Six years after the Italian Theatre Institute was abolished, theatremakers from the south are taking matters into their own hands to bring work to Rome. Puglia Showcase general manager Giulia Delli Santi tells Fergus Morgan why it is vital to establish connections with the world to bring new work from the region to a wider audience
The recent history of Italian theatre is not a happy one. The worldwide financial crisis prompted an era of austerity in Italy and, as in most of Europe, arts and culture budgets were the first to feel the pinch. In 2012, the Italian Theatre Institute (ETI), a national non-profit and a key organisation in Italian theatre, was downgraded in importance and abruptly dismantled. With it evaporated Italy’s entire system of promoting theatre, both nationally and internationally.
The result was particularly disastrous for smaller theatres and companies, especially those in the poorer, less developed south where the ETI played a vital role in fostering a healthy theatre culture. Venues closed. Companies disbanded. Big festivals got smaller, and smaller festivals disappeared. Six years and one drastic structural reform later, one Italian region is making steps to fill the gaping hole left by the ETI’s disbanding.
Apulia – Puglia in Italian – is a coastal region in the south-east of Italy that juts out into the Adriatic Sea. It’s the heel of the Italian boot, an area of about four million people, rich in culture and history, and its regional government, under current president Michele Emiliano of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party, is expressly concerned about safeguarding the future of Apulian culture.
With the support of Emiliano’s administration, the Teatro Pubblico Pugliese – Apulia’s local association of theatres – has instituted the Puglia Showcase, a programme of shows in Rome, designed to promote Apulian work on a national and international scale. It’s the role that, 10 years ago, the ETI would have filled.
Over five days, two Rome theatres – the Teatro di Villa Torlonia and the Teatro Palladium – play host to 12 shows from theatres and companies based in Apulia, or from artists hailing from the region. The showcase’s events are free to the public, but the real audience is the gaggle of Italian and international producers and programmers, many of whom have not had a chance to sample regional Italian theatre since the ETI’s disappearance.
“It’s very important to us that the good work of Apulian producers in theatre and dance is seen, not just in Italy but abroad as well,” says Giulia Delli Santi, general manager of Puglia Showcase 2018. “We want to put them in contact with international programmers from different countries with different approaches to making work.”
Similar events have taken place before in Bari and Lecce – Apulia’s two biggest cities – but this is the first time Apulian shows have been taken to the Italian capital. It’s a struggle, dragging 12 shows 300 miles north to Rome, but it’s worth it. Rome is more accessible for international producers, and for producers working in the northern Italian theatre circuits wanting to check out the Apulian scene.
What scene? The showcase reveals contemporary Apulian theatre as a performance culture still resolutely wedded to classical drama, prepared to play around stylistically, but only sporadically inclined to seriously interrogate it. Of the nine theatre shows in the showcase programme, seven are direct adaptations of classical texts. Completely original drama is nowhere to be found.
Some shows are simply unimaginative stagings of traditional plays. Teatri di Bari’s Anfitrione, for example, is a straightforward production of Plautus’ 2,200-year-old Roman comedy about horny deities interfering with the love lives of mortals, with a flimsy gangland aesthetic tentatively draped on top.
Visually, it’s striking enough – Teresa Ludovico’s production takes place in a hall of mirrors bathed in golden light – but dramatically, there’s a sincere failure to contemplate the story’s contemporary relevance. It’s essentially a tale of two male gods manipulating a bereaved woman for their own sexual satisfaction, ripe for deconstruction but left practically untouched here.
The same could be said of the Associazione Tra il Dire e il Fare’s Else, a one-woman Italian adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1924 Austrian novella. The story – a young woman forced to choose between rescuing her father from debt or submitting to a lecherous older man’s advances – is begging to be re-imagined in 2018. Carlo Bruni’s production does nothing of the sort, artfully staging the first-person narrative on a tilting dining table, but otherwise leaving it be.
Associazione Culturale Tra il Dire e il Fare
Odi Sull’Essere Umano
Compagnia Equilibrio Dinamico
The Black’s Tales Tour
Compagnia Licia Lanera
Teatri di Bari/Teatro Kismet
Medea Per Strada
Teatro dei Borgia
Premesse A Kore
Cantieri Teatrali Koreja
Factory Compagnia Transadriatica
Opera Nazionale Combattenti presenta I Giganti Della Montagna Atto III
Principio Attivo Teatro
Sei Personaggi In Cerca d’Autore
Vico Quarto Mazzini
It’s a repetitive pattern, visible again in Lecce-based Factory Compagnia Transadriatica’s revival of Moliere’s The Misanthrope. It’s elegantly and energetically performed in candy-floss bouffants and flowery coat-tails, but essentially a straightforward plod through the 350-year-old plot. It is squeamishly trad work that doesn’t particularly excite Italian producers, let alone international ones.
There are, however, a few diamonds in the rough. Teatri dei Borgia’s Medea Per Strada, for example, is a scouringly intelligent, immersive adaptation of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy that has already taken Italy by storm, and is ripe for production across Europe.
Elena Cotugno and Fabrizio Sinisi’s text re-imagines Medea’s travails as those of a young Romanian woman forced to prostitute herself on the streets of a nameless Italian city. Audiences, six at a time, clamber into a dressed-up minivan and are then driven around the streets for an hour while Cotugno delivers an intense, intimate monologue that meditates soberly on the widespread abuse of migrant women. Fingers crossed Gianpiero Borgia’s production reaches the UK soon, in one form or another.
There’s fine work too from Michele Sinisi, whose experimental one-man version of Richard III is an intriguing, if underdeveloped, explosion of contemporary clowning, with Sinisi himself mucking about entertainingly with spray-paints, spotlights and microphones.
And there’s promise in Bari-based company Vico Quarto Mazzini’s production of Pirandello’s Sei Personaggi In Cerca D’Autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author). Gabriele Paoloca’s direction is uneven, but crafts some breathtakingly exquisite moments – a woman screaming in a fog of smoke, a playwright gleefully wrapped up in a tangle of Sellotaped pages. It should have a healthy future in Italy, if not abroad.
The showcase’s offerings are, in truth, a seriously mixed bag of awkward traditionalism and underdeveloped edginess. Save for unbridled enthusiasm over Medea Per Strada, the prevailing mood among both Italian and international producers is disappointment at the quality of work on display.
But there’s plenty for the Teatro Pubblico Pugliese to be pleased about. Puglia Showcase 2018 is not about immediate returns, it’s about establishing connections between Apulia, Italy and the rest of the world – connections that may bear fruit in the future.
“The real aim is to give theatremakers from Puglia experience with international producers,” says Delli Santi. “We don’t just want to make international producers aware of Puglian work, we want Puglian theatremakers to be aware of what international producers are looking for, so that they can develop their work with that in mind.”
And, on a wider scale, the showcase marks a significant moment for the regeneration of Italian theatre. International programmers are returning to Italy after a difficult decade. This first edition sets a precedent for Puglia to improve upon, and an example for other Italian regions to follow.
“We are already working on the next edition,” says Delli Santi. “And plans for more programmes, for other productions from other regions, are happening.”
General manager: Giulia Delli Santi
Number of performances: 12 shows over 5 days
Creators: Teatro Pubblico Pugliese, in collaboration with Teatro di Roma, Fondazione Roma Tre Teatro Palladium and Instituto della Enciclopedia Italiana
Support: Roma Capitale – Municipio VIII