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“Once upon a time there were working class people. They were optimistic people who believed in themselves and occupied their time in unprofitable activities such as building ‘houses’ where they could get together and do enjoyable things, like dancing or playing cards. Today the people still exist: they are usually mentioned, reduced to a mere soundbite, in political discussions or public rallies. But somewhere, like the residue of a world in the throes of extinction, there still remain people devoted to ballroom dancing, rummy, quarter-litres of wine and bitter arguments over a hand of cards badly played. They live in places where there are tables, bar counters, bowls pitches and canteens where they serve enormous plates of home-made pasta. These people live there summer and winter, year after year, while another kind of people, more modern and efficient, march confidently through the aisles of new recreational places called hypermarkets. It’s not the latter that we – unproductive and irrelevant in our turn, like all theatre folk – focus on, but the former, stealing their voices, their stories, dialogues and atmospheres, in order to find out if the people (assuming they exist) still have a house to live in”.

 

The starting point for the show is dozens and dozens of interviews conducted with people of different kinds, ages and hang-ups, in numerous social clubs in and around Bologna.

The end point is a theatre play of lowlife nostalgia, which has the frenzied rhythm of old-fashioned rock as well as the measured pace of melodrama and the treacle of the dance hall.

Its a work that seeks to breathe life into flavours, smells, sounds, styles and colours. A show made up of tableaus and portraits whose subjects are human types and characteristic places, in which past and present blend and wonder if tomorrow will ever come.

Portraying this kaleidoscopic interweaving of stories and flavours is the tried and tested experience of a group of actors who are renewing the collaboration between Teatro dell’Argine and Teatro delle Temperie.

“We immediately asked ourselves what right we had to speak of People’s Houses or social centres. What gave us the expertise to shoulder the responsibility to present their mechanisms, impulses, conflicts and contradictions. And even perhaps to judge them. Place that are mostly alien to our generation of forty-somethings, yet which still exert a powerful attraction over us which is certainly not ideological. And so here we are, wondering where that spirit, that shared feeling has gone, which inner corner of our guts, which labyrinth of our cities has it hidden in? Because feeling the need to build a place that’s inclusive, open and able to create value by listening and shared action is a utopia incredibly close to other utopias that are very dear to us, and that guide the direction of our two companies every day. Ideas that can make space for themselves, cultural spaces that can be made into a home. And if to find that spirit today we need to go to the theatre, too bad. We’ll do our best.

Andrea Paolucci

A CENTURY-LONG REPORT

Nowadays, history leaves an instant trace of itself. Photos, videos, chats, comments, tweets, Facebook posts. A huge amount of digitalised documentation in which words that will end up in future school essays are all mixed up with descriptions of dinner and tutorials of every kind.

The history of People’s Houses, however, has taken much longer. All the time it needed. Time to be written, time to draft the minutes, consisting of items to be addressed, of hands raising and pencils being sharpened with a knife.

And rather than a steaming cup of Americano to the right of the laptop (not to be confused with the more usual PC), to be drunk distractedly between one click and another, a glass of wine is preferable – red, if possible – in the middle of the table, with the risk of a stain on the yellowing page.

Apologies are in order for the romantic slant of this brief, albeit ingenuous, analysis and, looking closely, even those voluminous reports, between one comment and the next about the ‘needs of the working classes’, conceal ridiculous amounts of responses transcribed in the same awkward Italian as the average comment on any social network.

But it’s this ingenuous gaze (and we use the term in its most elevated sense, almost equivalent to the word utopian) that the playwright takes charge of, describing the ‘dreams, needs, necessities’ of the people who brought these places to life, imagining their stories and their journeys, giving a voice to a close-knit group of characters who are immediately recognisable because they still inhabit the tales of every village.

And so a report a century long, with pages that coincide with the years and turning them means jumping forward in the story, being irredeemably bewildered by its speed, its constant mutations, until we realise we don’t have any alternative than to continue noting down words, comments and items for discussion, but nobody’s responding to them any more.

A century in which everything has changed and no-one has really understood what happened, in which ideas as solid as the bricks used to build the People’s Houses have crumbled, leaving behind the need to find new ways and new places to be together, new ‘piazzas with roofs’, ultimately.

But all this is done surrounded by fog. A fog that has gradually formed to fill the holes, the distance that every individual – alone – has started putting between themselves and others.