The House of Bernarda Alba

Feature | Federico García Lorca, playwright and activist

By Sarah Corridon

Federico García Lorca was a poet, playwright and social activist, believed to have been executed by Nationalist Militia at age 38 during the onset of the Spanish Civil War. His body has never been recovered.

In 1919, at age 21, Lorca moved from his hometown Granada to Madrid to study Philosophy and Law at the Residencia de Estudiantes. At university, he befriended several prominent Spanish artists, including Salvador Dalí, and began publishing poetry in various volumes.

In 1927, his play Mariana Pineda – which had scenic designs painted by Dalí – opened to great acclaim in Barcelona. Lorca rose quickly, assuming his position as eccentric poet and dramatist, but struggled with the balance of his public and private lives. His homosexuality was a point of contention and allegedly damaged his friendship with Dalí.

Following the advice of his family, Lorca left Spain in 1929, on the RMS Olympic transatlantic cruiser, and headed for New York City where he studied at Columbia University.

He returned to Spain after a year abroad and became director of the student theatre La Barraca. Between 1933 and 1936 he wrote his most prolific work: Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, completed just two months before his untimely death. These three popular works became known as the rural trilogy, exploring class, status and gender conventions.

Over his short career in the public eye, Lorca built a reputation both at home and abroad as a rising socialist, believing the purpose of theatre was to question and challenge societal norms, and express the individualism at the core of the artist’s heart.

‘A nation that does not support and encourage its theatre is — if not dead — dying; just as a theatre that does not capture with laughter and tears the social and historical pulse, the drama of its people, the genuine colour of the spiritual and natural landscape, has no right to call itself a theatre, but only a place for amusement,’ he said.

‘The artist, and particularly the poet, is always an anarchist in the best sense of the word. He must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices: the voice of death, with all its foreboding, the voice of love, and the voice of art.’

By the time Lorca returned from Buenos Aires, where he’d been lecturing and directing the Argentine premiere of his play Blood Wedding, Granada was paralysed by political tensions. Lorca was arrested on the same day his brother-in-law was assassinated. The exact circumstances surrounding Lorca’s death remain unknown but it is believed that he was executed by Nationalist Militia. His premature death meant that many of his works, in their various forms of completion, were published posthumously.

Federico García Lorca has been remembered as a martyr, and one of the most influential creative voices of his time. He pioneered for a ‘new morality, a morality of complete freedom,’ through his work as a writer and artist.

In Season 2018 one of Australia’s most eminent and awarded playwrights, Patricia Cornelius takes Lorca’s classic tragedy out of the villages of Spain and into the heat of rural Western Australia, in a world premiere production directed by Leticia Cáceres.

Published on 28 August 2017

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