‘You don’t need money to have access to culture’

Englishwoman Anna Kemp has a vision: to set up an outdoor theatre in the stunningly beautiful foothills of Andalusia's Sierra Nevada. We spoke to her about life on the stage, vegetable vans and eating at her local petrol station.

'You don't need money to have access to culture'
Anna Kemp is setting up a theatre she hopes will attracts visitors to the Alpujarras.

How did you end up in Spain?

I came here 20 years ago as an English teacher but my ambition was always to work in television and film.

After a while, I got television work as a script supervisor  — checking continuity — and after that I moved into films.

Perhaps if I hadn't managed to find this type of work in Spain, I might have gone back to England.

And how did you get to know the Alpujarras?

Well, I ended up working on a film called Al Sur de Granada, which was made by the Spanish director Fernando Colomo.

It starred Mathew Goode who has since done pretty well for himself.

Anyway, the film is based on the life of the writer Gerald Brenan who lived in the Alpujarra village of Yegen just after the First World War.

Because I was in the area to help make a film, I got to see the most beautiful parts of the region, and I found it all very magical.

It was really nice to be in a village after Madrid. I remember there were vegetable vans at the end of the road where I could go at the end of the day, and it was all so much easier than lugging babies and bags up apartment stairs.

I remember, too, for example, that in the evening people would go and have their auras read.

So the whole experience was a nice mixture of easy and beautiful, with some foreign presence too.

Also, my husband was with me, so we did a lot of exploring. In short, we fell in love with the area and bought a house in Laroles.

When did the move happen?

It actually took a while. After we bought our house, it was almost impossible to find anyone to restore the old houses in the region.

So although we bought the house in 2002, we didn't actually move in until 2006.

And now we actually divide our time between Madrid and Laroles because my husband has a business in the capital.

It's practical to spend some of the time in Madrid, but I'd live in Laroles full time if I could!

The Alpujurras is a stunning part of Spain, with the Sierra Nevada as a constant backdrop. Photo: Joan ggk

How do you get along with the locals?

Very well. It's a friendly place, and the people are nice.

It certainly helped that I could speak Spanish at the beginning, and quite well too.

Also, I had children and so we could relate to each other on that level.

And how did you come up with the idea to start up an open air theatre near Laroles?

That's something that I'd always wanted to do.

I grew up going to the Minack theatre (an outdoor theatre in Cornwall in the UK), which was also set up by one woman.

Then, as a teenager, I worked in the theatre, and so between the ages of 14 to 18, I saw a lot of plays — or at least I saw lots of parts of plays. 

With the theatre idea, it started with me teaching theatre and acting to the kids in Laroles.

Then we set ourselves up a bit more formally as a cultural association so that we could apply for grants.

We now have a grant for the stage and this summer we will invite guests along to a newly restored stage.

I plan to launch a crowd funding initiative in January and if all goes well, we will be fully ready in summer 2014.

It has quite an interesting location, doesn't it?

Yes. It's on terraced land which was traditionally used for crop threshing.

I realized at one point that the same skills that people used to build agricultural skills in this area could also be used for making seating.

What do people in Laroles make of the project?

I think people are interested. There's a feeling in the village that there's a lack of access of culture, but I kick against the idea that this is because of a lack of resources.

The idea of the theatre is to attract visitors to the area with something interesting and romantic, and the locals want to help.

They can see that everyone will benefit though increased tourism. 

Can you tell me a little more about Laroles?

It's actually a bit off the beaten track. It's near three beautiful but more touristy villages — Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira —  but it's quite different.

If you want to visit a part of Spain where people are still born, get married and stay in the same village, this is the place.

The area has a bit of 'lost corner of Spain' feel. 

Where do you go out in Laroles?

Well, we actually go to the petrol station, believe it or not!

It´s not how it sounds though. The place has really modern interior design, and we like it partly because it seems so out of place in Laroles.

And what about restaurants?

Laroles has an outdoor restaurant in summer. Otherwise, Mairena (about 5km from Laroles) has a guesthouse called Las Chimeneas, which has a nice restaurant.

It's also a good place to stay.   

The whole area is spectacular though. It pays to just get out and explore.

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