“Theatre forces you to reinvent yourself and your work every day, to try new things”

Montse Gili

Director, producer, actress, teacher. Montserrat Gili  has developed all this facets throughout her fascinating professional steps in the theatrical world. Montse moved to London to study at the Physical Theatre School Phillippe Gaulier, where she was trained with members of Complicite Theatre and other professionals such John Wright, recognized awarded director and theatre professor. It is in London where Montse initiates her theatrical career in which she stands out because of her artistic talent. She has participated in several theatre project, she was Artistic Director of Dende Collective theatre company,  and actually, she works as creative director in Hope Street Ltd. She loves working with young people as well as emergent artists; she likes to face new challenges. Her life is like a book full of adventures, we review with her some of this exciting chapters and we analyze the theater situation, “Behind the Scenes”.

Why do you do theatre?

That’s a good question I often ask myself! It’s not an easy choice, it requires a lot of effort and dedication. To top it up it’s the most transient of the arts. The theatrical experience is immediate, happens in the present, it can’t be captured and repeated at will, unlike cinema, TV, music, literature or most visual arts… all the hard work and effort leads to that precious moment of encounter between the audience and the actors and once the the curtain closes, that’s it, you can’t experience the same show again… Ever.
And perhaps that’s what makes theatre so addictive for an artist. On one hand is frustrating that you can’t leave a clear ‘legacy’ or proof of what you did, but on the other hand it forces you to re-invent yourself and your work every day, to try new things. At least in my case, maybe because I get bored easily and always need to be challenging myself, trying new things.

From the different facets you perform in the theatrical environment (direction, production, interpretation, teaching) what is the one you like most and why?

I’ve ended up doing all those different jobs almost by chance, a mixture of me trying new things and a need to survive in a very competitive industry. But I’m glad because I see all those jobs as sides of the same coin, one influences and complements the other and make a better, more complete artist. For example, teaching made me a better performer but also enabled me to direct some of my favourite shows and being a director taught me a lot about producing.

You are also Creative Director in Hope Street Ltd. Please, explain us briefly what is your job about.

Hope Street Ltd is an artistic creation centre where our main strand is the development of emerging artists, regardless of age, and their work as well as the innovation in contemporary theatre. It’s a unique place in the UK and I feel privileged to be there. Our most important body of work happens around our Emerging Artists Programme, a 6 month intensive experience. In 2014 we gather a group of 23 artists from different strands to make up a theatre company (actors, director, designers, production manager, digital artist, musical director, etc) and we produced 4 large scale shows, three of them with lead artists and mentors and last one on their own. My job requires me to put together the teams and dream up those large projects, create partnerships with other companies and of course the day to day support.

Which are the projects you have participated in that you consider more remarkable?

One of the stand out projects of this last year was ‘Race Against Time’ a film noir inspired immersive chase game. The audience/participants had to travel across the city of Liverpool, following clues and experiencing performances. It was very intense and a great challenge as a producer!
This isn’t the first time I work with Hope Street Ltd. Before moving to Liverpool after being offered the Creative Produce post, I directed two different site responsive shows for the Emerging Artists Programme, one of them a durational piece taking over the Tate Liverpool in response to a Picasso exhibition they had at the time. So I was familiar with the challenges that programme throws at you!
Dende Collective_Pau Ross

Dende Collective Theatre Company


Montserrat Gili

From a professional perspective, ¿Which has been the most enriching experience you have experienced and why?

Way too many but I will tell you about two if that’s alright. The first one was working in a Channel 4 documentary that followed the efforts of a group of autistic young people and a group of theatre makers to put a play together. When the TV production company approached the Lyric Hammersmith theatre in London with this project I was very lucky they thought of me to direct the show! It was no doubt one of the most intense and rewarding experiences I ever had. I learned buckets and saying it was a challenge it’s an understatement!
The second project was when I was invited to Zambia to direct a Christmas show for Barefeet Theatre, a charity that helps young people out of the streets using performing arts. Thanks to their amazing work many of those ex-street kids, or at risk, are now part of Barefeet regular performing company, working and earning a living as dancers, musicians, acrobats and actors. It was with that company that we produced a theatrical version of  ‘Labyrinth’ (the classic 80s movie starring David Bowie). Working there puts a lot of things into perspective, we bypass all the ‘health and safety’ regulations but they demonstrated an energy and dedication difficult to find in other places.

