We don’t know what truth is the important thing is that ambiguity has to be cleared. The victims, murderers, main characters of this snuff movie that life offers are us, desperately looking for love in an impossible world: since in the end even Nature, just like men, is a whore and is unfaithful. Always. . – Andrea Porcheddu (a cura di), Macadamia Nut brittle (primo gusto), Pisa, Titivillus, 2010
The epigraph introducing the article is taken from the cover notes of the above book, a volume containing the first publication of the Macadamia Nut Brittle text, related to the homonymous show that made its debut at the Festival Garofano Verde in Rome in 2009, inspired by Dennis Cooper, written by Ricci/Forte and directed by Stefano Ricci, which also contains an interview to the artists and a critical introduction by the author, retracing the main characteristics of the work by the Roman duo.
The book is enriched by reflexive digressionsranging from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s private letters, to therereadingby the French philosopher Didi-Huberman. The quotation, deliberately emphatic, contradictory and provocative, reflects the allure, the humour, of the scene by Ricci/Forte: pure concentrate of contemporary psychosis.
Art-makers for a living, Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte were trained at the Accademia d’Arte Drammatica Silvio d’Amico and New York University, studying respectively with Luca Ronconi and Edward Albee. In 2006, after a short break as screenplayers in the television mainstream, they obtained theatrical citizenship with the show Troia’s Discount, followed by Wunderkammer Soap #1_Didone, Wunderkammer Soap #_2Faust (2006), Wunderkammer Soap #_3Tamerlano, Wunderkammer Soap #_4Edoardo II, Wunderkammer Soap #_5ero>Leandro (2007), metamorpHotel (2006), 100% furioso (2008), Ploutos (2009), ‘Abastarduna (2009) Hystrio prize for the dramaturgy in 2000 Macadamia Nut Brittle (2009), Pinter’s Anatomy (2009) in co-production with CSS in Udine, Troilo vs Cressida (2010), Grimmless (2011). They became exporters of the made in Italy abroad, attending many festivals in France (Europe&Cies/Lion), Romania (Underground Theatre/Arad), England (Lingering Whispers/London) and Germany (Glow/Berlin).
While we are writing this article, the last reruns of the Wunderkammer Soap are coming to an end. This is a project inspired by the theatre by Christopher Marlowe, presented for the first time in its entirety (seven site-specific performances which relate to soap opera seriality) at the Romaeuropa Festival2011. We will then see the ensemble, on November 5 together with the cited Grimmless – work also inserted in the special section dedicated to the theatrical scene at the 41.Festival Internazionale del Teatro in Venice – during the last day of Gender Bender, international festival which presents the imaginative worlds linked to the new representation of body and genre identities.
Using the music slang, we literally define it as the “heat” of the moment. The shows by Ricci/Forte have become a sort of fetish for a wide group of aficionados, who fill the theatres to see them anywhere in the world and at the end of every show award the actors/performers, like warriors who survived the battle, with rounds of applauses, almost with standing ovations. Working as a counterpart to the adepts of the two enfants terribles, there’s an audience that is absolutely bothered, irritated by the shameless non-filtered-honesty of Ricci and Forte’s verve.
Their theatre explores places, where we would never like to be taken: to the mechanisms laying behind the uneasiness, fears, perversions our era inexorably carries over, what someone calls violence, but which we commonly define as “normality”. Mechanisms to which we seem to be completely accustomed, that are by now well integrated in everyday life, but that can trigger some short-circuit again, provoke strong reactions – of approval and annoyance alike– thanks to that process of emphatic unveiling which only theatre is able to create so well.
The scenic device by Ricci/Forte founds its theatrical connection on an collision, a shake, visualin first place, given by the hardcore exhibition of naked bodies assuming the form of living murals, mixes of paints and left-overs, low budget objects, humiliated into shopping trolleys or by corrupted stares. Behind the scene of Ricci/Forte there’s actually a system of re-signification which relates to an imaginary permeated by fashion, advertisement, B-movies etc., just like they state in the following interview. Cleverly reassembled according to the mash-up principle, a technique crossing all arts and consisting of appropriating, cutting, mixing hybrid material to make a new artwork come to life.
