Passaparola - Culture does indeed fill the belly - Dario Fo

Culture does indeed fill the belly

The Passaparola of Dario Fo, playwright and author of the book entitled "Il Grillo canta sempre al tramonto" (Literally: “The cricket always sings at sundown”)
"You will undoubtedly have noticed that our current Government, which is due to move out as soon as the general election is over, has no one in charge of cultural affairs, in other words no minister of arts and culture. If the truth be told, I have never seen any such minister at any cultural event and, in fact, I sincerely doubt whether such a minister exists at all since I don’t know his/her name nor have I ever seen his/her face anywhere. I have asked around, but no one has been able to tell me anything about him/her. Could he/she perhaps be nothing more than a ghost?
Have any of you noted the fact that during the latest election campaign, in all of their appearances on TV or in the theatres, none of the politicians of any of the parties have never even bothered to mention the topic of ‘culture’. Furthermore, they have all been deafeningly silent on the issue of education, museums or our monuments that are busy deteriorating and often simply fall apart. Similarly, they have never said a word about our theatres or about any shows, concerts, and musical performances and more specifically about our academies, which are in many cases also falling apart, nor about our musical conservatories and visual arts schools. Not to mention the 17% drop in the number of students enrolled at our universities over the past ten years – that’s seventeen percent, it’s absolutely shocking!
And what can we say about the disappearance of our theatres? In Milan alone, no less than eight historical theatres have been dismantled and converted into supermarkets, business premises and banks, while a number of other theatres awaiting renovation have essentially been closed for many years. If we add up all the theatre venues that have disappeared throughout the entire Country we get to a total of 428. It truly is an absolute massacre.

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This is obviously a disturbing sign for our future because what it means is that there will be ever fewer shows and fewer places to study and to conduct research, as well as a significant decline in the number of theatre companies out there that put on shows in our towns.
When I appeared on stage for the very first time more than half a century ago now, the theatre companies ran their comedy or musical shows for no less than one month at a time and, if the show was successful, they continued to run for three months or more. These days, on average, in towns like Milan, Rome and Naples, no show ever runs for longer than a week...
Two years ago, when the then Minister of Finance Tremonti was asked to explain why the government appeared to have no interest whatsoever in the arts and culture, he answered that: “Well, culture doesn’t fill the belly!
That has got to be the most idiotic answer that anyone could ever have anticipated.
What we mustn’t ever forget is that here in Italy we are extremely fortunate in that we have an extraordinary number of works of art, museums, ancient buildings, religious edifices and archaeological sites that are just waiting to be made productive. According to Unesco estimates, Italy possesses between 60 and 70% of the entire world’s cultural heritage. Appropriate utilisation of these works would undoubtedly bring in a significant income for the Country. However, if our politicians continue to be totally uninterested in promoting these assets, then we will obviously never get anywhere at all. After all, as Selvatore Settis (former Rector of the “Normale di Pisa”) rightly observed: we are a nation of ignorant, backward people.
We have to start by teaching our young people, above all, that our cultural heritage is not just some useless burden but rather an essential tool for broadening the knowledge and cultural awareness of our fellow Italians. Also because a Country without culture can only produce inhabitants that are obtuse and without prospects.
The disregard shown by successive Italian Governments for knowledge and research is instantly visible by the meagreness of the “miserly grants” allocated for funding all types of cultural events.
These days, what with all the funding cuts that have been made, we find ourselves right at the very bottom of the list.
A few days ago the Purchasing Manager for the Braidense Library in Milan was telling me that all they have managed to get out of the Government for the purchase of additional books was 70,000 Euro for the entire year. For 2006, that figure stood at 600,000 Euro. Meanwhile, two years ago when the former Mayor of Milan, Ms. Letizia Moratti, left office – hopefully for good – she left the municipality with a deficit – or perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to it as a black hole – amounting to 186 million Euro. Now, while we aren’t sure how on earth she managed to waste that amount of money, what we do know is that that is the figure.

