06 August 2020
Short Theatre’s fifteenth edition gave rise to a desire to collect various overviews of the festival, spread as it is over the time and space of the city. The result was a four-person conversation, the first step towards
re-constructing an archive of Short Theater, itself a living and multifaceted body, constantly moving in the thoughts and gestures of the people who have passed through until now.
Speakers: Author and critic Attilio Scarpellini; scholar, dramaturgist and curator Piersandra Di Matteo; director Fabrizio Arcuri, himself co-director of Short Theater alongside curator Francesca Corona.
Attilio Scarpellini: Perhaps we should start from the beginning. Not just to make an evaluation, an activity typical of capitalism, but to begin to historicise some issues. Short Theatre was born in 2006 as a review, and not as a festival, we used an English adjective that means “brief”, “condensed”, which, beyond the format, seems to allude to a smaller dimension of spectacularity and also to a state of fragmentation of the audience, to an individualised and somewhat itinerant viewer similar to the one described by Paolo Ruffini and Stefania Chinzari in their ‘Nuova Scena Italiana’, a book that foreshadowed the 2000s but was actually from the nineties. It is a review of paths and processes rather than shows, one that goes beyond the limits of the institutional scene to live and inhabit the space of the India Theatre which had already become the chosen space for a whole vast theatrical movement. Behind all this was the Accademia degli Artefatti, which just a year earlier had radically altered its style – notably the bare staging of Martin Crimp’s ‘Three Easy Pieces’. There was also an artistic plural space called Area06, who not for nothing were complicit in the occupation of India after the “expulsion” of Mario Martone who was, is, in effect, its founder. What do you think if we start from this point in order to understand what is going on in this time? Fabrizio?
Fabrizio Arcuri: In the beginning Short Theater actually had the r of Short circled in order to signal another meaning, which was to shoot, a verb that in English means “to hit with e bullet” (but is also a term used in film and photography meaning “to take a film/photograph”). The idea of “shooting” theatre was linked above all to contemporary British dramaturgy, which in those years took shape through texts that were extremely precise with respect to what was happening in reality and were known as Shoot theatre. Events multiplied and immediately dramaturgical translations were made. The thrust, the initial stimulus, therefore, was to put the stress on contemporary dramaturgy because we felt the need to detach ourselves from traditional ideas of repertoire and to start approaching the public with a view to proximity, not only physical but thematic, ending an era of re-reading, cutting and re-writing of more or less classic works. Blue Cheese, Rialto Santambrogio and of course Area06 in its past formation were all part of this: Roberto Latini with “Fortebraccio Teatro”, Ascanio Celestini with “Fabbrica”, Caterina Inesi with “Travi Rovesce” and Alessandra Sini’s “Sistemi Dinamici Altamente Instabili”. There’s PAV, that is Roberta Scaglione and Claudia Di Giacomo, as well as Werner Waas and Fabrizio Parenti’s group “Quelli Che Restano”. We decided that on the day Albertazzi made his debut at the Colosseum with Julius Caesar, we’d hold an event called Nerone: we occupied the India Theatre asking Councilor Borgna and the director of the Department at the time, who was Giovanna Marinelli, for a press conference to determine what the fate of that space would be. We did not want in any way to appropriate it, go into it and make our own programs, we simply asked for it to be returned to the city …
A.S.: There have been continuous attempts to move the India Theatre away from the impulses that gave birth to it, to remove it and normalise it; this has been a worry for all administrations and a problem for them to solve, more or less until recently. There has been a continuous attempt to underestimate, devalue and diminish of the creative capacity of this space, to reduce it – in the footballing analogy of a former director of the Teatro di Roma – to a second division stage.
F.A.: Yes, India has always been seen as a place unsuited to the Roman bourgeois public by the successive directors, Albertazzi, Lavia … the gravel, the ladies’ heels in danger of breaking, the uncomfortable chairs.
