Trouble-ridden Mérida Theater Festival to pass into private hands

Two producers in running to operate indebted event

Blanca Portillo in a 2009 production of Medea at Mérida.
Blanca Portillo in a 2009 production of Medea at Mérida.

The future of the trouble-plagued Mérida Theater Festival, which specializes in productions of classic Greek and Roman texts, is starting to become clearer with the news that it looks set to pass into private hands.

The festival now has a viability plan on the table that aims to tackle both its 3.5-million-euro debt and the matter of the next edition's program and all signs point to the Extremadura regional government handing over its running to either the producer and impresario Enrique Salaverría, or his colleague and competitor Jesús Cimarro on March 26.

The newly installed manager of the festival, Pedro Blanco, will work side-by-side with the new board.

The event has been beset by doubts over its future in recent times. In 2011, the then directors of the festival, actress Blanca Portillo and producer Chusa Martín, announced they would step down at the end of that edition after reporting irregularities in its management.

Their departure was also seen to be precipitated by the pressure placed on them to withdraw a controversial photograph of the actor Asier Etxeandia, covering his genitals with a postcard of Velázquez's Christ Crucified, from an exhibition by photographer Sergio Parra, which accompanied the festival.

On top of this, the event has also had to deal with a complaint by 70 professionals claiming they were not paid for work they carried out at the festival.

The new viability plan has a three-pronged strategy that aims to tackle the economic, judicial and artistic aspects of the situation.

Regional education and culture chief Trinidad Nogales has made it clear that there can be no further festivals without a solid management base and expressed regret that despite "the open secret" of the festival's catastrophic financial situation, no work had been done to find a solution until the arrival of the new management, headed by Blanco.

From now on, Blanco said in a press conference last week, "the festival accounts will be subject to a budget and the law, which has not been done until now."

The new budgets will be made with demarcated spending limits so as to avoid debt, and under the premise of not budgeting for more than what comes in.

The steps set out by Blanco involve quantifying the event's real outstanding commitments. He also said it faced open legal proceedings and, at the present time, the last four tax years were being investigated.

The festival board will sign an agreement with the Extremadura regional government's legal services department in order to save on future costs, Blanco added.

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