Name: Sammy Metcalfe
Programme: BA (Hons.) European Theatre Arts (ETA)
Current role: Artistic director, Sleepwalk Collective
iara Solano Arana (Spain), Malla Sofia Pessi (Finland), and I formed Sleepwalk Collective in May 2006, in the last few months of our time on ETA – we felt the future suddenly opening up in front of us, deep and wide and empty, and there didn't seem to be anything else we could do but make shows to fill it up with.
Immediately after graduating we spent a year in London – making our first small, tentative pieces – before moving, more or less spontaneously, to the Basque Country in northern Spain, where we've lived and worked ever since. One of the first and best decisions that we made was that we would produce both English- and Spanish-language versions of all our shows, and as a result we've been able since then to tour all across the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds (in an unexpected twist we've also recently started doing Spanish-language versions of shows – with surtitles – for English-speaking audiences). The other good early decision we made – inspired by the emerging DIY performance scene in the UK – was to embrace our limitations, to make a virtue of our lack of funding and resources, to create work that was lo-fi, intimate, agile, because it wanted to be, not just because it had to be. In 2009 we made our first Good Show and we've never looked back.
We all had exactly the same training, but have ended up performing wildly different roles both within and without the company: iara performs, designs, produces (she is now, amongst other things, artistic director of an annual festival in Spain), and makes her own interactive and instillation work for theatres and galleries; Malla devises and performs with us and also has a whole life and work outside of theatre; I write, direct, design sound and create music, the latter both for our own shows and for shows by other artists and companies.
Beyond the practical performance-making we have no formal training in any of these skills; that we've fallen into these roles, and are able (to our continued amazement) to work professionally in these different areas, is testament to the radical, independent, DIY spirit that the ETA course can instil if you're open and receptive to it. And there are so many other things that we learnt on the course, alongside the practical and theoretical knowledge and skills to make our own work: the confidence to work with freedom and autonomy, on our own terms; the ability to appreciate process, to enjoy the work and it's discoveries all for its own sake; the understanding that performance-making can be a communal activity, a thing you love done with people you love. The fact that theatre can be, is, whatever you make of it.
In 2016 we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the company. In the last ten (now almost eleven) years we have performed work at The Festival Of Theatre in Havana Cuba, MESS Festival in Sarajevo, Sydney International Festival in Australia, Progress Festival in Toronto, The Barbican in London, amongst many other theatres and festivals across Europe and beyond, and in 2017 we'll be doing our first ever shows in Mexico. We have made a ballet in Brazil. We have had our work live-streamed by The Guardian. We have done a 24-hour outdoor show in the centre of our home city and thought – before and even after – that doing something like that was a good idea. We have won things and lost other things. We have sat, for hours, on a runway somewhere in Eastern Europe, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night, waiting for something alarming and mysterious to be either fixed on or removed from our tiny plane. We have (ok, I have) thrown-up on a moving bus in Poland after drinking too much at what was either an opening or a closing ceremony. We have (ok, iara has) refused hospitalisation hours before performing in one of Europe's oldest theatres. We have watched a tower block on fire in the middle of a tropical storm. We have had our work described as "eerie, naughty, penetrating, witty, transporting, sexy, devastating", and as being "basically Snapchat", and been happy with both of those descriptions. We have had some crushingly bad reviews but also some good ones. We have made shows with no money and (more recently) shows with some money. We have met some of our artistic heroes and been horribly, horribly starstruck. We have all somewhere along the line reached our 30s. We now have both a producer and an accountant, which seems absurdly grown up. We have fought endlessly. We have cried our eyes out. We have sometimes hated the work. We have found it all for the most part to have been worth it.
Photo credits: Alex Brenner, Miguel Gil and Alessia Bombaci