Milestone anniversary for amateur theatre

 The Salon Varietés has become the epitome of amateur theatre on the coast.
The Salon Varietés has become the epitome of amateur theatre on the coast. / SUR
  • The Salon Varietés was founded in Fuengirola in 1985 by a group of like-minded thespians with a passion for treading the boards

The much-loved Salon Varietés Theatre in Fuengirola is celebrating 35 years of serving the artistic community of the Costa del Sol. The English-speaking theatre, the only one of its kind in Spain, was founded by a group of like-minded British residents whose ambition was to offer amateur productions on the Costa del Sol.

The building where the theatre is located was established at the beginning of the 20th century: it first served as a warehouse, although there are references to it being used a theatre as early as 1916. By 1925, the building had become established as a zarzuela theatre and it continued under this guise until 1956, when it became a cinema.

Milestone anniversary for amateur theatre

As cinema popularity began to wane, the theatre was briefly used as a bingo hall, although by the 1960s, the building had fallen into disrepair. It would be another two decades before the premises were inaugurated as the Salon Varietés Theatre, an event that was marked by a special concert given by English clarinettist Acker Bilk.

Lynn Halliday, who has been president for the last three years, joined the company as a performer when she first arrived on the coast in 1999. She told SUR in English of her joy that the theatre is still going strong, although she is disappointed that, due to the current coronavirus pandemic, the anniversary cannot be marked in true thespian style.

Milestone anniversary for amateur theatre

"The Salon is very unique; I believe it is the only one of its kind in Spain, that's why I am so very proud of it. Obviously, we are very disappointed that we cannot celebrate the 35th anniversary in the theatre, as it's such a tremendous achievement," she explains.

In 1979, The English-Speaking Players Association (THESPA) was formed with the aim of giving aspiring actors and playwrights the opportunity to flourish. The group's productions were first staged in the Hotel Las Palmeras (Fuengirola). In 1985, the lease on the cinema became available and, after raising sufficient funds, THESPA acquired the building and named it the Salon Varietés Theatre.

Opening night mayhem

The official opening took place on 14 June 1985, although panic set in just hours before the curtain was due to rise. Builders had overlooked the laying of sewage pipes and so the audience (unaware of the pandemonium taking place inside the theatre) were kept in the foyer, appeased with free champagne, while every able body worked to clean the theatre after the aisle had been hastily dug up, and then refilled.

Milestone anniversary for amateur theatre

The board had much to learn in the theatre's infancy, not least that the public's appetite for theatre during the summer months was not as strong as they had anticipated. The theatre, which seats approximately 300 people, soon ran into financial difficulties and several members took out personal loans in order to keep it afloat. In the early nineties, the SALVA management team was established and this board continues to oversee the smooth running of the theatre today. The performing rights for the most popular musicals can be astronomical and it is SALVA's job to make decisions about which productions are financially viable.

Shows are presented from early September until the end of May and the programme includes a variation of plays, musicals, concerts, pantomime, farce and stand-up comedy, although Lynn says it is hard to pick a favourite.

"We have produced many different shows and featured incalculable excellent actors and writers, so it is hard to highlight one as a favourite. We are basically an amateur set up, so I wouldn't like to pick one in particular, because the whole thing about it is that everybody works as part of a team."

Valuable contributions

A defining factor for the theatre was the founding of the Friends of the Theatre Association (FOTA), a support group that raises valuable contributions for the theatre.

Milestone anniversary for amateur theatre

SALVA board member Alan Boardman explained that the theatre's fundraising arm has been of "paramount importance" to the success of the theatre.

"FOTA is responsible for the social events and fundraising. The social side of FOTA became very popular due to the high density of expats moving out here and wanting a good social life," he says.

The Salon Varietés receives no external funding, so it is run primarily on the generosity of the voluntary staff and the performers, who strive to ensure the continued success of the theatre.

The theatre's wardrobe department runs the whole width of the theatre to the rear of the stage and incorporates the props department. There are thousands of costumes and a bewildering array of accessories which have either been bought or donated by well-wishers. The theatre workshop where the stage sets are built is located under the stage. It can take up to ten weeks to fully prepare for a major stage production, usually whilst other shows are running.

Milestone anniversary for amateur theatre

However, being a largely amateur organisation does not mean that standards are sacrificed. The Salon has become the epitome of amateur theatre on the coast. The company has produced numerous celebrated shows over the decades, including The Wizard of Oz, South Pacific, Grease, Oliver, Mama Mia and Phantom of the Opera, to name just a few. A special production was planned to celebrate the 35th anniversary. Sadly, this has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Just before the lockdown, the company had been rehearsing for a production of Evita. This was going to be a mega production, but we could obviously not go ahead with it. We are hosting a nostalgic day on our official Facebook page where people can post photographs and anecdotes about their favourite performances: it's not the same as putting on a production, but we do need to mark the day somehow. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we can present the planned production of Evita later in the year," the president concludes.