What is the White Light Theatre?
White Light Theatre was originally known as ‘Buds’, a small after-school drama club, founded by Jackie Villa back in 1994. Initially, they held weekly sessions in the small St Anne’s school hall to learn drama techniques and skills in a fun setting, produced school plays and participated in the Gibraltar Drama Festival. After a period of dormancy (when Jackie was raising her children), it was revived in 2013 and classes resumed. The name change came later, in 2015, when she felt it was necessary to move away from a school-based club to cater for an increased membership.
Jackie registered the group with GCS under its new name, and enlisted the help of Andrew Dark. Together, and with the support of the Ministry of Culture, they adapted Rebecca Faller’s Civil Garrison, writing and publishing the award-winning historical drama Llévame Donde Nací, a play to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Evacuation. In 2018, once again fully supported by GoG, they co-wrote and produced The Winds of Change, a play which outlined the events leading up to the 1967 Referendum. Both were performed to sold-out audiences. They were also the first theatre group to use the GADA Studio to produce a smaller, more intimate show with their adult actors in the Tony Award-winning Doubt by John Patrick Shanley.
Their youth group has participated in the Drama Festival many times, gathering much praise and nominations for their work from several adjudicators and picking up a few prizes to include Best Supporting Youth Actor (Michael Porter) and Adjudicator Award (for Hoodie). Their last production, Distorted, was devised and then performed by them. It ended up being nominated for Best Original Play and Best Supporting Youth Actress (Jodie Ferrar). Encouraged to give back to the community, the group contributed to GCS’ 2019 World Book Day, performing Harry Potter.
For a couple of years, with the help of the Ministry of Culture and monies from their own fundraising events, Jackie has accompanied students to the prestigious West End Stage summer school to take part in a week of performing arts classes, culminating in a performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Central London.
Over the past few years, White Light Theatre has strived to create opportunities for actors to be challenged and learn new styles of theatre. They value and enjoy bringing both adult and youth actors on stage together, as in their Halloween 2019 The Children of Catalan Bay which was performed in the style of an old time Radio Show from the 1940s. Using local directors, actors, writers and technicians, they promote and teach both youth and adults in the dramatic arts. White Light Theatre’s motto is ‘We produce to give back’, so all their productions are gauged to either educate, raise awareness or give monies to local charities.
White Light Theatre is well known for its small-group and more intimate, family-feel set up. However, they are attracting interest and are quickly expanding. They currently offer classes for Juniors ages 8-10, Youth ages 11-13 and Seniors ages 14+, along with Ladies’ workshops. As from September 2020, students will be able to register and sign up for classes comprising of Voice and Breathing, led by Kaigan Garcia, Vocal led by Rachel Payas, Choreography led by Tracy Hook (from Stylos Dance School) and Acting led by Jackie Villa and Kat Sanguinetti.
What were you working on pre-COVID?
Barely a month before Gibraltar went into lockdown, in late February this year, White Light Youth were able to present two Greek plays in their production An Evening with White Light at the newly-opened Theatre Cafe. Over many months their young actors had studied, explored and absorbed the classic style from Ancient Greece, looking back to the very roots of modern theatre, and making it their own. Pandora’s Fire was delightfully performed by their younger age-group, led by Harry Kumar and Kerry Marriott in their directorial debut. The Seniors then moved on to Sophocles’ classic tale of inescapable fate, Oedipus Rex, adapted by Ellen Mclaughlin and directed by Jackie Villa. This is a serious play for any actor, with its challenging but beautifully lyrical and poetic text. Met with initial apprehension by the older students, it was important to Jackie that during their preparation they not only understood every word, made informed choices, delivered their lines with crystal-clear clarity, but that they performed with heart and mind. In an intimate and pleasant theatre-supper atmosphere, with Lawrence Wilson catering a Greek-inspired menu, Dionysus was truly well-served by these courageous performers.
White Light Theatre’s motto is ‘We produce to give back’
What plans did COVID ruin?
Straight after their Greek plays, the youth actors immediately started rehearsals on an adaptation of Aladdin for GCS World Book Day at the Mackintosh Hall. A call from GCS just a day before their performance brought the bad news that the event was cancelled. This was the first COVID-related blow for White Light. As chance would have it (or call it serendipity), Jackie had made the tough decision to opt out of this year’s Drama Festival so they could concentrate on the Greek plays 3-nighter event. Little did they know at the time that this was ultimately a good decision for the group, as the 2020 Drama Festival was subsequently cancelled due to the pandemic.
UK-based director and teacher Mitch Mitchelson from Fourth Monkey Productions had also been programmed to visit Gibraltar in early June and hold specialist commedia dell’arte workshops with the students. This too had to be postponed due to COVID.
How have they adapted post-COVID?
Recruiting actor Kaigan Garcia to help out, the youth and senior students resumed classes after lockdown, following strict COVID-safety recommendations. For Jackie, it seemed natural and safe to work on monologues and spoken word poetry, keeping to social distancing guidelines. Over a number of sessions, the students were able to discuss ideas, research others’ work, analyse style and content, write their thoughts and share their teenage voices. Jackie calls their work Chicken Soup for a Teenage Soul, with plans to perform these pieces towards the end of the year.
The seniors, led by Jackie and Kaigan, started working on a delightful adaptation of The Canterbury Tales by Martin Riley, written to be performed in the commedia style. Jackie is liaising with GCS under their Education Programme to invite Mitch Mitchelson over at the end of September, so he can reach out to a larger number of actors, old and young, and share his techniques.
All going well, White Light Youth shall be performing Aladdin and The Canterbury Tales in the open courtyard outside Theatre Cafe, beneath Inces Hall, in early October.
“This is a serious play for any actor.”
A message from White Light Theatre.
Whilst accepting that COVID is still very much present and remaining extremely realistic, Jackie states that it doesn’t hurt to dream and plan ahead. If Plan A doesn’t work out, there’s still another 25 letters in the alphabet. In the meantime, the students are still learning, still socialising, laughing and venting their concerns. She wants to show her students that by making responsible choices our lives can, and must, go on. Theatre is an ideal platform to forget all our worries for an hour or two, a place where we can escape to during these scary and uncertain times.