The artistic direction of a theatrical institution can be a natural extension for a director’s work. My most significant experience, in terms of depth and range of activity, was the Artistic Direction of Fondazione I Teatri di Reggio Emilia from 2002 to 2012.
Here are some notes that summarize the most significant contents of this experience.
The differentiation of the activity.
The artistic project of Fondazione I Teatri di Reggio Emilia unfolds in the theatres Valli, Ariosto and Cavallerizza; three very different spaces, suitable to host diverse activities in almost all genres of live entertainment. (1)
The three theatres system and the Fondazione’s activity are a unique example in the Italian cultural scenario, similar in certain ways to the model of some German State Theatres. (2)
The Fondazione does not have stable artistic masses, so it naturally searches for artistic and productive partners in line with its projects. Over time, this has proved to be an important resource for the theatres. Given the need of research, the three theatres have presented a diversity of projects and artistic figures involved. (3)
The mandate received in 2002 by the top management of the Fondazione was clear: to develop the cultural identity of the Theatre, that is strongly oriented towards innovation. Innovation at all levels: of the project contents, of the subjects and of the offer and communication methods.
Over the years, the Reggio Emilia Theatre has become a theatre of ideas and productions. It strongly believes in the virtuous mechanism thanks to which a higher quality of projects can lead to a higher quality of productive relations and investments.
The Theatre has faced this mutation with deep conviction, with great energy and passion.
The artistic project developed by the Fondazione starting in 2003 aimed at developing an idea of the theatre with strong roots in the cultural history of the city, that is strongly projected into the future. The Fondazione I Teatri was set up to become more than just a theatre of the province. The goal was to develop a theatre of projects and productions, a theatre that works for the audience, certainly for today’s audience, but in a strong and convinced way also for tomorrow’s audience and for the audience that does not yet exist.
The Theatre, house of imagination
Ultimately, this is essentially what the theatre in our time is supposed to do: make amazement possible and defend and nourish the imagination of the audience, because among our dearest but most threatened primary goods, there is the imagination of the people, of us all – and the emphasis must be placed in particular on the new generations. The theatre’s task is to facilitate access to the place of the imagination par excellence.
This project aimed to strengthen audience awareness about the importance of promoting artistic and content quality in live performances. Every show, concert, meeting or project with students of the several hundred that are staged every year in Reggio, is a piece, a part of an overall project, and the dedication to quality is kept with a considerable dose of consistency.
Thanks to the quality of the project, the Fondazione I Teatri received the Abbiati Award twice: in 2005 for the production of An index of metals, a contemporary musical project by Fausto Romitelli, which was awarded as the best new proposal within the REC Festival; in 2009 for the production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, within the Opera season of the Teatro Valli, under the direction of Kris Kraus, which was awarded as the best show produced in Italy in 2008.
I am convinced that, in order to design a cultural path in the contemporary world, coexistence is an essential element: the coexistence of thoughts, cultures, traditions and languages. For the Reggio Emilia project, the positive coexistence of genres, categories of entertainment, repertoires, audiences and different expressive languages had to be clearly and immediately indicated to the audience. In fact, the text – and the author – chosen in 2005 to be the cornerstone of the artistic project of the Theatres was Die Zauberflöte; an opera that bases its own great utopia on the coexistence and dialectic of multiple cultures.
The proposed repertoire in the field of Opera – apart from the cornerstones of the nineteenth-century – ranged from works by Monteverdi to various titles of the historic twentieth century, up to the commission and production of new operas by contemporary composers including La Licata, Krawczyk, Sani, Battistelli, Casale.
In the field of dance, it has given life to projects and new productions with Italian and international choreographers that have brought to Reggio Emilia artists such as Trisha Brown, Shen Wey, William Forsythe, Ian McGregor and Sasha Walz. They engaged in their own productions at the Teatro Valli and in performances especially designed for spaces outside the theatre, such as the site-specific productions made within the Collezione Maramotti.
The REC Festival, since 2009 Aperto Festival, has given life to experimental and innovative projects. In particular, the project Tant que nous sommes vivants by Boltanski, Kalman, Krawczyk, a production that strongly marked the identity of the Theatre; the combination of installation art, music, theatrical action, and the kind of performativity that included the public itself as an essential element of the installation-show, represented an absolute unique experience.