All a series of “inadequate” features that made the place seem like the small and crippled son of a larger structure… We had to move in a new direction to get the Teatro India filled for what it is, to no longer be considered like a younger brother who has to be hidden away, to not be a space worthy of consideration only for secondary and unimportant initiatives.
Piersandra Di Matteo: In this sense it is interesting to understand what were the characteristics of this place that deserved investment in terms of ideas, projects and filling the gaps. This younger son was not suited to “big” shows. But what were the characteristics that could form a basis for imagining another space, another theatre and, consequently, another audience and another city? In short, what were the thoughts that animated the first curatorial paths that stemmed from the very characteristics of the place itself?
F.A.: The Teatro India is a sort of large square surrounded by walls, it’s really a citadel and its most interesting and most important feature is its ability to bring together a sort of community that can frequent the space in an intense way; India has the essential characteristic of places that are places of being, of meeting and confrontation, a different way of participating in the theatrical experience, not just limited to the vision of a show but extending to everything that is around and beyond. When we managed to get the Teatro di Roma to produce the first edition of Short Theatre, we thought that the most important thing was precisely to restore these characteristics to that space and make it feel alive to audiences, to city residents, to people from other walks of life. On the other hand, Martone had spent a lot in that year and a half directing the Teatro di Roma, trying to make that space alive in an alternative way, going so far as to stage “Oedipus at Colonus” (his greatest production with Teatro di Roma) at the Teatro India, occupying all the spaces, starting with the external ones.
A.S.: Basically, Short was the projection of a desire with respect to the Teatro India that has always been very clear to the Roman theatre community, while it has always been opaque to political administrators and the managers of the theatrical institutions of the city. How can we explain this prolonged lack of political will, this mental and moral resistance, in stabilising a space for the contemporary in a city like Rome, which the alternating events of the Teatro India mirror?
F.A.: It is not inexplicable or disconcerting. India is a place that needs an idea, serious thinking, and in this sense not in the same way as resident theatres and mainstream circuits. In the beginning it was quite unique, then over the years the other resident Italian theatres wanted their piece of the action too.
Francesca Corona: After Martone’s stint in charge, Short Theatre was the first response to that question, the first real conversation with that place. India, if you unravel the thread of its identity, reveals a vocation to instantly rejects centralised power, and this is precisely the thing that, so to speak, has never been desired, the object of the noluntas Attilio spoke of: the fact is that the space as it is calls out for, almost shouts for, cohabitation, frequentation, socialisation, and that is why it gets uncomfortable as soon as you start accepting its inclination. I believe that Short Theatre – I feel I can say this precisely because I was not part of the Festival’s original planning phase – has done justice to this possibility, becoming what in the context of this city was desperately needed: a beltway between the underground and everything that moves in informal spaces on the one hand, and institutional on the other.
A.S.: Short and India, responded in a fairly linear way to that Roman artistic vocation which has always aimed for widespread creativity not centralised in public institutions: unlike Milan, Rome has never been a city for public theatre in the sense of Grassi and Strehler, and as in the field of visual arts, it has moved in a very different direction, more plural and less organised, from the mainstream of contemporary art. It was the city of the school of Piazza del Popolo, of an Italic pop art, in which the Fluxus artists ended up and not the abstract expressionists. It is the city of singular geniuses like De Dominicis, of galleries such as the Attico or the Tartaruga, all who kept deep ties with the so called underground theatres. It is a secret city, in more ways than one, where Kantor debuted his first shows in Italy though not in a theatre, but in the basement of the GNAM (National Gallery of Modern Art) directed by Palma Bucarelli. In short, all this was synthesised by Renato Nicolini in his Estati Romane (Roman summers) and then became a cultural model for the policy of the Mitterand administration’s Ministry of Culture, Jack Lang.
