Marco Martinelli’s theater project for teenagers

Words to Marco Martinelli, co-founder of the Teatro delle Albe and creator of the non-school, an initiative designed to bring young people closer to the performing arts. Mixture of didactics and fun

Marco Martinelli, Birds. Photo Mario Spada

We meet Marco Martinelli (Reggio Emilia, 1956), founder with Ermanna Montanari by the Teatro delle Albe, on the occasion of a new project of its “non-school”, which debuted in the Archaeological Park of Pompeii in late May and then traveled to the Ravenna Festival (June 2) and the Arena del Sole in Bologna in autumn (October 22 and 23). For years, Marco has worked with young people from all over the world (Ravenna, Naples, Chicago, Kibera, Kenya), creating small areas of utopia, places where you can learn while having fun, scream your dreams, mix centers and suburbs , dialects and Latin, live glowing loves, abolish hierarchies. They were two hundred for Heresy of happiness in Milan and now seventy for I dream of flying, everyone expects something different from this experience, but what one seeks goes far beyond the theater, to have to do with life.

Marco Martinelli.  Photo by Lidia Bagnara
Marco Martinelli. Photo by Lidia Bagnara


What is non-school, how was it born and when?
Theater for me and Ermanna has always been about learning by doing. Munari said: “If I do, I understand“. My father Vincenzo was my first real great teacher. A fool’s teacher who in the morning, when he had to wake me up to go to school, walked quietly into the room, stood on the edge of the bed and in the dim light told me stories: Horatii and Curiazi, a sketch of Totò, the story of a man lost in a dark forest … With him I learned while having fun. This is non-school. In addition to the many cultural references I have found over time ( from Don Milani to Walter Benjamin to Ranciere), there was only the urge to play and watch the kids have fun when I started.

Who are today’s teens? The post-pandemic teenagers living in a heavily mediated war. How do these events become a part of their lives? Did they change them?
This is a basic question that I am often asked. And I always answer that they never change. There is no social network, Covid, war that can change the deep meaning of adolescence, the one with which we communicate through theatrical work. It is true that this is the first time that a war comes into life in such a dominant way, but in Scampia, the boys I worked with in the first years of non-school (2005-06) saw war on the streets every day, unlike Ravennas. In Chicago, students entered the classroom by passing through the metal detector. In Kibera, living in the suburbs where we lived and worked is like being in a constant war.
In addition to cultural and historical differences, when a pact of mutual trust is created with the young, based on desire (we only work with young people who independently decide to participate in workshops), it goes beyond violence and loneliness. Adolescence is the age that you and I have lived in different moments, but which for both of us was a moment of imbalance and passion, no longer children and not yet adults in plaster. For them and for us, the theater is the place where one can take as a starting point one’s fears, from even unrecognized desires, from dreams, the real ones, not the ones that the commercials want to captivate us with. For the boiling jungle that is the teen years, what happens outside (Covid, wars, Scampia, etc.) is the fuel for creation that needs to be shaped.

Boys at the big theater
Boys at the big theater


How is the theatrical work with the group structured?
In the non-school, the foundation is the choir, that is, the community, the group, without hierarchy, from which those who are to play the main characters originate. And if there is more than one or one to produce such determination, such a revolt, we build the show so that there are two Antigoni or two Hamlets.

After Mayakovsky for Heresy of happinessDante, now Aristophanes with Birds? Why this choice?
We need texts that bring together dreams and reality, and after Jarry, Mayakovsky, Brecht, theater has become more and more solipsistic. For Birds the first few months we worked on answering the question: what would you like to escape from? What is it that you do not like about reality or the cities you live in? Thus a prologue was built in which we will not talk about Athens, but about Pompeii, Torre del Greco, Scafati, etc. It was October 2021. When the war in Ukraine started, it became part of the text. It is one of the principles of “putting into life”, the dramaturgy continues to be rewritten to the last.

Marco Martinelli, Kibera non-school documentary
Marco Martinelli, Kibera non-school documentary


You go back to work in Campania and with seventy teenagers. In 2005, you brought one of your first non-schools here (“Arrevuoto”), and brought guys from Scampia well with Naples. What places have you worked for today?
The dance high school in Pompeii, with a group of girls, and the technical institute in Torre del Greco, with a mixed and more “wild” group, to which is added a group of children from the Spanish neighborhoods of Naples.

You have put together up to two hundred guys with an incredible logistics and attention to detail. And yet, in spite of this powerful machine, one never speaks of “staging,” but rather of “bringing to life.” So in a sense, the larger space is always left to something spontaneous, real. What is the secret behind this magical link between life and “discipline”?
The concept of “putting into life”, as opposed to “staging”, is the basis of all our work. Real theater does not just make a showwell done ‘but it makes life vibrate in the encounter with Dionysus, as Nietzsche reminds us.
Why are discipline and boundaries crucial? To create the dramatic and scenic conditions for life to break out. In our small way, that’s what we’re trying to do every time: rediscover the scene’s Dionysian source. And in this, young people and children are wonderful allies.

Chiara Pirri

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