«There are (and there will always be)
villains that make the cinema and commercial theatre
with the purpose of entertaining (to cash),
and there are (and there will always be)
idiots that make the cinema and the theatre to educate (without cash).
In reality, cinema and art theatre are not meant to entertain nor to educate.»
Pier Paolo Pasolini (17.11.1975).

In order to be able to provide a sufficiently comprehensive answer to the question used for our title, it is necessary to enter a series of Chinese boxes and first of all deal with a first fundamental question: what is theatre and what is it not?

Peter Brook synthesizes this concept rather effectively: “I can take any empty space and call it an empty stage. A man goes through this empty space while someone else looks at it, and that’s all I need to start a theatrical act “(The Empty Space).

Unfortunately, in the so-called "bourgeois theatre" (that of the traders and the great theatrical companies that live on public funding), it is very rare to find authentic life. We continue to hear dead sentences and very few actors and directors are able to infuse the necessary breath of life. This is because the main motivation (and often the only one) that underlies the official and professional theatre is money (“cash out”, to put it with Pasolini’s words).

On the other hand, the so-called “amateur theatre” has as its main motivation, entertainment: amateur actors and directors try to have fun and, if possible, entertain their audience, without any other pretensions and without any particular artistic assertion.

Then there is a third category of actors, labeled as “avant-garde theatre” or “experimental or research theatre” and so on. It is, more often than not, high-sounding titles (and pretentious shows) that conceal a lack of genuine talent and commitment. Very rare, even here, are those who can express something of real value.

That’s why today, the most prudent thing to do is to stay away from these — and other possible — labels (and from the worlds that gravitate around them) to try to achieve something really honest and genuinely artistic.

It is therefore necessary to question, first of all, the meaning of one’s own ‘theatre making’ and the meanings underlying a theatrical commitment that does not sink its roots into the vain and boastful exteriority (money, making a name, celebrating one's ego, etc.).

Listening to the words of some great theatrical personality, we can perhaps find the stimuli to enliven the theatrical expression in a world where art and culture seem more and more agonizing. Eugenio Barba stimulates a first reflection: “There are three aspects that every culture must possess: material production through techniques, biological reproduction that allows the transmission of experience from generation to generation and the production of meanings. For a culture it is essential to produce meaning. If it does not produce them it is not a culture. We often say that life is a journey, an individual journey that does not necessarily involve changes in place. It is events and the flow of time that changes a person. In all cultures, some moments have been set that mark the transition from one to the other stage of this journey. The very few that we call rebels, heretics, or theatre reformers are the creators of a transitional theatre. And the transition is culture.” (Canoe di carta).

Any culture — we know well — is inevitably linked to the communication process. And today, that the mass-media have almost completely absorbed the communication channels (controlling, manipulating, leveling down or destroying communication on the true meaning of our being-in-travel), it becomes even more crucial to have the awareness of the tools of genuine communication, as much as possible without deforming filters typical of fake communication, that looks like a box with no content.

Lee Strasberg reveals a focal point: “Our society has spent so much time and achieved such amazing results with the discovery of new mechanical processes of communication, but we have forgotten how the process of living requires the ability to react, get in touch and communicate your experience to another human being. The problem of expression has been treated as a purely mechanical process, which involves voice, language, rhetoric, rather than a means of sharing one's individual way of having experience. Only true artists have succeeded in breaking this vicious circle using their sensitivity and their peculiar abilities in communicating their experiences. All human beings need this even more, if life does not have to be reduced to a role play that many psychologists and even theatre people consider a way of life.” (The Dream of Passion).

The most surprising thing is the attitude of those who, eager to emerge from anonymity for reasons of egoic affirmation (which can trespass on megalomania), mimic any art without mastering its technique. As, for example, the millions of so-called poets who, without knowing anything about metrics and, moreover, having read very little poetry, are deluded into being poets just because they occasionally start a new paragraph in the middle of a sentence written with the rational or emotional mind, without any recourse to a genuine inspiration that alone can determine the real value of the poetic word.