Keeping oneself informed
In each of the Scandinavian Countries, they spend four times the amount that is spent here in Italy. The total numbers of local inhabitants here in Italy that visit a museum or a cathedral, or that participate in a cultural event are still at the bottom of the ratings list, which is flabbergasting when consider the fact that there are thousands of Italian towns and villages that house a huge number of extremely valuable artworks, yet 50% or more of the local people are totally unaware of what they have virtually on their own doorstep. In many cases, the Acting Faculty of the Theatre Academies in our towns don’t even have a theatre, or even a stage on which to practice putting up the stage scenery and other structures. Twenty years ago now, when our theatre company went on a tour and put on shows at all the biggest American universities, we arrived at Yale and found ourselves helping to set up the stage scenery together with a bunch of young technicians, all of whom were students at Yale. In addition to studying set design and construction, these guys were also helping out as lighting technicians and sound engineers and also had acting roles in both old and new comedy shows.
As far as I am aware there is no such institution here in Italy, even though Italy is the birthplace of modern theatre, utilising the kind of technology found in the shipyards of Venice, starting from the winches, pulleys and ropes used to hoist the sails that then turned into stage backdrops. In France, during the 17th Century, the first show ever to include visible scenery changes was put on by Italian comedians working at King Henry IV Theatre in Paris, where the stage had been dismantled so as to fit all the new structures to be used, from screens, to the wings and through to the side panel and scenery guides.
The members of the audience that filled the King’s theatre to bursting point were amazed when they saw a forest scene turning into scene depicting a virtually full-size ship sailing through the waves, before their very eyes and at a previously unheard of speed. On the boards of the great stage there were players wearing masks and gaudy outfits and female roles, not played by men dressed up as women – as was the norm throughout Europe at that time – but by real women who, in order to prove their authenticity, would often strip naked on stage as part of the comedy act. How theatrical is that!
The Harlequin mask was invented right there in Paris at that time and the part was played by an actor called Tristano Martinelli, who was actually a young notary by profession. He would write his own scripts and even published an essay entitled “Composizione della Retorica”. Similarly, the company’s chief comedian was an author and philosopher by the name of Francesco Andreini. Even his wife Isabella, a beautiful woman who even made the King fall in love with her, wrote all her own scripts.
Then there were a number of other actors who doubled as the company’s specialists and musicians, which disproves the commonly-held belief that all the comedians were nothing other than actors and uncultured strolling players with little more than an exaggerated sense of theatre.
Moličre’s maestro, Scaramouche, was a great musician who could play all the instruments that were in fashion in the 1500s. From brass instruments through to violins and from guitars through to flutes. Naturally he also wrote musical scores that he would then go on to play himself, switching from one instrument to the next. (grammelot)
These days, many young men and women study to become comedians, paying attention above all to things like diction, voice projection and gesturing while often knowing little or nothing about the author and his reasons for writing the piece. There are some theatre academies, such as the Paolo Grassi Academy in Milan, which take the time to culturally educate the youngsters that they are grooming for a life on the stage. The same goes for the Silvio D’Amico School in Rome and the Nico Pepe Academy in Udine, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. We should learn from certain European Schools where the aspirant actor is not taught only to memorise scripts for upcoming roles, but also to learn about the political, cultural and religious situation in the country in which the work is set, and above all about the person that wrote it. How can anyone hope to stage and act in Hamlet, for example, without realising that Shakespeare’s choice to set the work in Denmark was merely an expedient so that he could deal with the situation in England at that time without falling foul of the censors? It is quite obvious that he loosely used the Court of Elsinňre to tell of London, the Queen, her Court and the underhanded power struggles that were being orchestrated there at the time. Furthermore, an actor must also be aware of the social and political conflicts of that era, as well as the culture, the movements, the changes, the social tension and the language of the main role players. The actor also needs to know that in the English Court, and in the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford they spoke both French and Italian fluently and that there was an unprecedented cultural transformation going on there at that time. This was perhaps the first time ever that a monarch’s name has been linked to a cultural movement and indeed the poetry and theatre that was produced at that time were commonly referred to as Elizabethan. At the time in England, there were more than 50 famous actors staging comedies, tragedies and satires. To this we must add the authors that preferred to remain anonymous and others whose names and works have gone lost over time.

