Review: A Spectacular Conference, presented by Be Festival

Be Festival blossomed in 2010 with the desire to bring celebrated work from all over Europe to Birmingham. Embracing any performance medium, the programme takes pride in its sense of community and support of experimental work. Originally filmed at the Russafa Escènica Festival in Spain, A Spectacular Conference is presented via YouTube as part of the Be at Home Festival, appropriately renamed for 2020, and is performed in Spanish with English subtitles.

Released in three digestible episodes, A Spectacular Conference is a presentation and creative lecture on the history of theatre across Spain and Europe but also an autobiographical insight into the performance artist David Espinosa.

Deep-rooted in passion, we really get to know this performer and how his work is inspired. The stream begins with a brief introduction from the performer himself as he takes a stroll, pensively adding that it’s “a strange and appropriate way to present.” (I.e. Via YouTube.) This hints towards a later note as Espinosa briefly defines himself as “an interdisciplinary scenic-artist,” but admits he finds it difficult to label exactly what he does.

Using miniatures, fun figures and random objects (all discovered from his own home), Espinosa creatively interprets the historical and personal narration which is then projected live as a filmed image onto the back screen of the stage. There are always two perspectives – the live action and the filmed scene.

The conference is absolutely jam-packed and loaded with yummy theatre history, going into theatres’ movements, the development of scenery and the art of acting. Espinosa name-drops everyone who’s ever been influential to the theatre world or to him from Stanislavski to Artaud to Eugenio Barba. Although extremely informative, the mass of knowledge is a little overwhelming, so grab a pen or pencil and be prepared to take notes for further research.

Whilst Europe thrived with theatrical development, Espinosa grew up in the midst of a “theatre black hole,” during Spain’s media censorship, so his first influences were cinematic. It really is the filmic visual aids that make this piece so quirky and compelling. For example, a factual story of the seven arrested Els Joglars performers is wittily recreated using figurines of the seven dwarves and a bird cage. He later nods to Pina Bausch’s “Café Muller” using tiny chairs and a doll on rollers – it’s a wonderful interpretation.

Light-hearted, unique and busy, you just can’t stop engaging with this lecture – don’t you wish that was always the case? A Spectacular Conference is a real celebration of the undefinable universe that we have come to know as “theatre”. Ending with a homage to any performer or artist, known or unknown, Espinosa shares Carles Santos 1979 piano piece “La Re Mi La”, reminding us that theatre can be anything, as long as someone is in an empty space, and someone else is watching.

A Spectacular Conference is streaming on YouTube until 16th May 2020. For more information, see Be Festival’s website.