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Want to study drama abroad? Our guide to options from Barcelona to Umbria

Directors’ Symposium at La MaMa Umbria. Photo: David J Diamond Directors’ Symposium at La MaMa Umbria. Photo: David J Diamond
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An intense summer training course might not sound much like a holiday, but with destinations such as Barcelona, Umbria and Genoa to choose from, it certainly has its upsides. Eleanor Turney looks at the options


Sun, sea, sand and… Shakespeare? For performers, writers and directors looking for training, there are a number of courses abroad, offering the chance to top up your tan and your skills.

With so many courses to choose from, it obviously pays to think about what you want to gain from the time – and money – spent.

La MaMa Umbria, an Italian offshoot of New York’s La MaMa, hosts residencies for directors, playwrights and performers.

“La MaMa came from our founder Ellen Stewart’s vision,” says artistic director Mia Yoo. “She was in Spoleto for its international festival and fell in love it. When she got a MacArthur Genius grant, she decided to buy somewhere for artists’ residencies, where people from all over the world could come together.”

David Diamond, La MaMa Umbria coordinator, runs through the offer: “There’s the two-week directors’ symposiums, with four resident international teaching artists. We also have week-long playwriting workshops with a lot of writing and quiet time. There are other residency programmes and performance incubators where people come with ideas about what they want to work on. And then there are residencies in preparation for performances at the Spoleto Festival.”

The prices vary, from $2,800 for the two-week directors’ symposium to between 100-150 a day for the other workshops, but all include meals, trips, tickets to external performances and accommodation.

“For a lot of artists it is a lot of money,” admits Yoo. “It’s something we grapple with every year – how do we create more resources for the programme so that we can offer scholarships or reduce the fees? Next year, we’re trying to drum up more support so we can offer significant scholarships.”

Spanish theatre company Cross Border Project runs a rural programme with a week-long summer school in applied theatre. The courses, which are by comparison extremely cheap, are aimed at teachers, artists and social workers.

“There is a need to link these three worlds,” says artistic director Lucia Miranda. “Many times, they are working in the same areas but they don’t know each other. We put them together. We have a problem finding artists – we have many teachers who want to be in our classes, but not many artists. That’s because drama schools in Spain don’t develop community tools or inclusive theatre as normal. It’s not like in the UK where you have degrees in applied theatre.”

“We don’t know if it will be possible to maintain the fees next year. Last year, it was 140 for the course, which is nothing – we joked it was cheaper than staying where you normally live. We provide housing, food and teaching. This summer it’s 300, which is still very cheap, but artists here are fighting to stay alive.”

Another option is Moon Fool’s 18-day actor training course in September, in Genoa, Italy. The full cost is £1,700, with a £150 early bird discount. Participants live and work together, and all meals and trips are included in the price. Artistic director Anna-Helena McLean is clear that “for very strong applicants there are subsidies available – money shouldn’t deter people and we’re always very interested to hear from new people”.

McLean, who used to work with Polish physical theatre company Gardzienice, explains that the course is rooted in the practice that she has developed: ACT – actor, chorus, text. “The training covers the physical body, the vocal body, the emotional body, and moving towards devising and making an adaptation of sections of a Shakespeare play. The training is comprehensive in preparing the total actor for a production in the ACT method.

“The people who have signed up so far are, in the majority, actors, but also researchers, drama therapists, teachers, directors, people already working in ensemble theatres who want to hone their skills or come with working partners. It also reaches out to circus performers who want to integrate text or poetry into their performance, and dancers who want to incorporate speech or song into their performance. And then text-based Shakespearian enthusiasts. It’s quite a broad spectrum.”

Physical Lab, founded by Yorgos Karamalegos, is an international laboratory for actors and performers offering training that uses the body to explore text and character. “I want people to find their own way into acting,” says Karamalegos. “I often participate in workshops myself, as an actor, and I feel we are offering something different. We are attacking the craft from many different perspectives.

“We work with the body, of course, but also with the voice, with presence and with intellect. We work on the scene and the text, we look at intentions… eventually we start creating the character with costumes and props. I am open to trying a lot of different elements.”

A three-day masterclass costs 290 (265 concessions) and a two-week residency in Crete costs 645 (630 for concessions) plus flights and accommodation (about 10 a night for camping, 20 for a hostel or 30 for an Airbnb).

I ask Karamalegos how the company thinks about costs for participants. He explains: “There was a point when the Lab took a step up and we had staff, but we had to put the prices up and started getting people who struggled to pay. So we decided that, yes, we are a serious organisation, but we can’t charge higher fees to support our development.”

La MaMa’s Yoo adds: “Ellen started to see what happened to the artists and their work by having these cultural exchanges and being in unfamiliar places. So it became a mission of hers to provide more opportunities for that to happen. In 1993, I was in the middle of her crazy adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. I didn’t speak Italian, but being in that space was magical. I felt for the first time that dynamic of confronting something that was different from you, which gives you a better sense of who you are. It strengthens your identity as an artist and as a human being.”

You don’t get that lying on a beach with a cocktail – so maybe now is the time to start planning for next year.


Three other training courses

1. Centre for Alternative Theatre Training Summer School, Amsterdam, August 13 – August 18. 325, plus flights, accommodation and meals (final dinner included). bit.ly/CATT2018

2. Various residential writing and acting courses in July and August, Actors Space, Barcelona, Spain. 350-490, plus flights, accommodation and meals. actors-space.org/courses-workshops

3. DAMU Summer School, Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague, Czech Republic, 10 days to be announced in 2019. Approximately 720 plus flights, accommodation, meals and theatre tickets. damu.cz/en/learning/

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