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Juan Mayorga Ruano

Personal information
Surname: Mayorga Ruano
First name: Juan
Middle names: Antonio
Commonly known as: Juan Mayorga
Born: 6 May 1965, Madrid, Spain

Juan Mayorga (Madrid, 1965) is one of the most important Spanish playwrights of his generation. His first play, Siete hombres Buenos (Seven Good Men) was awarded second place in the Marqués de Bradomín Prize in 1989. Since this first accolade, Mayorga has won a series of national awards. The most prominent of these is Spain’s National Theatre Prize, which he was awarded in 2007 for services to Spanish theatre. Mayorga's work has been translated into many languages and performed widely throughout the world. In addition to his role as playwright, Juan Mayorga has adapted versions of classical dramas for the Spanish stage. In January 2007 he provided a version of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People for Madrid’s Centro Dramático Nacional (CDN), for which he also adapted King Lear in February 2008. He was a founding member of – and continues to collaborate with – the El Astillero theatre company that was established in 1993. In 1998 he began teaching Dramaturgy, History of Thought and Sociology at the Real Escuela Superior de Arte Dramático in Madrid. Mayorga’s academic background is in Mathematics and Philosophy and he has written a doctoral thesis on the philosophical thought of the Jewish scholar, Walter Benjamin, whose philosophy has had a huge influence on his theatre.


Through his theatre Juan Mayorga explores a wide-range of interconnected social, philosophical and artistic concerns. He focuses on the underbelly of life, referring to his theatre as a ‘seismograph’ that detects the tremors of inhumanity and cruelty that lurk just underneath the surface of much human interaction (Mayorga, in Perales 2003). Accordingly, his subject matter is often dark, as he uses theatre as a ‘mask that unmasks’ issues which so often remain hidden – for example, child abuse, or the prevalence of racism, poverty or political hypocrisy in society (Mayorga 2008: 59). Mayorga’s work also reflects his philosophical preoccupation with history and its relationship to the present. He contends that, compared with other forms of artistic representation, theatre offers the most intense engagement with the past. Only in the theatre, he argues, can individuals who are long dead be ‘reincarnated’ on stage by living, breathing actors (Mayorga 2008: 59). Because of this, in a number of his plays he dramatises past events or includes characters who are well-known figures from history and challenges the audiences to draw parallels between the failures of the past and contemporary political and societal concerns. Another prominent theme in Mayorga’s work is art itself. He uses theatre to explore the pleasures and pain of creativity, featuring for example characters who are struggling playwrights or authors. He dramatises the process of creating theatre and explores the potential for performance and art to reveal reality, rather than simply imitate it (Mayorga, in Perales 2003). Conversely, his plays are also sometimes reflections on how theatre and performance can be manipulated to distort reality and to deceive onlookers.


Juan Mayorga pushes the boundaries of what theatre can do. Because of this, his plays differ in terms of style, length and how they manipulate the unities of time and space. What unites them is the fact that each one contains elements intended to challenge spectators to be more than passive onlookers. Mayorga contends that ‘Spanish theatre has one great problem, its lack of bravery. We shouldn’t pander to audiences, we need to challenge them. By challenging them, we will gain their respect’ (Mayorga quoted in El País 2004). The stylistic devices that Mayorga uses to try and challenge audiences vary. His plays are often mysterious and open-ended, as audiences are left to draw their own conclusions as to what has taken place. He uses long monologues that force spectators to listen intently to characters. His plays are often metatheatrical, containing elements such as plays-within-plays or characters who discuss the art of creating theatre. Oppositional pairings (night/day; animal/human) imply divisions between characters, yet frequently these divisions are made complex in the course of a given play. Speaking animals are a prominent feature, particularly of Mayorga’s most recent plays. Given the playwright’s interest in exploring the ways in which the past and present are interconnected, it is unsurprising to find that many of his plays are situated in the past or feature historical figures. In addition, Mayorga’s background in philosophy is also evident in his work: some characters are philosophers; some cite philosophers; others are named after philosophers.

  • J.V. 2004. Interview with Juan Mayorga, ‘Al público hay que desafiarlo’, El País (Babelia), 21 February (in Spanish)

Plays in the database
Useful reading and websites
  • J.V. 2004. Interview with Juan Mayorga, ‘Al público hay que desafiarlo’, El País (Babelia), 21 February (in Spanish)

  • Mayorga, Juan. 2008. ‘La representación teatral del Holocausto’, Revista CELCIT, 33, 55-59, http://www.celcit.org.ar/publicaciones/rtc_sum.php?cod=27 [accessed January 2010] (Online Publication) (in Spanish)

  • Perales, Liz. 2003. Interview with Mayorga, ‘Hay que provocar la desconfianza en el público’, El Cultural, 15 September, http://www.remiendoteatro.com/Notas/Juan%20Mayorga.htm [accessed January 2010] (Online Publication) (in Spanish)

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 22 May 2011.

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