Analysing the assemblages by Ricci/Forte, we want to understand how much authenticity and professional ethics is applied to their acts of dissection and re-make, to be sure not to be faced with a mere joke, an art fake well-planned by two skilful retrievers. To try to eliminate any doubt we went backstage to see how sharp and efficient are their work tools.
The conversation, dating back to June 2011, starts from a series of reflections on the political possibilities of contemporary theatre, beyond the explicit ideological manifestations and examines the Macadamia Nut Brittle show, seen last season at Teatri di Vita (Bologna).
Alessandra Coretti: I would start with a general reflection on Theatre, starting from a statement by Motus – another group of the Italian contemporary scene, particularly active at the moment – that in an interview defined its theatre “obstinate”, in an armoured theatrical system. Such obstinacy could be seen as a need that theatre, or at least some theatrical experiences, has to look for a sense inside and beyond its boundaries. Is there a sense, an urgency, a need that your theatrical work originates from? What do you think is the status of the theatrical system today?
Ricci/Forte: The cultural genocide, prophesied by Pasolini, to which Television yielded us, forces us to reorganize the packaging which introduces us to the world, forgetting all that lies unused under the first layer. Obviously the research we are trying to carry out does not have a pedagogical goal, but we and the entire ensemble really want to stimulate people’s emotional and intellectual resources in order to assemble a muster of the Self ready to attack, in an ontological equilibrium between hyperatomic vitalism and an incurable cupio dissolvi. We live in a fragmented and disorganic real world, driven by homologation. It’s an hegemonic and low-quality current that we just record: it’s not about raw aspects, it’s about disassembling the filters and looking at the light for what it is. The counterstroke of the end of ideologies, disguised by lots of gifts, makes every effort even more pathetic.
The analysis appears then so clear that it does not cause any ambiguity on the fact that – in theatre – you can’t pretend to tell anything that is not US. Us without discounts, without fabula superstructures; us, landed on an almost empty stage, asking for an ethical reorganization. Without any moralistic hardening, narcissisms or religious rages. Only accompanied by a neo-humanist beat in the valorisation of uniqueness and difference. A bloody, supreme attempt to bud the real with a revolutionary activity of guerrilla_poetic terrorism, making it more authentic than the human traffic they want us to believe. The on scene trago-dìa unfolds with tangible manners, because art, unlike media, is subversive. Even if the planet is filled with pain, transgression or enfants terribles, it is not an experimental avant-garde, or pop trend: it is just the meaning of Theatre. Greeks did it before anyone else.
Alessandra Coretti: The kind of theatre you present is often the object of attempts of categorizations among which there is also the definition of genre theatre. Is there a label that you think suits you, a feature, or some kind of landmark that you think represents your style unquestionably?
Ricci/Forte: Italy is a catholic country, but in our job there is no gratuitous scandal. The naked body, sex scenes, heterosexual or homosexual intercourses are only part of a project assessing the individual expressive freedom, the effort to keep its own moral integrity, regardless of the sentimental choices it makes or the sexual role the chromosomes predestined it to. These characteristics sweep away any transgressive or provocative meaning, leaving undiminished – even in the most conservative audience – the idea that we are facing something that transcends the violence exhibited on stage, in favour of an individual pureness we can only reach through a path of authentic calling oneself into question, with no bourgeois hypocrisy.
Alessandra Coretti: You claim that your theatre is political, according to the meaning given by Barba, meaning that it disseminates a vision on the world, but the political quality of your works could be retraced also in the modality of the composition, in the use of the language, in the elaboration of materials (to quote Godard). Could you explain to me your method of scenic construction?
