Occupy Teatro Valle

Posted by editor 19/09/2012 0 Comment 2749 views

Occupy at the Teatro Valle, Rome.

Once upon a time there was a theatre in the heart of Rome. It was the brainchild of Roman nobleman Camillo Capranica, who put the project into the hands of architect Tommaso Morelli. They decided to call it Teatro Valle after its first director, Domenico Valle. It opened its doors on 7th January 1727 and in the almost 300 years that followed it staged plays by the most famous playwrights of the age and premiered landmark theatrical pieces like Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, first performed on 9th May 1921. Teatro Valle was the oldest working theatre in Rome  – up until 19th May 2011, that is. Rather ironically, so close to the 90th anniversary of the staging of Pirandello’s piece that turned playwriting on its head, the theatre was closed. Why? Well the body running it, the l’Ente Teatrale Italiano (ETI), was abolished in the spending cuts approved by parliament in 2009 and there was not enough funding for a new season.

Management of the Valle was then put into the hands of Rome City Council, led by Mayor Gianni Alemanno. The council never even considered an alternative to closing the theatre and it brought the curtain down on a cultural institution of which it should have actually been proud. Worse still, all its technicians were suddenly out the streets without a job. The building risked falling into permanent disuse, an option countered by an even worse idea: to turn it into a kind of fancy “eaterie” for Rome’s chattering classes, who could watch mainstream shows headlining TV stars not those from the stage while supping on the best delicacies in global nouvelle cuisine. Teatro Valle could not stoop so low.

So to stop this happening, on 14th June 2011 the building was occupied by sixty or so people from the entertainment business including actors, directors, writers and technicians of all kinds. “We rang the stage door bell. The door was opened by caretaker Antonio who ushered us in. We unfurled our first banner and we’ve been here ever since. We’re now celebrating a year of the occupation”. These simple yet resolute words are how the occupiers remember their gesture, both concrete and highly symbolic at the same time, which led to the creation of the Occupied Teatro Valle.

One year on it is still being “occupied”, with at least 25 to 30 people living there, day and night. In fact, the date chosen to start the occupation coincided with another politically important milestone. The previous day Italy, still under the Berlusconi government at the time, celebrated the victory of the “yes” camps in four referenda, approving the repeal of unpopular laws such as water privatisation and the reintroduction of nuclear power. The showbiz workers remember this well: “It was no accident that our first banner at Occupied Valle read ‘Like water, like the air, we’re taking back possession of culture again’”.

Nobel Prize-winning playrwright Dario Fo.

But what has happened since that decisive day?

The occupiers immediately got to work, inviting Italy’s top artists and intellectuals to get involved (from Nobel Prize-winning writer Dario Fo to acclaimed filmmaker Nanni Moretti, musician Moni Ovadia to theatre actor and director Pippo Delbono, jazz pianist Stefano Bollani to composer Giovanni Sollima…) not only to provide evening entertainment but also to develop a deeper political significance to the occupation. “Right from the start we realised the Valle’s occupation could be an opportunity to do something more, to create a new space open to citizens 24-7 and trailblaze new legal avenues too.

It really is a totally new cultural, economic, legal and social model. This is why we’re working on the ‘Teatro Valle Common Good Foundation’, applying the principle of Common Good used to define water in the referenda, for example”. The founding Statutes are participative, meaning citizens can have a say in what to do with “their” theatre, because culture is for those working in it and those who come to watch it, so everyone must look after it. “We’re studying economic models to expand participation, combining public and private contributions (but not sponsors) and citizen shareholders.

The Foundation has been running a membership campaign for months and each ‘founding member’ can vote at the shareholders meeting, whatever the size of their share. Once we’re officially registered as a Foundation we’ll be applying for national and European funds so we can start running proper theatre seasons and more, with a modular form of artistic management”. And the Occupied Teatro Valle experience is not just limited to Rome: the “contagion” effect has led to similar occupations in other cultural spaces forcibly closed. It’s happened in Venice, Milan, Palermo and Catania to name just a few. The “Occupied Valle” kids celebrated their first anniversary with three weeks of celebrations, rolling events, concerts, shows and daily themed meetings. Their underlying message is that “starting from a theatre, you can build a fairer society”.

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