Rome, 29 July 2011
The Occupation of Teatro Valle, Rome
– where we have got so far
It is the 14th of June. A Tuesday. The thirteenth of June, at three in the afternoon, the referendum was concluded; the Italian people overwhelmingly expressed that water is a ‘commonwealth’, and reaffirmed – as in ’85 – that they still do not believe in nuclear power and refuse law ad personam. It’s the 14th of June, the day after, as the Workers of the arts and entertainment enter Teatro Valle.
Teatro Valle is the most ancient theatre in Rome. Built in 1726, it’s a commonwealth, has 666 seats, is horseshoe-shaped. It’s located in Via del Teatro Valle, in between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori and the Senate.
Teatro Valle belonged to the ETI, the Italian theatre association. Now ETI doesn’t exist anymore, so after its last season, the curtains of the theatre were closed. ETI was a public body: it was shut down because it was too expensive. Too much money to pay employees, or to create connections abroad, to educate, to invent new languages: it was a “waste” of money, indeed. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the end of the show, two young dead lovers, employees of Teatro ETI-Valle, tears and applauses, curtains fall. Who knows what will happen tomorrow…. The same old stuff: rumour has it, doors are open for the next tycoon. It’s going to become a restaurant …really? What? If he’s the one who is going to eat the cake, but if the other one runs faster …who is the other one, by the way?? The one who managed to get the other as well.
What about these Workers of the arts and entertainment? Who are they? They are Workers of the arts and entertainment. Those who actually do this job. Some of them are more politically engaged, some of them care only about the artistic quest they are doing at the moment. Some would love it if all the theatres were public, others think the government should stop interfering with the theatre and let the audience choose for itself. There’s even someone who would only watch a simple comedy, you know, one of those well-written ones. ….All of them have in common that they complain, they have in common that they are numerous (too many) however they seem incapable of becoming an institutionalized profession. They keep trying. They study the industry, discussing and quarrelling with trade unions, aggregating, getting stronger and bigger. We don’t like the last law about the arts and entertainment world, we think it doesn’t represent us, it doesn’t understand or concern us – it seems almost as if it had been done for somebody else – because surely it has been done by somebody else. Valle has shut down, it will be sold, it will become privatised. The auction will probably be rigged. ‘You can’t make food out of culture’ (‘You can’t eat culture’) or ‘ You are only beggars!’ To make a long story short, this is the way the government looks at these workers, the Workers of the arts and entertainment.
On that Tuesday, these workers entered Teatro Valle. ‘Like water, like air, let’s take back culture’. What do they these people want? They want the theatre to be given back to the city, and with the theatre; culture itself as well. To find again the dignity of being workers. All right, but how do we put it into practice? Tonight “the show must go on”. What does that mean? It means this: the theatre is currently open to the audience, the stage to the artists. Entrance is free. Audience, curious people, workers, employees, frequent customers who would love to keep coming, people who have never had the money to come, tourists, critics…. On stage celebrities bring their solidarity, new talents, visible and invisible workers take turns quickly in front of the footlights, 10, 15 minutes, and then another act begins. Culture, burlesque, variety show, the audience takes part in what’s going on: this is the theatre where Six characters in search of an Author made its debut in 1921, the fourth wall gets thinner and thinner, almost permeable. There is music, dance, cabaret, drama, audience… Theatre.
During daytime, the theatre and the occupiers itself get cleaned up, there are loads of discussions, the focus is on the present, in order to imagine the future. Assemblies and meetings. The public assemblies are crowded. Themes discussed are about the future of this place, welfare, other fields of knowledge, education …..and then, one night, here he comes, the manager of the Theatre of Rome (Teatro di Roma, institutional theatres in Rome (www.teatrodiroma.net).He says he completely agrees with the occupiers ….but maybe the occupiers are not so sure they completely agree with him. According to some gossip in the air, Valle will be run by the Theatre of Rome, so who’s the manager? A counterpart? With whom are we supposed to negotiate? Will we be satisfied with the “theatre of Rome” running the place? Above anything else, we regard honesty, transparency as a matter of crucial importance, and then, will this leak turn out to be actually true? The manager denies the whole thing; he says it’s not true. We invite him to come to the meetings, but he’s too busy with rehearsals now. He says he’ll manage to drop by later.
Meanwhile, in the evening the theatre continues to stay open. The audience always numerous (and the shops do good business in the neighbourhood), the occupation is broadly supported. Surely solidarity is not lacking. And friends, as well as enemies, put great pressure on the occupants. The occupation must stop. The occupation must go on.
The theatre management shifts from the hands of the Ministry to the Town Council of Rome, the artistic director of the Theatre of Rome eventually makes up his mind and comes to the meeting. He explains: “The Theatre of Rome will run the place for a year, then there’ll be an open bid for proposals for the management of the theatre. I suggest you appoint a delegate to help us with the talks to define this bid, the councillor agrees on this point.”
But this is making us feel as if we’re just an emergency they have to deal with. A problem to solve. However, we have walked the same path for a while: we don’t think of ourselves as a temporary inconvenience. We refuse the entire emergency concept. We don’t appoint a delegate, we take decisions discussing them in the assemblies. We doubt whether the Council of Rome is the real counterpart. The only thing we are sure of is that this theatre is common wealth, like air, like water: we refuse an open bid for the management. So what? So we’ll try really hard to protect Teatro Valle, to find an ethical way of managing it, setting an example, establishing a model for other Theatres in Italy.
We do feel sorry about not keeping up with the rhythms imposed by political emergency: it takes time to be attentive and caring. One must organize working teams, always keeping in mind longing and desires expressed in the meetings, work out new approaches and discuss them all over again with everybody. Slowly but steadily. There is no ready answer, no shortcuts because we want to make it all together, as many of us as possible.
After three weeks of occupation, we come up with a proposition for the management. Just to put some order among the wishes that have popped up during this journey. Teatro Valle must remain a common wealth, with a management as open as possible, where one can actively take part in the process of decision-making. An artistic direction able to include plurality as well as turnover. Equality in the wage policy, and ticket prices accessible for everybody. Transparency in the economical and artistic choices; in order to let the public body to be in control. So as to let the people speak up on any matter. The artistic vocation of Valle is to create a Foundation For Italian and Contemporary Drama; to promote productions, hospitality and education according to an ethical credo which some call an ‘eco-friendly’ autonomous system: in particular, a place to encourage exchanges with its existing counterparts abroad. Least but not last, we are open to explore the possibility of inventing new languages.
Some are enthusiastic, others minimalize. ‘It has already been done, now get out of here and let the capable people do the job’. Others are sceptic: ‘Well done, but now?’ and then, the ones who didn’t really get the point: ‘All right, everything depends on who’ll be put in charge’. We will not let somebody else pretend to know how to do it, we do not care about the big shot they will put on the chair, we keep studying how to do it. Under such premises, our struggle goes on. We do not keep the theatre hostage to demand something or give weight in a negotiation with someone. There is nothing to negotiate. Nothing to lose, only a better theatre to gain. We do this work from the inside of the Teatro Valle, because this work concerns the Teatro Valle. This place is not just a heap of bricks, plasters and velvet. It’s the place where people who do theatre meet the audience of the theatre. We look at each other face to face every day. The Theatre seems happy with this.