The puppet company that has filled with life a town in the Pyrenees (Spain)
Posted on January 4, 2021
They arrived more than 30 years ago in a small town with a fabled name, Abizanda, in the province of Huesca (Aragón - Spain). There they embarked on what seemed to many an adventure full of fantasy and illusion but with little consistency. Today, this adventure is a dream come true for the Binéfar Puppeteers, but the best thing is that it is also a dream for all the Abizandine people!
Paco Paricio and Pilar Amorós perfectly represent the idea that, sometimes, it is worth breaking convention, even if that means turning your whole world upside down. About 35 years ago they left their respective jobs as teachers to dedicate themselves to what they consider one of the most beautiful jobs in the world: that of puppeteers.
Thus, they created the "Titiriteros de Binéfar" company, with which they have travelled everywhere, performing their works in all kinds of settings, from the Guggenheim Museum in New York to the favelas of Sao Paulo. They have released seven albums and three books, have created more than thirty shows and have been the first to receive the Spanish National Prize for Children's and Youth Theater.
But it was in Abizanda where these puppeteers have built the project that could make them most excited. A project that even they did not imagine that, when completed, would give them as much happiness as they are receiving.
A few years ago the purchase of a house in Abizanda, in the Aragonese region of Sobrarbe, marked the beginning of a new and interesting stage for the Binéfar Puppeteers. With a rural vocation, this company was interested, from the beginning, in the customs of its people, their traditions and their lifestyle: "We wanted Abizanda to feel comfortable with the project. For this reason, before laying the first stone, we spoke with the mayor and with the neighbours, because we wanted to know their opinion and see if they felt comfortable with everything that we were going to start", says Pilar.
The purchase of a first house marked the beginning of a new and interesting stage for the Binéfar Puppeteers. It was a large house, half demolished but which, by preserving its structure and, after the necessary repairs, was presented as the ideal place to store and display all kinds of puppets of various origins, objects brought from all over the world and allow that the public could see and touch them in order to feel closer to these mysterious beings and the whole world that surrounds them. It would be a museum in which, in some way, those puppets would have their own “home”.
Paco tells that the honey maker in the area came to see how the works were going. A few minutes later they both began a conversation in which Paco dared to ask him if he agreed with the project that the puppeteers had in hand. "I dream of you", he replied. And that response, which reflects the hopes that the Abizandinos once put in that puppet project, has remained etched in Paco's memory. Later, they acquired an adjoining house. There they have created a theatre for 100 people, in which they represent their shows. During the warmer months, performances are performed in an open-air space, next to an old bread oven.
And finally, they made a third house, which would serve as a residence for guest artists and collaborators. The truth is that, today, what this company has achieved in Abizanda goes beyond the influence of the theatre.
The puppets ended the loneliness of Abizanda
Before, the streets were unpaved and among the four nuclei that make up the Sobrarbe region (Abizanda, Escanilla, Lamata and Ligüerre de Cinca) there was only one hotel. The Puppeteers of Binéfar have been an injection of morale, life and income for the Abizandinos. With around 100 performances a year, they bring the town more than 10,000 annual visitors who arrive there after buying a ticket and, in some cases, after having embarked on a long journey. The importance of these visitors lies in the fact that not only do they come to town, see the performance and leave, but, as Paco indicates, "they talk and interact with the neighbours, buy wine or honey from local producers, eat at the bar, many stay a few nights to sleep in a hotel or rural house…". It is not surprising, therefore, that in all this time another hotel has arisen in Sobrarbe or that two museums have been created apart from the one for puppets (the Paleontological de Lamata and the Museum of Beliefs and Popular Religiosity of Abizanda). In fact, at the bar they are usually asked when the next show is.
The Binéfar Puppeteers project in Abizanda has been, as Pilar points out, one of those "apparently small but very significant" things. Through it, the town is more alive than ever. The streets are filled with the joy of children, new conversations and interesting stories arise. It is not surprising that the town is waiting with great anticipation for the arrival of a new show that brings excitement to their daily lives.
Of course, the puppeteers are clear that they also receive many good things from the people. For example, every time visitors come to see their performances, it is the Abizandinos who, in the most spontaneous and natural way, guide them to the theatre, inform them of the puppet museum or notify them of the schedules so that they do not miss any details. This is how the town becomes an ally of the puppeteers: "It is our accomplice, it helps us welcome visitors and make them feel comfortable helping them with everything they need," says Paco.
The fact that a town of 100 inhabitants doubles its population in a single day thanks to the theatre has led the city council to promote initiatives such as a bicycle route or guided hiking or that the Museum of Beliefs and Popular Religiosity of Abizanda offers a specific ticket for families. There is no doubt that Abizanda has aroused great cultural sensitivity. The theatre, its puppeteers and the thousands of artists they receive each year have created an atmosphere in which fable, tale, puppets and music fill every corner of the lives of the Abizandines.
On 16th March 2020, the children stopped going to school. The Government decreed the State of Alarm, the confinement began and classes were suspended. That same day, the "Puppeteers of Binéfar" began to perform a daily function through the networks. The initiative has been a success: "They have told me that they are going to copy it from Switzerland or Burkina Faso, and even a faculty of teachers has shown their interest in showing the videos to students", says Paco. Today they have nearly than 50,000 followers on Facebook.
It would not be true to say that his path has been without difficulties. Puppets are present in all cultures, but in Europe there is a certain loss of prestige towards this type of theatre. Being considered very popular, there are those who do not take them seriously. Paco and Pilar tell us how, sometimes, they came to the European towns and the stage was reserved for the orchestra while they had to represent their functions outside of it.
Fortunately, in Abizanda that is not the case: "As soon as we saw that the theatres could reopen, we asked the people what they thought. The mayor himself told us that they were looking forward to the reopening with great enthusiasm", says an excited Paco. There is no doubt that in Abizanda the puppeteers have found the refuge they were looking for. The one that, 35 years ago, Paco and Pilar could hardly imagine.
Source: El Mundo
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