THE UNIVERSAL The Simplest Place Possible

Romeo Castellucci, Societas Raffaello Sanzio interviewed by Valentina Valentini and Bonnie Marranca Translated by Jane House

omeo Castellucci, with Claudia Castellucci and Chiara Guidi, founded Societas Raffaello Sanzio, one of Italy’s most radical-thinking contemporary theatres, in 1981. Since that time the group has created many productions, including provocative stagings of the classics of Shakespeare and the Greeks, including Hamlet, Julius Caesar, the Oresteia, as well as mythic texts, such as Gilgamesh. Societas Raffaello Sanzio also sustains a unique children’s theatre, a school, and produces books and conferences on their work. Based in the Adriatic city of Cesena, Italy, the company artists bring together theatre and the visual arts— and often, animals, children, actors, and non-actors—in productions that draw upon philosophical, literary, and visual ideas. Performed in nearly a dozen European cities, each as a singular creation, is the latest project, Tragedia Endogonidia, which unites art and science for a new reading of tragedy in the contemporary age. This interview was conducted in Italy, in June 2002. ᭿ Much of your theatre work has been the staging of classics by Shakespeare and the Greeks. What draws you to tragedy? A spiritual connection exists between us and the classics; through them it’s possible to reconnect with the individual and with the universality of the individual, it is also possible to find the familiar as well as real solitude. A kind of reverse action shot is involved. Work with the classics demands that we confront the traditional, but that is precisely why the work can surpass the traditional, but never in a literary way. Therefore one mustn’t tackle these classical texts as a superstitious person who believes the classics to be safe; quite the opposite. One must make an effort to put them to the test of fire, in order to better determine their supportive structure, which leads exactly to the revelation that they speak to everyone, to the frail and private nature of every individual. And the book, as object, is no more.




PAJ 77 (2004), pp. 16–25.

© 2004 Valentina Valentini and Bonnie Marranca

outside the context of great books. thus both sexes. this new cycle of work has what I’ll call a universal structure. My tragedy project is called Tragedia Endogonidia or Endogonidial Tragedy. In Tragedia Endogonidia there is no Chorus. their state of being. The universal is the simplest place possible to free oneself from narrative structure. but division. but besides being in a process of becoming it’s an organism in continual flux. society. In what way is a city involved in the spectacle? There are various ways in which a city can be involved in the project. in some cases it can be through a specific reference to something in the city even if the city itself is never actually named. “gonidial” refers to simple living forms that have inside them two gonads. themes and ideas. “Endogonidial” is a word taken from microbiology. is a word that falls completely outside culture. and they consequently reproduce through an endocrine system.How does it relate to your work? The new cycle of work. So while tragedy is a mechanism to expose the dead body. it’s a finished and complete CASTELLUCCI / The Universal ᭿ 17 . So. from its visibility: the word should go back to being invisible. These living things are immortal. Our intention with this production is to rethink tragedy. therefore it is in a process of becoming. In ancient Greece. but the tragic form has so influenced individuals. “Endogonidial. which make the spectators aware of their existence. The interesting thing was to contrast these two words.” on the other hand. its structure has a place at the origin of our consciousness and our culture. and thus also from the burden of the written word. from the burden of narrative. outside the “book. a mechanism whose fundamental aim is to display death. but that’s no reason to call it a work-in-progress. a perpetual division of themselves. is dedicated—and it’s the first time that this has happened—to a work outside the context of literature. without commentary. presupposes an end (of the hero). bring it into the here and now. and as such it presents more basic problems. Out of the Episodes emerge basic recurring figures and forms. We could define the structure as classical. commentary was left to the Chorus.” yet it’s still work that is part of the discipline of tragedy. the Episodes were sections of a tragedy that presented only the facts. these micro-organisms are in fact immortal and reproduce themselves ad infinitum. books of the past. Tragedia or tragedy is something that is part of our history (or at least the history of this side of the planet). The price they have to pay for being able to reproduce themselves is not conjunction. so the performance is never the same. every time it opens for an audience. “Tragedia” or “tragedy” on the other hand. A characteristic of this project on tragedy is that it changes from city to city. union. on the other hand. in the sense that there is no culture in this process of reproduction and survival. Because it really appears to be the opposite. and culture through the ages and has become so much a part of our psyches that it can appear in new aesthetic forms in our contemporary world.