Ricci/Forte: In the scenic itinerary the main role is played by mankind: Theatre is born from it, from the performer, from his political sense, from the ethic mark he leaves. Ronconi taught us to use the “logos” as a way to take them somewhere else. After the classical training, our interest shifted on the evocative power of the different expressive forms on scene, increasing the potential of the performer. Today we draw from the works by the older brothers (Nekrosius, Pollesch, Platel, CadenManson) analysing the present, transforming it, mixing images/words to make the syntactic emptiness shake, looking for a rediscovery of the signs and striving to create autonomous forms. The word becomes one of the many tools at our disposal to empathizing. Language, heart, legs drink from the suggestions created by sessions of improvisation of ensemble. So our work is positively affected, acquiring more meanings in a transversal direction which abandons the epidermis sinking in the centre of the being.
Alessandra Coretti: Speaking of language, the first analysis I ask you to make concerns the textual component of your shows. The texts, in the scenic transposition, are dissected and faced specularly, the aim is not to depict, but rather to create a series of tensions, of subtexts of written words, I would say, that reaches an acme on scene. How is this dramatic process carried out?
Ricci/Forte: Before being directors we are craftsman of our projections. We do not want to depict things, we want to find the weight of the look, verbal or visual. The research we do on language tries to catch the unexpressed contemporary: a conceptual and political or aesthetic research, needs to dig in the sores, even to cause them; it needs to represent a danger, illuminate the day as a Bengal light in the night. This is why our feverish obsessions, at the basis of the interpersonal relationships and of the resistance at an obscuring levelling, are radiographed in the linguistic structure. The directing work releases the visionary aspect of the word, the oneiric apparatus of the emotional effort to grit teeth, the physical grammar of a talking skeleton putting up resistance . The feeling of desperate uneasiness is organized as a rite or chaos with no compass… depending on the street taken.
Alessandra Coretti: Let’s move on to the Macadamia Nut Brittle show, how does this project come to life?
Ricci/Forte: Macadamia Nut Brittle made its debut in 2009 at the Garofano Verde show by Rodolfo DiGiammarco, critic of La Repubblica, who invited us to write about contemporary novelists. We proposed Dennis Cooper due to the dry brutality in his exposition of existences. We entered the rehearsal room without even a single written word, and step by step, we built a path not bounded by reassuring structures. It has been an animistic journey, an oneiric, emotional dimension, something which comes in a difficult moment of private life. We worked constantly behind closed doors, privileging the theme of loss and taking it to the most painful drifts. We were afraid of presenting something which could have been misunderstood, but those were unfounded fears: the show provoked such an appreciation by, and an involvement of the public that it became the little cult of the season.
Alessandra Coretti: The show is an homage to Dennis Cooper, his reading key, which is sex, the title is an ice-cream flavour. According to which formula do these three elements combine?
Ricci/Forte: In the era of liquid modernity, like Bauman defines it, where the relationships scenario constantly changes due to the extreme weakness of human bonds, we assume the identity of one-way bottles, yearning for a bond and terrified by the responsibilities which that implies. Macadamia Nut Brittle, an ice-cream flavour of the US company Häagen-Dazs, becomes the metaphor for a relationship with the outside world. Since we are unable to establish stable relationships with other people, at every failure we melt and re-solidify in a different form, just like the ice-cream. A new package allowing us to be selected, picked, tasted. In this attempt of constantly re-acquiring substance in continuously new attractive products, we lose sight of ourselves, who we are. It is a journey around the disillusion and fear of growing up. Becoming adults is seen as the end of the possibility to change. We live in an endless condition of adolescence, allowing us to make mistakes and devouring passions to satiate an excessive hunger to live, which we try to reinvent everyday. Using others like children do with a new toy. We were interested in Dennis Cooper’s uneasiness of an existence anaesthetised from any feeling. The need to find a weight again, to plug the leak at the centre of the stomach. The characters by Cooper stun themselves with sex, as a last cry of contact with others, overcoming even the limits of pain and physical annihilation. Without taking away our lives, we tried to analyse our methods to find a meaning again, even through the apparent satisfaction that gives us compulsive sex.
