqual, one of the founders of the Teatre Lliure. As well as an international programme containing a strong contingent from the Italian school, featuring names such as Toni Servillo, the work of Eduardo de Filippo and the discovery of Stefano Massini - but also with occasional appearances by Patrice Chéreau and Tom Stoppard, there were other types of artistic initiatives, such as the NEO Festival, the El Lliure dels nens [Lliure for Children] series, and the creation of La Kompanyia Lliure theatre company.
This period also saw the emergence of creative minds including Pau Carrió, Juan Carlos Martel Bayod, Pol López, Marc Artigau, Marilia Samper, Jordi Casanovas, Alícia Gorina, Blaï Mateu and the Agrupación Señor Serrano, and acted as a bridge with theatre in Spain, with the programme including renowned companies such as Atalaya Teatro, and figures like Alberto San Juan, Miguel del Arco and Pablo Messiez.
This period of two terms was also defined by the economic crisis, which the Lliure responded to by opening up the theatre to young companies. The initiatives included the Aixopluc project and revival for spectators - and as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Teatre Lliure - historic productions including Les noces de Fígaro [The Marriage of Figaro] by Beaumarchais, and works by other classical authors such as Salvador Espriu, Carlo Goldoni, Lope de Vega, Calderón, Shakespeare, Racine and the Greek tragedians.
The best attendance figures in the history of the Lliure were achieved during these years, surpassing those of the previous period, in terms of occupation and the number of spectators.
After Lluís Pasqual's resignation in September 2018, the Board of Trustees began a public process to choose the new director, which ended in January 2019 with the appointment of Juan Carlos Martel Bayod (born Barcelona, 1976) on 1 February 2019.