F.C.: Of course, it’s like saying that that is our tradition. But some critics have pretended that this way of doing theatre, of being both in the theatre and going beyond its limits, is “anti-theatrical” as if they hadn’t ever been to Beat 72 or seen shows in the squares. They ignore the similarities and affinities that exist in the political intent of putting the citizens back at the centre of artistic process. Then, of course, things take the form of the time they exist in. Current attempts to marginalise spaces like India and what happens in them for example, seem to me to be the product of a very widespread disease in our society, one that consists in creating continuous dialectical counterparts, pitting generations against each other. There is a tendency of the capital to straddle that conflict between parents and children in order to promote the idea of revolt as something that actually functions to restore norms, to replace real conflicts with pseudo-conflicts, defusing their power and dampening that spark of dissent.
P.D.M.: I would like to say a little more about those years, because we are talking about the 70s which were not just years of opening up, of alternative scenes, of the stage invasion at Castel Porziano. They were also the years of terrorism. That fear of being in urban spaces, of occupying the streets, of being together in public spaces is something that should not be forgotten. So, as Francesca also suggests, it is a question of understanding what are the points of convergence in respect to certain practices that we are trying to implement today and with what Fabrizio talked about before, this fundamental shift, for those who have a certain design attitude and who are interested in discovering a citizen spectator, or a spectator who wants to participate and perhaps even get involved in the very process of creating a theatrical event, one that no longer ends with the presentation of the work but implies a complex process that goes from when you leave home and meet the neighbour or wait together, all that stuff, in short, that India somehow manages to stir up and handle really well.
F.C.: If stay on the subject of places, I believe that a fundamental juncture is the transmigration of Short Theatre from the Teatro India, that shift from the centre that took place gradually between India, the Pelanda and the Mattatoio (former Rome slaughterhouse). Fabrizio and I have always agreed on this: that movement constituted a crossroad, as more than ever we had to listen to what these places, and their surrounding contexts, asked for. The move to the Mattatoio took place in 2010 and for a couple of years saw Short Theatre split between them, a week in India and a week at the Mattatoio, ending up based at the Mattatoio and while always keeping an open relationship with the Teatro di Roma. Meanwhile, Rome was also changing. Therefore, using the Mattatoio, transforming it into a place of live entertainment that was friendly with the other arts, meant migrating to spaces that were no longer marked on a map as “delegated” to live shows. We are talking about the other side of the river from India, a place located in the same city quadrant but one which expresses a completely different relationship with its neighbourhood. India is one of Rome’s “wild” places, while the Mattatoio is one of the symbols of Rome and is considered by all to be a public square, the same word that Fabrizio used to describe India.
A.S.: So can we say that there is a protective spirit hovering around Short Theatre?
F.A.: Creating what you call a protective spirit is precisely what has always animated Short Theatre. Naturally it has changed its horizons over time for obvious reasons, but it has always tried to dialogue with the city, despite its moments of absence and vacuum. It has always tried to fill these, not in a coercive way but by relaunching them in an inventive and thought out way. Short Theatre tried to build a relationship from the ground up with a different way to produce shows and a new way of relating to artists and their creative processes. Especially in the first editions, there were artists who invited other artists, there was a desire to hand over the space to the artist, to give them as much time as they needed, exercising an intimate and profound understanding of what it meant to do this. And therefore we were always on their side, because we understood them so intimately.
P.D.M.: It seems to me that I was able to see even from a distance that Short had the ability to create alliances between artists, to create a community that recognised itself within a common discourse. This ability of recognising each other has always seemed to me an obvious fact…
F.C.: This community that composes and has always composed Short Theatre is also the result of a stratification of responsibilities and desires. The possibility of bringing out the work of an artist from Rome within the same landscape in which international artists and artists from different generations move, all together in the same space. This endeavour and intention does not aim at somehow homologating the differences between them, but rather they are asked to lean on each other in the same landscape, to fit in and develop their gaze without sacrificing their differences.
