Not Able to be Re-educated

  • December 8, 2011 9:57 pm

Playwright Stefano Massini

“Art is the strongest reason that man has to being on the planet.”

Stefano Massini, playwright of Act 1: A Stubborn Woman: a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovksaya sat down with Actress Carolina Gamini in Florence. Since the video is in Italian, Carolina & Bari translated it. For our Italian speakers, we’ll get you the video soon!


Q: What compelled you to write A Stubborn Woman?
SM: Simply, when I found out about her death, of which I knew absolutely nothing, the thing that struck me the most was that someone had decided to eliminated this
journalist’s voice so that nobody would hear about what she committed her life to
reporting. I thought, in my small way with my profession, that I would be able to
go against this plan by writing a theatrical piece that would increase the number
of people hearing the story and get to know the story of Anna Politkovskaya. As a
consequence I wrote this text to go against the plan of those that decided to silence and muffle her voice.

Q: Can you tell us something about some of your other works?
SM: Currently I am writing a text that is the story of a trio of women who are interpreted by the same actress and who changes her the role she is playing according to the light shifts. It is the story of three women: a Palestinian, an Israeli and a female soldier who find themselves living in the same situation, the same moment and who talk about one another. Other texts that have been on stage: an adaptation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the story of Van Gough when he was in the mental asylum, IL TRITTICO DELLE GABBIE which that takes place in a closed space allowing the audience to experience the internal life of three different inmates.


Florence performance last summer. Photo by Lucca Fontanella.

Q: How did you become involved with The Global Theatre Project?
SM: I became involved when I was a part of the organization of Festival della Creatività in Florence and was put in touch with Bari Hochwald, the Artistic Director, through a mutual friend. After a long exchange of emails with her, I sent her the text on Anna Politkovskaya which she read the text and was moved by. So much so that she decided to work on it. I had an experience of working with the students from the Theatre Immersion Project with Bari here in Florence and from this, the possibility to stage the play in Los Angeles arose.

Q: Can you tell us something about the experience from last summer?
SM: It was a very particular experience for me, as it always is every time this text is approached. Usually theatrical texts have written characters. But this text, on the other hand was written as a very open text with no characters. There are just a flow of words that can be interpreted either as a monologue by an individual actor or by a chorus. For example I remember that also here in Italy it was staged by two actors, a male and a female, directed by me and they shared the role of Anna Politkovksaya and at the same time there was also a great actress, Ottavia Piccolo, who did the performance as a monologue. She continues to perform it this way. In Brussels an additional performance has been done with 5 actors. In Bavaria there were two actors. In Teatre d’Europe it was represented with 25 actors. So there are various ways of staging this text. I was also intrigued to see the way that The Global Theatre Project approached it last summer using both singular and choral voices.

Q: Did you like this approach?
SM: It was very successful and interesting for me to see how it worked in English. Because English is a very theatrical language and was very interesting to hear how it sounded in the English language. And the actors were very good.

Q: Why did you leave the text open in this way for interpretation?
SM: I didn’t want to limit it but wanted it to be open and free for any theatre artist to perform and interpret. This text is different from my other work. With this play, I have never controlled the environment of the presentation or given the rights to some people and not to others to perform the show. I want this text to be presented in any way possible so that Anna’s voice can be heard and appreciated by everyone.

Q: What struck you the most about Anna’s story?
SM: Simply her courage. We live in a period where each one of us, due to our extreme individualism, look toward ourselves too much of the time. And we completely forget the situations outside ourselves. We have just come out of an era where it is 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall. With that event ideologies have also fallen…. both the communist and anti-communist ideologies. Now we have entered into a moment with the collapse of the capitalist economy. It is very strong to see these people protesting in front of Wall Street. It is the collapse and breakdown of everything that had animated the 20th century ideologies. Ideologies that looked to taking care of what was not only individualist but collective. Including the working class, capitalism, economic growth, political and religious motivations and so on. Today we are witnessing a phenomenon which is completely opposite. We are witnessing the collapse of group ideologies and the rebirth of individual instinct. It is a selfish era that we are living in now.

While Anna Politkovskaya is exactly the opposite of all this. She lives for her cause in a post Soviet, post ideological

Florence last summer. Photo by Lucca Fontanella.

