Photo by Richard Hadley.
Whether it’s the appeal of a Shakespeare soliloquy, a rousing musical number or simply tucking into a miniature pot of ice-cream at the interval, there’s nothing quite like a good trip to the theatre. From revamped classics and original writing to improvised comedy players and education facilitators, there’s plenty to see on Barcelona’s English theatre circuit. This month, we go behind the scenes to speak with some of its biggest characters.
Speciality: Dark and thought-provoking theatre with a dose of British humour.
Past productions: Alice In Wonderland, Metamorphosis and The Government Inspector.
Look out for: 1984 and the Pantomime.
Having trained at the prestigious London Drama Centre, artistic director Sue Flack has worked extensively with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 as both an actress and a presenter. With a particular passion for physical theatre, she co-founded Escapade Theatre Company in London in 1987. However, a strong desire to travel and learn a language saw her move to Barcelona three years later, and an initial six-month stint turned into a permanent stay. “Once you get here, it’s quite difficult to go back,” said Flack.
With nine shows under their belt, Escapade have established themselves as one of the city’s leading English theatre companies. Their repertoire runs far and wide, but the central theme of all shows is ‘exposing the pitiful state of humankind’. So whether it’s a cutting criticism of the British class system in Decadence, or a black comedy about old age in Dinner For One, Flack’s productions are dark yet illuminating.
Photo by westudio.
Escapade Theatre Company's Sue Flack.
Speciality: Mostly comedy, but varies from large-scale musicals to intimate plays.
Past productions: The Pillowman, Little Shop of Horrors and The 39 Steps.
Look out for: Nick Payne’s Constellations (Autumn 2016).
After graduating with a degree in Maths from New York’s Binghamton University, Joshua Zamrycki felt like doing something a little different, so he decided to move to Spain. Like Flack, his short-term Spanish residency became long-term, and he now describes himself as “happily stuck here”.
Zamrycki first became involved in Barcelona’s English theatre scene after spotting a casting call in a 1998 issue of Metropolitan. He founded Jocular Theatre Company in 2003 because he wanted to do something fun. “Nobody was staging the deliciously dark comedies that I really enjoy, so I decided to do them myself.” Seventeen shows later, Zamrycki has well and truly run the theatrical gamut, and remains the company’s director, producer, lighting designer and sound engineer.
Photo by Richard Hadley.
Jocular Theatre Company's Joshua Zamrycki.
Speciality: Improvised comedy.
Past productions: BIG Leap and BIG’s Murder Mystery.
Look out for: The Real Housewives of Barcelona (June), BIG’s Season Finale (July) and weekly workshops.
Hailing from a little corner of the Rocky Mountains, Noah Levin was first introduced to improv while playing drama games at summer camp. After majoring in theatre some years later at the University of California, he went backpacking through Europe. Levin loved Barcelona so much that he returned shortly afterwards for an intended six-week spell, but he’s still here nearly five years later.
Levin’s role at Barcelona Improv Group ranges from co-director and teacher to accountant and social media manager. The 11-person troupe perform monthly comedy shows at Poble Sec’s Tinta Roja theatre and run weekly Sunday workshops, which are open to everyone. “Improv is such a transferrable skill,” said Levin. “The two most basic rules are to listen and react, which has become something of a lost art in this modern Facebook era.”
Photo by Olivier Valiente.
BIG's Noah Levin.
Speciality: Short, thematic and originally-written productions.
Past productions: Bonkers, Sex and Death.
Look out for: Shame.
Speciality: New writing that covers a slew of themes.
Past productions: Madness Sweet Madness and Marie’s Crisis Café.
Look out for: Agent P and Thelma and Louise—and Karen.