Paris. for me that’s it. in his most recent works. Although even that type of irony can succeed. such as Bill Viola. Tragedia Endogonidia also includes a Film Cycle and a Travel Diary of the displacements: “Idiom. film. and the feeling of pathos. and Marseilles. For me the emotional wave is the ineffable nucleus of a work. within itself. when it rips your mind apart. the composition. Brussels. Irony is interesting when it’s fierce. it’s a system that completely eliminates the problem of repertory and therefore of reproduction. the mechanism of endogonidial reproduction. which provide for future and successive growth. when there is no discussion about the world. He’s another example of work on the classical. becomes a choice of colors. What has glaringly disappeared in many of our most recent experiences is the boundary between the concept of entertainment and the concept of art. it’s only a sterile idea. Cesena. because it is a project that in some way is strongly tied to a concept of geography and of place. if there’s no emotion. London. its breath of life. However one very often can have an enjoyable experience when there is an absence of irony. endowed with merciless logic.The cities involved are Avignon. He’s extraordinary because in his works he manages to trigger off a sort of language that’s self-contained. there’s no thought. Strasbourg. it’s a very difficult exercise. it’s over. There’s a big crisis in the lines of demarcation between cinema. cohesive. of placements. He presents us with this reality.production that supplies. a sort of fall-out of spores. of the characteristic repetitive nature of theatre that’s calendar-related. where one sees dazzling and hallucinatory spectacles and stagings that remind one of amusement parks. the visual arts. Rome. That doesn’t always happen.” In Italy the theatre of the 90s came closer and closer to the language and forms of writing typical of film or visual installations. I even ask that of a visual artist. I understand perfectly. Bergen. Climate Time. The artists have to be damn good. Pop Art itself. It’s a problem for me too. installations. for example. I could even say the prosody. a division of itself by itself. at the biennials. the relationship is obvious: his references. of course. has plainly taken certain pathways left in suspension by Dada and symbolism. video. are to the Italian Renaissance even on a formal level. In other situations the legacy of the European experience shines through as backlighting. Berlin. Yes. And that’s true above all for the new generation. Is there a link here that is missing-how does it relate to Europe question? Matthew Barney is an artist who is completely and magisterially American. How does European art make itself felt on the international scene? In my opinion in certain American artists. I always demand that an artist move me. this complex system of signs. which is completely American. But it’s still difficult to be moved at exhibitions. but the most satisfying thing is that he does it ᭿ 18 PAJ 77 . there’s no dynamic. Furthermore.

Photo: Luca dal Pia. Photo: Paolo Tonti. Photo: Courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Photo: Courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Cicero (background) and Cesar (foreground) in Giuulio Cesare. CASTELLUCCI / The Universal ᭿ 19 . Photo: Courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Brutus and Cassius in Giuulio Cesare. Amleto. courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. La Prova di un altro mondo.The character Bruto [Brutus] in Act I of Giulio Cesare. Photo: Courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio.

