Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte interview: Maggie Rose

This year’s Venice Theatre Biennale that ran from 2 to 11 July [2021] has two new artistic directors at the helm: Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte. They are well established, multi-faceted practitioners better known as the team ricci/forte. Since their debut in the late 1990s, the pair has made a name for themselves in Europe – specifically in Italy, France, and Belgium – as well as in Eastern Europe and South America. Their highly innovative brand of theatre is a powerful mix of live performance, visuals, and video music and often represents a scathing commentary on our contemporary world. This year’s exacting Theatre Biennale programme makes it evident that they have a powerful, overarching vision, goals, and areas of intended innovation. An interview was carried out separately with each of the two directors.

The Venice Theatre Biennale Artistic Directors Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte interviewed by Maggie Rose.

Margaret (Maggie) Rose in conversation with Stefano Ricci.

 

In your presentation at the Biennale, you refer to “theatre as providing a public service. Theatre is necessary for people’s everyday lives.” It seems to me that theatre has never quite achieved this goal in Italy. Once opera was a popular art form especially in some regions, but theatre has rarely enjoyed this status. How do you think your work in Venice over the next four years can facilitate this?

As a practitioner, myself, I believe this objective to be part of the responsibility of any artist, and it is shared with our audiences. Now that I am co-director of the Theatre Biennale this sense of responsibility continues. It is not easy to achieve, and this was highlighted during the lockdowns when here in Italy artists felt abandoned. Even so we can change, and first and foremost that change has got to come from inside ourselves. When other people see what we are doing, they might decide to change as well.

What about the Biennale College? Is this important for you in relation to the concept of theatre as a public service? I’ve always considered young people – and young practitioners in this case – to be a sort of compass.

The Biennale College can provide a platform to give these young artists the unusual chance, in the context of Italy, to think about and develop innovative projects. This year, we have created what is a new area of site[1]specific shows with them in mind. The selected artists will have time to reflect on how they can develop a new piece of work.

In your vision for the theatre of the future, you allude to new sorts of theatre in the plural, including different languages and codes and interdisciplinary projects interlocking with cinema, dance, and so forth. Don’t you think, though, given the present pandemic, that today’s festivals should concentrate on a theatre where the actor is central?

The pandemic has brought home to many of us how very vulnerable we are, despite all the technology there is and our twenty-first century medicine. As the co-director of a major festival like the Biennale, I believe we have a duty to offer audience members a range of different styles and genres. First of all, we need to programme outstanding work that otherwise people in Italy would not see. At the Theatre Biennale, moreover, there is surely room for a kaleidoscope of different style of theatres. Certainly Danio Manfredini’s style of theatre is deeply relevant given his exploration of the actor’s physicality, but I would not wish to exclude experiments that deploy modern day technology. Young artists are particularly interested in this. You mention that today we are losing a sense of community, a trend accelerated by the pandemic. Each one of us found ourselves locked away at home, our freedom restricted, our everyday lives drastically changed.

Do you think the Biennale festival can to some degree help remedy this situation? I notice you have introduced a site-specific strand in the festival programme as well as in the college programme.

Yesterday I saw Stellario di Blasi’s performance in the bustling Campo Santo Stefano. While audience members were seated inside the playing area, passers-by could watch the performance too. For the first time at the Biennale, I felt that the festival was more accessible to people of all ages and social classes, some of whom might not be theatregoers. For us, this is an important strand in our programme. You know, in Venice in the sixteenth century after the bubonic plague ended people flocked back to the theatre. In some ways today we are experiencing something similar. With these site-specific performances, everybody can join in.

Yes, there was a moment when di Blasi released some tiny, pink balloons and kids ran excitedly around the square, trying to catch them. A truly beautiful moment.

Indeed, it would be superb if theatre could return to being a deeply exuberant ritual. A final question. What have you in mind for next year, and particularly for young practitioners? I realise this question might be premature. Well, I can tell you that the prevalent colour will be red – to symbolize passion, love, vitality . . . but also the negatives like possession, murder, and particularly violence against women which has been regularly in the news. [In this year’s Biennale, Ricci and Forte chose the colour blue as the leitmotiv. In the aftermath of a second lockdown, for them blue is in part our dreams as we gaze skywards, linked to each other in a long chain of solidarity, but it is also the blue of artworks such as Joan Mirò’s 1925 blue painting which was accompanied with the words “this is the colour of my dreams”.]

And what about the Biennale College seminars?

Our class for young directors is reserved for Italians. The other classes, namely those catering to playwrights and the site-specific one, do not exclude attendees from abroad. However, they need to have a working knowledge of Italian in order to attend.

(These interviews have been translated from the Italian by Maggie Rose.)