Ugarte y Pagés, Eduardo

Eduardo Ugarte

Scenographer, writer, theater and film director, who was born on October 22, 1900, in Fuenterrabía (Guipúzcoa) and died in exile in Mexico on December 30, 1955. After the proclamation of the Second Republic and the appointment of Fernando de los Ríos as Minister of Public Instruction, he accepted García Lorca’s invitation to collaborate in the artistic direction of La Barraca, a theater company formed by students that for four years toured the most remote villages of Spain representing works of the great classics of Spanish theater, such as Cervantes, Lope, Tirso or Calderón. Ugarte was the sole director of La Barraca on numerous occasions during Lorca’s absences. La Barraca was part of the Pedagogical Missions project promoted by Fernando de los Ríos together with the People’s Theater directed by Alejandro Casona.

The company La Barraca poses in front of the truck that Federico called The Beautiful Aurelia. Ugarte appears with Lorca.
The company La Barraca poses in front of the truck that Federico called The beautiful Aurelia. Ugarte appears next to Lorca.

Ugarte was the tenth son of Javier Ugarte y Pagés, a Catalan lawyer who was Minister of the Interior for the Conservative Party during the regency of María Cristina and Minister of Grace and Justice during the reign of Alfonso XIII. He studied Law and Philosophy at the universities of Madrid and Salamanca. His vocation was the theater from very early on. Perhaps it was not by chance that he married Pilar Arniches, daughter of the popular author of sainetes Carlos Arniches. His first theatrical successes, before embarking on the adventure of La Barraca, were shared with the playwright and novelist from Granada José López Rubio (Motril, 1903-Madrid, 1966): From Night to Morning (1929) and The House of Cards (1930). Both authors decided to change genre and country in the early 1930s, attracted by the rise of the Hollywood film industry. Ugarte’s stay in North America was short-lived. It was the beginning of sound films and the studios required the presence of dialoguists who could also act as translators for the Spanish dubbed versions.

As La Barraca added performances, the sincere enthusiasm of the spectators of rural Spain, many of whom had never attended a dramatic performance, and the merciless criticism of the right wing that accused the company of being an instrument of political propaganda in the service of the newly proclaimed Republic, grew at the same time.

Ugarte returned a year later while López Rubio remained for much of the 1930s, first working for Metro and later for Fox. García Lorca, during his stay in Buenos Aires, on December 8, 1933, dedicated to Ugarte and López Rubio a speech on Radio Splendid as a prolog to a radio reading of a play written by both (surely The House of Cards). Federico said that the production of both playwrights meant a break with “a naturalistic and tasteless theater, where every political idea is rejected and where the public debases its soul in a constant denial of fantasy.” “Eduardo Ugarte is one of the most defined and well-drawn guys I have ever met in all my life,” he added.

Buñuel, Ugarte and Lorca.
Buñuel, Ugarte and Lorca.

The supposed recording of this speech by García Lorca was offered to the poet’s foundation in 2002 by an Argentine collector as the only recorded document with the voice of the poet from Granada. However, despite the willingness of the poet’s foundation, the collector gave no sign of life.

Ugarte’s return coincided with the exile of King Alfonso XIII and the proclamation of the Republic, a political and social change that meant his return to the theater.

In 1932, his friend García Lorca proposed that he join the direction of La Barraca. In July, in a van that they christened The Beautiful Aurelia, the unique company set off on its first tour of Soria.

Luis Sáenz de la Calzada described the laborious routine of a company in which none of its members were paid: Setting up the six by eight meter stage, linking the electrical connections, putting up the curtains and sets, eating, putting on make-up, going out to perform the play “loudly”, finishing, thanking the audience for their applause, stripping off the costumes, putting on the overalls, dismantling the stage and putting it away, resting and returning to the dirt roads in search of another town for the next performance. As the number of performances increased, the sincere enthusiasm of the spectators from rural Spain, many of whom had never attended a dramatic performance, grew at the same time as the merciless criticism from the right wing, which accused the company of being an instrument of political propaganda in the service of the recently proclaimed Republic. The enthusiastic applause of the audience was matched by contempt: sabotage and protests. In the end, however, the rationale of the company prevailed: to spread classical theater during the summer months along the dusty roads of what today we might call ’empty Spain’. The performances of La Barraca diminished from 1935 onwards due to the restriction of subsidies ordered by the conservative government during the Black Biennium (1933-1936). The last performance was at the Madrid Athenaeum in the spring of 1936 with The Gentleman of Olmedo by Lope. After the 1936 uprising, the company effectively disappeared, despite attempts to resurrect it with the help of Manuel Altolaguirre and Miguel Hernández.

Lorca and Ugarte, dressed in the overalls of La Barraca.
Lorca and Ugarte, dressed in the overalls of La Barraca.

Eduardo Ugarte joined the Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals and collaborated from Paris in propaganda tasks with Luis Buñuel, with whom he had worked before the war in the film company Filmófono in movies such as Don Quintín the Bitter One and The Daughter of Juan Simón.

He went into exile in Mexico where he continued to develop theatrical projects with some of the most conspicuous exiled Spanish writers: Manuel Altolaguirre, Max Aub and Buñuel himself, with whom he signed several films of a more commercial nature as Kiss Me Forever (1944), Because of a Woman (1945) or Captive of his Past (1951). He died in 1955 and three years later the screenplay of The House of Cards, which he had written with López Rubio in 1930, was published posthumously.

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