Unclassifiable Zip: the impersonal masks of Carlo Quartucci and Giuliano Scabia (1965)


If these had made one poem’s period,
And all combin’d in beauty’s worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.
C. Marlowe,
Tamberlaine the Great (1, V, II)


Carlo Quartucci, Stefano Tomassini and Carla Tatò during the conference October. The battle for theatre¬01  (Aula Tafuri, Palazzo Badoer, IUAV University of Venice, October 20th, 2017).

[without a genre] Can titles serve a performative function? Zip Lap Lip Vap Mam Crep Scap Plip Trip Scrap & la Grande Mam alle prese con la società contemporanea (Zip Lap Lip Vap Mam Crep Scap Plip Trip Scrap & the Grande Mam take on contemporary society) is the rambling title of the play by Giuliano Scabia and Carlo Quartucci which premiered at the Theatre Festival of the Biennale di Venezia on September 30th 1965. The experimental significance of this performance project, which raised a «hornet’s nest of controversy in a climate that “Sipario” magazine would describe as an authentic “moral lynching”»,1 in fact irreversibly accelerated the future of New Theatre in Italy. In hindsight, Carlo Quartucci would recall the genesis of the title as follows, upon his to Venice for an encounter at the conference «OTTOBRE#01_The Battle for Theatre»:

I did the Biennale di Venezia in 1965: I love Venice deeply, for the four Biennale that I did and the one that I didn’t do (the one with Carmelo[Bene, in 1988]); the first was with Zip Lip Lap and the director of the department was Wladimiro Dorigo, to whom I submitted the title Zip Lip Lap, they were my actors (Leo de Berardinis, Rino Sudano, etc.), ten masks that we wanted to ‘develop’ based on the actors’ stage language, because I was working with Gruppo 63 at the same time, so I created a stage structure with my actors, with whom I had been working for six years: well, at that point I considered them dramaturgically as authors (and in fact each of them later had his own company etc.). We took the texts of the Gruppo 63 and adapted them to these ten masks, because from the very moment I was born, I have had the ‘pupo’ in my head. I am Sicilian and that’s the Sicilian landscape, and in my mind they were pupi.2

Zip by Carlo Quartucci and Giuliano Scabia (1965). Published in «Sipario», n. 235, November 1965.

This new account by Quartucci is a perfect ovfiterlay between the memory of experience and biographical history, like a personal archaeology of the archive that does not serve to ensure the continuity of memory, but functions as a system to form and transform testimony. But it also reveals, perhaps for the first time, the function of theatre that the production of Zip for the stage somehow entailed. The Sicilian folk puppet theatre fits perfectly into the tradition of the dolls and puppets that animated the vision of Modernist theatre in its battle against the tyranny of bourgeois convention.3 But these “contemporary masks”, activated in a space that had lost its centre («acentric»), plural, focused on the spectator, even directly in the audience, were in search «not only [of] a new architectural dimension, but [of] a new social dimension». So that the effort to renew the practice of theatre might make it possible to replace a destructive and splintering form of protest with the continuous evolution of an event «open to a collective discussion-participation»,4 and hence to an affective reception that interrogates, disrupts and of course even splinters, but above all regenerates. New Theatre could arise, in contemporary reality, by liberating itself of its own masks.

Zip by Carlo Quartucci and Giuliano Scabia (1965). Published in «Sipario», n. 235, November 1965.