to the perceptive eye. So the choice depends on the dramatic characteristics of a piece of writing for the stage or even a simple text. So I would say that this is a fundamental idea that sustains the work of the actors. And the static tradition of the East. My work is of a more objective nature. To give an example. the hallmark of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is its loaded rhetoric. apparently. the psychology of the character. but these two pathways are not negated. but meanwhile we know that Stanislavsky founded everything really on the idea of digging and interpretation. although the actors do acquire it. the choice of a person. after having completed an ellipse. and to remain concrete. A professionalism is not necessarily required. The body is the simplest form of communication. I using the signs of our reality. age. weighs 240 kg (Trans. the Italian and European tradition. They’re all elements that create the truth of the person’s body and that spill over. two tracks that remain suspended. because the history of art has no bearing on his work. neither the one nor the other exists. I didn’t want to put something shocking on stage. in the sense that those who work with me don’t work spontaneously. although I needed to work with a large body. The truth of the body becomes inscribed quite precisely in the fiction of the spectacle. an encounter that happens with men and women willing to live this adventure. 528 pounds). He’s one of the strongest artists today who is not. it ignores tradition. Can you give some examples of the difference between type and body? In some cases the choice of an actor depends exclusively on the dramaturgy presented by a particular stage situation or by the specific text. the shape. How do you work with actors in relation to the Italian tradition? The Italian tradition is based on characteristics of types. nor do they improvise. the face. it relies on the body of the actor. I didn’t do anything to make this already ᭿ 20 PAJ 77 . influenced by European art. That is. It’s a discovery. willy nilly. Cicero is interpreted by a man who. something provocative. the most pointed. He appears to be indifferent to the history of art. In my case. The body is the point of departure and probably also the point of arrival. on the contrary. the choice is never a personal one. but they become professionals even if they weren’t at the beginning. into the dramatic fabric. they’re simply two unacknowledged tracks. and the body. What makes an actor important in this experience is the soul. in the sense that even an animal understands you since it’s in a position to see you. after having also passed through and shaken the body of spectators. In my production. Two “temperatures. note: approximately. where the actor analyzes the character. Brilliant. weight. are present: on the one hand the logical structure of the movement principle and on the other the body and its truths. in a certain way I hid it. and smell you. hear you. walk doesn’t depend on me. it doesn’t repudiate tradition. which is the most concise form of communication possible and also the most disconcerting. there are character types in the Italian tradition.” two expressive registers.

in short. because he turns his back to the action. in this case. it recalls the number of stab wounds. Well. a decoration. The actor falls exactly between these two camps. so working with someone who has no larynx meant having a new voice that came from the viscera. so that finally it creates an inhuman tension. in his turn. it creates its own world. The most amazing thing of all is that this type of emotion is really stimulated by a consciously rhetorical use of the body and voice. who has the most weight because he inspires the conspiracy. and thus it has in some way a dehumanizing function. For example. and on the set with him are two treble clefs that refer to Man Ray. instruments that are very difficult to use to which I devote CASTELLUCCI / The Universal ᭿ 21 . The body was big. unlike the animal. The technology I use is very diverse and ranges from being very primitive to very sophisticated: video technology. Quite simply. It dehumanizes the actor. this character in the shape of this actor actually talks from a wound. not a face. between animal and machine. Technology becomes a central metaphor and. from deep down inside. pure function and pure exposed body. the blood that came out of them. outrageous. as such.oversized choice too obvious. the endoscope in Julius Caesar passes over and probes the vocal chords and projects a video of them upstage. Thus Cicero is an enormous man who always has his back turned to the audience. the stage—the concept is animistic. and it was his job to perform the voice of the character of Mark Antony. places him in the paradoxical position of deuteragonist. So a machine has an entrance and an exit. puts him in danger. pure being. In Julius Caesar I also worked with an actor whose larynx had been surgically removed. In what way is technology present in your productions? Technology is present on the stage as metaphor and spirit. But I only do this with very sophisticated technology. is inhuman because it’s pure function without experience. he’s still like a sort of weight that throws the action off balance. Even if he doesn’t ever take part directly in the action. he’s both things at the same time. he. it takes up a chunk of the world. the fact that the wounds are “silent mouths” which have no other voice at that moment but his. The first image is the inside of an actor. because Cicero is the man who drives forward Shakespeare’s text the most. it’s often more useful to hide it in order to make it effective: it’s the operation or action of the machine that’s important. to make the speech truthful. not an exterior. endoscopes which reconnoiter the insides of the actor and upset the traditional relationship that the audience has with the actor. in the sense that it’s possible to see the actor’s interior. So it’s quite clear that it’s not merely a gadget. The machine. and moving. Technology and machines are bearers of phantoms who inhabit the set. Mark Antony is the one who wins the oratorical competition. became a “rhetorical” body. Mark Antony’s speech is completely focused on Caesar’s wounds. not the machine itself. because it is energized and it is triggered by argument with the actor. Mark Antony’s. it lights up.

