A new manifesto: the Ivrea conference and the invention of experimental theatre


The battle for theatre is something far more important than an aesthetic issue.

What remains latent when the winds of change begin to blow, often needs content to make it manifest. The three-day conference held in Ivrea in 1967 (10-12 June) focused on Italian New Theatre, shaped its most significant meanings in the text published below. The distance of reception, the geography of the questions and the intensification of vocations were the most important themes proposed in advance for discussion, but would later be updated as the conference unfurled. Hence the need for a real manifesto that served as a rallying cry. Previously published by Franco Quadri in “Sipario” in 1966, it appears to us today as a discoursive exercise capable however of bringing to light what the time had come, it was thought, to say. And which then was worth fighting for.

The battle for theatre is something far more important than an aesthetic issue.

In a situation of progressive involution, which is affecting many essential sectors in the life of the nation, over the past few years we have been witness to a desertification of theatre life, all the more serious and surreptitious because it appears florid on the surface. This appearance is dangerous because it conceals the aging conditions and failed modernization of the structures; the growing interference of the political and administrative bureaucracy in public theatres; the monopoly of power centres; the lack of response to the most significant international repertoire; the wilful neglect that has smothered all experimental initiatives attempted in recent years.

Consequently, the Italian scene and the changes that have taken place in our society, as well as the new theatre techniques and modes of expression developed in other countries have found only isolated and sporadic echoes in our own theatre production. Indeed, there has been no turnover or renewal of acting techniques, no analysis or application of new materials for language, gesture or plasticity, while the undeniable refinement in stage direction has led to little more than a worn- perfectionism that is sterile in its application, against any possibility of revitalizing the context.

Traditional theatre criticism, on the other hand, instead of fulfilling its role as provocation and stimulus with regards to this general situation, has helped to maintain the status quo, and chosen t remain aligned with official positions, anchoring language and methods to out-dated models and de facto eschewing its primary obligation to experiment and interpret.

With a very few cognizant exceptions, our theatre has not only proven incapable of developing its own discourse, but has ultimately found itself in a position of complete isolation, systematically impervious to any cultural innovation, to experimentation and to the results of poetic and novel writing, to experimentation in filmmaking, to the discourses engaged by new music and the many experiences of painting and sculpture.

Our work as writers, critics, directors, set designers, musicians, actors, theatre technicians, despite the differences in ideologies and in the attitudes we have established towards our work, makes us feel extraneous to the modes, the mentality and the experiences of so-called official theatre and to official policy towards the theatre.

Because of the diversity of methods and of sources of inspiration that characterizes the work we are engaged in, we do not present ourselves as a group, at least in the sense in which this word has defined past experiences in literature and in theatre. Above and beyond every diversity, we believe nevertheless that we can find sufficient power of cohesion as we find ourselves facing fundamentally similar problems in our work.

The work that each of us has been involved in thus far can therefore constitute the foundation for a common sense of engagement the aim of which is to elicit, gather, cultivate and defend the new forces and trends in theatre, in a continuous exchange of ideas with all other artistic manifestations, to advance the needs of the new generations in theatre. We believe it is neither useful nor necessary to start from scratch, convinced as we are that we may be all the more precise as we are more conscious of the experiences that we have already begun and developed in other places.

Today it is important to adapt our critical tools to the technical and formal elements of performance, to fulfil our commitment to the theatre without being constrained by preconceived notions, retrieving techniques and proposing other techniques that use actors independently of academic and everyday theory, with a choice of locations that recreate the space of the stage.

There can be no new trail to blaze in theatre, as in any other work in the sciences or in the arts, that does not necessarily imply ample margins for error. We claim them as our right. We do not wish to create clandestine theatre for the select few, nor be excluded from the potential offered by audience organizations we believe we have a right to; however, we reject work that is officially defined as experimental, but must then align itself to the dominant positions. Theatre must be free to embrace total and absolute dissent.

It is our intention to discuss this and all the problems linked to organization in an opening conference and debate that will take place at the end of the current theatre season and to which we invite everyone who, on the basis of their experiences and achievements, is willing to share the objectives against which we will work, and this call for urgent engagement.

We do not believe in purely grammatical dissent. We do believe that theatre may be used to plant doubt, to smash perspectives, to remove masks, to trigger thought. We believe in theatre that is filled with questions, with demonstrations, right or wrong, with contemporary gestures.