The first time I experienced Semana Santa (Easter Week) was in Seville in 1995. I had given myself a sabbatical of a few months from Northern Stage to write an artistic plan about setting up an Ensemble Company. I wanted to be away from the company, I wanted a different experience, so I could write without thinking of budgets or the politics of the North East of England’s Arts Community. We were also planning to celebrate the anniversary of Federico Lorca’s birth and create a fiesta in his name so I travelled between Seville and Granada searching for the true voice and spirit of the poet.
In Seville I discovered authentic flamenco for the first time, I learnt about Duende, I met and saw performances from the extraordinary El Farruco Family, I drank in Triana and listened to the rhythms in the streets – and then Easter time arrived.
In the months before I had seen the rehearsal in every corner of the city. Burly men practising carrying the makeshift paso, with a ghetto blaster on top blearing out the music. There were brass bands and drummers finding corners to rehearse. It was everywhere. Ordinary Sevillanos rehearsing obsessively, working to make extraordinary theatre happen in the streets.
Then the first day of Holy Week came and the streets are thronged with thousands and thousand of people – the first paso leaves the chapel for the four hour walk slowly through the city to the cathedral – the show has began. Large Scale Community Theatre – like I had never seen before.
This year I was in Jerez de la Frontera – smaller city but even more obsessed with the spectacle. The streets are still full but I am aware of friends and neighbours in the crowds watching the pageant, the ritual, next to me. This is the community I have chosen to be with and today I feel closer. I am not religious, I don’t go to church, I am not a Catholic but something is making me feel closer to these people – something is holding us together. Is it in being part of something bigger than ourselves? Is it being part of a history, a culture where the passion for life spills onto the street at fiesta time? Is it the cante jondo? Is it the heat of the sun? Is it people coming together to celebrate in an expansive , open hearted way with no considerations for the reality of life in this moment? Is it about love and pleasure and excess and devotion and completeness? Yes it is. It is all this and more. It is art.