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Sharing a wealth of cultural experience

A circus class at El Corral de la Paca.
A circus class at El Corral de la Paca. / SUR
  • Marcus von Wachtel is an actor and creator

If anyone fits the description of a 'true European', it is Marcus von Wachtel; with a Hungarian father, British mother and Spanish nationality, he has worked and travelled extensively in Europe and elsewhere and now divides his time between Madrid and the small village of Jimena de la Frontera, in Cadiz province. There he has opened the only privately run cultural centre, El Corral de la Paca.

Marcus, who describes his profession as a “creator in the performing arts” is currently organising the 6th Festival of the Arts in Jimena, which starts later this month. The question has to be asked: what brought him to Jimena, of all places?

“I moved to Jimena as a child. We were the first foreigners to live here,” he explains. “We were living on the coast near Algeciras, but there were plans to build a road near our house so my parents decided to move. A friend told them he had visited a nice village called Jimena, so they came to see it and liked it. That was back in 1972.”

When he left schoolMarcus went to the RSDA in Madrid, the Spanish equivalent of RADA, to train as an actor. Afterwards, he remained in Madrid, worked with the National Theatre Company and helped to set up small companies with friends. That was during Spain's transition to democracy, which he describes as an “interesting period”, when young actors in independent companies used theatre as a way of making political and social commentary. They couldn't afford to do it full-time, however. “Commercial theatre was rather looked down on at the time, but we all had to do it in the end. It was the only way to make a decent living and a name for ourselves,” he says.

Marcus' CV makes long and impressive reading. Among many other things he has acted, founded theatre and circus companies, directed productions, designed and organised parades, including Carnival and Three Kings in Madrid, taught (including at the Madrid Circus School), been the artistic director for numerous shows and managed the light, sound and theatre department at Expo '92, which he says was possibly the most satisfying experience of his career.

“We were responsible for the shows at the Expo, including the technical side,” he explains. “We did three shows a day for six months, and 35,000 artists passed through our department.”

One theme seems to occur frequently through Marcus' CV, however: circus. He has performed, taught circus specialities in theatre schools, holds classes for local children at El Corral de la Paca, and the forthcoming Festival de las Artes has a circus theme, including workshops for children and performances from professionals in this genre of art.

This has been planned to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of modern circus, but it is a fascination which began at an early age: in fact, he almost ran away with a Portuguese circus that visited Jimena when he was 14.

Having travelled the world with such an exciting career, what made him decide to open a cultural centre in Jimena? “I inherited the house, which had been a 19th century cork factory. My mum had a theatrical background and encouraged me when I said I wanted to become an actor, and I thought this would be a tribute to her. Also, the economic crisis had started and the arts world was hit very hard by that. It was difficult to sell productions. I decided to spend my time creating somewhere in Jimena to share cultural knowledge, rather than twiddling my thumbs in Madrid,” he says.

“I also thought it would be easier to get institutional help, but it turned out that it wasn't!”

Marcus doesn't have much free time, and says he has no real hobbies, but he does enjoy collecting semi-antique and antique objects, especially from Japan.

“Antiques may be 'things' but they are like people,” he says, “They have a personality, a history, something to say. They are born when someone creates them, and then they are alive. They have magic. I believe they transmit the souls of their owners and makers.”

Marcus von Wachtel is bringing his own type of magic to the small village of Jimena. Long may he continue to do so.