Thomas Richards, who has seen Jerzy Grotowski’s last phase of research for several years, has identified within himself both the disease of dilettantism and the morbid complacency which fall prey on those who insist on considering themselves as “misunderstood geniuses”; and, in opposition to the common prejudice that the great artists are “all genius and unruliness”, points out the importance of mastering the technique as perfectly as possible: “It is easy to dream of doing something profound. Technique means craftsmanship, practical knowledge of the trade. The stronger your creativity is, the stronger your job has to be, to achieve the necessary balance that will let your resources flow fully. The fulfillment of one’s profession must serve something other than one’s own vanity or pride. Certain people, through their tenacious efforts, transform this feeling into action. They are not standing still, but are engaged in a constant struggle for their personal growth, without ever succumbing to stagnation. A conscious growth does not happen accidentally or set off by itself. These people work steadily and with their efforts try to serve something above themselves. A director must be like an expert hunter, and feel from within the actor’s process, with his own intuition. The art of the actor is not necessarily limited to realistic situations, social games, daily life. At times, the higher the level and the quality of the art, the more it moves away from this realistic foundation, entering the domains of exceptionalism.” (At work with Grotowski).

Then there is an aspect linked to the specific nature of the actor, which we intend to suggest only here, using a very successful aphorism by Tommaso Iorco: “The actors insist on putting masks on their habitual, when they would instead have the great privilege to lay bare.” (‘Aforismi eretici’, La Calama editrice).

The very same Pasolini, who was not theatrical but who was immensely fascinated by the theatre, in the years of his Affabulazione described in first person the complexity of stage art: “more and more I realize that doing theatre is not improvised, it is a work that requires the commitment of a lifetime”.

It should also be said, at this point, to avoid misunderstanding hateful and aberrant, that the discipline required of the theatrical can not be imposed from the outside or must never assume the rigidity of a military exercise; any attempt to cage creativity would destroy the spontaneity necessary for every free (and authentic) artistic expression. So we ask Dario Fo to come to the rescue with a necessary clarification: “We live in a society where school teaching is arranged and organized by cage schemes. We are forced to write even between lines and squares, to fall into the so-called established metopes. [...] Whenever I find myself in front of young people who ask me to give them advice on how to take possession of the profession, I repeat: “The first rule, in the theatre, is that there are no rules”. Which does not mean that we should go to the scarampazzo, it means that everyone is free to choose a method that allows him to reach the style, that is an effective dialectical rigor. And then, order is a word that reminds us of a horrible progression of terms: the established order, the social order, the police order, etc. — not to mention the religious orders.” (‘Manuale minimo dell’attore’).

Then there is the exceptionality of the theatrical event, which is UNIQUE and IRREPETIBLE, unlike other forms of expression (cinema in particular) that make technical reproduction their strong point, losing what Walter Benjamin called the “auratic aspect” of a work of art (in fact, cinema is not and can never be properly considered a form of art, but an expression that — at its best — uses disparate artistic elements, sometimes with great taste and genius). The photographic reproduction of the Gioconda painting — even in 3D and very high definition — can never replace the painting: the essential is missing! Those who have been able to immerse themselves in the portrait of Mona Lisa, with unity and empathic participation, know perfectly what is alluded to.

Here are Benjamin’s textual words, the more incisive and interesting the more one takes into account that they came from the pen of a materialist philosopher: “Even in the case of a highly perfected reproduction, one element is missing: the hic et nunc of the work of art — its unique and unrepeatable existence in the place where it is located. What is less is, in short, what can be summarized with the notion of ‘art’; and it can be said: what is lacking in the age of technical reproducibility is the aura of the work of art.” (The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility).

To attend a theatrical event with the highest possible awareness and, consequently, to derive the highest artistic benefit, we must first of all be aware of the marvellous fact that we are taking part in a unique and unrepeatable event.

This awareness, of course, is not sufficient in itself. It is the starting point, not the point of arrival. The director must choose to stage something of real value, able to leave in every sensitive spectator the clear sensation of having participated in an extraordinary event, destined to engrave an indelible mark on his own consciousness, like a seed that will produce its fruits. in the different lands where it takes root. Otherwise, the theatre remains a whitewashed sepulchre without any real value.

It is always good to ask yourself, when you decide to set up a show, who you want to turn to, what kind of audience... An attentive, strongly motivated and interested audience, actively involved, or an amorphous mass of living dead who have the only virtue of paying the ticket and not making too much noise.

