The Story of Teatro Vivo by Artistic Director Sophie Austin
Teatro Vivo, the theatre company I founded in 2005 is ten years old. My colleagues want to throw a party, but I’m not sure. ‘What have we got to celebrate?’ I mutter gloomily as I look at the pile of funding applications to write. They ignore me and the party planning begins, forcing me to revisit the last ten years through photos, videos, reviews and hand written thank yous as I collate archive footage to share and a dreaded speech to give.
Ten years ago I graduated from Drama School; nicely tooled up to begin life as a theatre director but lacking the funds or connections to secure an easy ride into one of the theatres I greatly admired. And what a relief that I didn’t for the great adventure I embarked upon in 2005 was to shape every aspect of my life.
Drama school was very good at teaching me how to direct, but it gave very little advice on what to direct. This bit was up to me. My dream of large casts conjuring Shakespearean tempests were looked down upon because of practicalities – what theatre would invite a 23 year old to direct a large cast on their main stage and I didn’t much fancy the idea of taking out a mortgage to squeeze my epic into a room above a pub just for my mum and gran to see it.
This last thought led me to the next question; who did I want to direct theatre for?
I grew up in a small village surrounded by farms where the only entertainment was to join the local drama group. This was the place to be; all walks of life congregated to participate in pantomimes, farce and tragedy; where the pig farmer became the jinni and the teacher became the dame. Each year, the plays offered were the highlight of the village social calendar and everyone would attend. When I moved to London, it became very clear that a trip to the theatre was not an event that everybody was able to do, cost and accessibility being two of the major factors.
So in 2005 I decided that I wanted to make theatre that was accessible to all, that captured the sense of occasion and excitement of a village panto, but that utilised my professional skills to create the grand scale theatre of my dreams. Teatro Vivo was born.
Who would help me on this adventure? That was the next question, swiftly answered by placing adverts throughout South London: “Looking for Like-Minded people to play with”. Surprisingly, these adverts brought just the right people and in the summer of 2005 we staged our first production.
Doing What Lovers Do was an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet involving a cast of 10 professional actors, two opera singers and four musicians. We worked with two writers to develop the characters of Paris and Rosalind and told the story from their perspective. We staged it in a local park, rehearsing in the open to dog walkers and truanting school kids and eventually performed to 600 local people across three days.
Fast forward ten years and we have become Associate Artists at the Albany in South London and Watermill Theatre in Newbury, we are a charity with a proper board and real governing documents and we pay our artists the fees they deserve. Teatro Vivo continues to create theatre that I am truly proud of and I’m humbled by the growing audience each show attracts.
As well as an ever growing gang of actors and creatives, three miraculous people have accompanied me on this journey and together we work tirelessly to achieve our aims of transforming much loved stories into theatrical adventures; collaborating with communities and audiences to turn everyday environments into magical worlds.
It has been a hugely rewarding experience reviewing the last ten years and I urge everyone to do it. The party went ahead as planned and was the most glorious night of celebration, dancing and feasting. As I gave my speech and looked out into faces I have known over these last ten years I felt truly elated that I have the best job in the world and can’t wait to discover what the next ten years will bring.
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