Surprising Expats: Faye Bradbrook, Actress, Dancer, Director, Teacher

  • 28 May 2024 7:48 AM
Surprising Expats: Faye Bradbrook, Actress, Dancer, Director, Teacher
This is part of a series of in-depth interviews with some surprising members of the community, written by Marion Merrick.

If you would like to be interviewed as a Surprising Expat, please write with a few details of what you do, to: Marion by clicking here.

Living and working in Hungary can come with unexpected and hitherto unimagined professional challenges.

Faye Bradbrook, owner of the theatre company DramaWorks, smiles as she recalls the opening night of the Percy Jackson musical The Lightning Thief in the József Attila Művelődési Ház (culture centre):

“The lights, they just didn’t come on! I was fuming, I didn't know that they'd had some power outage or other problem – now I can joke it was the gods! We started the show in the dark. We had been working on this musical for six months! So, I stopped the show - I went out onto the dark stage and said to the audience: ‘Sorry but we're going to start again.’ And the technicians managed to get the lights up and we started again, as planned.”

This experience, however, is far from typical of Faye’s last eighteen years in Hungary. But anyone working in the Arts is both aware of – and grateful for – the fact that no two days are the same, and that the unexpected is to be…. expected.

“You have to be able to adapt and improvise” says Faye. “Things can change very quickly. If you work with performing artists, it’s always dramatic…You know – all the drama kings and queens! But that’s why we are always laughing! Whenever you work in stage or film it’s stressful, so it has to be fun!”

Faye’s first contact with Hungary came when, on finishing theatre school in the UK, she was alerted to an advertisement for a teacher of Dance and Drama in Budapest

“Everything was in English, but I think that's the lovely thing with dance, that you don't need language, right? It is a language on its own. And while I was taking a contemporary dance course, I met my now Other-Half.”

However, at the end of her 18-month contract, Faye returned to the UK and set up a Performing Arts school, meanwhile continuing to keep contact with her beloved Hungarian. “Ultimately one of us was going to have to move, so I sold up everything and came back here in 2006.”

Life in Hungary brought new opportunities. “I have a lot of hats,” laughs Faye. “I act, I teach, I work a lot as a voice-over artist for commercials, animation, training videos, video games.… but when I first started DramaWorks I was looking for a place, and there was the Merlin Theatre. I really wanted to be in there because that was the home of not just English theatre, but international theatre… It was the hub. I just walked in, and I went to see the director there.

László Magács was the director at the time. Lovely man, very charismatic and serious. And it was like something out of a Western movie, you couldn't see him for the smoke in his office! And he sat at the back, the suit, cigarette hardly moving. I was like, ‘Well, I need a room. I want to teach acting; I have just opened the drama school and I need space’.

All he said was, ‘Yeah, OK’. And he gave me a black box studio - and so that's how we started on Saturdays at the Merlin Theatre. I am always grateful for that opportunity and the place I discovered a bohemian world and friends in Budapest.”

Eventually, Faye outgrew the small studio, and The Merlin closed. It was then she set up at the József Attila Cultural Centre.

“I always believed in putting the age groups separately at their appropriate levels,” says Faye. “I also had a couple of adult groups.” These soon filled up Saturdays at the theatre and were supplemented by the Film School which takes place on Sundays led by Michele Einert, teacher of Screen Acting.

“One thing that I’m truly grateful for is having had the opportunity to work with so many professional performing arts teachers over the years who each bring a unique insight and creativity. They come and go but they all leave a piece of their art in Budapest. DramaWorks would not be the school it is today without those dedicated teachers who make up our team each year.

“Now we have a casting agency as well. Kids sign up with us, any kids actually – they don't have to be in our DramaWorks classes. Adults are also signing up to the agency.

We support them in terms of training and helping them prepare for auditions and the shootings. We have an excellent coach,
Scott Alexander Young, who teaches private acting. We also have film camps in the summer, which is an intensive week where the kids and teens practise the process of the film making from creating their story boards to shooting their own films. We even have a premier where we hit the red carpet! 

“I have built connections with casting directors and producers here in Budapest, we are also well established in international schools. We have talented kids and adults who act in English. With so many large productions being shot in Hungary there are opportunities for these actors to gain valuable on-set experience.”