How do you see the theatrical authorship currently in London and in Spain?

I first arrived in London to experience a type of theatre that didn’t really exist in Spain at the time, that was nearly 20 years ago… and I’m not sure things have changed much. One of the most inspiring and interesting ways of working is doing ‘devised theatre’ and that’s how I mostly work and the type of theatre and companies I followed when I first arrived in the UK. In Spain is not as widely spread as it’s here now. It simply means that a play  doesn’t rely on the playwright exclusively to happen, it’s not the main source of inspiration at all and sometimes there isn’t even a playwright. The seed of a play can start anywhere and the performance will be a result of the collaboration and creative efforts of all the team in equal measure. The final result both in style and content will be determined by that creative collaboration.
Montserrat Gili
Devised and physical theatre was very popular at the end of the 90s and early 2000s and still has many followers in the UK after it became mainstream with companies like Complicite or Frantic Assembly and Kneehigh but the tables are turning again and we are seeing a return to the playwright as the main impulse of a play. Many theatres in London are specialised in producing new plays and developing new writers and unique voices.
I can speak less about Spain since I am not that connected with what’s happening right now but the most exciting new development is the surge of what is called ‘micro teatro’. Short plays that audience can experience at a cheap price in a non theatrical space and very quickly. Born out of the need that many artist had to work, it’s now a whole genre with many followers and authors writing for it.

What role do you think the theatre should have today for the society in which we live?

Curiously, this question was never asked about cinema or television, or other artistic expressions. There is a belief that theatre is a luxury, something superfluous, but it’s not. It forms part of the artistic ecosystem in general and reports on the health of other arts, helping the development and advancement of artistic expression in film, for example, (which creates a million dollar industry). The theatrical event covers many needs and functions, not only as an agent of change and transmitter of ideas but also as an educational tool. And these are not just words, I have seen with my own eyes how theatre can affect and change people!

In general, what should we as Spaniards learn from English culture? And the English from the Spanish culture?

I think for the Spaniards, it’s not so much to learn from English culture, if not the relationship that this country has with it. Here culture is valued. People go to the theatre, go to see concerts, exhibitions, etc. and not just musicals. In the UK, it is not considered a luxury to spend money on a ticket, but something normal. And if there’s no support, there’s no culture!
As for the English, I think they still have much to learn, as they are generally quite a protective country and not very open to investigating new trends beyond their borders. Yes, it’s true that they are at the forefront of cultural issues, but that could change quickly if they don’t look any further. There is a great lack of knowledge about new trends in Spain and they still only know Lorca and Almodóvar!

If you put a title of a play onto your life, what would it be?

Uff …you’re asking a difficult question..hahaha… I’m sure I’ll spend the week thinking about plays.
‘A delicate balance’  by Edward Albee, it seems that in this profession we’re always making balances to make things add up! (nothing to do with the text of the play)
Or if not, “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley because although I spend the day making decisions, my friends always say I’m very indecisive!

These last few years, the crisis in Spain has primed aggressively with culture and the theatre has been no exception. What political/economic  measures do you think should be applied to regain the health of the performing arts in our country?

The crisis is priming with culture everywhere, even in the UK! I don’t know if it’s the crisis, or the lack of political vision in general. Participation in quality cultural events should be encouraged, from cheaper tickets (that wild VAT has been imposed on the theatre box office!), to direct participation (through schools and other institutions)
And I say quality because although it is also culture, I do not refer to failures or fairs. Of course, introducing participation and encouraging learning about the arts in school will create the audience of tomorrow. And of course, you help the creators and innovators to experiment, there are things that we know are not currently profitable or of high quality, but that they can open the way for others to be tomorrow.

How do you see the future of theatre?

For so many years I’ve heard it said that the theatre is in crisis that I don’t make the case. When something is in crisis, so much the better, because it means it has to do something radical and adopt new formulas. The theatre of today no longer takes place just in theatres, but on the street, in phone booths, in hangars, at train stations, etc. Today, the theatre is developed as an experience for the viewer. And I think that’s where it goes, unique, sensory experiences, sometimes of a single person, sometimes short and quick, such as micro-theatre, sometimes immersive, where you are no longer a spectator but you become a participant.

Theatre Director
Actress & Teacher

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