Spain: Theatre organisers cancel show under interest group pressure

night-of-the-dead-spain
Three theatre organisers who were putting together multi-day event ‘Night of the Dead 2016’ in Águilas, a Spanish coastal town, decided to cancel all scheduled Halloween activities after an association that defends mentally ill people and their families filed a complaint to the city’s town hall over one of the play’s representations of mentally ill people, reported La Opinión de Murcia on 28 October 2016.

AFEMAC, which stands for Mentally Ill People and their Families’ Association in Águilas and its Region, in their complaint focussed on one of the event’s plays set in the 20th century that stages fictionalised experiments on mentally ill people in mental asylums.

The promotional poster for the play allegedly displayed the slogan: “Sanatorio Mental Don Jorge: La Casa del Mal”, which translates to “Don Jorge Mental Asylum: The House of Evil”. Additionally, the promotional video for the play portrayed images of lobotomies and other practices to cause fear, and mentioned that patients would be classified upon their arrival to the asylum based on the level of danger they pose.

Despite mediation by town hall members, the event organisers – Chunica Teatro, Albinegro Centro Multidisciplinar and Yampo Teatro – decided to call the show off since, given AFEMAC’s attitude throughout the process, they believed the association would try to boycott the play in any case; something that would presumably have caused a larger problem.

AFEMAC strongly opposed the play, but maintained they never called for its cancellation.

“We only communicated our unease over how they projected this image of mental illnesses,” stated Pilar Morales, president of the association and vice-president of the Region’s Mental Health Federation, adding that “we’re tired of the stigma that labels mentally ill people as dangerous”.

The play organisers defended themselves by stating:

Our intention has never been to offend anyone, but to simply fictionalise a historical period, recreating the atrocities of certain people who showed their sadism and cruelty against mentally ill people themselves in the name of science, and that represented a dark era for the field of psychiatry and medicine. Fictionalising Nazism or the [Spanish] civil war is not making an apology for those periods and related subjects, but rather is a remembrance and recreation during the play’s staging.

One of the most controversial points of the discussion was that AFEMAC criticised the name of the play, “La Casa del Mal”, which they considered to be a mockery of all patients who go to the psychiatric unit of the Águilas hospital, named “Casa del Mar”, which translates to “House of the Sea”.

Though sounding very similar in Spanish, the name of the play and the name of the hospital unit mean very different things. The organisers claim the name similarity was an unfortunate coincidence of which they knew nothing beforehand, reported La Crónica del Pajarito on 28 October 2016.


Sources

» La Opinión de Murcia – 28 October 2016:
“The House of Evil” polemic ends Halloween in Águilas

» La Crónica del Pajarito – 28 October 2016:
Halloween show censored in Águilas due to pressure from mental health collective

» La Verdad – 28 October 2016:
Águilas’ “Night of the Dead” cancelled due to complaints from the Mental Illnesses Association

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