Yet Faye’s heart remains with the theatre. “I really enjoy professional theatre and love to be able to perform and offer that experience to our students too. Performing for kids professionally is especially rewarding because they are the most honest audience.

I think there are so many issues and topics that can be discussed through theatre. Live theatre is close to my heart, and keeping it live; I think it's something magical. I believe the imagination is wonderful tool for teaching and the essence of acting… ‘believing in your imagination’ is our motto.”

Something else that makes the DramaWorks project special is the diversity of its participants.

“I remember last year walking in to my first adult class in September and looking around, and we didn't have two people of the same nationality. There are a lot of university students coming, Erasmus students for example, they're here for a year and they just want to meet people, or they did theatre when they were
younger, and they just want to act and make friends. And this is what they do in our school.

“We’ve got a lot of IT people – they want to do something creative. And then there are kids from the different international schools, but there are also a lot of Hungarian kids now learning English to a high level. And their parents want them to use English, and through drama, they can really enhance their spoken English. We don't speak any Hungarian with the students; everything is in English, and they really do develop confidence.”

Faye, her Hungarian husband and three children live in a village outside Budapest. Having an intensive family life and a packed professional timetable of rehearsals, teaching, voice recordings, and the endless bureaucratic intricacies of running the dozen groups of acting classes and the film-related work is not an easy challenge.

Although she’s quick to point out that things are improving, Faye has experienced a level of incredulity that she, as a woman, is the owner and manager of DramaWorks. “People don't think you're the one in charge, you're not the decision maker, you know, setting up accounts and things like that.”

Life in a village, where few residents speak English, provided the final impetus for Faye to learn Hungarian. Some knowledge of the language also helped her negotiate her way around.

“Certainly, once I'd learned the language more, I found I was more accepted. Even if I speak just a little bit of Hungarian, I find that the doors open more easily. Hungarians really appreciate it if you try to speak this lovely yet impossible language.”

Faye has no fewer than twelve shows scheduled for the coming weeks. The children’s groups are each performing a play or musical, from the Youth Theatre group of 16–18-year-olds, down to the youngest who are only 3 years old!

“I'm familiar with a lot of writers that are writing for this age group. So that way it's language appropriate as well, and it's within their capabilities.” DramaWorks also has three adult productions this year.

“What's nice about the adult plays is that Henry Fisher, DramaWorks teacher of Acting and Music Theatre discovered these unpublished plays, so we're supporting new up-and-coming writers this way, and that's something special this year. It’s great to offer something to the English theatre scene in Budapest as there are not always many opportunities to see English language plays.”

Performances are taking place in small, independent theatres which Faye is delighted to be associated with: both Art-Színtér in Óbuda, and the Bethlen Téri Szinház in Pest.

All twelve performances taking place from May 30th onwards and through June, can be seen on the DramaWorks Facebook page where there is more detailed information and links to the box office. There is also more information here about their summer camps in July.

It would probably be no exaggeration to say that Faye’s days are dominated by all things theatrical. Her children have also taken part in stage productions from a young age and have grown up in that world.

“Our house is always full of drama, with one of them dancing around and putting on a show. I still remember when my son was a baby in the wings of the theatre captivated by all the lights, when he was not sleeping. He certainly caught the acting bug and loves filming.”

Faye’s twin daughters were born just days before the annual performances – that was the only year Faye missed a show.

The two girls were already singled out as carrying on the colourful theatrical family line in the immediate days after their birth. Their mother was still in the middle of preparing a book of memories for a DramaWorks teacher who was leaving and continued to work on it from her hospital bed. This involved cutting and pasting, colourful stickers and other messy art materials.

Faye then took her daughters to be weighed by the somewhat strict nursing staff. ‘Where’s this glitter from?’ the nurses demanded. ‘Why are they covered in glitter?’ Faye explained to them in a matter-of-fact voice: “Oh, they were born like that.” 

And then to me she smiles: “They’ve been sparkly since the day they were born!”

Useful links:

Main photo by: Tóth Balázs

Marion Merrick is author of Now You See It, Now You Don’t and House of Cards and the website Budapest Retro.

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