During the last few decades, the art of theatre has become increasingly forgotten as it has been taken over by the newer, more mass market focused, audiovisual media such as television and cinema. Great playwrights in most countries are few and far between nowadays, but that doesn't mean that contemporary Spanish theatre is dead. In fact there have been a number of small movements in Spanish theatre and you only have to visit Spain to realize that there are still plenty of plays to go and see!
After the fall of the Franco regime in 1975, there were many changes that took place that offered a fruitful ground for Spanish theatre to flourish. First and foremost was the disappearance of the censorship which had restricted Spanish playwrights under the dictatorship. Meanwhile in the 1980s, the establishment of certain theatre related bodies such as the Centre for Theatrical Documentation and the National Centre of New Theatrical Tendencies, helped bring theatre back into the limelight.
Unfortunately, Spanish contemporary theatre never did undergo the massive revitalization that was expected. While new plays were being released and performed, they were mostly met with little interest, as people preferred to head to the cinema instead. This means that it is hard to find a school in Spain that studies contemporary Spanish playwrights as there just aren't that many, and the previous generation, including writers such as Antonio Buero Vallejo, continues to be more popular today.
At the end of the 50s and 60s, Realist theatre became very common, led by the playwrights who have now been grouped under the title of the 'Generación realista' such as Lauro Olmo and José Martín Recuerda. This style of theatre was highly critical, compromised and testimonial, and often tried to show the injustices and contradictions in Spanish society without adhering to a specific ideology. Often, this type of theatre would make comparisons with the past, therefore making the plays into historical theatre. These Spanish playwrights mostly kept out of the more experimental theatre which appeared in the following decades.
Experimental and avant-garde theatre began to be cultivated during the 1970s, but with so many forms of experimenting in theatre, it meant that a large amount of new literature terms had to be made to cope with it. Some of the denominations in Spanish experimental theatre invented at this time include 'underground theatre', 'nonconformist theatre', 'silence theatre', 'buried theatre', and 'unmentionable theatre'.
Many of the main playwrights in experimental theatre actually had a long career in the literary genre before developing into the style. This is the case with Fernando Arrabal, Francisco Nieva and Miguel Romero Esteo.
Despite not forming a unanimous group, these Spanish playwrights did share a number of characteristics. Generally, they tried to offer a critical vision of various aspects of contemporary society, such as morals and politics, and to this they often used symbols and connotations, which at times could be very cryptic and difficult to interpret. They also tried to make their plays universal by dealing with abstract ideas like power and oppression. In all of their works, it is easy to see the surrealist, absurd and experimental influences of great playwrights like Brecht, Artaud and Grotowski.
With the end of the Franco regime in the mid 1970s, women playwrights began taking up their pens. The following few decades, particularly amidst the fast cultural developments of the 1980s, saw a rise in plays written by Spanish women like Paloma Pedrero, Carmen Resino and Carme Riera.
The end of the dictatorship and the start of the democracy was also a time when a variety of new, independent theatre companies appeared. Els Joglars, La Cuadra, Teatre Lliure, and Comediants, all worked hard to produce a new peculiar form of Spanish theatre. These groups often tried to detract the attention of a play from its author, and instead make it much more about the representation of the words on the page. However, in order to get the biggest audience possible, they often limited themselves to more popular styles such as farce, pantomime, cabaret and musical comedies. Nevertheless, they still contributed to the development of Spanish theatre, particularly by setting up new theatres in various cities across Spain.