Director Armando Punzo, founder of the historic Compagnia della Fortezza, the first company ever instituted in a prison which became one of the most important in experimental theatre, is the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of Biennale Teatro 2023; the Belgian collective FC Bergman, which authors productions that represent an original blend of cinema, literature and the visual arts, has been awarded the Silver Lion.
The Lions were approved by the Board of Directors of La Biennale di Venezia and recommended by the Directors of the Theatre Department Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte (ricci/forte).
The awards ceremony took place on June 17th in Sala delle Colonne (at 12 noon), in the headquarters of La Biennale, during the 51st International Theatre Festival which will be held from June 15h to July 1st 2023 in Venice.
In their motivation for the award to Armando Punzo, Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte (ricci/forte) write: “The search for the meaning of theatre begins when we venture into human territory driven by the need for a personal, original cultural identity. Where the stage is nurtured by real life. In the attempt to communicate through isolation, both artistic and geographical; prison and its barriers. Force a limit, the absence of freedom that shatters axioms through Theatre to become exuberant harvesting. Start to dream of a new man and impose him on reality. A visionary form of communication that distils a language reconstructed in the shadow of a prejudice: there are no bars that can restrain the spirit and the imagination, but more importantly, are we certain that the Others are the prisoners condemned to confinement within a perimeter? Our limits, fears, need for social assertion, blindness when it comes to others; to make the intangible, the unconscious, visible: a cultural utopia of which Armando Punzo and the Compagnia della Fortezza are the shining embodiment”.
The career as a director of the shamanic artist Armando Punzo spans across thirty-five years of totalizing, full-time day to day work with eighty or so inmate-actors, producing more than forty shows. Sensational productions that won awards in Italy and abroad: Marat-Sade, I negri, I Pescecani ovvero quello che resta di Bertolt Brecht, Hamlice – Saggio sulla fine di una civiltà, Beatitudo are just some of the more memorable titles that frame Punzo’s inquiry into the great themes of humanity turning a penal institution such as the Medici Fortress in Volterra into an avant-garde cultural centre. Many initiatives have burgeoned from there, such as the European project “Theatre and prison in Europe” with Italy as the project leader, involving penitentiaries in France, Spain, Sweden, Germany and Great Britain.
Armando Punzo participated in the Biennale Teatro in 1999/2000 with one of his first projects outside of prison walls: leading a multi-stage workshop with 15 actors, the outcome of which was the play Nihil – Nulla, initially presented in Venice and Zurich in 2001, before touring across Italy and abroad in 2002 and 2003.
This year Armando Punzo returns to La Biennale to inaugurate the 51st International Theatre Festival. On Thursday June 15th at the Teatro alle Tese he will premiere Naturae, the elaboration and end-product of a cycle that lasted four years, following a practice important to the director who develops his creations to full maturity through preliminary studies, workshops, research phases and productions.
Experimenting in pursuit of a renewed meaning for theatre, like Punzo though in a different way, FC Bergman, the collective composed by the actors/directors/artists Stef Aerts, Joé Agemans, Thomas Verstraeten and Marie Vinck, comes to Biennale Teatro for the first time.
“With their creations – write Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte (ricci/forte) – the Flemish artists of FC Bergman, drawing inspiration from cinema, literature and art history, and blending a painterly aesthetic and the use of highly advanced technology with the great allegorical-Medieval-biblical stories, shape an original language of site-specific-theatre-dance, poetic yet at the same time irreverent, which arouses a feeling of disconcerting apprehension in the viewer. Using references, symbols and images that are deeply rooted in western culture and civilisation, eluding the dictatorship of the vanishing point in Italian-style theatres with perspectives organised as a whirlwind of tableaux vivants and allowing themselves a margin of unpredictability and improvisation, FC Bergman flirts with the limits of feasibility, creating modern apocalyptic tales, often without words but with surprising plastic potency and evocative power, thus focusing on Man – torn between the existential desire to transcend his perimeters and the fear of change – following him in his moving odysseys that metamorphose into tragicomic misadventures”.
At the 51st International Theatre Festival, on Saturday June 17th FC Bergman will present the Italian premiere of Het Land Nod (The Land of Nod), an “out-of-scale” production, which defies the traditional space of theatre inspired by a place, the Royal Fine Arts Museum of Antwerp: on stage, it reproduces the entire room known as the Rubens Gallery, with the majestic paintings by the Flemish painter, to tell the thrilling story of this space, of the works it contains and above all the people who seek comfort and shelter there.
The Lions of previous editions
In the past the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre has been awarded to Ferruccio Soleri (2006), Ariane Mnouchkine (2007), Roger Assaf (2008), Irene Papas (2009), Thomas Ostermeier (2011), Luca Ronconi (2012), Romeo Castellucci (2013), Jan Lauwers (2014), Christoph Marthaler (2015), Declan Donnellan (2016), Katrin Brack (2017), Antonio Rezza and Flavia Mastrella (2018), Jens Hillje (2019), Franco Visioli (2020), Krzysztof Warlikowski (2021); and Christiane Jatahy (2022).
