“With Pan dead, so too was Echo; we could no longer capture consciousness through reflecting within our instincts. They had lost their light and fell easily to ascetism, following sheepishly without instinctual rebellion their new shepherd, Christ, with his new means of management. Nature no longer spoke to us – or we could no longer hear”.
James Hillman – An Essay on Pan
This quotation opens the dissertation I wrote for my bachelor in Performing Arts at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy.
I first came across it by chance. It was a few years ago. I remember it because at the time it struck me as a significant sentence, even though I didn’t know much about the author or the book.
Up until that moment, I had always thought of them as of two myth-related characters. Yet, when I read that sentence something changed, and the relationship that Hillman was talking about suddenly felt more real.
It was at that moment, that I started seeking a deeper and more active connection with the natural world, hoping to get back to that kind of communication that seemed lost in our interaction with Nature.
At the time it seemed only logical to join the team of the Eco Logical Theatre Fest.
It was 2015 and I had just graduated at the International Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome when I met Alessandro Fabrizi. I was working as assistant director for a theatrical production which probably raised his enthusiasm for he asked me to work with him at a site-specific staging of The Tempest by William Shakespeare.
This is how my adventure in The Eco Logical Theatre Fest started.
Imagine being twenty-one and stepping for the first time on an island whose existence you ignored up until a few moments before.
It was not easy to reach Stromboli. For a series of unfortunate events (Have you watched the film? I absolutely adore it), my journey was not one of the easiest.
Since I had a show already scheduled, I asked to delay my departure so to join the team of organizers and actors just a couple of days later.
Of course, I expected it to be quite the journey. There are not many ways to get to Stromboli, and if you can’t go for the easiest – which is by taking the ferry from Naples - then you have to take the long way around.
Now, imagine setting foot on the island after a twelve-hour bus ride from Tiburtina station in Rome to Milazzo, Sicily, and add a reckless run to take the connecting bus to the ferry terminal and a never-ending hydrofoil journey to reach Ginostra and then Stromboli.
A rare effort.
I literally earned my time on Stromboli.
Looking back at that couple of weeks spent on the island in 2016, I can’t quite place what made me want to stay so much in the Fest. What I do know, however, is that since that year, I’ve kept coming back to Stromboli and decided to undertake my bachelor research project on the Eco Logical Theatre Fest.
Here, I must spend a few words to say that, at that time, I truly hated theatre.
Since I had started taking classes at the Academy, I had found most of the shows boring and pointless, as if the only thing I was left after seeing them was the annoying certainty of having just wasted the 5 or 10 euros that I had worked so hard to put together.
This was the reason why I had instantly taken a liking for directing rather than acting.
I was so ambitious to think that I could be the one to change things… which may still happen, who knows.
By the way, it was working as a ‘director’ with professionals and amateurs in Stromboli that I discovered a different attitude to the one I was used to by working in the theatre industry.
Once on the island, everything felt different.
I started to feel curious rather than bored. Gradually, my lack of interest turned into fascination and then into understanding.
The audience, made up of locals and tourists, was actively involved in the events. They looked for us around the island, staring at our seventeenth-century garments as we stepped on the beach creating a curious contrast between our costumes and their swimsuits.
Kids joined the performances, amused, as if it was all a big game we were playing.
It was then that I remember asking myself why, if making such a kind of theatre was possible, I had never had the chance to experience it.
How was it possible that before coming to the island, I had thought that theatre was boring?
You know, the thing is that nowadays it seems like the only people who are actually going to the theatre are the ones who are working in it.
But, what’s the point of contributing to a theatre that we call ‘national’ if we feel dissociated or estranged from it?
This was the question that I wanted to address with my research and for which I took Stromboli as a starting point.
Thanks to a petition of the inhabitants in 1998, there are no street lights in Stromboli. Enel, the main distributor of electricity in Italy, set up for the installation of lamp posts all across the island but the local inhabitants opted for this solution so that ‘in Stromboli you can still see the starts’.
If you’ve never been there before, just imagine a tangle of very narrow streets where only motorscooters and three-wheeled mini-trucks can circulate.