Another significant line of work was the creation of activities aimed to train new audiences, in particular in the theatrical and musical fields, with specific projects dedicated to young people, students of all ages and courses, from kindergartens to universities. These were initiatives that represented a concrete involvement of the younger audience within the activities, to which the Theatre dedicated the utmost care, passion and visibility. Opera Kids, Orchestra in Gioco, Opera Tomorrow, Off-Opera (4): these are some of the activities promoted by the Fondazione.
Maintaining such strong inclusive strategy, our projects have contributed to reinforce the active presence of the Theatre in the area, and to make it more visible and accessible. One of the most significant projects was Il Flauto Magico di strada (Street Magic Flute), held in 2007, which became a project about the city identity; it involved over thirty city squares and courtyards, over a thousand musicians, dancers, actors and artists of many different ethnic and religious communities. “Staged” in Reggio Emilia as a 24-hour event, it was attended by over 60,000 spectators.
Driven by the desire to create such a project, the identity of our theatre became increasingly clearer; a theatre that engages concretely in overcoming old dichotomies such as teaching and entertainment, aesthetics and knowledge, pleasure and learning, high and popular culture and perhaps the most deeply rooted of all: tradition and innovation.
An opera season with the coexistence of operas by Verdi and Stravinskij, by Monteverdi and Henze, by Handel and Weill, the trilogy Mozart – Da Ponte presented with a profoundly contemporary dramaturgical character, the Festival Aperto, which presents the most contemporary European artistic and musical productions: these are just some examples of a multiplicity that is not at all split into the dichotomy between tradition and innovation, and can be summed up in the word contemporaneity. In a more definite sense, it is a monitoring of what is happening around us, and in a broader sense, a relationship with tradition that does not propose itself again, but is reinterpreted in the depths of today.
By staging both Mozart and Stockhausen, the Theatre presents the audience with a programme that is not schizophrenic but rather able to enrich, with its most innovative projects that are mainly hosted in the Festival Aperto, the classical theatrical seasons with links and references representing a projection to the future.
The same spirit, the same openness to a new audience, or not yet accustomed to the cultural offer of the Theatre, have marked some of the most significant projects right from the beginning. Shows such as Rwanda ’94, or Christian Boltanski’s Tant que nous sommes vivants, brought spectators to the Valli theatre who were only minimally part of the group of ticket holders for the classical seasons. In this way, a new audience, or more occasional spectators, were offered the opportunity to get to know the Theatre through ventures characterized by a strong component of unpredictability, difficult to classify within pre-established categories of live entertainment.
As a confirmation of the fact that a theatre must be an active and lively place not only dedicated to curtain openings, the Fondazione gave life projects like Architettura & Teatro. In those years, this was probably the most significant project in terms of a development of an identity project. A three-year seminar, subsequently presented in a book, in which many subjects were analysed: architectural design, engineering and technical knowledge, languages of live entertainment, proposals for projects and new shows, attention to the role of the audience, questioning the methods that generally characterize the construction of new theatrical buildings. Thinking of the theatre and about the theatre.
At the same time, several shows have provided opportunities to rethink the traditional theatrical space in various ways: a revolution of the set, an exchange of functions between hall and stage, free circulation of the audience, its insertion in immersive environments, the use of video walls that recreate the environments, a public-artists proximity, etc.
This resulted in the creation of a different audience-performance relationship and in new communicative tunes: a truthful experience not only a mere detached contemplation.
These projects have helped define a different relationship between theatre, intended as the place where things happen, and its audience.
The system of the three theatres of Reggio Emilia has shown great flexibility in linking artistic projects to theatrical places. A flexibility that has allowed a considerable differentiation in the list of proposals.
A cultural subject
There is no thought or imagination of utopia without awareness. The audience of Reggio was invited to actually take on the public function of the theatre as part of a process in which the spectator himself becomes an active subject, a judge and a participant. The first tangible result was a more conscious audience, both in terms of autonomy of choice and in terms of attention and passion shown.
Ultimately, the aim is to conceive a structure of theatrical programme and productions which function as a real cultural subject active in the area. In collaboration with other cultural institutions, it should be responsible of producing a cultural offer of great quality, that concretely promotes the idea that a theatre is the home of cultures.
Courageous, innovative, free from conditioning. This is how I think one can briefly describe the work carried out over the years by the Theatres in Reggio Emilia and which we have tried to document here.