The researchers Natàlia Cantó-Milà and Daniel López debated with the playwright Pau Matas and the actor and director Oriol Pla
The family is a concept that is as complex as it is old, and it is constantly changing. “It’s not the same for any of us, but we all know what we’re talking about when we say ‘family’,” said sociologist Cantó-Milà, member of the IN3‘s GlobaLS (Global Literary Studies Research Lab) research group. She has a PhD in Social Sciences from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and is a specialist in research on emotions. On this occasion, the partnership between the Sala Beckett and the UOC, which looks to provide a forum for examining thought and drama, addressed the concept of the family, as explored in the play Travy, featuring the Pla-Solina family of actors (whose stage name is Travy).
The play, written by Pau Matas and Oriol Pla, highlights the disagreements, both artistic and personal, between two generations of artists: the father and mother, who are former members of the Comediants theatre group, influenced by clowns and popular theatre, and the son and daughter, who are inspired by contemporary theatre and the post-dramatic and meta-theatrical.
The play was performed at the Sala Beckett between 16 December and 15 January to large audiences (tickets were sold out for many performances) and the round table discussion entitled Family Imaginaries took place on 10 January. It involved Oriol Pla, who acted in and directed the play; the playwright Pau Matas; the sociologist Natàlia Cantó-Milà and Daniel López, who has a PhD in Social Psychology and is a member of the UOC’s Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and the IN3‘s CareNet (Care and Preparedness in the Network Society) research group.
The family: a place for conflict and support
Sharing these visions of the artistic world and the world of thought created an interesting and enriching debate. The starting point in the play is the arrival of Oriol, who has been successful in the acting world and wants to create a play with his family – a family from the theatre world, but which is quite conservative in many other respects. This creates a series of tensions within the family that are the basis for the play. “The roles change with the arrival of Oriol, who has succeeded financially and wants to direct the play in which his family will participate, and this leads to conflict and tension,” explained Matas, who wrote the play with Pla, based on a proposal from the Teatre Lliure.
“In Travy we constantly see the tension between the new and the old. The question arises: is it possible to be innovative within the family environment?” asked Cantó-Milà. The parents want to do a show like the ones they used to do, inspired by clowns and Commedia dell’arte, while their children see it as a style that is old-fashioned, and are vehemently opposed to it. The character of Diana, the daughter, also challenges gender stereotypes and takes us towards ground-breaking theatre, in which women have to play strong roles, instead of traditional sexist roles. The tension between the two generations, but also the love that the members have for each other, is present throughout the play.
“In our family, theatre has been mixed with life. When the characters are at their best is when they’re acting. When we wear a mask is when we communicate best,” said Pla, talking about the family in the play, which is also his own. “The family is a place where there are brutal conflicts, but also where you put yourself together again when you’re broken,” said Cantó-Milà. “All families understand that we wear a mask.”
The relationship between parents and children, generational conflict, care and the family as an economic unit are other themes reflected in the play. López explained that “for previous generations, the family was synonymous with work. Parents had certain expectations about their children in the world of work. But the role of parents has changed throughout history. For young people, being a good parent means spending quality time with your children, and giving them an emotional education.” Pla agreed and said that “the young people of my generation are children of therapy. But for my father, the family is like a ship: everyone’s on board and we must get home safely. Everyone shares in economic gains. That’s what we did, for example, when I was working on [the Catalan soap opera] El cor de la ciutat and other series, and I was earning quite a lot of money. And the same applies to the rest of the family.”
The family is also a place of recognition, where people want to feel validated: “When at one point in the play my sister gets up on the ball and says, ‘Mum, look what I’m doing’, it’s because she wants to be heard. She wants to differentiate herself from her parents’ way of doing things, but she also wants their recognition,” said Pla.
In its own way, the play also touches on the concept of care. The father’s illness, dramatized using the watermelon that is the basis for a large part of the play, is present as one of the essential messages. “The family is the quintessential place for care,” said López, an expert in social and technological transformations of care in ageing societies. “This concept is evolving in today’s world, and new types of family related to care are emerging. For example, elderly people are living together, so that they can talk to and care for each other in a framework that is different from that of the classic family.”
The debate also included contributions from the audience present at the Sala Beckett. The UOC and the Sala Beckett have been working together to establish synergies between the theatre and academic worlds for six years. There will be more debates on other plays that are scheduled to open later this year.
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