Saturday, 16 January 2010

Spiral Theatre Project - Bielva 2009

So on the 13th December we set off to Spain on what would prove to be one of the most rewarding weeks for all of us.
We arrived at Santander Airport and were met by Spiral - Chris, Carol and Marta (and Carols mum). Chris is english but has lived in Spain for over 10 years, he is a theatre director and writer, Carol is a journalist and Marta is an archeologist. They were immediately welcoming and were really enthusiastic about us being there.
On the way to the villlage Chris told us all about the project and also about the way that theatre works in Spain.
Spain is split into different regions and each has its own government. There is a main government in Madrid. The regional governments are responsible for looking after health, education, culture etc and the spanish are very protective over their cultural heritage, they have laws that protect things like paintings from being bought or sold and leaving the country. Banks and Building Societies in Spain put a proportion of their profits into foundations which fund arts centres in each town. Companies/organisations have to put in a bid in order to do a theatre project and so a lot of time and effort goes into the preparation and deliverance of each project by Spiral.

Bielva is a small village right in the mountains about 40 minutes from Santander. It was beautiful! We arrived at the house where we would be staying to find that Chris, Carol and Marta had prepared a huge meal for us. That night we all got to know each other over food, wine and traditional spanish sweeties!!!

The days in Spain are much longer than they are here as they work in the mornings untill around 2pm and then have a big meal and a siesta for a couple of hours. Work starts again at around 5/6pm and continue until 10pm. Our mornings consisted of a series of workshops where we were told all about the work of Spiral and why they work the way that they do. We also learnt a lot about the history of spain and the cultural policy. In the evenings we would attend the rehearsals with the company and the villagers.

We met the villagers on the Monday night during their rehearsal. They knew that we were coming and when we walked in they were so friendly, there were kisses all round!!!!

The project really did involve the whole community. The oldest performer was 80 and the youngest 8, some of the villagers helped during the process but did not want to perform. Whole families performed, Yolanda and her son Cesar and daughter Virginia, Lola, her son and his wife and 2 daughters all performed. Not many of the village spoke english, only the younger ones who were learning at school and all the rehearsals were conducted in Spanish. Chris would translate everything for us, however some of the older participants became quite self conscious if we laughed at what he told us, thinking that we were laughing at them rather than with them.

The play was completely devised by the villagers and Spiral, the names, the story all the lines came out of improvisations and games. Chris told us that they had discovered the relationships between the characters through hot seating. They had created the whole thing and as Chris told us, when the lines were typed up and given to them, they suddenly found it harder to say. They didnt feel that it was their words any more, they didnt belong to them now that they were in print. It was then that we started to see how much this play meant to Bielva and how connected it was to their own history and heritage.

The play was called 'Una comida para llegara de Fausto' A meal for the arrival of Fausto and was about a man (Fausto) returning home to his village 50 years after leaving to seek his fortune. He returns rich and with a plan to build a ski centre in the mountains near the village in order to bring money, jobs and prosperity to the villagers. However Fausto finds that when he left, his girlfriend was pregnant and gave their son away. The first part of the play is set days before his return and the villagers are all gossiping about why he might be coming back and what he will do with his money. The centre piece of the show is a huge dinner they have to celebrate Fausto's return! All the food was freshly prepared for the performance and the process of setting the table and bringing out all the food was part of the play. In real life, 50 years ago many people left their villages and set off to 'The Americas' to seek their fortunes and we were told that there was a plan to build a ski station in some of the neighbouring villages and so the play was very much embedded in the villagers own lives.

During the week we began to really get to know everyone in the village and each other. The villagers were so welcoming to us, they invited us to mass on the last day and Nuco who played Fausto, took us on a tour of the village, telling us all about its history. Yolanda delivered fresh bread every morning and also gave us 36 eggs!!!! The younger villagers seemed really happy that we were there, especially Cesar, Isabel and Zaira who invited us out with them and came over for breakfast on our last day.

The performance took place in a bar that had no heating and was decorated with some very strange cartoons! We covered the whole space with white material which completely transformed the room. It was a surprise for the cast who were all so happy when they saw it. Once there were a few lights in place, it began to look like a performance space, which was a completely new experiance for them. It was a really nice feeling to take a familiar place for them and transform it into something completely different.
As we had experiance of technical theatre, our roles for the performance were front of house, stage management, lighting and sound and everyone worked really hard to pull off 2 great shows. The audience were locals, friends and family of the cast and had never seen something like this before and they all seemed to really enjoy it.

As a thankyou to Spiral, we cooked a big 'traditional' roast dinner for the 14 of us! Very difficult when the electricity cuts out if you turn on more than a light!! We also wrote them a song 'The Twelve Days of Spiral'! After the shows, the cast gave the food that they had used for the meal to us as a thank you for helping them. Their was a party with singing and dancing and spontaneous bagpipe performances from the audience!! We wrote another song to say a huge thank you to the village. 'Thankyou Bielva' was definitely a group collaboration between all 9 of us and we performed it to them at the 'aftershow party'. Carol translated it into Spanish so that the villagers could understand!
It was such a fantastic week and a huge learning experiance for me. It was great to share the experiance with the 2nd years who were all lovely and really enthusiastic. We spent many evenings drinking sangria around the fire!!! I hope that we will have the opportnity to work with them more this semester as they have a lot of ideas and skills that we can hopefully utilise and vise versa. I have learnt so much about the power of community theatre work and i would love to work more with Spiral in the future!!