Name: Kate Papi
Role: Director, pedagogue, producer.
I am privileged to have been part of BA (Hons) European Theatre Arts (ETA) in the really early days; our year was the third year to complete the course; we were part of something unknown, the course was still in its infancy, the current campus had not yet been built and we were a bunch of international weirdos making it up as we went along. But by the end of the three years, many had defined a clear research, had begun to clarify their process, had met international practitioners creating daring and innovative work and our ideas were varied and influenced by so many areas of practice and diverse sources. This was not a one approach suits all course and challenged us to question what type of artist we wanted to be and equipped us with the knowledge to begin.
Following graduation, as a result of the start of my masters course being postponed for a year, and the realisation that I wanted to ensure that I was responsible for when I could and how I would work, I made a drastic decision; in 2004 I bought a ruined farm in southern France.
From the age of 14 I had wanted to run a space; a place where people could work and meet, to exchange practice outside of an urban environment. The ETA course cemented this choice through exposing me to process-led making and research-based practice. I understood that a centre that could provide affordable space and time for this endeavour was what I would commit to. I also wanted to ensure that I always had a place to work, could be financially independent, and have a place to support emerging artists and collaborate with other creative practitioners. But, the farm was a ruin and I only had GCSE level French. Armed with a degree in ‘making it up as I went along with international weirdos’, (aided by cheap local plonk), we made a start on the roof.
When I moved to France aged 24, I found that although I appreciated my developing skills as an electrician and plasterer, I feared that the artistic side would be delayed. Meeting Oliviero Papi changed this. We began by leading workshops exchanging training for help with building and the arrival of Unai Lopez de Armentia and Hannah Whelan, both colleagues from my time at Rose Bruford led to the establishment of OBRA in 2007.
OBRA’s work is rooted in psychophysical practice and created through rigorous research and an ongoing development of theatre training. We stage works that were not initially destined to be performed: essays, poetic novels, a footnote. Making work away from urban centres ensures that what we make is rooted in the discoveries made by the ensemble, without the influence of the industry.
We have had some rough periods, times when we are only working in the office or building; we have invested all of our money into Au Brana and OBRA. I had to learn how to navigate French bureaucracy, different funding streams, a new culture and creative industry. But, importantly we have understood the need to evaluate where we are, to ask if we are creating work that we care about and if we are being respectful of our artistic values.
OBRA now work in more direct contact with where we live. We have been running mediation projects in rural communities; collecting anecdote, examples of change and making films in response to abandoned architecture in collaboration with Matt Smith of VIDEOfeet. Our core creative team are practitioners in their own right and we are exploring the rich source material and our experience with film making for our next performance and film projects. Our process is collaborative and we open our practice in the form of lab sessions and teaching work in the university sector, hosting students at Au Brana, with the French social services and for youth projects.
As a theatre director, workshop leader and through hosting people at Au Brana I have had the pleasure to collaborate and meet artists from many disciplines at varying stages in their careers. I have been invited to direct work for other artists and groups and through providing space for emerging artists, have had the opportunity to support new practices and continue the ethos of ETA.
The European Theatre Arts course was the foundation of my continuing practice; the capacity to evaluate, take risks, to not fear working outside of the industry, to favour process and collaboration, to work as part of an ensemble, to place emphasis on practice rather than product. It prepared me to find solutions, to ask questions, it created the basis for a fantastic network of likeminded artists and allowed me to define, within a supportive environment committed to the evolution of theatre arts, the kind of practitioner I strive to be.
Photo credits: Obra Theatre and Au Brana.