By Gianna Stanley
Describing himself as an almost “theatre practitioner”, his work can take many forms that involve running workshops, teaching, expanding vocabulary, training actors, and working in universities or drama colleges. Another aspect is directing plays, or also doing devised theatre. Through this form of theatre, Mitch would create a play from an idea, or adapting it from a literary sourc”. His work is mainly focused in the UK, however, he has been doing a lot of work in Ireland and Luxembourg. His impressive teaching skills have led him to hold workshops even in Italy and Belgium. “The next aspect of my work would be working as an actor and doing a lot of roleplay”. In keeping with the global situation, roleplay includes “training doctors to be empathetic” and how to deal with various circumstances. Continuing with performing, he also has “an animation act with another man, who sort of wanders across streets and festivals”. What gives “another dimension to the work” is his training as a drama therapist.
When I asked him about Gibraltar, Mitch expressed it as “returning to his roots”. I asked him what it was like working in bigger cities like Ireland compared to smaller places like Gibraltar. “I think Gibraltar is just such a special case. I was here when I was around 9 years old until I was 12, and I have vivid memories of it.” After visiting the two houses he used to live in, his recollection came to life; “the wall around the courtyard, the entrance and everything around it… I remember the stairs, the playground of St. Christophers, so certain things have remained consistent.” Luckily, Mitch experienced lovely, sunny weather on his stay, so he visited Catalan Bay, as that’s where he learned how to swim. As many other Gibraltarians could relate, he learned how to rollerskate along the boulevard. Visiting Gibraltar has allowed him to revisit his childhood, which he describes as “very nostalgic without any doubt”.
“I think Gibraltar is just such a special case.”
Coincidentally, his interest in the arts began in Gibraltar. “When I was about nine, I wrote an adaption of Aladdin and performed it with a small cast in my basement. While I was here, I was often in plays and ‘gang shows’ as part of the Scouts. I played all sorts of characters; from the composer Elgar to an infantile grandmother, to a butler in a whodunnit.”. However, his interests swayed in his later adolescence, where he became “more interested in being in a pop band”. Taking Mitch back to drama and theatre was meeting people at university who were interested in the arts, joining a community workshop in his twenties which involved theatrics and joining a company which created international work and consisted of very “visual and experimental theatre”. He then went on to learn more popular theatre forms. “I trained in commedia, circus, puppetry, and I wanted to use those forms and combine them with what I’d learned before.” Soon enough, one thing led to another and Mitch soon set up his own company with a colleague, which was “very viable as a living and had an international profile”.
Whilst in Gibraltar, Mitch held a myriad of workshops on commedia dell’arte, and I was intrigued to ask him about this form of theatre and what intrigued him about this 18th century style. “It’s very visual, being a sort of mask theatre. To make the masks work, your performance has to be larger than life, its vitalistic; full of passion, speed and tempo.” Commedia dell’arte is also popular theatre, so its origins would be staged in a square and is “very actor-oriented”. Perhaps what interested Mitch the most was the physicality it involves; being able to physically transform offers an actor different rhythms of each character, allowing them to ‘change’. He goes on to describe it as “entertaining, but poetic; high art and low art. It’s the poetry of survival for some of the characters. I could see echoes in playwrights such as Shakespeare, Molière and also the whole genre of comedy and farce makes commedia dell’arte extremely relevant to study.”
Undoubtedly, such a physical form of theatre must have been impacted drastically due to COVID-19 and the new restrictions in place, so I was concerned about how he and his colleagues have had to adapt. “The massive change that everybody in the creative arts in England has faced was work getting cancelled.” Mitch was fortunate enough to have been working up until March, directing a devised show in a drama school, lectures in a university, teaching in Luxembourg and had “just done a little bit of work with the actor Daniel Radcliffe”. His first time working with Daniel involved “teaching him slapstick clowning for the film Viktor Frankenstein, and then after several years, I was asked to work with him on how to use ladders as props in the Samuel Beckett play Endgame”. Appropriately, this was his last job before lockdown, and consisted of teaching Radcliffe how to “fall off ladders safely”. This work gave him a large morale boost, which was definitely needed for this period of uncertainty. Over lockdown, Mitch adjusted, and did a few Zoom teaching sessions.
“It’s the poetry of survival.”
However, teaching in Gibraltar has been one of his first workshops since then, and there have been certain rules to follow, making things very different. Funnily enough, the mask wearing is very fitting with commedia dell’arte, as some actors need to adapt to mask wearing. “The strange thing was that somebody said that wearing the face mask helped them send their emotions into their body”. He linked this to the origins of neutral mask, in which Lecoq placed a handkerchief over his self conscious actor, which liberated her and allowed her to express physically the directors intention. “Similarly, we had these masks and had to amplify the physicality even more.” He is pleased that despite challenges and the new rules of social interaction, they managed to hold the creative theatre workshop.
Mitch’s work takes a variety of forms, from teaching, to acting, and directing. I wondered what his favourite features of each were and whether they all aided each other. “They are different, but they all feed into each other, for me. The teaching acts as a laboratory, allowing you to make new discoveries. I always find the work is evolving because of what participants in workshops bring to the process, so I’m always adding new possibilities.” He encapsulates it as being a continuous research process, stating that he never sees the teaching as just teaching, but “researching”. Perhaps adding to his talent is his ability to never compartamentalise each facet of his work. “In directing, there is something very scary yet exciting about bringing a play onto the floor. I do enjoy that, but I do feel they feed into each other”. He also enjoys to keep his artistic sensibilities alive by constantly reading up about his work, watching films and performances, and let everything feed into everything else.
A recent project he devised was with a drama school entitled Friendly Fire in which they used grotesque body masks. Previous to this, he worked on taking science-fiction stories by the writer Ray Bradbury, set in the 1950s, but with contemporary resonance, and devising it into a play. He admits that when he is focusing on just one thing, such as directing, he misses the other aspects of his work, which I think really demonstrates his passion for the arts; he wants to continue doing it all at once. Working in Gibraltar has allowed him to do this and he described his work here as being “organic”, as it mixed the variety of his forms of work. He explained how he used to mainly perform in the past, but does not participate in performances that much anymore. However, he expresses that there is always a “great excitement when a performance goes well and you connect with the audience”.
On conversing about what led him to Gibraltar, I thought it was a very Llanito experience which ought to be told. Local talent Kaigan Garcia was one of his past students, and Mitch was shocked to learn that Kaigan was from Gibraltar – the place he spent some of his childhood years in. “There’s two links as to why I’m here: someone I’ve worked with in the past, and my own memories as a kid”, and I think this almost encapsulates the Gibraltarian identity of forming links wherever you go.
“That is the spirit of commedia; its a Gibraltarian thing.”
Whilst sat amidst the buzz of Jury’s cafe, with the usual loud chatter of Gibraltar, Mitch made a point about Gibraltarian culture which really resonated with me. He mentioned that “although people did not know a lot about commedia in the acting scene here, it feels to me completely appropriate to the nature of the place”. He was in a cafe earlier on in the week by the piazza, and he had “never seen such a lively atmosphere, with everybody chatting, everybody knowing each other, and that is the spirit of commedia; its a Gibraltarian thing”.
To end this wonderful interview, I’ll leave you with a comment that not only summarises Mitch’s work, but also the Gibraltarian identity. “The sort of vitality and outdoors life where everybody is interacting in Gibraltar is pure Commedia for me”.