Fausto, landlord/stenographer/Certified Spanish Friend, invites us this evening to accompany him to a performance happening at the nearby Tabacalera, which he describes as a past-factory, present-“cultural center.” I’m not precisely sure what that might entail, but he’s also offered it as a possibility for where I might encounter my mural-making opportunity. Yes please let’s go!
Not the Tabacalera at all – this is La Casa Encendida, another arty spot near home. Madrid, will you marry me?
La Tabacalera is situated on la Ronda de Embajadores, a mere five minutes walk through another stunning Madrid evening from our piso. The air is cool and charged with the energy of possibility. I feel just a little as though I could fly, but settle for un pasito with two of my favorite Madrileños – yes Emily, you count! Our names are on the mailbox; we are official!
Upon entrance, one can’t help but notice the hundreds of cumbia enthusiasts grooving to live music. Thought we were going to a play, but how happenin’ is this? Fausto sashays his way through the crowd at leisure, and we follow suit.
Several anterooms filled with Spanish hippies, punks, hipsters, artsy freaks, normals, and uncategorizables later, we arrive at a drum circle/improvised capoeira performance. Pairs enter the ring when summoned by the lure of the bassy rhythmic pulse, tumbling through hot air and over each others’ sweaty skins. It’s trance-like and captivating, but Fausto urges us on.
The open air semi-circle around the Tabacalera building hums with creative-type Spaniards, many sitting on the ground (Chris, are you reading this??), smoking hand-rolled ciggies and shooting the shit. The walls display graffiti-esque musals of all sort, ranging from dead dinos…
… to wisps of smoke curling through oversize burlesque lettering (Em, do you remember what this says in full?). Also pictured is the herb/vegetable garden, just now beginning to hang heavy with green baby ‘maters. I ask Fausto just who is putting all of this together, and the way he explains it makes it seem as though it just happens somehow, that the government has decided to dedicate this space to public creation, and thus locals put in their efforts to make it what they want it to be. The micromanaging American within me thinks this to be patently impossible – a free art space for all that’s well-kept, organized, inclusive, and respectful? But it’s right here on Ronda de Embajadores, and I’m clearly not the only fan; there are hundreds of character studies milling about its grounds.
We round the corner and greet Fausto’s compañera de clase, Natalia (I think). While they enthuse about studies, I check out this badass space-age panel, plus the advertisement for the event we’ve actually come to see, apparently entitled What Are You Doing After The Orgy?: A Love Experiment. Well alright.
It begins without warning (akin to an orgy, perhaps?). A male figure in filthy tighty-whiteys, a wifebeater, and a furry black head covering scrambles out of the enormous double doors with arms full of naked Barbie dolls. The crowd pulls back in a semi-circle in order to better observe him furiously scrub at them with an opaque black substance. It is totally nutty, but you can’t look away, and I’m definitely intrigued by the flaunting of traditional audience/actor distinctions – there’s a definitive scent of apprehension in the air, because we clearly have a frantic crazy guy in our midst, and what if his next pass involves putting you on display?
A few minutes of heavy breathing pass, and then a mistress/guardian-type in white emerges regally from the doors, announcing the performance’s beginning and that photography is in no way permitted (oops). A crooning woman in black follows, then four silent female figures in white paper dresses with open backs. They position themselves around the manic guy in the mask, who proceeds to remove his fuzzy blinder, smear his face with the black substance, and deliver what we later decide is a very masturbatory monologue, celebrating shock value and faux-intellectualism. However, I’d add that there may be value even in its obviousness – it definitely set a communal mindset for the largely individualized experience to come.
Not actually part of the performance – the building is simply covered in stunning muralworks, and I particularly loved this mangy bathroom.
The figures, including our unfortunately-garbed protagonist, enter methodically into the darkness of the building, and we are to follow. They scatter across a series of deteriorating rooms, made even more disparate by the placement of sheets of butcher paper hanging from the ceiling. The crowd similarly disperses, concentrating in bunches around each of the figures, the majority of which are delivering monologues. The first has to do with love and anger and meeting someone in a bar, but the acoustics aren’t great and my language skills not quite up to par; the next several are in German and as such even less accessible. Captain Tar-and-Undies runs general amok, occasionally letting out a screech. At one point he silently takes Emily’s arm, which she is beyond calm about, and leads her to join hands with some guy listening to an eerie musical performance. Tragically (poetically?), the potential love connection doesn’t quite materialize.
We eventually wander outside and away from the innovative take on audience participation. Our grupito engages in a round-table discussion of the experience, accompanied by excellent sangría – yes, there are also multiple bars in this beautiful madhouse.
One of the side buildings houses a miniature skatepark, in which punkish-types are ollying all over the place (I used that word right, no? Any skaters reading con tomates?). An adjacent room explodes with a jam band laying down some serious beats.
A workshop next door is filled with scattered half-projects; Fausto explains what they might eventually be, but the details escape me – I am too busy marveling at the incredible energy and range of activity all taking place in this one location. It’s an open, accepting, community environment – any snobbishness would be thoroughly out of place here – yet it manages to convey a strong sense of pride in what it is and what it’s doing. What who is? What who, exactly, is doing? I’m still not sure precisely how this whole deal works, but I intend to find out; there’s got to be a crumbling wall in here waiting for my paintbrush.