Alessandra Coretti: Macadamia Nut Brittle scene attacks the spectator’s retina through a visual overload, to begin with the actors exhibiting their naked bodies or maybe it would be more fair to say “raw” bodies. What is the role that the actors play in this show?
Ricci/Forte: There are no naked bodies in Macadamia Nut Brittle. There are limbs, squares, epidermic areas being unveiled, speaking their voice where vocal chords can’t reach. The performers have a machine at their disposal and the fact that they shake every time it is used, shows us the level of brain curving where we buried ourselves. The skeleton, the organs it contains, the body, become bridges, communication hooks to drink from an oasis before the distressing journey under the sun of delusions, west of the existence.
Alessandra Coretti: At the core of it all is there a material conception of the scene in which the raw material – the performer – interfaces with other scenic materials?
Ricci/Forte: Just like any following creations (Pinter’s Anatomy, Some Disordered Christmas Interior Geometries e Grimmless), Macadamia has been a journey within ourselves and the performers who have been collaborating with us for years. The material put into play belongs to the most intimate and private sphere of all of us. The artistic transfiguration elaborated is a long process – made of flashes of inspiration and setbacks – but for sure it is an adventure with the right people as a good starting point. We do not care about the final destination: we let our experiences, our flaws flow and we confide in our hearts. With MNB it has been a journey in the night, painful and apparently endless. The brutality of the work is an amplification of deep uneasiness, compared to the sorry situation Italy is in at the moment, culturally speaking. We are tired of the entertainment, of false values linked to success and self-abuse, exasperated by a government raising the blank, we cry out with all the breath we have to stop this ride towards useless things.
Alessandra Coretti: I would like you to talk about your aptitude for remixing different materials on scene, which references does your scenic approach feed on?
Ricci/Forte: Ours is also a work of quotations, crossover, interferences, combinations of Rauschenbergian memory, assembles of objets trouvés coming from visual arts, advertisement, videoclip, musicals, B-movies, comic books, fashion, design, etc… to satisfy, stimulate the spectator to build a codified shareable imaginary. Then when it seems we are throwing him a life preserve, we let him sort things out by himself.
Alessandra Coretti: At this point, I would ask you to make a reflection on the role of the spectator, who at your shows is not an impartial witness of a story, but rather an explorer, de-constructor and new producer of sense. In Macadamia Nut Brittle, the actors’ words seem to be sharp instruments aiming at vivisecting specific feelings. Do you think that the identity of the show changes according to the spectator and to the respective modality of “feeling”?
Ricci/Forte: Theatre, today, is the only way to be in real contact with other people. Only through an unarmed honesty , with no scenic fictions, but returned with a poetic, not minimalistic personal vision, it is possible to originate that vital spark allowing the audience to identify himself in those lacerations that performers live and treat himself to that doubts heritage which will help him to move his own shadow, to put in context what he sees; to choose or conquer a stereoscopic miltiple-lane vision, like on freeways, allowing the spectator to be active part in it and from more slants: loopholes – disturbing like an open-eyes nightmare – in which to observe the world and the tragic flashes of History.
Alessandra Coretti: In conclusion I ask you: what was the starting point of your theatrical research? Towards which direction is it heading to?
Ricci/Forte: We started years ago from the subversion of an established and dusty order in its stale dogma. The end of an era and a new one getting its upper hand. Places and historic moments in which you could perceive the radical change. With an omnivorous appetite for knowledge, we are always training. Now we will be heading anywhere in the world in which question marks still rain down helping us to get back our essence button to the present time we live in. A modern world and a live time, far away from those aquariums and the comfortable well-cut hedges. Like the mariner of Pessoa said: the other countries’ seas is beautiful, the one we never crossed and we probably never will see.