Behind The Scenes
Despite the city’s huge English-speaking community, the main issue for Barcelona’s theatremakers is the inevitable struggle to attract audience members. “You have to be realistic,” explained Jocular’s Zamrycki, who typically stages two productions a year. “It’s expensive to put on a show, especially having to rent theatres.” So how can this problem be resolved? “It depends on the priorities and ambition of the theatre company. There’s an enormous market out there, but I don’t want to put the enjoyment that I get from this in jeopardy by making audience numbers the primary focus.”
In the past, professional Catalan theatres have been notoriously reluctant to accommodate English-language productions. However, improved relations with the local theatre circuit has offered a potential breakthrough in filling empty seats, with benefits including wider publicity and production assistance. Escapade’s 2015 production of Diary of a Scoundrel in Teatre Versus was so well-received that the run was extended by a week. “The venue were suddenly much more enthusiastic after seeing our success,” said Flack, who is particularly determined to reach out to locals. “We chose Alice In Wonderland as our latest show because it is a universal story, and we even projected Catalan subtitles to make it as accessible as possible.”
Photo by westudio.
Escapade Theatre Company's 2015 production of 'Diary of a Scoundrel' at Teatre Versus.
“If you’re an actor who wants to be on Broadway or the West End, you’re not going to be living in Barcelona,” said Zamrycki. “So if you live here and you love theatre, then any chance to perform is a gift.” That’s not to say that the talent pool is dry, though. Whilst some actors in Barcelona teach English alongside in order to survive, there are many other offstage performing opportunities, including work in voiceovers, commercials and dubbing. For directors, however, casting a show can prove problematic. “Many shows cater to a specific cast,” said Jocular’s founder. “And with many actors coming and going, it’s sometimes a roll of the dice.” Zamrycki never pre-casts his shows, however, despite casting a number of “repeat offenders” over the years, and auditions are open to anyone, from locals and foreign residents to year abroad students.
“Whether it’s professional theatre companies or groups who simply want to have fun, Barcelona’s English theatre scene is driven by English-speaking people who take an interest in drama and get together to put on plays,” explained Flack. And it’s as simple as that. BIG’s Levin describes the English theatre circuit as a “community”, a notion echoed by his peers at Jocular and Escapade. “It’s a support network—we always try to share our calendars and attend each other’s shows,” revealed Levin. So is there scope for this community to continue growing? With its theatremakers as ambitious as ever, alongside the increasing exposure to a wider audience, it certainly seems that way.
Theatre in Education (TIE) uses interactive theatre and drama practices to help aid the educational process. Common characteristics include an important moral message, a small cast and some audience interaction.
While Escapade Theatre Company is more artistically fulfilling for director Sue Flack, she also manages IPA Productions—a theatre-in-education company that promotes English-language learning across Spain. Since 1997, IPA have performed over 4,000 plays for more than 150,000 students.
Photo by westudio.
'Dracula' by IPA Productions.
Performing Arts Festivals
Here’s how to get involved in some of this year’s most exciting theatre festivals...
- What is it? An international theatre, dance, music and circus festival.
- Founded: 1976.
- When: July 1st-31st.
- Where: Various theatres in Barcelona, including Teatre Grec, Teatre Lliure and Mercat de les Flors.
- What to expect: Over 100 shows, including an outdoor Shakespeare performance.
- What is it? A street theatre festival.
- Founded: 1981.
- When: September 8th-11th.
- Where: Tàrrega, Lleida.
- What to expect: A catalogue of unique theatrical styles and performances, and a lot of time spent outdoors!
- What is it? A performing arts festival showcasing both fresh talent and major international acts.
- Founded: 1992.
- When: September to November.
- Where: Girona and Salt.
- What to expect: An award-winning adaptation of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis.
- What is it? An improvised comedy and theatre festival.
- Founded: 2013.
- When: November 2nd-5th.
- Where: The Centre Artesà Tradicionarius in Gràcia, Barcelona.
- What to expect: Workshops and performances from a worldwide community of improvisers.
Although performances take place across the city, Teatre Grec is the central venue for the Grec Festival.