Amy Blaise, in character as Figaro
This month we talk to Amy Blaise, an American living in Sitges who has discovered the joys of British pantomime, while putting her own spin on the Christmas extravaganza genre. Last year, she wrote Il Barbiere di Sitges (The Barber of Sitges) for the Sitges English Theatre Company, combining elements of pantomime and Italian commedia dell’arte along with lots of local touches; she also played the role of Figaro, the eponymous barber. For this festive season, Amy has written a follow-up, Il Barbiere di Sitges: The return of Santiago Rusinyol being performed this month.
For the British, the pantomime season, with its men dressed up as women, dodgy pop renditions and “he’s behind you” interactive elements, are as familiar at Christmas as crackers, pudding and stockings. However, for American Amy Blaise, all this meant nothing until her local theatre group, the Sitges English Theatre Company, decided to stage a performance of Aladdin, in which she was due to play the main role. “Unfortunately the production never made it off the ground, so, in a moment of folly, I decided to write a pantomime myself.”
Despite having little knowledge of the genre, Amy, who has a degree in theatre arts and now works as a translator, approached the task with enthusiasm. “I based the play, very loosely, on The Barber of Seville but I knew, before I even started, that I wanted Sitges as my central theme,” she explained. As such, she included references to the town’s many estate agents and banks, as well as its large stray cat population. Having grown up in Italy, she also incorporated elements of commedia dell’arte, ending up with a “mixture of pantomime, political satire and old fashioned Italian farce.”
To attract as wide an audience as possible, Amy wrote the show in English, Castilian and Catalan. “The biggest challenge was writing a tri-lingual play,” she said. “I wanted it to be understood by both an English and a Spanish audience, with enough Catalan to honour the region in which we live.”
Directed by Sue Farmer, a professional actress who has lived in Sitges for 40 years, the four performances of 2008 sold out. On the back of that success, Amy decided to write another script for this year, featuring local painter and playwright Santiago Rusinyol, which Sue will be directing once again.
“It took me about four months to write each of the pantos, working about an hour a day,” said Amy. “It is a funny, silly ‘pantomimish’ musical comedy but it also has a subtext of social commentary, especially about the language issues here. It comments on the conflict between the Spanish and Catalan languages, the English who live here who speak neither Spanish nor Catalan and the enthusiasm the Catalans have for learning English.”
As for Christmas 2010, “I don’t know yet whether or not there will be a Barbiere di Sitges III. Maybe we will do something different next year.”
To sum up
Il Barbiere di Sitges: The return of Santiago Rusinyol will run at the Antic Escorxador Theatre in Sitges (C/ Joan Maragall) from December 11th to 13th, playing at 8pm on the 11th and 12th, and noon on the 12th and 13th. Tickets cost €8 for adults and €4 for children; you can reserve your tickets by calling David on 93 810 7033.
“The Sitges English Theatre Company does many productions. We do many original works as well as putting on a yearly talent show for children. We also have social events.” www.sitges-etc.com
“Last year’s music selection was quite eclectic—everything from The Cure to Abba to a Dixieland version of a typical Sitges festa major song. This year, as part of the play takes place in the afterlife, most of the music will be by Michael Jackson.”
“Our cast and crew are: English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, South African, Venezuelan, Mexican, North American, French, Spanish, Basque, Catalan and Dutch. The dominant nationality of the adult cast is British but the children have many different nationalities. They really reflect the Sitges demographic!”
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