It’s difficult for me. to extract. . fundamentally important to me. not because I’m a coward. in short. But following in the tracks of a method. Beckett has. it has no meaning at all for me. there’s a personal story there. pure. really. And once manipulated. I can’t say what it is. it’s possible to work.” a false father. whatever. It can happen in certain situations. in speech. because it resonates in me. is what happens. It’s like an algebraic sum: two similar signs cannot stay together. he’s simply an icon.twenty. What is the spiritual dimension of your work? Can you describe its place in your theatre? I can’t say. in order to move myself. I can purify it. It’s something that escapes me completely. chemiluminescence. microscopes. if not impossible. and it is not possible to work with someone who is in the same circumstances as I. . Exactly. and he’s a shining figure. What is very difficult. I’ll never stage him. Following a model means taking another’s path. In freedom. We both find ourselves in the same circumstances. but I can’t know it. 22 ᭿ PAJ 77 . even the power that they trigger. . in certain total creations. oleic dynamic or oil-pressure machines. one that’s universal. acoustical physics. taxidermy. Carmelo Bene. with a contemporary author. and I want to question the very idea of a path. I need a classical structure. No absolute freedom exists in a contemporary author. . in a word . but they are invariably outside the orbit of theatre. automaton mechanics. hydraulic. Do you feel that you have any “fathers” or “sons”? I have a putative “father. it must be there somewhere. contemporary texts are all packaged. The universal allows you to dig inside yourself. like a contemporary man. ready-made. organic chemistry. It can even happen in certain ancient texts that I tackle in which everything seems clear to me. transparent. for me that’s a mistake. whom I didn’t follow in any way. That’s perhaps natural and human. really. Again. the same type of aporia. and it would be worse still if I claimed a master teacher. thirty minutes of performance time without any human intervention by the actors. Being universal. I don’t know anything about it. techniques for breeding certain animals. Beckett doesn’t resonate in me. and being pure I can manipulate it. but also little pieces of sacred wood that have been badly nailed together . The classical structure is pure. like me. one of the ghosts of my turbulent adolescence. but the important thing is that he’s an icon that is part of my adolescence. I’m completely outside. robotic components. Naturally there may be figures who were. Pneumatic. the same kind of box. to stage a contemporary author like Beckett. one might say. I reject the idea of master teachers. at least for my sensibility. For me. but because we’re on the same level. However. it’s possible to live. to add. I try to plunder the spirit of others. it belongs to me. however. and continue to be. but I see my neighbor in him.

The company’s experimental theatre school for children. courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Oreste in Orestea. Photo: Courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Photo: Courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Oreste and Pilade in Orestea. courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Photo: Luca dal Pia. CASTELLUCCI / The Universal ᭿ 23 . directed by Chiara Guidi. Hansel E Gretel. Photo: di Silva. Photo: Luca dal Pia.Clitennestra and Egisto in Orestea. courtesy Societas Raffaello Sanzio.