[without an archive] And what if all the names of the masks/pupi in this title that is so hard to burn into memory, were amputations? With an effect not of onomatopoeia but of an apocope: like in Samuel Beckett sometimes, with names cut off to observe (or listen to) what remains of them? Adorno stubbornly claimed that there was a relationship in name between Hamm in Fin de partie and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, an «objective semantic excess» independent of the author’s intention, a cut straight into the flesh of the name that forced the protagonist of that pièce into a wheelchair.5 And so, in his director’s notes, Quartucci wrote of Beckett’s influence in this «theatre borrowed from clowning», despite «the need for a less metaphysical, less existential, more historicized point of departure».6 Just as Ettore Capriolo, in his review of the performance, did not hesitate to note the progress made by Quartucci as a director with respect to his previous experiences with Beckett.7 The title, which offers no orientation, is worth reading once more: Zip Lap Lip Vap Mam Crep Scap Plip Trip Scrap & la Grande Mam take on contemporary society, seems to inscribe already, in the syncopated rhythm of its graphic elements, the phonetic ejaculations of entire autonomous linguistic actions. But this way, it is the theme itself that becomes almost impossible to pronounce. The sequence of names (of the «ten contemporary masks: ten forms, each capable of embracing several types») which always risks losing/confusing the speaker, is opposed to the second part of the title, smoother and more explicative, at the limits of the didactic. It is this illustrative function that is hence delayed, as if it were rendered submissive or innocuous by the sequential effect of everything that precedes it. And so, the effect of reality in “having to deal with contemporary society” is produced by a simple series of amputations of that which apparently can no longer be together. What is this about? It is the knowing subject of which the name is the guarantee. Of an order incapable of explaining the singular and undaunted.

Zip by Carlo Quartucci and Giuliano Scabia (1965). Published in «Sipario», n. 235, November 1965.

And in fact, Giuliano Scabia‘s text, «based on an idea by Carlo Quartucci» and in part written directly in the theatre during the preparations and always in direct and open negotiation with the actors, was rejected by the Italian Society of Authors and Editors (SIAE) because it was impossible to recognize any creditable logic of the text in it, an acceptable nature as drama the rights of which SIAE could have protected. And so, through no fault of its own, this script which arose out of a common experience of theatre, «an essentially visual text, where there is no difference in level between gesture word sound object projection», remained free of all claims of intellectual property, free of any metaphysical subordination to literary genres:

from the ascertainments conducted and an examination of the script for the work it has been observed that the work in fact presents none of the traditional characteristics of a “play” and may not be classified as any of the diverse genres included in art. 73 of the General Regulations.8

Hence, the unclassifiable Zip was, above all, impossible to archive. The institution that recognizes and catalogues and practices a method that governs the appearance of the spoken words as single events, was incapable of reducing and therefore controlling what could not, at that time, be integrated into the SIAE system.

Zip by Carlo Quartucci and Giuliano Scabia (1965). Published in «Sipario», n. 235, November 1965.

