I began asking myself when theatre became synonymous, for me, with Siracusa and its classical performances. That is, being present and involved, in front of one of the most ancient and beautiful scenarios of the world. Though there had certainly been a “before”, since the festival organised by INDA had become annual more than ten years ago, finding my place on those stony benches had become irreversible, it was an irreversible fact. Three days in the pretty aretusean city, with its streets and corners of rare beauty, discussing the various shows with my friends, were an extraordinary parenthesis that broke through the rhythm of everyday life. It was living the theatre, and standing by its side, as it were.
Writing about theatre, preparing a review in real-time or afterwards, was for years part of my professional work, but as soon as I sat down on those embracing steps, next to an always close-packed crowd, nothing mattered except “Theatre and I”. The evocativeness of being in that place charmed me immediately, as if I were still a child, and I waited anxiously to see the story repeat itself for yet another… first time, with the tales of Oedipus, or Clytemnestra, or Medea, Phaedra, Orestes… so far from us yet always strangely recognisable: women and men, in the presence of gods and goddesses, their benevolence or their cruelty, and bound to a destiny that had matured through pain and blood, yet easily legible, precursors, existing beyond the myth in the grandeur of a text we had memorised a long time ago.
And the actors, the directors, the scenographers, the dancers, the chorus enunciated the words, all of them connected by the wise insight of their authors. We listened - that’s all. Words we had heard so many times, which returned, if not as new, at least renewed. We confronted the struggle for power, the most sinister crimes, fratricide and the violence of the gods, yet nothing appeared distant. Aeschylus made you conduct a precise analysis of conscience, Sofocles surprised you with his painful wisdom, Euripides spoke of himself and his being one step beyond, but always in line with the great tale of life and death where, centuries later, everything is both very different and still very much the same.
To say I enjoyed every performance would be a lie. But I would also be lying if I didn’t mention how, more often than not, the effectiveness of so many editions of the festival would win over me and that immense crowd from all over Italy and the world, that would sit elbow to elbow - Covid didn’t exist until 2019! - to clap for as long as we could.
I've tried to understand why my love for theatre would be fulfilled almost exclusively by that Syracusan experience, where oftentimes innovation and imagination would foment intense discussions. I think I have come to understand that theatre as an event, its being something new albeit judiciously prearranged in whatever way the director and scriptwriter would shape it, is what I was sensing. Something that traditional theatre had made me forget, something I had been looking for since Pirandello, and that I had found in the Happenings of the Fifties, and the emotions of Living Theatre performed in Palermo, in the English Garden, with Beck and Malina.
The participation of the audience, feeling the actors almost on top of you - something that’s really difficult to achieve the right way - had personally felt like a turning point. Theatre exists if the audience feels dragged into the text, the scene, the gestures. If it recognises the actors moving in front of them, not on stage, but almost as if they were in the corridor or the terrace next door. Something that might be felt in one of Emma Dante’s theatre works.
Perhaps that experience of gesture, of strength of the body, the audacity and magnetism of the actors is what I have often seen in the big performances in Siracusa. Maybe I’m telling myself that the theatre we’re looking for isn’t in front of us. It feels like improvisation, though it’s perfectly prepared, it drags us into it. The scene is born from a text, from a director and his crew, but ultimately it lives for us, without us it can’t begin. We’re theatre’s second leg, and that’s why the current productions we are streaming are making us suffer. What did I say earlier? “Theatre and I”? I’m going to say something more: “I stand with Theatre”. We are part of theatre. Somehow, we too are on stage.