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Elio Gatti, Chiara Guidi and Ashley Dyer Elio Gatti, Chiara Guidi and Ashley Dyer
photo Heidrun Löhr
CHIARA GUIDI ESTABLISHED HER FIRST CHILDREN’S THEATRE EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL IN 1995 IN CESENA, THE REGIONAL ITALIAN BIRTHPLACE OF ANOTHER WELL KNOWN THEATRICAL PROJECT SHE IS INVOLVED IN, SOCÌETAS RAFFAELLO SANZIO. THE INVITATION FOR CHILDREN TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS THEATRE WORKSHOP WAS POSTED AROUND THE TOWNSHIP.

The young participants could play “a game of war without killing anybody,” or “suffer hunger but never be hungry.” “With my theatre you can do all the things that don’t exist,” because, pointedly, she winks: “theatre is to pretend to be someone who is doing things that are real.”

Guidi’s language, a kind of elegiacally spoken poetry (translated by Elio Gatti at her public talk “The Art of Play within the Contextual Work of the Fairy Tale” at Campbelltown Arts Centre in September), is full of such simple but biting profundities, which underpin what for her is the true condition of theatre. Theatre does things that are real by engaging in pretence. It is a “substitute language” for “words that are poor of world.” It feels, hears, sees, touches and tastes in ways that “reason cannot.”

The adult repertoire of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio has been well celebrated for its treatment of the sensory materiality of the theatre, a practice that connects intimately to their dramaturgical inversions of real time stage action and fictional image. As theorist Joe Kelleher has written, for example, the infamously brutal bashing scene in BR#04 Brussels (see Lucy Taylor's review in RT58 and Adam Broinowski's online) displaces our shuddering reception of the work to become—poignantly—an “image that suffers” on its own terms.

International Masterclass in Contemporary Theatre for Children International Masterclass in Contemporary Theatre for Children
photo Heidrun Löhr
Guidi’s logic, it seems, is that children are less interested than adults in understanding hypothetical divisions between reality and fiction, materiality and language, and hence can intuit how images might suffer and also how to make them do so. She is candid about her reliance upon the genius of childhood for inspiration. This process is a “reverse pedagogy,” she explains, “we are needy of children,” “I need the games of children” to “explore their ability to see through the senses.” This is not merely a theatre for children, nor really even a theatre for childhood, it is a childhood of theatre, and from within it, an adult outsider might just glimpse the time before reality overtook imagination, or indeed, language overtook sensation.

Guidi’s Sydney talk was part of a two-week masterclass for a selection of adult artists and local children to translate and share a kind of prototypical process borne from her Cesena School. One might conjecture that Guidi was teaching artists in Sydney how to teach children to re-teach the adults themselves about the world of theatre. In the documentation images of both her process at the Cesena-based school and the Sydney masterclass, however, this inverse/reversed pedagogy looked both like something never quite seen before and a genuine—although at times intensely dark—collaboration between generations of theatrical imaginers.

The Cesena process began as an experiment with seven meetings over three months. It evolved into a three-year journey, depicted in Guidi’s talk through images that convey the “otherness” of the theatrical world she was co-assembling with her ensemble. For the second year of their journey, for instance, the children wore only white, they focused on gesture and repeated actions and words in a completely white space, they practised how to hear vocality “underneath language,” they imagined “all the weight of a reality”—the precise components that might write their ultimate theatrical scenography. A white horse dreamt up by a child appears in the documentation footage, dancing against a shadowy backdrop, becoming almost-unicorn in the rehearsal space. This is indeed the land where the things that we do have magically real effects. The children—with their painted white faces, white gowns and hoods—crouch around a low-lit dining table of sorts, part mini Ku Klux Klan, part angels. This is the complex dramaturgy that envelops them.

International Masterclass in Contemporary Theatre for Children International Masterclass in Contemporary Theatre for Children
photo Heidrun Löhr
The Sydney artists spent a week with Guidi workshopping her process before the children arrived. Guidi’s structure for the children’s week involved the unfolding of a fable of opposing forces—light and dark—over the length of five days. On each day, a new sensorial perception was explored in the blackened theatre space, as the narrative battle between lightness and darkness (played as characters by the artists) developed. The artists worked all day in preparation for the arrival of the children for a two-hour slot each afternoon, planning and rehearsing, remembering how to imagine the theatricality that a child might take for real. The children’s relationship to the theatrical world expanded over time such that, by the final day, the disappearance of a dog from within the story was cause for despair. This theatrical real feels real; it hurts.

If the world of childhood presents each of us too briefly with the world of theatre, then Guidi, it seems, both encourages the children whom she works with to take their theatrical imaginaries for real, and relies upon those imaginaries to recall the childhood of theatre to herself and others. In an Australian cultural context where working with children is currently so deeply politicised and fraught, Chiara Guidi’s anti-alarmist impulse for a purity of imagination, somehow, cuts straight to the heart of the matter.


“The Art of Play within the Contextual Work of the Fairy Tale,” Public Talk by Chiara Guidi, Sept 30; International Masterclass in Contemporary Theatre for Children, director Chiara Guidi, Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, in collaboration with Jeff Stein, artistic advisor Jason Cross, produced by Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, Sept 20-Oct 1

This article was first published online, Oct 22, 2010

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 32

© Bryoni Trezise; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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