Stars in their eyes Beth Hancock | Posted: 24 April 2014
By day, the theatre's seats will form a meeting place and picnic spot for anyone on a walking holiday in Las Alpujarras
Villagers test out the unique cobbled stage for themselves
Almond trees in blossom in February, a great time to visit Las Alpujarras

While other villages would plump for a more conventional community centre, Laroles' open-air theatre is just what this corner of southern Spain needs, bringing past, present and future together.

If all goes well, this summer will see locals and visitors alike gathering on the edge of the village for the inaugural performance at the open-air theatre that started life as a threshing floor. Reading the names of those who pledged their money and support to the project that are engraved into the stones, they’ll filter along the rows to their seats, taking in their surroundings as they wait for the show to start. Then, illuminated not only by stage lights donated by a variety of theatre companies from across Europe, but also by the moon and stars, the performers will take to the circular, cobbled stage as a hushed silence descends over the audience…

It will have taken months of hard work but, with the stage and half the seating already built, this scene is tantalisingly close to becoming reality. As well as serving as a much-needed venue for evening concerts, musical recitals, plays and more, by day the theatre will be used for outdoor drama workshops for local children, as an informal gathering place for locals, and even as a picnic spot for walkers.

That’s all very good, but (barring the starlight) couldn’t all this be achieved by building something with four walls and a roof plus a few benches outside? It would certainly be easier. Watch the video documenting the construction and you won’t see cranes hoisting pallets of breeze blocks. Instead, you’ll see workers with pickaxes cutting into the earth to reveal the old cobbles buried underneath, or wielding chisels as they cut stones into shape before fitting them carefully together to build up the rows of seats.

Further information

Get involved

You can find details of upcoming productions (many of them suitable for non-Spanish speakers), plus information on how you can donate to the crowd-funding campaign, on the theatre's website. >

Explore Las Alpujarras

Spend a week at the delightful Casa las Chimeneas in nearby Mairena and you can enjoy some great walks in very varied scenery.

More about our walking holidays in the Alpujarras >

Yet, by being different, ambitious, daring even, it is already in the spotlight before it’s even finished. Not only Spanish celebrities, but international ones, too, such as Chris Stewart of Driving Over Lemons  fame and even Russell Crowe, are talking about it on Twitter and the like. A run-of-the-mill community centre would rarely get that sort of attention or, if it did, would not be able to retain it, whereas this theatre, built as it is from an ancient threshing circle, will remain a talking point, somewhere that people will want to visit exactly because it is not your ordinary cultural centre.

Its uniqueness will appeal not only to audiences, but to theatre and dance groups, musicians and bands, too, and its ability to put on a varied, interesting and potentially high-profile programme of performances and shows will in turn attract more visitors in a perpetuating circle.

All this will have a positive knock-on effect on the local economy, which has, like most, suffered during the recession, with high unemployment leaving young people with no choice other than to head to the coast and cities in search of work. A full-capacity audience of 300 would in turn almost fill the hotels in the surrounding area.

In bringing better prospects for the future, this project is also connecting with the past – and not just in the fact that the team is using traditional materials and methods in the renovations. When the threshing floors were still in use they, too, were a focal point for the community. As the labourers set about threshing the corn, other villagers would play the guitar to help relieve the monotony, and there would often be singing, much of it improvised. Farming has since moved on, but it’s fitting that what was once an impromptu stage will now play a more formal role in the village’s cultural life.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years, of course, is the view across silver-green olive groves towards the distant sea. Nor the long, hot Mediterranean summers. Faced with the choice of a theatre with four walls and a roof or an open-air theatre where you can see mountains in one direction, the coast in another and the stars above, which would you choose?

Sara Knight
I've walked on it unreconstructed - can I walk on it when it is a stage?
02/05/2014 14:46:53

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