The Silver Lion, dedicated to promising young artists in theatre, or to the institutions that have distinguished themselves for cultivating new talents, has been awarded to Rimini Protokoll (2011), Angélica Liddell (2013), Fabrice Murgia (2014), Agrupación Señor Serrano (2015), Babilonia Teatri (2016), Maja Kleczewska (2017), Anagoor (2018), Jetse Batelaan (2019), Alessio Maria Romano (2020), Kae Tempest (2021), and Samira Elagoz (2022),
Armando Punzo (Cercola - Naples, 1959) is a director, playwright and actor. He has worked since 1988 in the Prison at Volterra, where he founded the Compagnia della Fortezza, the first and most lasting experience of theatre in a penitentiary institution. From 1996 to 2016, he also directed the Festival Internazionale VolterraTeatro, entitling his artistic direction to the idea of the Theatres of the Impossible. In thirty-five years of work with la Fortezza, which now counts approximately eighty inmate-actors, he has staged over forty plays, including Marat-Sade, I Negri, I Pescecani ovvero quello che resta di Bertolt Brecht, Hamlice, Santo Genet, Beatitudo, Progetto Naturae, many of which, following their debut at the prison, were later performed in the major Italian festivals and theatres. In parallel, while obstinately pursuing the goal of creating the first Teatro Stabile in prison in the world, he directs international workshops and productions, focusing in particular on major urban and installation-performance projects. They include a site-specific edition of Hamlice at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan for over three thousand spectators; a series of collective performances in city squares, courtyards and museums for the project Mercuzio non vuole morire; the installation-performance Paradiso. Voi non sapete la sofferenza dei Santi, which was staged at the foot of the Ilva industries, and involved the citizens of the Tamburi District in Taranto; L’Opera Segreta. Rovine e resti dell’umanità di Shakespeare, set on the Escalators of Santa Lucia di Potenza, with one hundred people on stage; Le Rovine Circolari, a special version of Beatitudo, inside the cooling area of the Enel Nuova Geothermal Power Plant in Larderello in the Green Triangle of Peccioli; Naturae. La valle dell’innocenza, a site-specific production for the Nervi Pavilion in the former Salina di Stato in Saline di Volterra.
He has won many awards and acknowledgments including: six UBU Prizes, the Medal of the President of the Republic, the Sigillo d’Ateneo from the Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, the National Association of Theatre Critics Award, the Carmelo Bene Prize from the Rivista lo Straniero magazine, the Europa Taormina Arte Prize, the Premio per la Cultura Contemporanea award from the Regione Toscana, the Premio Speciale Biglietto d’Oro Agis, Premio Napoli, Premio Scenari Pagani, Premio Nesi, Premio Speciale Fiesole, Premio Anima.
He is the author of two autobiographical books: È ai vinti che va il suo amore (Clichy 2013) and Un’idea più grande di me (Luca Sossella 2019). His theoretical writings have been published in the major Italian and foreign theatre magazines.
Since 1998, he has been the artistic director of the Teatro di San Pietro di Volterra, which is also the headquarters for the Associazione Carte Blanche which has always supported his work and the Compagnia della Fortezza, and where important cultural projects and theatre seasons are presented every year. In 2004 he conceived the project titled “Theatre and Prison in Europe – Education and development and dissemination of innovative methodologies” in collaboration with some of the most important European bodies working with theatre and prisons. This was followed by a new European project (2013-2015) titled “PICP – The prison, from penal institute to cultural place” the aim of which was to investigate how good practices regarding theatre in prison might be summarised into a model that could be exported to other prisons and/or other sectors of exclusion and/or other targets.
FC Bergman is a collective founded in 2008 by actors / theatre-makers / artists Stef Aerts, Joé Agemans, Bart Hollanders, Matteo Simoni, Thomas Verstraeten and Marie Vinck. Since 2013 in residence at Toneelhuis in Antwerp, the collective in a short time has developed a highly unique theatrical idiom, at the same time anarchistic, chaotic, visual and poetic. Their productions - often site-specific - give centre stage to the floundering, ever-striving human. Simoni and Hollanders have left the core team and now work on an ad-hoc basis with FC Bergman.
Winner in 2009 of the Young Theatre Prize at Theater Aan Zee with its adaptation of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, FC Bergman was short-listed for the Dutch Theatre Festival in 2010 with Walking along the Champs Elysées with a tortoise so as to have a better look at the world, but it is difficult to drink tea on an ice floe if everyone is drunk. In 2011 FC Bergman created 300 el x 50 el x 30 el at Toneelhuis, a piece that since then has toured internationally, from Athens to New York. In 2012 they created Terminator Trilogy, again a site-specific work that toured internationally. Back in Toneelhuis in 2013 the collective created Van den vos, an impressive music theatre project, realized in collaboration with Liesa van der Aa, Muziektheater Transparant and Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop, and in 2015 FC Bergman made Het land Nod (The Land Of Nod), later presented at the Festival of Avignon and at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel.
In 2018, FC Bergman completed JR, a site-specific project based on the eponymous cult novel by William Gaddis and defined “the major theatre event of 2018”. In 2018, they created an opera for Opera Ballet Vlaanderen: Les Pêcheurs de perles (Georges Bizet). In 2019, FC Bergman collaborated on Freud, an ITA production, by making an adaptation of Sartre’s original script. Aerts, Vinck and Simoni played a number of roles, including the lead role, performed by Stef Aerts.
Their most recent work is The Sheep Song (2021), a wordless performance about a creature that is no longer content with its lot as it feels to be destined to lead a more glorious life than that of its fellows. The Sheep Song is touring internationally from Avignon to Adelaide, from Seville to Stockholm.
Besides the work with the collective, the members of FC Bergman are individually involved in various other theatre productions, TV projects and films, or make productions, installations and videos under their own name.