About us...

A testimony

Written by Andrea Camilleri

When I found out that in 2004 Prima del Teatro would be celebrating its twentieth year, I could hardly believe it. In fact I was completely confounded. Twenty years? Wasn't it? Just three days ago that I was talking to Orazio Costa, Luca Ronconi and Massimo Castri in Bagni di Lucca? Wasn't it the day before yesterday that I was working with Peter Clough and observing Nikolai Karpov's inventive, demanding lessons in Montalcino? And wasn't it only yesterday that I met Michel Azama, José Sinisterra and Agustí Humet in San Miniato?

It is true that I worked with Prima del Teatro for many years, but it is equally true that quite a few years have gone by since I was last involved.

So how are we to explain this vivid persistence of an experience that refuses to become recollection, memory?

I have been involved over the years in other events which I thought would leave an indelible mark on my life, but after a while the marks they left began to disappear, not because they were slowly sinking into my blood, but because they were fading from my skin. Prima del Teatro is different. I still bear within me not only the encounters with teachers and pupils, the arguments, rehearsals and words, but even the smells and colours, the faces and expressions.

What is it, then, that makes Prima del Teatro different? Looking back, I believe I might have found the best way to explain: by describing a workshop I led, I can't remember in which year exactly, in Montalcino. My lessons, held in the splendid municipal theatre, revolved around the staging of certain scenes from Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. The pupils, all of them very young, were English, Russian and Italian. Everyone was to say their lines in their own language (Prima del Teatro has always had excellent interpreters). Before we began to do the scenes, we naturally checked the English and Russian translations of the play to make sure that there were no major differences from the original. Having done this, we moved on to the first reading of a scene which I then asked the apprentice actors to discuss. Straight away the inevitable cultural differences between the three groups began to emerge. It was not a matter of superficial differences brought about by the training methods of their respective schools (though these existed, of course), but of three different readings of the same text in line with their respective cultural backgrounds.

As a director, or rather as a teacher, I found myself faced with a dilemma: should I impose my reading on everyone, or should I let the various readings converge freely and intertwine? I chose the second path, partly because it was a workshop of research and experiment whose aim was not a performance as such. So I decided not to harmonise, not to smooth over the clear contrasts, but actually to bring out the differences, discussing the work at length with the young actors in order to have a continual confirmation of the validity of their opinions and the firmness of their cultural motives.

If, in the face of my objections or those of the other participants, the convictions of the pupils began to waver due to a lack of dialectic training, I hastened to encourage them to back up their ideas with profound, deep-rooted motivations to make their "voice" as genuine and mature as the others.

During my professional career I have worked with companies in Budapest, Ankara and Lisbon. Each time it was matter of choosing the first horn of the dilemma I have mentioned: in other words of imposing, not without encountering resistance, my own personal reading of the text. Sometimes I succeeded completely, sometimes only partially. But looking back I cannot in all honesty say that these exclusively theatrical experiences added to my cultural development: they satisfied certain curiosities, answered certain questions, but no more than that. To be honest, I learned much more wandering around those wonderful cities, each so very different, and meeting people who were not actors.

But the workshop in Montalcino was more than just a simple (or complex, if you like) theatre exercise. It involved throwing ourselves in completely, especially when I invited the pupils, along the lines of the apparition of Madama Pace in Six Characters, to evoke characters from their secret fantasy, reproducing, according to the words of the Father, "the wonder of a reality that is born, evoked, attracted, formed by the scene itself".

They were, I repeat, all pupils who as actors were still at the stage of infancy, and who were also aware of this. The fact is that I, too, when I gave in to the repeated requests of the pupils, evoked my own personal Madama Pace, one of my primary school teachers, and with her apparition the years began to peel away, finally coming to a stop at the age of short trousers and satchels. It was then that I realised that their growth as actors allowed me, too, to achieve a special kind of growth, the recovery of the joy of learning and invention that I had only enjoyed at a very young age.

And thus I understood what happens every year, in the summer, during the workshops run by Prima del Teatro: here an island is created in which every human miracle is possible, an island "with its edges broken off".

Do you remember the words of the wizard Cotrone in The Giants of the Mountain?

We are here as if at the edges of life...The edges, at a command, break off; the invisible enters: ghosts emerge. It normally happens in dreams. I make it happen in waking hours, too. This is all, dreams, music, prayer, love...

There time stops and the past thus assumes the same consistency as the present. So those experiences cannot be transferred into the archive of memory: because they are still here, and their "sound" is always with me.


Pronti ad andare in scena

Written by Antonio Castagna

dal settimanale "Diario"

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