“Theatre is a practise of xenophilia”

Interview with Fabio Tolledi, artistic director of Astragali Teatro in Lecce and president of Italy Center of International Theatre Institute.



//Fabio TollediCan you tell us about the nature of the international projects that the Astragali Theatre is involved in?

There are some lines that continue to work in our projects. One is the problem of conflict, theatre in conflict zone. Because we think that culture, and in particular theatre, can work to overcome the differences. And our work is based on multi-languages and multi-cultural process. Not only like a general frame but also like a practical element on which we work in all the projects from different points of view. At first when we start to think of a project, it is the development of the previous one. Before WALLS we have worked in H.O.S.T., which is an acronym of hospitality, otherness, society and theatre. The elements of otherness and hospitality is very important, because it’s clear that we come from 20 years of policies of xenophobia, and we have to change perspective, to contrast the tendencies of xenophobia. The theatre is a practice of xenophilia. This is the contradiction, like a starting point.

In H.O.S.T. we started working on “Metamorphosis” of Ovid because the condition of the migrant is something related to metamorphosis, because it’s a radical transformation of something. The foreigner, the stranger is someone that we are not able recognize, and for this he feels something like a strange man. The stranger is a strange man or a strange woman. And I think that through the theatre we can work in a very good way. Think about the myth of Dionysus like founder of theatre, Dionysus is the stranger that dances. The stranger that dances is a very interesting iconology of Dionysus, is something that recalls the transformation of the society, that is impossible to stop. For this also we have started to work about the radical problem of otherness. Consruction of otherness like an enemy is the wall: the construction of the wall, the construction of the polis is something that says “interior citizens are citizens, the external are the enemies”. The policy of “in” and “out” is something strong. This is the line…


mad 155 wallsHow did the themes of the “WALLS – Separate Worlds” project come out?

Under the title of “separate worlds” we have different subtitles. Separation of the world is very strong and very effective and we can see it in more and more levels. Also the crisis continues to increase this terrible approach. For example there’s the model of the continental Europe that is terrible, that continues to do what we shouldn’t do. And the order that has produced the crisis pretends to also manage the crisis. This is a contradiction in which the walls are enforced. We had this experience in Berlin, the experience in the metropolitan areas like in Paris where there’s the wall between the banlieu. We have celebrated a new era with the fall of the wall of Berlin, but maintained the things that are related to the new colonialism perspective. It is very important to start to work to recognize, to recognize the separation. For example let’s think about Greece and Turke, about the revolt of Taksim square and about the condition of Turkey in Iraq, Iran and Syria… It’s very important to work to overcome the conflict, to find a new solution in a new perspective and we can do this and our work is this. Because it’s very strange for me that between neighbour countries there’s no connection. And also at the same time there’s a historical connection, a very deep and very important connection. It shouldn’t be a limit, it should be an opportunity. To start to know each other is very important.

Roberta Quarta (actress, International Projects Coordinator of Astragali Teatro): There’s a person here coming from Cyprus. And to go to Turkey she has to go to Athens and take a flight to Istanbul as there are no direct flights between south Cyprus and Turkey.

Fabio Tolledi: And she has to spend lots of money to do this… This is a level of the role of the neo-colonialism. The logistic is not something not related to the power. The logistics is a level of organisation of power. Where there’s no logistics there’s an attempt to maintain.

But also at the same time the condition of Cyprus is very interesting. This is also about neo-colonialism. They are not British but they represent themselves like British. They are also considered mother tongue when they are teaching English. There’s something else very interesting. Cyprus may let the British use it’s territory to bomb Syria. Here there’s something very strange because Cyprus is also an EU member. So there’s the army of an EU country in another EU country, it’s not very normal. And when we worked in Athens and Cyprus we continued to watch documentaries. It’s very strange but in many documentaries they don’t talk about the responsability of the colonialism of Great Britain. It’s impossible not to recognize this. The cultural work is very important for this.


What do you think could be the role of the theatre or other cultural institutions in changing the perceptions of the people?

The cultural works are very very important to do this work. It’s very important the role that they can play. For example, the construction of the wall in Israel is something terrible but noone speaks about it. It’s an occupation and we have to continue to call that territory the “occupied territories” because they are not free, they are under military control. The cultural work should be in this direction, to recognize the importance of the culture of the place. This is the first step, because if we remain without words, without cultural exchange we die. The example is clear about the Kurdish issue, too. When you maintain the language, the music, this is a level of resistence.

Here it’s very clear the example of Jerusalem or Istanbul. They are multi-cultural by nature. To give a “monoidentity” you have to destroy the multi-culturality, which is their identity.


At this workshop you were talking about the fear of the stranger. Do you think the theatre could introduce the “strangers” to each other by building a bridge and thus help to overcome this fear?

I think this workshop is a very good example to this question. When we start to work together it’s like there’s something is forbidden and then you say “Ah! Also this exists!”. For example during the fascism in Itay it was forbidden to speak dialects. The aim was to confirm only one, strong national identity. But in reality that doesn’t exist. Because in Italy we don’t have one national identity, we have multiple identities.


In the play you demonstrated here there were songs in Turkish, in Kurdish, Arabic, Greek etc. And you have asked the student/actors to tell some of their private stories and then connected these stories to the songs. Could you tell us why you chose this approach of using different languages and songs from different cultures?

When you start to sing a song, everyone can listen and understand a little, even if they don’t understand the words. Because the music is a universal language. Also when a new language enters the scene it adds another texture. Like in Italy, we have dubbing, and when in the movies people are speaking in Italian suddenly a song starts in English and it’s regarded as normal. There’s a dialog and then enters another language and it’s normal. Also we have used this in a multi-cultural perspective, where suddenly another sound enters.

In the story of theatre in the 19 century, the Italian actors in England for example, or Italian actors in Paris in 16-17th centuries produced very important exchange in cultures. The tournee of the actors are very important in the first part of the 20th century. The condition of the actor is many times a nomadic experience. To enter in contact with the other cultures is very important, this is another level of the function of theatre. This organism of the theatre is like a model between different cultures. There is a very important tradition in this direction. And I have reinterpreted this in the context of conflict zone. This, I think, is the new element. Because I think that if we work on the concrete context of the conflict we can find very important things and also we can play our real role: theatre like an element of dinamics within the society.


mad 155 astragaliAnd what was the reason that you chose “Metamorphosis” as the main text for the WALLS project?

It’s something related to the transformation. As for the actor, the actor has to transform. But at the same it’s like the migrant that has to transform. Also I think that there’s something very important in another level. In that period, you can find the cult of Isis. It’s possible to recognize the existence of another god. But if one says “this is the only god and the true god and the others are fake gods” perhaps you start to create a distinction that creates the conflict. When the christians arrive in the new world, they say to the wild men “We have our god” and they say “Ok, there’s no problem, please come in”. And the christians are surprised, they say “Wow! How is it possible?”.

Also we are here near Efesus. Here there’s an interesting historical episode of St Paul who was rejected and they said “We have our god, we stay very well with Artemis, we don’t need your god”. And this was the reason of the destruction of the temple.




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