Everyone grab their instrument and heaven help anyone who is out of tune!
Equally numerous were the theatres that regularly changed their repertoires to satisfy what was a huge audience and, at the same time, there was a huge number of shows as well as an equally large number of theatre companies that put on those shows. Notwithstanding the “absolute tolerance” claimed by the powers that be, the intellectuals often landed up in jail, serving long prison sentences handed down for having offended the dignity of the rulers by openly talking about their misdeeds, both in terms of unauthorised misappropriation of funds and the false morals to which they claimed to subscribe. Amongst these intellectuals were Marlowe, Johnson and Shakespeare himself who, after the staging of Measure for Measure, was warned by King James to stop writing any plays for the theatre unless he was willing to risk his own life.
That’s why the great William spent the last six years of his life without ever producing another comedy.
In the past few years I have regularly met with a number of Italian and foreign youngsters who are studying at the various academies. On a regular basis Franca and I also visit our son Jacopo who lives in Alcatraz, in Umbria, where he manages an independent university where we also run proper seminars for young theatre students, both male and female, as we will soon be doing once again in mid-March. The teaching techniques that we use range from improvisation of monologues and dialogues through to group script writing and pantomime practices. Together we also roll-play sections of classical comedies and the tales of famous poets and storytellers ranging from those of the Middle Ages through to the storytellers of our day and age, and for each author I talk briefly about their respective successes and misadventures, including their encounters with some of the most well-known personalities of their times. The parts that I believe are most interesting however, both for the students and for us a teachers, are the discussions we have about one of the texts, or perhaps on something that happened just today, or maybe yesterday, perhaps a news story or even a political matter. Thus, in our opinion, it is extremely important to tell them about our lives, even the more awkward things, and to get them to tell us about their experiences, including their dreams and the aspirations they would like to fulfil.
While we’re on the subject of involvement, there is one particular attitude that many intellectuals seem to exhibit, namely that they try to be erudite. I often jump when I hear people say things such as “Art should be totally non-partisan and above all those who work in theatre should avoid any form of partisan political and moral involvement in what they do”.
This clearly shows that they are living in a fool’s paradise and also displays a total ignorance specifically as regards the artistic structure of theatrical works. It’s enough to glance through the history of theatre, beginning with the Greeks, to realise that all the ancient satirical works that have been handed down to us, from Aristophanes through to Lucian of Samoset are based on stories with a profound political drama. The most convincing example is without a doubt the one of the Women in Parliament, written, recited and sung by Aristophanes and his theatre company. The comedy is based on a massacre that the Athenian army suffered during the war against the city of Syracuse. The Athenians were beaten and during their retreat by sea their ships were sunk and the few men who tried to save themselves were killed, one by one, by the Syracusan archers. The wives and mothers of Athens, having realised that the only males left in the city were children or old men, decided to band together in Parliament and create a government made up entirely of women. “Undoubtedly – they proclaimed very loudly – we will be able to do far better than they did, than our men did, who landed up bringing death to themselves and destruction to the city.
The first law that we will bring in by unanimous resolution is that all money and possessions will in future be held in community of property and will be managed by we women.
All wars would be banned, as would any inhabitant who dared to demand the creation of any kind of military defences. “Of course – said one of the most influential women – they always start by worrying about defence, but then they proceed to create an enemy and invade his city before he can do the same to ours"... and THERE YOU GO! Back to more massacres! Anyone who believes the adage that says we must protect the peace so let’s get ready for war will no longer have the right to speak in public for the rest of his life. Love will be one of the basic tenets of our entire society. Choose anyone you like as your bride or groom, but without any ulterior motive such as money or any other fraudulent thing.
Every individual must be able to read, write and do basic arithmetic from a very early age...
Singing and dancing will be an essential part of our lives and we will dance at weddings, baptisms and even at funerals... let each and every one of us grab our own instrument and heaven help anyone who is out of tune!” (grammelot - sung)
Don’t keep what we have said to yourselves but rather spread the word, I repeat, spread the word.

Posted by Beppe Grillo at 06:16 AM in | Comments (3) | Comments in Italian (translated) Post a comment | Sign up | Send to a friend | | GrilloNews | listen_it_it.gifListen |
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Shelagh I know you mean well, as an Italian I disagree with you, you cannot put us in the box of history, culture, and wonderful food, we are more than that, cheers

Posted by: wollywally | February 14, 2013 01:22 PM

Posted by: Shelagh Barker | February 12, 2013 06:23 PM

Maybe Italy should stop trying to compete industrially and technologically, and instead work towards becoming the theme park of the world offering immense history, extraordinary culture, wonderful cuisine and glorious weather.

Posted by: Shelagh Barker | February 12, 2013 06:19 PM

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