It’s not part of my thinking. on the script. of our century. and that’s a dimension I find pregnant with the future. Yes. I admit there’s a great sharpness of vision there. demonstrative. beyond the Alps. and they end up doing everything themselves. I have to say. and a sort of new awareness happens through language. a tortured Antonin Artaud was tearing words from his flesh. No. without the author. that’s more than a symbol. . despite the fact that academics try to manage him. does it go beyond the text and literary language? 24 ᭿ PAJ 77 . All of this was happening at the same time that. the rift or barrier of the stage. One that’s descriptive. . and then there’s the one who doesn’t die. I would say. Thus Artaud represents an aspect of making theatre in this sense. This infers how dangerous it is when an actor does without the director. They are completely dependent on an author. indeed. These people are renouncing the disconcerting truth of the stage. and thus they just repeat the script.’” That’s something else. she sings etc. These are two separate worlds that will never know each other. one that has already divulged everything. he’s not part of tradition. when the six characters are searching for the author. he won’t be held. that causes all the furore. There’s an abyss here. penned. but everything remains in the linguistic domain. It’s like the sweet yarrow. I’d say he isn’t. thus they are also renouncing their stage roles. really. why are we afraid of that word on the stage? What harm is there in it? They say it’s dangerous. I find that—to continue the parallel which gives a sense of proportion to the things we’re talking about—Artaud is a figure who doesn’t belong to the past. In Tonight We Improvise there’s a scene where the actors send away the director. To end that scene. Pirandello’s style is to mix up the levels.In your opinion. he’s not simply a playwright. by a man who knew a lot about books and short stories. For example. But the limits of Pirandello lie in the fact that language becomes linguistics. who in his turn had sent away the author. So? I think it’s really the divide. on a poet. but it belongs to a piece of writing. but she does faint. because he sets off a kind of selfreflection. an herb with many leaves but only one flavor. a script that’s completely dead. it never has been. Pirandello is a figure who’s central to Italian literary culture. fixed for all time through artifice. but it’s even more ironic that it was written. the alienation that is an essential characteristic of the stage experience. and paying a high price for it. to conjugate him. through a kind of somersault. is Pirandello relevant to present-day theatre? I don’t know. the barrier. They are renouncing all of that. Pirandello’s theatre is self-reflective. The theatre of this century. but I personally have never followed him. because it changes from being performance to being life. Life on the stage . a sort of tautology that is mirrored in the actors. Artaud won’t be taken. Nina plays her part. It’s strange. “Pay attention: Pirandello is ‘literature. The energy and power are buried by the situation created. he really isn’t one at all.. But I embrace the danger that is so essential to theatre.

even by simply reading a text from beginning to end. are those in which there’s a breakdown of styles and roles. through a text. She has published several books on performance and media. CASTELLUCCI / The Universal ᭿ 25 . Her essays have been published in Biblioteca Teatrale. only bourgeois decoration. and Performance Research. in the end. the most creative energies are coming from there. You can create theatre through the written word. with Antonio Attisani. or theatrical spectacles that are really concerts.” VALENTINA VALENTINI is an Italian critic and curator who lives in Rome and teaches at the University of Calabria. and Eimuntas Nekrosius. from the burden of style. Teatro della Fortezza. indeed liberated. and Natalia Ginzburg. JANE HOUSE co-edited. I don’t believe that there’s any problem with form. with volumes on Franco Scaldati. Drammaturgia. the emotion. 20th-Century Italian Drama. among others. I find that the most interesting experiences are those where certain choreographers create spectacles with very little dance. all in all. An Anthology: The First 50 Years (Columbia University Press. in my opinion. and the actual possibility of another parallel world. but theatre doesn’t happen just because there’s a written text. assimilate more from the visual arts. what’s very important is the idea—mental giddiness. Pier Maria Rosso Di San Secondo. I believe that in this era we can finally say that we are released. Essential theatre is what can be done either in the middle of a war or in a museum.The most interesting situations. The Drama Review. when the “heat” is low. Squat Theatre. Theaterschrift. Does a new theatre of Europe in the 21st century exist? In my opinion. as Alice knew. Ettore Petrolini.No. including Teatro in immagine and Dal Vivo. Manlio Santanelli. not always. BONNIE MARRANCA currently teaches at Princeton University. and I believe that. another language which. There’s a whole mode of theatre tied to tradition. Peter Sellars. it is a theatre that no longer has the problem of formal boundaries. FilmCritica. and this idea can happen even when there is not much tension. from the burden of form. She edits a theatre series. 1995) and has translated works by. stops being “other. from a formal point of view. What counts is the spirit. or where what happens is of a radical nature worthy of this era. I believe that. it’s not automatic. temporal suspension from this world—and presenting it for discussion. The most interesting experiences are often those that. I don’t call that art. I believe that in this era theatre can really be created in all possible ways. suddenly. Ariel.

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