The English-Speaking Players Association (THESPA), the Costa del Sol's longest-running expat amateur dramatic society, marked its 40th anniversary with a special celebration in Fuengirola on Wednesday. Current and past members, including the group's founder, Patricia Hammill, gathered at the Masonic Centre in Los Boliches for celebratory dinner and an evening of rehearsed, acted play reading.
The group was formed in 1979 with the aim of presenting live theatre on the Costa del Sol and also to give aspiring actors, actresses and playwrights the opportunity to flourish.
The group was the idea of Patricia Hammill, an American theatre enthusiast who arrived in Spain in 1960. Patricia was born in California in 1939 and she came to Spain with her parents. Her father was also an avid lover of the theatre, but he was forbidden by his own father from entering into a theatrical career.
Patricia's interest began at an early age, but, much to her disappointment, she never had the opportunity to fulfil her dream of becoming an actress.
On arriving in Spain, she worked at the American Air Force base in Morón de la Frontera, but she eventually moved to the Costa del Sol, where she met her husband, a jeweller named Arthur Nicholson. The couple opened several jewellery shops along the coast, but Patricia still held a burning desire to become involved with theatre.
"I gained an interest in the theatrical world at a very early age, but never managed to fulfil my dream. When I arrived on the Costa del Sol, I decided to see if there might be an interest in an amateur dramatic society among the local expat population. This is how THESPA was born. The project took off and we began putting on productions of all sorts, although we did not have a theatre then," the sprightly 80-year-old told SUR in English.
Salon Varietés Theatre
It was only a few years later, however, that the English-speaking community got the theatre it needed. The premises that would eventually become the Salon Varietés in Fuengirola was as that time being used as a warehouse, even though it had originally been built as a Zarzuela theatre in 1925 and ran as a theatre until 1956, when it became a cinema.
THESPA's productions, which at that time included dramatic and operatic, were staged in the ballroom of the Hotel Las Palmeras. However, in 1985, the lease on the old warehouse became available and after raising sufficient funds, THESPA acquired the building and named it the Salon Varietés Theatre.
"Our productions were first staged on a temporary platform complete with lighting and curtains in the Hotel Las Palmeras. The green room was a small bar opposite the hotel named Jan's Pantry. We eventually acquired a long lease for the theatre and opened it on 14 June 1985", Patricia remembers with affection.
The group staged numerous productions at the theatre for a period of 16 years, when SALVA, a separate management body was formed. THESPA then changed its format and adapted to its present arrangement of acted play readings in a more intimate setting. In this revised format, the group has staged regular monthly productions at a number of venues in Fuengirola, including the Danish Club, The Riverside Club and at its current venue, the Masonic hall in Los Boliches.
Although Patricia no longer plays an active role in the group, she keeps a keen eye on what they are doing and is proud that the group is still going strong after 40 years.
"I'm old now and don't get much chance to enjoy theatre, but I am extremely proud that THESPA is still together after all these years. I think that people love theatre and as long as there is interest here on the coast, they will continue to exist," Patricia explains.
Secretary Janet Gillett, who has been with THESPA since 2013, added, "Our group is fairly unique and we have a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Many of our members are in their senior years, although we still attract newcomers. It is wonderful to have several former members here tonight, especially Patricia, as she was the one who got it started back in 1979."