November 21, 2017

Carla Calabrese, director of The Stage Company, teacher and actress

Sunday, June 12, 2016

‘Broadway is a business but in Argentina theatre is an artistic need’

By Veronica Stewart
For the Herald


Born: Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Education: London Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and theatre with Raúl Serrano and Fernando Orecchio.
Plays: The three musketeers, Pirate legend and Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Most recent awards: Shrek, the Musical won six Hugo Awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor for Pablo Sultani, Best Supporting Actor for Roberto Peloni and Best Production, and the Carlos de Plata Award.

Carla Calabrese is a lot of things. She is a teacher, an actress, a director, and an overall theatre enthusiast. But above all things, and quoting the grand finale of The Stage Company’s latest and biggest play Shrek, the Musical, she’s a believer of the work she does. She believes in the huge role that theatre can play in someone’s education, and she believes in the work she has been doing with The Stage Company ever since it started back in 2006. Now, she swears by the quality of Shrek, and the reviews and awards back her up. After enjoying tremendous success with the first two seasons of the show, Carla got together with the Herald to discuss the upcoming third season of Shrek, the Musical — which now includes showings in English — and her views on the local scene of musical theatre.

When you started with The Stage Company, why did you feel the need to put on plays in English?

For me, being a teacher as well as a theatre director and an actress, it was really nice to be able to combine two things I like so much: English and theatre. I think that in reference to education it’s really important for students to have the possibility of being immersed in a really fun and interesting play. They have to be entertained first to be able to learn the language and the vocabulary afterwards. If they’re immersed in a well-told story with a wonderful production, they are going to be so interested and aware of everything happening on stage that they’re going to learn the language as naturally as we learn our native language. We don’t separate plays thinking, “this is for grades one to three, and this is for grades six to 10,” like other companies do. People speak the language and you have to keep it friendly and familiar with what they’re learning, but you can’t target a special group in a play because that will lead to a non interesting play that is not thought from the point of view of entertainment.

You also do stagings in schools. How do you set that up?

We have always done this thing of going to the school and adapting the play to each specific stage or space that the school provides, but with Shrek, the production is so big. It is important to point out that this is a Broadway show. A Broadway show has certain things that you have to do, and certain quality that you have to keep. Our plays have always been quality plays, but they were smaller. With Shrek, it’s 21 actors on stage and a huge production with a lot of costume and setting changes all the time, so it’s not possible to take those to schools. I also think that it’s great to take the students out sometimes. We try to point out that this is a special occasion for schools, institutes or lovers of the English language, to see a play as if it was the West End.

Why do you think it’s important for students to learn about theatre?

I think that it’s necessary for education because they are exploring their feelings and trying to find themselves, and if you see your own problems reflected on stage, it acts as a mirror. And only when you see things clearly you can change the ones you don’t like. I think it’s important because it makes you see that there are greys. I remember when I thought that everything was black and white and when you discover grey, you discover a whole lot of things. You understand your parents a lot better, you understand yourself a lot better and you are able to learn and grow, apart from learning English. It’s really important that they have the cultural experience of seeing good theatre. Some plays think kids need little plays about little things, and they don’t like that. You don’t have to think about it as a play for kids, because they are just little human beings and they want to be treated with respect. These plays are light so kids feel like they don’t like theatre, but it’s because they’ve never really seen theatre. I think theatre can change things and improve lives. When you see a play where actors are committed to what they are doing and a play that’s written with deep feelings, you are transformed. And that’s what we aim to do, to transform people through theatre.

What are the relaxed performances and how do you do them?

The relaxed performances are specific performances we do for people with special communication needs or families with members on the autistic spectrum. These people usually don’t go to the theatre with the members that have these disorders because as they sometimes can’t stay quiet or stay still, or they make some noises, they feel like they can disturb others. It’s mostly for people that have difficulties in learning or who are in the autistic spectrum. So during the relaxed performances the lights are on the whole time and there are no sudden changes of sounds or light, because this can be really unsettling, if lights go up and down all the time. Also, there’s a chill out area so that if all the theatre experience becomes really overwhelming, they can go outside and chill out for a while and then come back. The atmosphere is really relaxed. The volume is low and everything is soft and nice for them to enjoy. We’re hoping this will result in a switch among theatres for them to have these kinds of performances. We took counsel from professionals to know what could bother these kids, and then adapting it wasn’t really so hard because they follow the story perfectly. They just need small adaptations. It’s just thinking about a little effort to be inclusive, because it’s important to emphasize that this is not about targeting, but about inclusion.

How would you describe the Argentine musical theatre scene?

I think we have one of the most important places to see theatre in the world here in Argentina. I’ve seen great talent among actors and directors. One of the best things I saw here was Next to Normal, and I loved that I saw it here and in Spanish. It was very deep and the direction of Indio Romero was great. And then Alicia in Frikiland was created here by Random Creators and it was really good. And that musical was made here; it wasn’t something coming from abroad. A lot of people come here to see theatre.

What differences can you see between Broadway theatre and local theatre?

If you see Shrek here, you’re not going to notice differences. I think that we are capable of performing magic because we sometimes produce things lowering costs a lot. You see a lot of imagination and creativity because for us it’s a lot more difficult since the price we can put on a ticket is a lot lower than abroad. You can’t charge a ticket the same than you do in New York and at same time if you buy fabric maybe it’s more expensive than if you buy it in New York. I think there it’s more of a business, and here it’s an artistic need that we producers, directors and actors have. So we try to manage and make things happen with a lot of creativity and effort. The best case scenario sometimes is to be able to bring the money back to make other things, but to earn extra money is really difficult.

What can you tell me about your production of Shrek?

Like I said, it’s not that different from the Broadway show. We’re using every setting as in the original version. We had to cut out some dialogues and a couple of songs, because it would have been really long for school groups to come and see it. It lasts about 70 minutes, but it’s a really good adaptation, with near-native English-speaking actors. And the play is so well written and so visually appealing. It’s something that everybody can enjoy, not just children. I think it’s something that has not been done before: a West End musical adapted here in Argentina with this level of English.


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