When I first got to Stromboli, accustomed to the hectic pace of modernity, I was literally forced to slow down. On the island, it doesn’t take you much to notice that nature reigns supreme. It starts with the smallest things like the strain of your eyes forced to adjust to the dark to make sense of your surroundings. Once the filter of technology is removed, you’re forced to rely on your heightened senses. Rough sea means no hydrofoils or ferries. That’s when you truly realize that the world is no longer ‘at hand’.
This pushes you to develop new connections with your surroundings. Since you are more exposed to the natural elements, you gain new confidence and that makes you less anxious and more determined.
In these years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the exact balance between Yin and Yang, fire and water, to make Stromboli so unique. And here I’m not mentioning Yin and Yang casually.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the universe is regulated by the opposition of these mutually interconnected forces: yin and yang.
It’s all about the way two polar opposites compliment each other to create a whole and balanced energy.
As human beings, that’s the same of what we do. We engage with each other seeking for a balance. Be it a relationship with another person, with a text, with an actor or with a place.
This is the kind of reflection that comes out once you stop using electricity.
Like a river in spate, theatre floods the streets up to the most remote strand of the island.
Tourists sunbathing are left staring at some strange people walking around the beach in their costumes, and suddenly the two worlds coexist.
If this Fest was created by chance, it is developing along clear and shared lines.
Its aim is evident from its own name: even though it hosts nine days of events, the Fest has never gone by the definition of festival.
The impact of each single event is massive compared to the one that it would achieve by being played in a theatre building. Art becomes an active part of the familiar sphere leading to what Victor Turner described as a ‘rite of passage’. (I’ll come back to this point in the next few paragraphs)
As I said, the main feature of the Fest is that no electricity is used for lighting.
It’s like a quest to adapt to what the island has to offer: if there’s no electricity to light the streets at night then it must be the same for live events.
But how did it start?
The Fest is a quite recent thing. It all started in 2005 when Alessandro Fabrizi together with a group of actors decided to organize a workshop led by Kristin Linklater which was set to last nearly a month.
The choice of Stromboli came both from its beauty as a backdrop and from its affinity with the main theme of the workshop, the metamorphosis. Sicily is a place rich of myths and legends and that allowed for an extensive reflection on how the genius loci of the island could be related to the themes explored by the workshop.
At the end of the month, the participants led by Kristin and Alessandro set up a performance.
From that moment on, each year came with more workshops and more performances.
It was like the island itself encouraged for the creation and the staging of that closing event that gradually evolved into the Fest.
2013 was the key year that marked the creation of the Zero edition.
Lit-up candles took the place of the standard floodlights. Torches and gas lamps replaced laptops, PAR lights and profile spots and the shades of the sunset together with the light of the stars took the place of gel filters.
Thanks – first and foremost - to Hossein Taheri, and then to Ezio Spezzacatena and Emanuele Von Normann, the Fest started developing new techniques to exploit natural light sources.
In the Fest, the sun lights the performances with a brightness that technology could never achieve.
All night events are played on the contrast between fire and darkness and the feeble light of the candles has a magical way of casting deeper shadows and shaping the colors of the surrounding world.
Of course, the scope of natural light is limited at night, so the audience and the artists are literally brought together during each performance.
With no michrophones and no acoustical amplification, the natural voice is free to resonate among the rocks and the caves, carried on the wind to reach the ears of the audience.
Language and nature engage in a mutual relationship of complementarity.
The moment we renounce to the aid of technology, we confront ourselves with the power of the natural forces. This comes with the realization that we can no longer do what we want as well as with the implication that this is the only way we have to reach back to the natural element and to enter into a mutual dialogue with nature.
Being subjected to the whim of the natural elements, the outdoor event make us realize that we are just like a grain of sand in the desert.
Echo and logos are brought back together in a mutual relationship.
And here I want to close this reflection on the Fest with a question:
Is it truly possible to achieve the dialogue described by Hillman and to reach back to that native condition that could allow us to hear the voice of nature?