Technicians of Dionysus | Ermanna Montanari & Marco Martinelli (Teatro Delle Albe)
The invitation to this project brought us great joy for the free way it’s formulated and calls us together. Also because the invitation centers on a vertiginous question: vertiginous, because ever since 1977 when we married and began living on theatre, art and life have been one and the same for us. Answering the question Why theatre? is like answering the question Why life?, so you can understand our feeling of vertigo. Which is after all a question about the vertigo of meaning: does life have meaning? Do things have meaning; that is, does that thing, that so-called, reviled, often-snubbed reality have meaning? Does it make sense to go on asking ourselves whether there’s any meaning in the senselessness of a world where violence and injustice and war continue to run the show? Where so many human beings are considered nothing but scrap, multitudes of the sacrificed, left to die of hunger or under bombs? Since the beginning (we were twenty, two asses, starving for knowledge… we hadn’t finished college; all we knew about theatre was we wanted to do it), since the beginning we were inhabited by a lucid sensation: that for us, theatre would be a place to scrutinise the swamps of the soul, the mud of our underground, the microcosm where we could sift the planet’s wrongs, and at the same time a place to give voice to the irrepressible desire for happiness and love, which made us tremble in ’77 as it does today. A place to rebel against the Powers of this World.
To become a place: that’s what we’ve done and continue to do, bringing in comrades who think of theatre not as a trade like any other but as an ‘experimentum mundi’: a mode of representation that goes beyond representation, that excavates fragments of truth and beauty with ‘obstinate rigor’, scraping its hands on the naked rock. In fifth-century BC Athens, people like us were called ‘oi technitai Dionisou’, technicians of Dionysus, the god of theatre; that is, his priests and technician-artisans. Dionysus is the god of dismemberment, the child who plays and gets torn to pieces by the Titans. Being ‘technicians’ of Dionysus meant and still means staring straight in the face this world-baby torn to pieces, learning how to change from dismemberment to remembering, a memory technique, putting the pieces back together, listening to the victim who whispers “Remember me!” in our ear. It’s a technique that makes all other techniques authentic, a technique that spans the centuries and all the myriad conceptions of the stage, from Aeschylus to Piscator to Brecht to Carmelo Bene and up to our own day. Theatre is born revealing the violent foundation of society, the sacrifice of all history’s Iphigenias. No matter how much it limps and stumbles in confusion, this remains its pole star: theatre is an art of revelation, of unmasking through masking, using artifice to point to the truth.
And in this becoming a place, at a certain point in our journey we felt the need to widen the circle of the company to encompass a material location, the four walls of Teatro Rasi in Ravenna, a space to gather the citizenry not only to watch our plays, but to make our plays along with us; a short circuit between art and life, turning the circle into a spiral that overflows the banks of the stage space and floods the entire city, reinventing the models of tradition, from medieval mystery plays to Mayakovsky’s Theatre for the Masses. Theatre as the art of the public summons. It feels strange in times like these, when the pestilence of Covid-19 distances us from one another, to think of ourselves as the standard-bearers of assembly, that forbidden word today.
It’s a time of testing for everyone, and the test is precisely our ability to imagine. We’ll be different from before because we are never the same after a catastrophe, whether an earthquake, war, or a pandemic like this one.
We are guided along our path by the image of Diego, a six-year-old who lives in Matera, the nephew of a director friend of ours, Andrea Santantonio, who recently told us about the singular metamorphosis the quarantine has brought about in this boy. Before Covid-19, Diego was obsessively attached to his mother’s smartphone. Dismayed parents and psychologists were plaguing themselves: what to do about their embryonic hikikomori in sunny southern Italy? But now, since the lockdown, Diego gets up at dawn, meets his friend from next door, and off they run to frolic in the big garden between their two buildings. They spend the whole day discovering trees, flowers, and animals among the palms, olive trees, and lizards. Armed with a little plastic sword, they seem two little pirates on their own private island. They only come home at dark, called in by their mothers. Otherwise they might stay out all night, in their open air theatre rich with marvels.
Teatro delle Albe was founded by Ermanna Montanari (actress, author, set designer) and Marco Martinelli (playwright, director). The company has been interweaving the search for the ‘new’ with the teachings of traditional theatre, inventing a contemporary theatrical language. They have received i.a. fourteen Ubu Prizes, the highest reward in Italian theatre.