Mise en Vie
Re-working fairy tales in the multicultural age
Teatro delle Albe (Theatre of the Dawn) was founded in 1983 by dramaturg and director Marco Martinelli. Initially the intention was to present modern issues in the style of classic writers such as Shakespeare. But the group has developed, and now explores the multicultural nature of fable with the help of Senegalese actors. In addition, through the “Non-School” workshops Teatro delle Albe brings theatre alive for young people.
Ursula Le Guin, writer of the acclaimed Earthsea fantasy novels recently observed that in a time of uncertainty and rapid change we turn to fantasy – myths and fables – to tells us truths about ourselves, our culture and our society. This would also appear to be the case in theatre. Increasing numbers of theatre groups are returning to traditional methods and re-working ancient folklore in to performances relevant to the 2nd millennium.
Teatro delle Albe is one of those groups. Founded in 1983 by Italian dramaturg and director Marco Martinelli its name “Teatro delle Albe” (Theatre of the Dawn) gives a fair indication of its original mission. Martinelli wishes to return to theatre’s roots and explore the link between modern issues and the “archaic” world of writers such as Shakespeare and Jarry by presenting such issues in traditional style.
Martinelli himself writes: “…Give me a theatre for all those damned, like me, who don’t know what a village is, who don’t know what “roots” and “people” are, who only know flats and their crushed horizons……who share the place they live with a refrigerator, a washing machine and a television.”
Teatro delle Albe’s attempts to create such a popular theatre fall into two categories: performance and theatre in education.
In the performance “I Polacchi”, for example, based on Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu re” the group creates, in Martinelli’s words, “not a mise en scene, but a mise en vie”. The “mise en vie” begins with the chorus of Palotini, played by young actors from the Non-School workshops. This chorus creates a huge puppet – the Ubu – creature of the myth. The myth is then re-told using modern imagery, dialect, allegory, and comparison between rural clans and inner city tribes. To quote Martinelli: “when we talk of “popular” we don’t mean (we never meant) to dip our pen in the country idyll. The “popular”, the “monster” is in the unconscious, or it darts on a highway.”
Theatre in education also plays a major role in Teatro delle Albe’s work. In 1992 Martinelli founded the “Non-School”. He goes into schools in inner cities and works on theatrical texts with the students. The idea is to bring together theatre tradition and those who would never dream of going to the theatre – who consider it a form of punishment. Martinelli doesn’t teach as such, he encourages the students to “grind the old texts” – break them down – until they discover the “living flesh” within them. The result is, Martinelli claims: “barbarous, fertile: Arsitophanes’ obscenities make sense in the mouths of these 15 year olds…. As if they were written yesterday, now even.”
There are over 300 teenagers working with Teatro delle Albe in the Non-School, a number of whom will go on to join the company as professional actors.
Teatro delle Albe has also developed in another unexpected way. Martinelli has always had cross-cultural fertilisation as a basic theme. What happens when different cultures meet? To that end he began working with Senegalese actors, and together they fused two indigenous story-telling traditions – Fuler and Griot.
The Griot was the central figure in many African people’s oral culture. Derived from the Afro-French language, “griot” means narrator and bearer of the oral tradition. (In non-literary cultures this also means memory, library and holder of knowledge. A very powerful – and precarious – position.)
In the Italian Romagnolo dialect there is a word with a similar meaning – Fuler. The Fuler was a travelling story-teller who entertained families in return for bed and board. Fulers could be found in rural Italy as late as the 1930s.
Nessuno Puo´ Coprire L´Ombra (No One Can Cover the Shadow) (1999) is a performance resulting from the fusion of these traditions. A magical African fable, it tells the story of the adventures of the hyena Bourke and the hare Leuk, who along the way meet a talking tree and a troll. The story is told by 3 Senegalese actors via acrobatics, comedy and music.
In an era of globalisation and a world being shrunk by modern technology it is important to keep alive dialects and traditions which define people, place and culture. At the same time it is crucial to find shared beliefs and cultural common ground. In re-working fairy tales for the multi-cultural age Teatro delle Albe is making an important contribution to cultural well-being world-wide.
In 1983 Marco Martinelli, Ermanna Montanari, Luigi Dadina and Marcella Nonni founded the Teatro delle Albe. The company made its way interweaving the search for the “new” with the teachings of Traditional theatre: dramatist and director Martinelli writes his texts drawing inspiration from the ancients and from the present day, tailoring his pieces for the actors he is working with. And the actors do not limit themselves only to acting but are actual co-authors of the plays. In 1988 the company was joined by the Senegalese griots Mandiaye N’Diaye, Mor Awa Niang and El Hadji Niang. The formation became Afro-Romagnol, practising a theatrical crossbreeding that joined dramaturgy and dance, music and dialects, invention and roots. Their shows, from Ruh, Romagna Plus Africa Equals (1988) to All’inferno! (1996) right down to the recent Jarry-inspired works Perhindérion and The Poles have gained the Albe national and international awards and recognition, underlining a rigorous poetics, sophisticated and moving, capable of bringing its ancient and powerful narrative function back to the stage.
Martinelli won the Drammaturgia Infinita prize in ’95 with Incantati, the Ubu Prize in ’97 with All’inferno! and in ’99 the Hystrio prize for directors. Fundamental within the group, over and above Martinelli’s artistic direction, are Montanari’s visionary flare-ups and uncanny vocality (special mention at the Premio Narni Opera prima 1986, candidate for "best actress", Ubu Prize 1997 and winner of Ubu Prize 2000 as "best actress" for her interpretation in Alcina’s island) and Luigi Dadina’s work on traditional tales.
The Cantiere Orlando project was begun in 1999 in co-production with the Venice Biennial, Ravenna Festival and Santarcangelo dei Teatri, a three year itinerary based on Renaissance epic poetry, that has produced three performances of great success: L’isola di Alcina (Alcin’s island), Baldus, and Sogno di una notte di mezza estate (A midsummer night’s dream). In 1991 the Teatro delle Albe founded Ravenna Teatro, “Permanent Theatre of Innovation”.