Jean-Marc Cafa’ always saw himself as a performer. At five years old he was writing plays he could star in. At 11 he told his mum: “I want to go to RADA and become an actor”. Like many young teens, he chose a path he knew was almost impossible: he wanted to be a musical theatre star in London. And he worked his ass off to get there.
Today, he’s back in Malta having the time of his life. This is his story.
Cafa’ has been active in theatre since his youth. As a child, he trained at Masquerade in Floriana, but by the time he reached sixth form he had also begun dancing lessons every day with Alison White, and taking singing and acting tutorials with Gillian Zammit, Chris Gatt and Denise Mulholland. It was around that time that he signed up for something which would ultimately change the course of his career – L-isfida.
“The TV programme L-isfida was an important turning point for me,” Cafa’ tells Lovin Malta. It was the moment in which he realised that if he was going to make it, it would take more than a hobby-approach to training to do so. He had to spent every minute he had to spare rehearsing.
“It’s so important to find the right tutors, people who are invested in their students. Ms Alison was on me like a hawk. I recall her first words to me being: “I will help you get there and I will do everything I can, but if you miss a single lesson or turn up even a minute late, you will turn around and walk back out the door”, and I thought – wow that is harsh – but she was right and it got me where I needed to get. That sort of discipline is non negotiable”.
Cafa’ didn’t win L-isfida, but it was around that time that he realised that there wasn’t anything else he wanted to do and that furthering his studies abroad was the logical next step.
“I moved abroad at 18 to the UK, on a scholarship. After stopping my three-year course at the Leicester College Of Performing Arts, I took a year out where I continued to take classes and perform back in Malta, and that was when I began teaching – bits and bobs here and there. I also began to do a bit of directing and choreographing and I fell in love with it all pretty instantly”.
Cafa’ had always felt drawn to teaching and directing. Despite his knee-jerk instinct to take centre-stage, he excelled at managing people, bringing out the best in a production, and generating ideas.
After his brief stint back in Malta, he returned to the UK to continue his training:
“I fell in love with the Guildford School of Acting (GSA) instantly,” Cafa’ says, gushingly. “It was beautiful, warm, buzzing with energy. I was offered a part scholarship there, and then received two awards for talent and entrepreneurship… But GSA taught me so much more than performance skills. I got a job teaching and another in a theatre, I learnt so much by doing”.
“Even then though, my mind began to wander, and by my third year I decided I needed to try out this directing itch”
Jean-Marc Cafa’, Artistic Director – Studio 18
“Even then though, my mind began to wander, and by my third year I decided I needed to try out this directing itch,” Cafa’ admits. And with that he began his directing career, working on a production with both the GSA and St James Cavalier in Malta.
“From then on my training took a different turn – I graduated in musical theatre and still dropped into singing and dance classes, but I began to hone my other skills. I shadowed and assistant directed a number of shows in the UK, attended workshops at the Globe, and eventually got selected to be one of 12 young people to attend directing workshops at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)”.
After a few years of career highs and lows, Cafa’ found himself back in Malta, by accident, but working on some of his most treasured projects.
“”It was a happy accident. I needed something new and all of a sudden I found myself agreeing to fly out for five months to manage the ŻiguŻajg festival. Five months became five years!” Cafa’ recalls. Since then, he has worked on youth projects for St James Cavalier, the re-branding and restructure of the School of Performing Arts Malta, a number of projects for Stagecoach and FM Theatre, set up the performing arts option at San Anton school, amongst other directorial and choreographic projects.
“Then I sat outside St James one day, thinking about Valletta 2018, and decided it that it was time to take the plunge and work to fill the gaps in the industry – and Studio 18 was born!”
“Remain grateful, playful and hopeful, because karma has its way of doing things and because without hope we have nothing!”
Jean-Marc Cafa’, Artistic Director – Studio 18
Cafa’ seems to be at his most stimulating career phase, his productions are continuing to change the face of theatre in Malta, and continue to receive rave reviews from critics. With Cafa’s unwavering energy it’s hard to think that this period won’t be topped. Studio 18 is now running into it’s fourth year, and his job pretty much involves making sure all the cogs in this creative machine run like clockwork.
He’s come a long way away from where he started out, but he’s not one to dwell. He doesn’t really have time for it! Instead he muses on the advice he would give his former self – the hopeful actor – way back at the start of his career.
“I would tell him to keep doing what he is doing without a doubt, to be less insecure, and to trust his instincts and his decisions. I would also remind him to remain grateful, playful and hopeful, because karma has its way of doing things – and because without hope we have nothing!”