Theatre doesn’t leave leftovers, it is full contact between the spectator and the show – you can’t bring it home to then resell at Christie’s, or on eBay, according to expectations
KING LUDWIG OF BAVARIA, in Luchino Visconti’s film bearing the same name, becomes infatuated with a handsome actor and tries to do exactly that: to tame him, buy him, spoil him, so as to have him always by his side to relive his favourite monologues at his whim. But it doesn’t work like that, and the enchantment, even for Ludwig, doesn’t last long. Theatre cannot be tamed, and it wastes away when kept in captivity. It is simply a matter of what is performed on the stage, before an audience. That is its public life, more circumscribed and regulated than the secret life that goes on behind the curtains, during rehearsals, while make-up is taken off or auditions are held. Theatre leads a double life. During the actual show, these two lives are intertwined into a single fabric that is woven and unwoven at every entrance or exit of an actress, at every scene change, at every new act. Following, when I could, the tour of Filippo Timi’s Don Giovanni, I had the opportunity to observe this double life up close. Sometimes even too close, considering that the spaces in the wings are often cramped, while the costumes for this Don Giovanni, de- signed by Fabio Zambernardi, reached up to three metres in diameter.
Sometimes I found myself literally crouching under a skirt. From this, let’s say voyeuristic, perspective, I documented the show. Not only what the public is allowed to see but also, and perhaps especially, what they are denied. Anxious actors waiting to make their entrances, clinging to a curtain backstage, or actors who have just exited, hiding from the firefighters to steal a few cigarette drags. To the eyes of the audience, the show goes on, lively and relentless, while in the wings ordeals of all possible natures unfold. Perhaps someone cries meekly, someone else laughs hysterically, or takes stress out on a jammed switch by yelling at it angrily, but always un- der his breath, so as to never invade the main show, the one happen- ing under the footlights.
An inkling of these side dramas may end up on the stage in the form of passionate tones, sharp movements or unusual pauses; which surprise the actors who have been in the scene the whole time, without being updated on the backstage hap- penings. These are the interactions that make each show alive and unique. It is a drama that, even if written thousands of years ago, re- turns to life at every staging with life’s own unpredictability. Thea- tre is, by nature, elusive and unrepeatable, and yet we cannot quash the instinct to capture it, to imprint its shape in the sand. With my book of photographs on Don Giovanni (Vivere è un abuso, mai un diritto [Living is an Infringement, Never a Right]), coming out in March, I gave in to the temptation to try to capture both the salient moments of the show and the parallel life that animates the back- stage. The ghost-like orchestrations of technicians dressed in black, who quickly and snappily transport coats weighing 20 kilograms or set pieces weighing 100. The hectic costume changes resembling Formula One pit stops, the secret signals between the stage and the wings, the naps stolen on a 1960s futuristic egg-shaped armchair. I tried, with perhaps the same naive and partially blind eagerness Ludwig shows in Visconti’s film, to capture its double life – not so much to reveal its mysteries as to make them deeper still.