Bertold Brecht expressed the concept very well and with his usual irony: “We enter one of those rooms and observe the effect that it has on the spectators. Looking around, we will see figures almost immobile in a strange attitude: their muscles seem strained in a great effort, when they are not relaxed as for a great exhaustion. Among them they almost do not communicate. They are reunited like so many sleepers, but sleepers who have uneasy dreams, because — as the dreamers of nightmares say — they lie on their backs. It is true that they have open eyes; but they do not look, they stare; nor do they listen, but they are all ears. They keep their eyes fixed on the scene like bewitched, an expression that comes to us from the Middle Ages, from the time of witches and clerics. Watching and listening are activities, sometimes fun too; but these people, though alienated from any activity, seem passive material. The abduction with which they seem to abandon themselves to inaccurate but violent sensations is all the more profound the better the actors can play; to the point that we, disapproving of this state of affairs, find ourselves driven to want them to act in the worst possible way. So, this is the theatre we are facing: a theatre that has so far proved itself capable of transforming those trusting friends we call the children of a scientific era, in a mass intimidated, credulous, ‘charmed'” (Theatrical writings).

The more these words sound dramatically true today, in the era of mass-mediation, of television trash, of rottenness classified as Art (with a capital letter, of course!).

The dose can be further increased by borrowing the inflamed words of a great heretic of the theatre: Antonin Artaud. “Some go to the theatre as they would go to the brothel. Furtive pleasure. Momentary excitement: theatre for them does not represent anything else. It is like the garbage dump of their need to enjoy. The hypertrophy of theatre-entertainment has created, alongside and above the old idea of theatre, the existence of a certain game with the easy rules that today is for the most part the theatre itself and that plays the idea of theatre in itself. It can therefore be said that there are currently two theatres: a fake theatre easy and artificial, the theatre of the bourgeois, military, well-off, merchants, wine merchants, professors of watercolor, adventurers, whores and awards Rome; and another theatre that puts itself where it can, but which is the theatre conceived as the fulfillment of the purest human aspirations.” (The theatre and its double).

For this reason, it is good to remember and keep always engraved in the heart and mind that our performative expression, our effort to stage a theatrical event (recital or musical or drama) is born from that same inner aspiration that drives us to try to embody our existential quest in life.

Jerzy Grotowski fits the concept very well: “We do not intend to provide entertainment to those people who go to the theatre to satisfy a social need for contact with culture, that is to have something to talk with friends and be able to say that he went to see this or that drama and found it interesting. We are not willing to satisfy their cultural needs because all this is false. Nor are we at the service of those who go to the theatre to unwind after a day of hard work. Everyone has the right to relax after work and there are different forms of entertainment suitable for the purpose, such as certain types of films, cabarets, music-halls and many other things like that. On the other hand, we are interested in the spectator who nourishes authentic spiritual needs and who really wants to test himself, by means of a direct confrontation with the representation. We are interested in the spectator who does not stop at an elementary stage of integration of himself, satisfied with his narrow, geometrical internal rigidity, which knows exactly what is good and what is bad. It is not for him that El Greco, Aeschylus, Thomas Mann and Dostojevskji turned to him, but he who undergoes an endless process of evolution, whose unrest is not generic, but directed towards the search for truth about himself and the sense of life. It is an élite, but not an élite determined by the social extraction or economic position of the spectator nor by his level of education. The worker who has never been in high school may be able to implement this creative process of self-seeking, while the university professor may be, in this regard, dead, permanently forged, recomposed in the terrible rigidity of a corpse.” (Towards a Poor Theatre).

Here it is. We have tried to pin down some basic indications, with the help of the greatest twentieth-century theatrical personalities, in order to clarify our concept of theatre a little. However, bearing in mind that we are now part of the Third Millennium and that a new way of doing theatre needs to be developed.

At this point, theory must necessarily result in practice and, to do this, no method, no manual, no recipe can replace direct experience and learning.

As Konstantin Stanislavskiy said, “Men, in art, never meet by chance. There are those who burn with the desire to share their experiences, some want to move forward. In art it is impossible to stand still: either one goes on, or goes back — the inner forces become more and more robust and, growing up, they always look for new ways to express themselves in creative action.” (The Creative Actor).

In theatrical parlance, there is a clear distinction between “the dead” and “the living”, of which Charles Dullin very well exemplifies a particular aspect: “Literary polemics, investigations, theories, almost always serve to disguise a need for publicity somewhat despicable. In the republic of letters the good commercial systems of grocers and vintners have been introduced. I am convinced that all the polemics and theories will lead to nothing. When it comes to theatre, I believe what I see. Poverty, lack of resources and resources can be an obstacle, but we must have the courage to confess the imperfection of the work done. Our dramatic culture must only interest us. We try to vivify our ideas; let us express them theatrically; be they the soul of all that we create; but let’s not talk about it any more than an honest man does not talk about his honesty.” (The Search for the Gods).