Interview with Elena Jordi by J. Povill i Adsera
Diari la Nau del vespre, num. 583, 28-IX-1929
Edited, translated and introduced by Irene Melé-Ballesteros
This interview to Elena Jordi (pseudonym of vaudeville actress,
company director and producer Montserrat Casals Basque,
(Berga 1882 - Barcelona 1945) takes place at the beginning of the
second round of the theatre season of 1929.
This is a few years after Jordi's momentum, consisting of seven theatrical seasons from 1914 to 1920 on the top of the performing arts scene in Barcelona. During these years, not only did Jordi directed her own vaudeville company, but also took a lapse on 1918 to get involved in the construction of a theatre and to direct a film. The former enterprise, the «Tetra Elena Jordi», ended up not premiering as such, but being called «Palacio del Cinema» in 1922; the latter, a short-film titled Thais, was the first film directed by a woman in the Spanish state. These are some of the most ambitious projects done by a woman at that time.
This interview reveals an empowered Jordi retaking her career as director and producer of her own vaudeville company anew. The journalist asks a few questions –starting with what I would deem to be a harsh tone– by referring to Jordi «morality», in a rather ambiguous way. Nevertheless, by answering fiercely, Jordi disarms the journalist and conducts the interview to a smooth advertisement on what she has in store for the season.
We learn about the main actors and actresses that are going to be on stage, some coming from abroad or found anew after a certain neglect, and of course, she informs of the selection of plays and playwrights she intends to stage. Thus, we also find a few reflections from Jordi assessing the public that awaits her come back to show business, and all the efforts it conveys.
By what we can infer from her answers, Jordi has not staged for a significant amount of time, presumably as we know from other sources since 1920 or 1921, although that date is not mentioned in the interview. Nonetheless, her creative dynamism and determination are patent in her words and there is no doubt she is going to make the best of the season at the Goya theatre. We also learn about Jordi’s intentions to put on stage a remarkable, yet, long forgotten play: Ball of Puppets (Ball de titelles, in Catalan) a vaudeville by poet and playwright Ramon Vinyes (Berga 1882- Barcelona 1952). This is important because we get to know what she thinks of the play: «a very profound one» and «surely to be a great success» as she declares she is eager to invest in it. This piece has resulted in a red-letter revived success by the National Theatre of Catalonia in 2012, after a rather humble version of it took place in Berga, on 1978 by the hand of the theatrical association La Farsa de Berga. Noteworthy, Vinyes is the author of the last play premiered in Catalan language in Barcelona on January 20th 1939 under the siege of the bombings, before the Francoist Dictatorship put an end to any official or extra-official cultural expression in Catalan language. Furthermore, the friendship between Vinyes and Jordi is consequential, not only because it was a lifelong enduring one, but because the readings of each other’s work and their collaborative companionship enlarges the panoramic on the work of both figures.
Lastly, Jordi let us know about her predilection for seasoned comedy, even more, scandalous vaudeville, as well as of some her favorite authors like Luigi Pirandello, Louis Verneuil or Paco Madrid. Jordi closes the interview by making it clear to the journalist that she is the one in charge in her company, and that neither him, nor anyone else will be able to tarnish that fact.
INTERVIEW WITH ELENA JORDI
"Elena Jordi’s Projects"
A few hours before the official season’s premiere we decide to pay a visit to Elena Jordi and get the latest news to inform our readers.
We find her amidst a rehearsal. An electric bare bulb hangs from the drop-scene in the middle of the set, weakly illuminating the deep, dark gorge in a bleak room.
At the end of the alley the entrance door, notably lighted, is a promise of sun and freedom. Inside the set, actors lower their voices and actresses stubbornly flirt.
We spy Elena Jordi’s face from behind the dim cloud of an Egyptian cigarrete, glowing as a ruby on her lips.
-J. POVILL ADSERA How brave are you feeling?
-ELENA JORDI My courage is fine. But my legs cannot stand me any longer. It’s been a few days since I can’t sleep because of my nerves.
- J.P. Because of exhaustion?…moral?
- E.J. I don’t know what you mean, but I don’t think so. You don’t know what it is like to set up a theatre company and to throw yourself away in an adventure that could either be an absolute success or the greatest failure. It’s about having your nerves constantly in tension.
¡And mine already feel like the strings of a guitar!... Besides, you already know how things work in this country, nobody is at full until the last moment. Therefore, if one wants to make things right, one needs to have eyes wide open, ears sharpened and finely tuned vocal cords. ¡And I swear to you that even the neighbours can hear me!
- J.P. Which are your projects?
- E.J. I am eager to do fine and elegant vodevil, but above all, I want to present it with dignity. I like vaudevilles truly sassy.
- J.P. But didn’t you just stated that you want to make them fine and elegant?
- E.J. Nonetheless, they can be likewise, sassy. All the vodevils I will make, will be in the guise of “The magnificent cuckolded”. And you can take note that this play will be included in my repertoire at the Goya Theatre. Needless to tell you that if the season rolls fine, we will put on a comedy too. And I am hoping that Barcelona’s public will correspond my efforts as in the past years.
- J.P. Tell us something about the company that you lead.
- E.J. These things aren’t easy to tell…everyone works with their best will and I think we will make a good team. The only inconvenient in my way is that I don’t know which are the working styles of great part of my current colleagues. But I’m pretty positive that I haven’t mistaken my choices, since most of them have greatly made a name by themselves. Enric Guitart is an example. And I am very satisfied to have him among us. For a long time he’s been unfairly forgotten. And there has to be justice there.
- J.P. We both are in utmost agreement about it. Enric Guitart isn’t merely a good actor, but a great one.
- E.J. Part of my company are as well, Mrs. Amadors, Francesca Lliteres – this last one is full of receiving applauses-. As young lady I got Cambra, who is just arrived from America full of laurels. Lola Duran still, and in addition to Enric Guitart there are too, Sierra, Fuentes, Xuclà…
A long list of names follows.
- E.J. All the works I got in my power are vaudevilles in the guise of the plays by Pirandello or
- J.P. ¡…!
- E.J. Take note of the following titles if you want: “Dance of Puppets”, by the poet Ramón Vinyes. This one is really deep and I’m sure that it will be a huge success. Lluís Capdevila has borrowed me a vaudevillesque comedy which title is “Angelina wants to be earnest”. Paco Madrid has made one for me titled “Elena and his husband”. All the plays are translations. Do you want to hear about the most relevant one? “What the woman wants” by Lavoir; “Bolbec the attorney and his husband”, “Heads or Tails”, “Mrs. Pampünou” and “The automovile and the king” all of these by Verneuil. The rest of the translations are not so interesting to me. What can I do? A weakness like any other… and now, I am sorry. But you see: they are calling for me to scene. And a leader must lead. Don’t you think?
After dropping her cigarette, Elena raises her hand with a perfect smile and, swaggering, moves away towards the center of the stage. The lingering cloud of the Egyptian cigarette vanishes, afflicting, in the wake of her going.