fbpx HISTORICAL ARCHIVE | Carnival breaks through the fog - 1980
La Biennale di Venezia

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Venice, Scaparro, La Biennale 1980, 1981, 1982, 2006 from the Historical Archives of La Biennale di Venezia

Carnival breaks through the fog


 Carnevale del Teatro

I have been asking myself for some time what our profession might mean today, I mean our making theatre, in a society in which human contact is becoming rarefied, and where craftsmanship fights to stay afloat; what are the limits, the values, the hopes that this profession carries with it. It’s true that the public, and often a new public, is rediscovering theatre, but this does not necessarily entail creative vitality for this form of performance; it could for example mean curiosity for a tribe of Indians who stubbornly continue to communicate with their mouth and their hands what is conveyed at much greater speed through other means of communication; or it could mean an authentic need for relationships that are not mediated by technology, the discovery of intelligence, of imagination, of human labour. In other words, and in any case audiences are changing (because history changes), whereas theatre seems to stay in the same place (because its stories don’t change) with its fascinating ambiguous magic tricks, with the great illusion, which is its power, that it is mirror of our times even when the times are no longer reflected in it.
The immutability of theatre (not of its natural self-representation) can however become something of a Copernican revolution, because slowly and safely the subjects and objects, causes and effects do change. The audience (sometimes unwittingly) becomes the actor, takes possession of the theatre, turns it into an object of reflection, study, research, dream, irony, regret; but it can also restore it to history with new reasons for existing and, perhaps, for changing.
To provoke, even in a short time and a limited space, an exchange of roles and confusion of languages, to interrogate those who make theatre and those who attend it about our future fate as clowns, seemed urgent, and perhaps necessary.
That’s how the Carnevale del Teatro was born.
The audience, the actors, and why not, chance did the rest, to which the images in this book bear witness.
But chance can’t help you if you don’t believe in our work and do not place your hope in the audience and the actors. Together with them, without any assessment of quality, we threw out into the streets all the ingredients that have made theatre and made Carnival over the centuries: masks, make-up, costumes, gestures, music, the spoken word. We were certainly helped by the awareness that the times we were living in were no party, which at most was yet another reason to reflect on the political utility of theatre today. The period of Carnival was in fact chosen because it meant interruption of the institutions, breaking the rules, possible and free pause for reflection and experimentation. Venice was ready to give us a hand, as if it had just been waiting for the opportunity; the city government itself had been urging Venetians for over two years to reclaim their lost but never forgotten popular tradition; so the theatrical interpretation of carnival met with the surprised but open acceptance of Venetians and “foreigners”, and the encounter with the “comedians” was full, joyful and often exciting as a mutual discovery. For one week we opened all the large and small theatres of Venice, day and night, so Carnival could uninterruptedly move from the streets to the theatre, to the square to the waters of the canals. We furthermore opened a small theatre space on the water, Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo, which not only echoed the floating stages built by Scamozzi and Rusconi, but also the purity of line of the Globe. I mention the use of that theatre, even though it was marginal compared to what was happening in the streets and the theatres at the same time, to underscore its particular bivalency, its inner and outer life, its potential to be used and experienced both as a container for performances and as an actor itself. This, and more, much more than words and images can convey, happened by chance in Venice, in 1980.
Ultimately, we associated three words that are used, and used almost as clichés, such as Carnival, Theatre, Venice, so that connected together they could acquire an original value, a different meaning and significance, to indicate one experience that could never be reproduced elsewhere, but is linked in Venice to specific moments of research and study parallel to the event, but undoubtedly separate and autonomous.

Teatro del Mondo

To conceive this Teatro del Mondo, however ephemeral one might consider it, necessarily took knowledge and a passion for theatre, its functions, its very history, and Aldo Rossi is one of the very few architects who loves and goes to the theatre.
Rossi thus approached this project with the intent to «seek imagination only in reality», discarding the historical antithesis macchina-theatre and capturing not just the predictable physical and temporal precariousness of the floating macchina, but the specificity of its being built on the water, and its confronting, in the water, the “eternal” immutable realities of Venice.
An act of love for the future of the city, or “antiVenice” the theatre is always a positive provocation, original forward-looking creativity, fluid proposal, ephemeral but essential impression.
With its awe-inspiring transit through the mists of Marghera, from the shipyards of Fusina to the Punta della Dogana, in November 1979, before it was even officially inaugurated, it made a grand spectacle of itself, stirring the oft-forgotten waters of Venice, conjuring the memory of their legitimate protagonism, degraded for decades to the pseudo-historical folklore of costumed regattas, it generated a new impulse to conceive, though limited in time and space, a different type of theatre.
Of theatre, Rossi captured the classicism of form, which echoed not the spaces built by Scamozzi or Rusconi, but rather those of his own scientific theatre and is reminiscent externally of the purity of the Globe. In the same way he attempted a rather difficult functionality for the stage, necessarily constrained in space, wedged in between two opposite sections of stepped seating, and brilliantly projected vertically to a height of almost twenty metres: almost an indication of the possible original uses of this theatre space, beyond the indiscriminate celebratory hospitality that the Teatro del Mondo gave to Italian and foreign theatre and music groups for the Carnevale del Teatro in 1980.
Similarly, another indication of a “trend” that I am particularly fond of, because it aligns with my own way of working on stage, seems to be the rejection of the superfluous in the “rigid world and few objects” that Rossi leaves to the imagination of those who make theatre and those who attend it.
The singular appeal of Rossi’s theatre is in any case its bivalency, its inner and outer life; and even more the possibility of being used and experienced as both a container for performances, and as an actor itself, the mobile and mutable protagonist for various moorings, for colours that change with the passing of the hours, for the visitors that enliven it inside and out, to the top of the terrace that surrounds the dome, a living castle on the water that we will remember at length, with a hint of nostalgia, when it will be long gone, necessarily used, led at a fortunately slower pace towards the “historical” fate of the Venetian macchina, the sixteenth-century floating stage.
Before its natural end, Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo will however have served the experimental function we were striving for. We still dream about giving it new mobility, to “discover” new non-Venetian lands, to be confronted with other “eternal” monuments, to meet with new people and new customs, to present itself and therefore be a different theatre in each place, as well as a Noah’s ark or ship of fools, with the baggage of hope and illusion that theatre has carried with it over the centuries. In this spirit the Teatro del Mondo begins it real fantastic journey towards Yugoslavia.

Maurizio Scaparro