Russia. In a Russia that no longer has an ideology that unites it. But where the most anarchic, diverse tendencies are enacted (so much so that a war is needed for uniting the country). And her life demonstrates the value of living for a cause greater than herself. I find this something which is totally against the norm and holds great value in the sharing of it.

Q: Do you think that art has a power in the world?
SM: Yes, the strongest power that exists. In the sense that the human being differentiates itself from other animals because he is capable of creating art. Which doesn’t mean that the magnificent dams built by beavers and the beehives of bees aren’t extraordinarily artistic, but the Sistine Chapel or the Pergola Theatre, where we are now, are testimonies of the genius of man. Art doesn’t only have the possibility of communicating. Art is the strongest reason that man has to being on the planet. It is not politics, it is not economy, it is art that makes the difference.

I would like to also say something, which is that I have always been surprised by the translation of A Stubborn Woman, with the use of the word ‘stubborn’. The title is not exactly translated correctly. Because the title in Italian literally means ‘A woman not able to be re-educated’. But that doesn’t sound very good. That is what the title actually means, however.

Acting Together

  • October 5, 2011 6:18 am

At the very start of my acting career I remember participating in an anniversary memorial of the Holocaust in Rochester, NY at the GeVa Theatre.  I was asked to do it on the theatre’s dark night by the Festival Artistic Director, Anthony Zerbe.  Of course I said yes.  But when I read the material and we began to rehearse what would be a very simple staged reading, a sense of shame began to grow within me.  I felt I had no right to stand on a stage in front of people and act out circumstances of a hell which they actually experienced.

The evening came and hundreds of people were in the audience.  When it was my time to step forward I remember speaking the words and having the sense of splitting in two.  One part was doing the best I could to infuse the text with life, respect, honor and dignity.  The other wanted to run and hide from the growing sense of shame that was rising within me.  By the time I stepped off that stage I was so deeply inconsolable from the sense of disrespect I was sure I just enacted that I tried to hide in the lobby during the reception.

But I couldn’t and was approached by individuals who, with tears in their eyes, held my hand and thanked me.

And then I realized, of course, I had been wrong.  Deeply wrong.  I was a part of their healing.  My role was to voice their pain publicly, to honor their history and to participate in a narrative of common memory.

This is what theatre can do.

And, as I sat last night in a presentation of Acting Together on the World Stage, a documentary of how theatre is used to bridge humanity from our violence to a place of commonality and peace, I remembered that moment from 20 years ago and think of it in context of my artistic life today.

As an ‘average American’ artist I come, as so many of us do, from a history of inflicted violence against  ‘my people.’  However, I am also privileged and deeply fortunate enough to be generationaly distanced from that history.  I can, in many senses, choose my relationship to it.  So what can I bring to my work as it is defined by The Global Theatre Project?  How can I legitimately develop a process which engages US artists and students to approach collective work with a cultural and historic sensitivity that they may also feel distanced from?

These are among the questions I ask myself as an artist and Artistic Director.  I reflect on this, as I reflect on the position of the United States at this moment of human history and our place within it.  We have so much to learn.  And yet, in my heart I feel it is so simple.

We breathe the same air and are formed of the same physical material.  We are humanity.

I acknowledge that it is from my safe position as an American, that I have the luxury to put my focus and work toward this perspective.  But I am beginning to wonder if it is also my obligation.  For those of us in the arts fields who don’t create our work from desperate need to be heard or seen, to have our time on this planet not forgotten completely, or our suffering purged for our children and children’s children’s sake, we do have an obligation to consciously engage in the formation of the global story.  In whatever way we choose, whether it is directly or indirectly, we must use our talent, our ability to see the world and its potential within and around us.  We must use our verbal, physical, visual, musical story-telling-gifts to move humanity forward.  To progress.

 That progression will only occur when we do, truly ‘Act Together.’  When we take action to see and hear and feel one another in the telling of our stories.  In the purging of our pain and in the development of our future.  For my part, my small contribution to that is The Global Theatre Project.  Some roots of which, possibly, were born that night in Rochester, NY at the GeVa Theatre when I was ashamed to use my talent in honor of those who hungered to be remembered and to, collectively, mourn in order to move forward.

Thank you to Theatre Without Borders and Brandeis University for bringing this important international and national work to light.  If you are interested in information on either the text or the DVD or in presenting the DVD to your school or organization you can become further informed at the Acting Together On The World Stage website.