Sílvia Ferrando


“The institute is a meeting place”

A new era dawns for Barcelona’s Institute of Theatre: Sílvia Ferrando becomes the institution’s new director following the resignation of former head Magda Puyo after the emergence of abuse allegations against some teachers

“I realised that if I wanted freedom and critical thinking I couldn’t stay locked in the world I was in” “THE CLASSROOM AND REHEARSAL ROOM SHOULD BE ENVIRONMENTS OF TRUST”
“The performing arts are an ideal space to encourage critical thinking as they allow other visions” “WE’RE THE ONLY CENTRE IN SPAIN THAT PROVIDES TRAINING AND QUALIFICATIONS FOR TECHNICIANS”

A director and playwright, she has been teaching at the Institute of Theatre (IT) for 15 years, and since July is its new director. Her new position sees her forced to take on the challenge of improving trust in classrooms following allegations of sexual abuse, of which one case is now in the courts. She says that she wants the institute to be a meeting place that generates new imaginative visions and a public institution that puts diversity first.

You put yourself forward for the post after Magda Puyo’s resignation.
I’m very much a creature of the classroom and the rehearsal room, and I come from the creative world. But I realised that if I wanted there to be freedom and critical thinking, I couldn’t stay locked in the world I was in. The operation had already been severely affected by political issues and the pandemic in recent years, and so we’ve had a lot of setbacks for a few years now. I also know this place very well. The result of all this is that I felt a sense of duty when I thought about how the IT is, and has been, many things at once, and must be able to remain so.
The latest controversy is the allegations of abuse in the classroom. Not long ago, we saw that prosecutors had started legal proceedings in one case.
The institute’s commission has studied the allegations together with Barcelona Diputació’s legal services. All of them have been investigated and some specific facts have been brought to the attention of the prosecution. And we have begun the investigations that have been deemed appropriate.
How can students be protected without limiting creation?
The classroom and rehearsal room should be environments of trust. Trust must be restored over any pain that may have been suffered. We must address complex thinking, freedom of expression, and above all, freedom of thought. In our new project we want psychosocial risk specialists to promote teacher-student relationships that ensure a safe environment that will allow for transgressive, complex pieces of art that involve the body but with trust and security.
The UK is introducing intimacy coordinators to ensure the well-being of actors taking part in intimate scenes.
In a rehearsal room, we need to be able to discuss everything, to interrelate, to express our opinions, and be able to involve our bodies in all of this. If we don’t, we will basically being infantilising society. We need to ask ourselves better questions and pose challenging debates. If we want an adult democracy, we must encourage critical thinking. The performing arts are an ideal space for that because they allow for other visions.
What does your project that got you this post propose?
The Institute of Theatre is not just a higher centre where we train directors, actors and dancers. It’s so much more than that, and it has a very broad reach and embraces many areas. That’s unusual but it’s a strength of ours. Another is our historical trajectory, as the IT has often led many paradigm shifts. The project proposes finding ways to open up more access for professionals to classrooms. We have a wide range from elementary students to doctoral students and professionals. That makes the IT a great meeting place. And that’s why it’s very important to promote diversity. The challenge is for all these perspectives to help bring us closer to the complexity of the world. Today we try to break things down to very simple premises, but that sometimes leads us to a single thought in conflict with another. I tell the students to give full reign to developing their worldviews. That’s why there’s a part of the project that proposes encouraging diversity and interrelating it. You need to find a dialogue based on everyone’s expertise, be it movement, audiovisual, art or word. There’s great potential for the Institute of Theatre to find the link between them.
Magda Puyo, apart from being the IT’s first female director, also represented the return of artistic direction after years of managing directors.
You can’t just suddenly invent a way to manage a public cultural institution. The body, mind and soul are unprepared for it. The fact that I did maths makes me think differently. The hierarchy of knowledge, like the hierarchy of social groups – ethnicities or sexual tendencies – makes no sense. It’s like pretending that one language is better than another: a language is the explanation of a world. We’re not looking for confrontations but complexities, to help us teach a more dignified and, if possible, more fun human life.
What role should the IT play in the landscape of arts education?
We teach higher education as well as professional studies. We’re the only centre in Spain that provides training and qualifications for technicians. We also have under-18s and an integrated art baccalaureate for dance students. But there are other theatre schools in Barcelona that have moved into vocational training, and those in higher education, though there are fewer of them.
Do you have a relationship with them?
We have some teachers in common. Also students who used to go to those schools and have since come to the Institute of Theatre. These relationships occur naturally.
How can you improve access to the professional world for graduates?
The Institute of Theatre is associated with other institutions on many levels. We’ve just licensed IT Dansa and IT Teatre – which this year will work with Fabrice Murgya at the Lliure theatre. We also have the Premis de Dansa and Adrià Gual de Teatre prizes, which will debut at the Grec festival and come with considerable cash awards. Graduates from last year can also apply for the awards. There are other outlets, for example, students doing internships, although that is more feasible for some disciplines than others.
Is there anything new you’d like to highlight in your project?
We want to promote ways of explaining the work of graduates through the IT Impulsa talent project. When you go for lunch you ask for different things if you go to a local bar than if you go to El Celler de Can Roca. This also applies to each production according to its nature. One of the keys to the project is the contextualization and communication that directs graduates to the places that can best accommodate them. It’s a pathway that starts in the classroom. You need to know the idiosyncrasies of the students and help them find the spaces where they feel a sense of belonging and that challenge them. Not only in Barcelona, but also further afield. This requires creating networks, and that involves working with other institutions.

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