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Translated from Italian by Paul Warrington
This book tells the story of a revolution in the work of the actor in the early- and mid-20th century, a period in which the focus of theatrical interest shifted from the emotions to the body.
No longer viewed as a means of performing a choreography of gestures designed to please the spectator, the actor’s body became a tool for purveying a dynamic set of actions which often transformed the very actor himself. Some even went so far as to see this transformation at a spiritual level. Naturally, this new centrality of the body also drew attention to those places in which the body is central: the gym, the boxing ring and the circus with its trapezes and tightropes became, together with the stage, laboratories for the theatre.
Thus, in addition to the reformers of the theatre – Stanislavski, Craig, Meyerhold, Copeau, Artaud, Eisenstein, Brecht, Decroux, Grotowski, and Barba – the pages of this book are filled with boxers, acrobats, gymnasts and wrestlers, pursuers of an utopia: the “actor who flies”. This experience happens metaphorically in the perception of the spectator, and beyond the metaphor in the body’s perception of the actor himself.
Utopias take a long time to achieve and do not necessarily act in the open. Beneath the time of the historical evidence, which ended with the 20th century, flows another hidden time waiting for the moment to enable the utopia of the ‘actor who flies’ to emerge into the theatre of the 21st century.
Franco Ruffini teaches at Roma Tre University. He is a member of the scientific staff of ISTA, the International School of Theatre Anthropology, of which he is one of the founders together with Eugenio Barba. He sits on the Board of Editors of the journal Teatro e Storia. His publications include I teatri di Artaud. Crudeltà, corpo-mente (1996), Per piacere. Itinerari intorno al valore del teatro (2001), Stanislavskij. Dal lavoro dell’attore al lavoro su di sé (2003; revised edition, 2005), Il filo rosso. Teatro e taccuini (1999–2006) (2007), Craig, Grotowski, Artaud. Teatro in stato d’invenzione (2009).
This book is about a revolution in the theatre […]. It was a veritable revolution, a radical transformation of perspective. However we must not imagine revolution as being a sudden explosion that blows everything to pieces in one go. It was, rather, a slow and gruelling yet passionate construction of a ‘science of the stage’, spanning a time frame from the beginning to the second half of the twentieth century. […]
Speaking about body and soul, one might say that credibility is a complicated matter. In practice, it is a profound question, one to be found beneath the surface. Looking at the masters of twentieth-century theatre, especially those who focused most on the actor’s art, one often comes across an unusual presence: that of boxing (and sport in general) and of individual boxers.
This presence is almost embarrassing. Even for the most refined of boxers, the body dimension is dominant. Comparison with the actor, at a surface level, appears to call up analogies connected with sweat, conflict with the public, and even a certain ‘animality’ that has never been totally erased from conversations regarding the actor’s art.
But this is not so. The boxer indicated by Étienne Decroux as one of the ‘motivating images’ of his corporeal mime was no anecdote, nor a way of sullying the actor’s dignity. Nor was the boxer who, in a different but compatible perspective, Bertolt Brecht wanted to keep at his side during his work as a writer, as a model for stories to be written and for the very manner of writing.
Considering that 50% of all books in translation worldwide are translated from English, whilst only 6% are translated into English, Odin Teatret (Denmark), the Grotowski Institute (Poland) and Theatre Arts Researching the Foundations (Malta) have created Icarus Publishing Enterprise, whose purpose is to present texts by artists and scholars in English translation about the practice and vision of theatre as a laboratory.
Icarus was the name of a schooner that sailed from Civitavecchia in 1697 with a cargo destined for a Venetian merchant resident in the international trading port of Smyrna. Its mythological name was intended, paradoxically, as a bringer of good luck, to ward off shipwrecks. In its hold, the small vessel also carried a luxurious curtain never used before, a few painted scenes and a number of scripts and musical scores from a theatre erected in Rome by Queen Cristina of Sweden and torn down on the order of Pope Clement X.
Similarly to that schooner, Icarus Publishing Enterprise wants to ferry into international waters writings of theatre artists and scholars who, despite their value, risk a limited circulation because of the language in which they have been written. We know by experience that theatre studies are effective only if they succeed in piercing the wrappings of academic commonplaces and inspire those wishing to do theatre. Many think that the theatre has no future. This may be so. But one thing is certain: in the future there will surely be something that we are unable to imagine now, but that will be called theatre.