The presence in Short of internationally recognised artists has often triggered unspoken relationships that raised new questions and helped to re-read apparently hyper-local works. Short has brought the possibility of imagining the world as you would like it, as you’d try to live and frequent it – not only through the enjoyment of art but through the creation of a public space – to the chaotic, multifaceted and sometimes secretive city that is Rome. In this sense, Short Theatre does not leave the metropolitan dimension, it actually suspends and intensifies it. The fact of having had access to two locations for a while revealed a driving force that can inhabit this and potentially other places as well.
F.A.: I would like to add that ever since our first edition we have attempted to construct a discourse, that is, to try and not only bring together artists of different styles and generations but to make them part of a joint conversation. Reflection and relations are important to us and we really try to promote these, so much so that from the start we have spent a lot of time creating a structure for conversations, encounters, and discussions around each show. We have always tried to engineer reflection, if not a structure of thought, which would accompany and orient a person’s vision of these intra-generational encounters. We have always hosted very young companies, in almost their formative experiences alongside more experienced companies; none of them really fitted the traditional theatre circuit and so they could meet and overlap at Short Theatre, as happened with the Albe, the Valdoca and Danio Manfredini. We have always tried to ensure that even young audiences who approached the festival driven by their curiosity about young groups also felt a connection with past generations in order to build, or perhaps reinvent, a sort of memory. Our desire was to keep alive an anti-tradition that was continually being pulverised.
P.D.M.: Just in relation to what you are saying Fabrizio, on the creation of discourse and discursive devices, I have always been interested in the way that Short takes the trouble to identify a theme, to throw into the arena one or two words around which to assemble a series of thoughts, but also to really resonate with the schedule that was constructed. There is always debate in the performing arts as to whether it is better to build a schedule that leaves an audience with the possibility of creating their own path, whether the direction of a trajectory is more inclusive or less inclusive. I have always thought that a space should take responsibility for the design and construction of discourse, that it is necessary to have the strength to identify a direction and that making the various operations converge around this node is not just merely taking charge, especially as the issues that Short tried to address were radical, they were political, they touched on issues such as democracy, the future…
F.A.: From the beginning we have always tried to have a tagline to each edition which represents a sense of reflection, as exact a one as possible, on which to build discourse and around which to confront issues in an always dialectical and not necessarily consensual way. It was this burning desire that allowed us to sew common threads that the audience can follow naturally, in a way that seems most interesting to them, but which nevertheless constitute the fulcrum around which it is possible to contextualise everything that happens within the Festival. But we never sat down to choose a title, first we chose a series of shows and then around them we thought about the best way to gather them together, as well as identifying a perspective that to our minds traversed all of them and which was consequently the most suitable way to articulate discourse. So it seemed to me at least, what do you think Francesca?
F.C.: I really agree because with the tagline we define the beginning of a discourse with the public, it is the first line of a dialogue, not the last. Everything in these past fifteen years has grown dramatically, Short has become an ever more complex machine that responds to ever more complex economics. One of our paths was that of an alliance with theory, which for me is very close to my heart especially after all my experiences within Short Theatre. It is an alliance that looks at all the intersections between art and activism, theory and politics, thus making it clear that there is never just one thing that comments on another thing, but there is always a thought that enters into dialogue with other thoughts, also taking the theatre and the show as forms of thought, like philosophical or political movements. Returning to the city, Rome has also changed a lot. That relationship that Fabrizio recounted, and which was possible at a certain time, with the Rialto and other social spaces that have closed or been weakened by evictions or just being kicked out, has produced completely different encounters and alliances with clubs, with premises on the eastern side of Rome, with international philosophers. All this conniving, these close relationships, this travelling together along parts of a road, has been articulated in an increasingly complex way, developing ever more sophisticated, widespread, unprecedented stratagems. You always need to look for the critical points where you would not expect to find them.
P.D.M.: It seems to me that this is also connected to the actions of the former Gil, specifically their request to thematically stress the urgent decolonisation of culture. This takes ever more into the territory of a philosophical discourse which is informed by and oriented against the logic underlying and activating forms of racial, sexual and economic subordination. Here, I am interested in understanding how, especially in recent years, this methodology allied to the possibility of once again occupying a space that promotes decolonisation becomes a part of a curatorial project like that of Short.