[without a person] So what type of impossible authorship emerged in this script? Perhaps one devoid of a personal and determined subject that in the writing of Zip, as in the figures it tells about, was reborn in the impersonal. From the very first part, with the genesis of the ten characters «from the dark reaches of the theatre» (I, p. 51), to the discovery of the space (II) and the invention of words (III) followed by a sort of spatial monody (IV) and then by a phonetic chorus, that «gives names to things, | to the body, | to the day, to the dialogue», following phonetic patterns that were later printed (V, p.59), a scene that precedes a «haphazard» robing as a «party that goes on for practically the entire performance» (VI, p. 61).9 It is followed by a presentation parade – and «in this party remember the circus» (VII, p. 63) – with the entrance of the Grande Mam (a sort of robot); then come a series of scenes with a social critique focused on the homologation of the Law and the oppression of differences (VIII); on eating/consuming as an alienating imperative (IX); the obsessive parody of mothers’ feeding (X); and finally the global clash between woman and technology: Lip is «chased across the theatre» and attacked by the loudspeakers (XI, p. 88).10 The ‘total’ altercation provokes a tirade on the ideology of reconstruction and the narcosis induced by the system at every «rejection», every protest: «Lap I am Lap. |I write my nos. (…) Zip But does it make any difference if you write on walls? » (XII, p. 97). It ends with a veritable requiem for the earth and the entire ecosystem (XIII). After a fifteen-minute pause, the second part begins with a scene about journalism as disinformation (I), followed by a long scene about the organization of consumption, for a happiness that is the void of «workers’ nirvana» (II, p.129) with a not-so-subtly veiled allusion to the means of mass extermination (in a link that is rather reminiscent of the theses of Dialektik der Aufklarung by Adorno and Horkeheimer) and to the imposition of an authoritarian «order» which, as in Beckett, can only be opposed by a redeeming «silence» (II, p. 127). On the notes of a saxophone played by Zip, there follows a scene on resistance and the inexorability of evil (with the apologue of the wolf and the lamb) that makes this post-World War II world a lager, and routine a death: «Routine is the blood of the dead! » (III, p. 133, and this is an obvious response to La ragazza Carla by Elio Pagliarani in 1962).11 There follows a funeral of history reduced to nominal ruins that may at best be cited, and a vindication of stuff and of accumulation (IV). In this landscape, humanity degraded to a design of utility for the system is «deformation», while «Love ends in vomit. | Words no longer stick to objects. | They are empty, grey, hanging on nothing. » (V, p. 147; a statement, it should be remembered, that comes a year before the release of Michel Foucault’s famous book, Les mots et les choses). There follows an open metacritical section, which includes a «choral reading of news items » (VI, p. 148) on the horrors of contemporary society, that leads to an experience of chaos and combat: «it is the ritual of accumulation and destruction» (VII, p. 155). It ends with Lap’s impossible escape, «wearing a white mask in the shape of a donkey», «in search of open roads», followed by Lip, both of whom risk immediately turning into puppets that spout words in playback: «they move their mouths, but the words are spoken by the loudspeakers» (VIII, pp. 161-162). In the final scene, the whisper of a common voice, «a guttural breath, | which then becomes voice, in a soft crescendo», seems to gather and be reborn in new form: «absolutely impersonal; | it continues until the curtain falls» (IX, p. 168). The criticism of contemporary society offered by these impersonal masks was to result in the liberation of the person alienated by that same determination, misleadingly claimed by the rational world against the subject itself.

Zip by Carlo Quartucci and Giuliano Scabia (1965). Published in Daniela Visone, La nascita del Nuovo Teatro in Italia 1959-1967, Corazzano: Titivillus, 2010, p.272.

[envoi] In a lovely reminiscence about Leo De Berardinis, one of Quartucci’s actors, and not only as Lap in Zip, during the recent conference in Venice, the Sicilian director evoked the concept of friendship as a permanent condition of the practice of theatre: «in order to act together, it is important to be friends». In hindsight, today, this seems to be conceived as a warning, if not a legacy, for the future of theatre, based on these ten distant «contemporary masks» that should have liberated their own incompleteness in the flow of change after change; prophetic figures and visions of posterity:

When I say friends I am speaking specifically about perpetuity and the concept of friendship. When we did Godot I was thinking, like Marlowe’s Tamberlaine, that to be actors you had to be friends; Marlowe says so in his Tamberlaine, as he goes mad in his verses he says: «my young empire, friends, friends open these four mails», there were a thousand soldiers there, and six were Tamberlaine’s friends as a youth.12

So to sum up, for Zip: amputation of the notion of subject starting with the title itself; loss of centre in the organization of space; institutional impossibility to classify the script; assault/siege on the person as the subject of relationships and as a mask; and finally, the demand for a truer freedom for the powers of theatre in friendship as training ground for actors. Not bad for a failed project, and only three years before 1968.13


Zip Lap Lip Vap Mam Crep Scap Plip Trip Scrap & la Grande Mam alle prese con la società contemporanea (1965)
written by Giuliano Scabia
from an idea by Carlo Quartucci
directed by Carlo Quartucci
sets and costumes by Emanuele Luzzati
Luigi Castejon (Crep)
Cosimo Cinieri (Scrap)
Leo de Berardinis (Lap)
Sabina de Guida (Vap)
Anna D’Offizi (Mam)
Mirella Falco (Grande Mam)
Giampiero Forteleoni (Scap)
Maria Grazia Grassini (Lip)
Claudio Remondi (Trip)
Rino Sudano (Zip)
Edoardo Torricella (Plip)

produced by Teatro Studio del Teatro Stabile di Genova

Premiere XXIV Festival di Prosa della Biennale di Venezia, Teatro del Ridotto, September 30th 1965.