CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – I have been wrapped up in a whirlwind of theatrical and musical adventures over the past month that have been so many and varied that I have had not a single moment to write about them here, despite itching to do so every day. Now I am sitting high in the hills above Castellammare as I start these words, taking a break from setting down harmonies for the next song in a musical show that we will be performing at this Azienda Agricola Acquaviva this coming Sunday, 30 July, and I finally found a moment to get a few words down in the blog about these incredible experiences.
The first was my cameo role as Albert Einstein in TAC Teatro‘s next play, the work-in-progress tentatively titled “La Première Fois.” The show is in its early stages of creation, but TAC Teatro put on a show of the work-in-progress at its theater space in Aubervilliers at 164 rue Henri Barbusse. I loved creating this role with Ornella Bonventre directing, because I cannot imagine that many other wonderful true-life personalities to play than Einstein. And, surprise surprise, I discovered through the necessity of growing my hair and my moustache, that I am capable of growing a moustache that is a pretty damn convincing version of the mathematical genius’s moustache! (Now if only I discovered I could also emulate his mathematical genius.) In any case, the show went off very well, with the TAC Teatro actors demonstrating more than ever their diversity of talents, as the show is full of music, magic and illusion, along with some beautiful songs. My role is minor, opens the show at the moment, and will probably appear again later on.
The sad story there was that this was the last show that TAC Teatro performed in the space where it has been housed for the last two and a half years, since the middle of the Covid epidemic. The owners of the former warehouse decided they want to try to sell the lot on which it sits, and so they took it back from us, and the same day we handed over the keys, they had the space demolished so that no one got the idea of squatting it. In a sad, sad irony, while the rich owners wanted to demolish our space to keep squatters out, that same night during the riots that tore France apart after the police killed a 17-year-old for no reason, TAC Teatro’s new space for the coming season, in Asnières-sur-Seine was demolished, looted, burned down, by the rioters. So the coming season poses some challenges.
In the meantime, TAC Teatro also celebrated its yearend of performances of the students of the classes in Asnières, which took place in the 200-seat, magnificent Studio Théâtre. There, I was called in to do the job of MC, and I was given the opportunity to do this by playing a song between each performance of the classes. I matched the nature of each song with the play performance. The plays of the children were Peter Pan, the Addams Family and the Petits Chaperons Rouges; the adult class’s play was “The Bear,” by Chekhov. It was a fabulous festive evening of shows with a full house spectators and a great capping to a season of drama classes for TAC Teatro and its students.
No sooner did we finish that event than we packed the car to go to our annual summer address in Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily, not far from Palermo. Here, this year, I started my first week participating in the great Chiringuito Jam session in Scopello, that I had discovered only last year, and which we learned was run by Ornella’s cousin, Michelangello Bologna. I again did a couple of songs with a complete band, and with Michelangello, who is a Michelangello of the harmonica in addition to the MC of the evening.Then, suddenly irresistibly, surprisingly, and synchronistically, after we had discovered that Castellammare del Golfo had been chosen as the location for a big crazy theater workshop by the illustrious Mario Biagini and his group called Accademia dell’Incompiuto – Academy of the Unfulfilled, we decided to take part. This workshop, or residency, lasts for the entire second two weeks of July, and in addition to consisting of working with Biagini’s troupe to create a final show – called “The Thirsty Ones” – for the 30th July, we also had two other performances of some of the work.
Extraordinarily, one of those performances had been planned – without any input or prior knowledge from us – as taking place during the Wednesday night jam at Chiringuito! So for the second time in the month of July I ended up performing on the stage outside in Scopello, but now, I did first a performance of a couple of songs in the usual way with me on the guitar with other performers at the jam; then, second, I worked with the dozen or so actors and singers of the theater workshop performing the songs we had been working on, with their fabulous harmonies and many languages. I played guitar and filled in here and there with vocals.
I want to jump back a little and say why this serendipitous meeting of the Biagini group and Ornella and me was so surprising: We had met Biagini for the first time last year when we went to the Teatro Ridotto outside of Bologna, Italy in order to interview him for a project that Ornella and I are working on about some of the theater greats of the last 60 years. Biagini is known for having worked closely with the legendary intellectual figure of 20th century avant garde theater, Jerzy Grotowski. In fact, Grotowski, who died in 1999, had left Biagini and another man, Thomas Richards, in charge of the Grotowski Center in Pontedera, Italy – Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards – where Mario Biagini had worked since 1986.
Biagini and Richards ran the center until 2021, when they decided to go their own ways. Grotowski was one of the seminal figures of modern theater, and Biagini is a torchbearer of his world, along with Richards. Now this links into the next meeting, which happened a couple of months ago in Paris, when Ornella and I went to the Grotowski event at the Théâtre des Abbesses in Paris where Biagini was present to launch the latest edition that he edited of a translation of Grotowski’s theoretical – and other – writings that has just been published in French. It is a fabulous collection of the theorist’s work, including the writings that would eventually make up his famous and influential “Towards a Poor Theater” book that was first published by the Odin Teatret publisher and founder, Eugenio Barba. (Whom I have written about a few times here.
We also made a connection at one remove with Biagini at the beginning of April this year, when a group that he has directed that came out of Teatro Ridotto, also took part in the annual international residency called Finestres – see my previous post! – that Teatro Ridotto has put on for decades in Italy and that TAC hosted this year in Aubervilliers at the beginning of April. I am speaking about the fantastic Collettivo Hospites, who, incidentally, just put up a video of their memories of that week of activities.
So it was quite amazing to discover that Biagini was holding this workshop in Ornella’s home town in Sicily during our stay here. And we joined in. The performance at Chiringuito was then followed by a flash mob performance a few days later in the streets of downtown Palermo. Here again we sang our songs, and I played guitar along with the musical anchor of the work, Viviana Marino on her classical guitar. There was a film production company on hand in Palermo, so you can see the work of this company, Ponte di Archimede Produzioni, in the teaser for Sunday’s show that I posted above. The teaser was also filmed partly on location at the base in the hills above Castellammare, where we are preparing and will put on the show, and where I am sitting writing these words. You only catch a tiny glimpse of me playing in Palermo, and a bit of Ornella and her daughter, Morgana, are also visible momentarily!
I hope to have more videos and photos to follow, but this is what I have at the moment. Until then, if you can make it to the show on Sunday, I understand the airport in Palermo is open again…. Oh, yes, that’s another bit of news to follow up with: After the burning down of TAC’s new space in Asnières and the demolition of the old space in Aubervilliers, the 2,000 year old theater in Segesta, next to Castellammare del Golfo, and the neighboring 2,000 year old temple were both engulfed in flames in recent days during the catastrophic fires that we have been experiencing during the massive heatwave that lifted temperatures to well above 40 degrees celsius. A couple of years ago, TAC had been in negotiations to put on a performance on that ancient stage. The flames are following us from town to town, country to country!