F.C.: Joining the dots between all the spaces we have talked about since the beginning of our conversation, we finally arrive at Gil. We are experiencing our second season in this complex place: we thought a lot beforehand in order to understand if we were ready or if we could equip ourselves enough to be able to properly use it, in a way it was giving us the possibility to situate and embody everything we were working on. The former Gil is such an imposing space it’s scary, it’s a space full of signs that for Romans are second nature, because our city is full of fascist signs. It was also meant a different curatorial workflow from what we were used to, not in design but in practice. The artists were immediately involved, they were asked if they wanted to work in such a place, why and how. It was a shared discourse, open, controversial, full of doubts and one that would backtrack on itself, therefore extremely intense, but we came out of the ex Gil knowing that it really is possible to give back, to regain possession of places so strongly marked without being devoured by them, but using them as tools for decolonising our gaze, our thoughts.
P.D.M.: On another topic, I wanted to know from Fabrizio, what a project like Panorama Roma brings to Short that it did no have before, as it takes up themes of relationships with places, with artistic groups and more generally with what is increasingly the fragility of creation…
F.A.: Panorama Roma is the other pole of discourse begun with WeGil, as always by making use of the occasion. The discourse around Panorama Roma is not very different: in the absence of the spaces, of the scope of work and alliances which Francesca spoke about, there was a fragmentation of that virtuous supply chain that we had managed to put together alongside informal Roman spaces. It is clear that now we are in another context, in another situation, we are in a completely different city, where what has always been normal for us, that is, dialogue between companies, confrontation and constant reflection, was lost again. It happened because, obviously, by generation and by age everyone has found their own path. It happened because there are no longer spaces for meeting, reflection and comparison, places like the Rialto and Angelo Mai – and many others – where we not only created our shows and rehearsed, but we had the possibility to compare ourselves with others. Also in this case, Short Theatre found itself again needing to fill a void. This year, unlike other years, Panorama Roma aims not to merely present its work, but it is trying to take a small step forward, together with the Fabulamundi project, in enacting a possible production method. Because you don’t only meet an audience at your debut, you also meet them during the creative process.
A.S.: A recent edition of Short Theatre spoke of “Nostalgia for the Future”. I remember someone commented: the future is no longer what it once was. We want to close this conversation by talking about what Short Theatre is planning to give us in the future, given that you two, Fabrizio and Francesca, are delivering it to the future?
F.A.: This is clearly a sore point for me and perhaps also for Francesca: it is not easy to think of “abandoning” Short Theatre, but it is something we feel we should do. I believe that it is equally important for a model like that of Short, which has always been restless, in constant search for new boundaries, gaps to fill and needs to respond to, has reached a point where you experience the possibility of welcoming other generations of curators who deal with theatre this way. We have been thinking for a while, of another future for a festival that has more unique characteristics than rare ones, such as that of taking place in a metropolis and of incessantly communicating with what is happening all around, always looking for the right gap in which to position oneself.
F.C.: I agree with Fabrizio: it is not easy to leave something you grew up in and alongside. Now I believe Short Theatre is at a point where its identity is so very clear it can therefore be broken with. We’d like to attempt this turnover, to give curators the opportunity to grow within it, as we did, but also to give Short Theatre a destiny that we do not have the ability to identify or imagine, in ways that we cannot imagine. Although it has grown enormously over time, Short remains an unfinished mechanism that no curatorial direction can exhaust, the festival is a restless space, in a certain sense stronger than those who control it, where it is difficult, if not impossible, to just settle down. There are two models: the “occupational” one of festivals and cultural institutions that are run for decades by the same people, and that of the turnover that abruptly resets the management each time and starts over again. What is the right way? Personally I believe that the most important things in life are forever and therefore somehow my relationship with Short will last forever. This doesn’t mean holding a position forever: in order to let it grow, I want to make space for others.