For the past 10 years, The Drama Factory has been offering native English-speaking children and young language learners the chance to take part in theatre classes. To mark the first decade of this popular initiative, we spoke to founder Sophie Heydel
How long have you been in Barcelona? Why did you first come here? We arrived in 1998. Sounds like ages ago, but I still feel like I've only just got here.
What is your background in drama? I came to theatre quite late really, at 18. I joined a drama group in my area in London and that was it, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I applied for drama school and got a scholarship to go to The Guildhall School of Music and Drama on the acting degree course. It was an amazing time, with great teachers and students. When I left there, I pretty much worked non stop in theatre, on the fringe, in rep, in regional stuff, touring - I played such a variety of parts, looking back, I was very fortunate. I think it's much harder for actors to get that much consistent theatre work now.
Why did you originally decide to set up the Drama Factory? What I loved most about being an actor was rehearsing, the whole exploratory side of it, so it naturally led me to teach and direct. I love kids and teaching, so I just put all those loves together really.
What exactly does it offer? Who is it aimed at (native speakers, English learners, age groups, etc.)? Where do you hold the classes? It offers an hour a week drama classes to kids who have a good understanding of English - most of the kids are fluent English speakers, but I have had many who are not, as long as they can follow instructions and know what is going on around them, so they can join in, that's what's important. I have two groups: one on a Monday for ages six to nine and one on a Tuesday for ages 10-15. Classes are held in Gràcia in in a lovely big tango dance hall.
What are some of your strongest memories of the Drama Factory from the past decade? I think my strongest moments have been witnessing the development of some kids who started the classes excruciatingly shy, and watching them steadily grow in confidence and really blossom. There have been so many special moments of watching children really engage with their imaginations and see them have the confidence to express themselves. The way I work, we mostly devise our own work, as opposed to rehearsing from a written script. This way the kids get to invent the world of the play, their characters, what they say, etc. I have seen kids come up with some amazingly original ideas, much better than I could have come up with!
How has it changed since you first started doing the classes? Looking back on the 10 years I have run The Drama Factory, I don't think it has changed very much, to be honest. Of course the students change...they come and go, and those that stay, I have the privilege of watching them grow up! I have kids in my older age group, who have been with The Drama Factory since they were six and now they are 13!!! That's fantastic for me! Watching them develop.
Have any of your pupils gotten the acting bug and decided to continue with the theatre after finishing your classes? Quite a few past and present students have been in films shot here in Barcelona. One of my students invited me to the premiere of her film. I was very proud of her.
Many of the students have done voice-over work, and I am often being asked by casting directors to send kids up for castings for adverts or films, although I don't work as an agent - I just put them in touch with the parents.
What do you think the pupils, and children in general, get most out of doing theatre classes? I think they get a plethora of different skills. Confidence building, learning to work in groups, having to negotiate ideas, bring them alive, learning to listen, being spontaneous, believing in themselves, being allowed to go a bit mad, being able to let off steam, engaging with other kids like themselves. Over the years, I have had quite a few home-schooled kids; it's a great opportunity for them to mix with other kids their age.
What do you think of the English-language theatre scene in Barcelona? Is there anything that could be done to make it better? There are all sorts of interesting things going on now in Barcelona, not just theatre, but stand up, storytelling, there is a great improvisation group that runs every Sunday and puts on improv shows - consequently Barcelona is attracting more and more talented creative people. "How to improve it?" Corrr, that's a long answer, but it starts with good funding, good directors and, of course, good actors. The last English- speaking theatre I went to see was Jocular Theatre’s Bat Boy, The Musical. The quality of work and singing for an amateur company was great. I think there is a lot of talent in Barcelona right now!
Do you have any tips or recommendations to people looking to start their own business in Barcelona? Find your passion, the rest will follow. Be patient, when you hit a wall, try not to use all your energy climbing over it, find a way around it.
Find out more about The Drama Factory here.