Gabriel Olivares

Humour on the Stage

11/27/2019 · By Carmen R. Cuesta
gabriel olivares theatre director
Theatre director Gabriel Olivares photographed in November in Madrid. © Rafa Mateos

Gabriel Olivares is the man behind one of the greatest theatre hits in recent years, a stage wizard for whom directing a play consists in “caring for and enhancing talent.” The director of the famed play 'Burundanga', he currently has three other plays running in Madrid while at the same time kicking off El Gallinero, a space for creation, rehearsal and performance, an Arcadia in the heart of Carabanchel.

“I direct comedies for the so-called commercial theatre, I don’t know whether that’s the right or the wrong label,” Gabriel Olivares (Albacete, 1975) summarizes. What the public may not see in his uninterrupted string of hits is all the work behind them. Burundanga has been running for nine years at Teatro Maravillas (“almost 40 actors for the play’s five characters; only the incombustible Eloy Arenas remains”), while the Pequeño Teatro Gran Vía is showing the fourth season of La madre que me parió. Also in Madrid he has just premiered Cádiz and Me gusta como eres at Teatro Lara, the latter based on the play J’aime beaucoup ce que vous faites, by French playwright Carole Greep.

Olivares’ love affair with this play started way back. Ten years ago, while in Paris directing Ken Davenport’s My First Time, he discovered this little gem that bewitched him the first time that he saw it: “It's one of those comedies that I would love to see as a member of the audience." The reason why this happens is common to all the plays he directs: “It’s seemingly superficial, a tad frivolous, and yet very deep." It has been a decade since, during which he and his usual partner and producer Pedro Larragaña have tried to stage Me gusta como eres on many occasions. “There was always something coming up, a new project that managed to get ahead on my list, until we’ve finally made it. It’s been easy, actually, a happy process that is also being a success,” he says with a smile.

Me gusta como eres condenses the best of French theater: it raises a moral conflict —since Molière, taking a stance has been a constant among the audience— and it’s a play that, unlike most of the plays I’ve directed so far, tackles friendship and hypocrisy, or rather, self-image.” The starting point is simple a priori: two couples, which are very different from each other —a common trait of good comedies of intrigue—spend the weekend together.

“Saying someone ‘I like the way you are’ has a blackmail element to it. It usually happens that we like people as long as they reflect the image we want to give of ourselves,” Olivares explains. “When that changes, the separation process begins, or a lack of interest emerges. How many people have passed through our lives and stayed behind without a real conflict happening? To some extent, we use people to reaffirm our identity, that's what I mean by self-image,” he says. Me gusta como eres is precisely about that kind of “hypocrisy that makes us leave relationships behind, sentimental or otherwise. And something we’ve also discovered during rehearsal is the dependency on other people that we create.”

A Thrilling, Vital Moment

The fact that this discovery about the characters, their way of understanding friendship and their dependencies, occurred during rehearsals makes sense. “In the early stages of a play, you discover things that end up remaining there. Theatre, like cinema, has a peculiarity: it’s a collaborative affair, it’s not about individual artists like painters or writers,” he explains. "That’s why I think it’s essential to understand, although it took me a while to do so, that a theatre director is more like the captain of a ship who has to manage the talent and the resources of many people and put himself or herself at their service," he says. And he adds: “I think it’s something common to human beings — we either strengthen our talent and our abilities or become ordinary beings playing it always safe.”

“We either strengthen our talent and our abilities or become ordinary beings playing it always safe”

With four plays currently running on theatres, Gabriel Olivares is directing four of the most successful casts in the capital, but that's not all. He has now his own company, Teatro Lab Madrid, which in January will have its own headquarters in the heart of Carabanchel. Named El Gallinero, for Olivares it’s more than a job: “it’s a personal and life project”: a center for theatre creation, for research on the rehearsal process, for acting training and also for exhibitions, with a room with about one hundred seats.

"Being dedicated to something as ephemeral as theatre, the fact that life has suddenly put this space there in need of a program is a thrilling, vital moment for me,” he says. “That space embodies my dreams and the dreams of people I’ve been working with for many years. We’ve created a sort of Arcadia, a perfect space to create, rehearse and perform.” His conclusion is clear: “Just the other day I thought about it and realized that I’m lucky to be deeply independent. In any artistic discipline being so is something to be grateful for.”