Bologna Visit by Lizzie

December 30, 2009

Many thanks to everyone who made our visit to Bologna so enjoyable – especially Helga for all the organisation that she undertook on our behalf. It was lovely to meet her again and to meet Professor Dr Hanne Seitz for the first time and Susan, Kati, Marianne and Rica (hope I have all the spelling right) from Potsdam. Thanks also to everyone from La Baracca for making us so welcome at the theatre and to everyone from Toihaus for sharing their thoughts with us.

I had written something about the Pinocchio production which I was going to post but Tash has already written about this eloquently and in detail so I’ll just skip on as I couldn’t have put it better myself!

After watching Pinnocchio  we took a wander through the streets of Bologna, with everything enhanced by a covering of snow – and one of my favourite things was a wonderful Xmas tree in the main square which was surrounded by bicycles – by cycling you powered the electricity to the Xmas tree lights. What a fantastic idea. Both practical and symbolic.

Eco Christmas tree powered by cycling

Returned to the theatre to watch a rehearsal of the Toihaus/Baracca collaborative project on the theme of The Bridge. Two directors, two musicians, four performers. At the moment the performance is spoken in Italian and Austrian German – and as I understand neither language, I focussed on the movement and emotional sense of what was taking place on stage. From conversations that we had the next day with both companies and from what I saw taking place on stage I can see that this bridge is both difficult to build and difficult to cross. But these are both experienced companies and, as Valeria Frabetti said, it is as much about the process as it is about the outcome. The company will embark on another intensive 10 day period in Salzburg in January. As they will be bringing this piece to audiences their next task is to build a bridge to the audience. Which I am sure they will succeed in doing. I pondered on this type of project. How exciting it can be to share a journey and to have exploratory workshops together but, at the point that you need to shape the material into a working piece of theatre, then how do you do this with two directors? My feeling was that the process needed a third party – maybe a writer/dramaturg – who could pull the ideas together and help to give shape.

The following day we, the Dandelion learners, had a meeting with Myrto (Toihaus’s director) and she was very clear that, as a company, Toihaus never consider the age of the children for whom they are going to perform. Never. This was an adamant statement. I have heard this position before from various European directors. I think it arises from some view that we are all artists and that somehow, by admitting that we have considered the age of the children in front of our work, then we are in some way compromising our artistic integrity.  Personally I am not entirely happy with this position. I look at it differently. I think it is wonderful if you take a 3 year old to listen to an orchestral symphony or a 6 year old to a Shakespeare production or your 12 year old decides to read Virginia Woolf. In that sense then I think all art can be available to all ages. However if I say ‘here is a space where you may bring all your two and three year olds and I am going to share something with you’ then surely, contained within this invite, is the notion that I have thought quite hard about the life and development of a 2/3 year old. And there is such wonderful and interesting research ongoing about the developing brain of the very young child. To consider this is exciting. However on one level I am very much in agreement with Myrto in the sense that I think we can be brave and bold and adult in the way we approach theatre for very young children and the truth is that, however much we research and however much scientists scan babies brains, we can only speculate and guess about how our artistic explorations impact upon them. We must bring our adult selves to the work. And, of course, all companies working with children do actually consider the physical needs of their young audiences – with the environment that they make, with the volume of the music, with the length of the show etc. Toihaus included!

On the second day we also had a workshop in the morning with Roberto Frabetti – as always very generous and honest. He told us that he made his own shows very fast ‘because really they are all the same.’ Of course they are not – but I welcomed his frankness and the fact that he did not set himself on a pedestal. It was also interesting hearing him talk about the philosophy behind the company which operates as a co-operative.

Bologna sparkles

We went from asking him a variety of questions to doing a practical workshop – exploring the ‘theatre scribbles’ idea that I described in my blog from my last Bologna visit. Natasha was a wonderful camel. Maybe she was one in a previous life!

And, at the end of the day, I went back to watch the final rehearsal of ‘The Bridge’ – the last one before the Salzburg rehearsals in January. The company had been working through the day and were developing some improvisations with rhythm and music and piecing together the elements that they had worked on up to that point. I don’t really want to write too much about this process in the blog. I respect the fact that the companies had generously invited us in to observe part of their rehearsal process and that the production is at a delicate stage in its development.  I wish them good luck on the next stage of the journey in Salzburg.

Every evening we gathered together – usually about 15 of us around the table – for a meal and these meals were a lovely opportunity to learn a little more about everyone, to exchange ideas, to chat and to share food.

Natasha with Susan, Kati, Rica and Marianne

And then there was the snow – falling through the night on Friday so that by Sat morning it lay like a thick blanket across the city of Bologna. So beautiful. Not sure why the Italians think that marble is a good material for paths but Tash and I slipped and slithered our way to the bus stop without mishap. The journey home was more eventful! Suffice it to say that we survived!!!

Snowy Streets of Bologna



  1. Hi Lizzie,

    sorry I have caught up with your and Tash’s blogging so late. Sounds like it was a really interesting trip despite the challenging return travel. Would love to have been there and build on the festival last year. Seeing a main stage children’s piece by La Baracca also would have been fantastic. I am so glad you enjoyed it.

    It is so interesting these international collaborations when right from the outset linguistic bridges have to be built, or do they? I would be interested to know how the performers r&d without the verbal skills to communicate with each other, it must give a different dimension to a piece.

    Looking forward to catching up in person with you both and hearing more about it.

    Emma x

  2. Hi Lizzie, have just read your blog and am left with various mental images of Tash as a camel – all funny! Your reference to Myrto’s comment on not designing a production for a sepecific age group – I ws initially quite surprised by this as we have talked extensively with Valeria & Roberto in the past about how very young children work, and I thought this was the whole cultural approach taken by Toihaus as well. Very interesting to talk further with you on this as it does beg the question, if Toihaus’ approach to theatre works just as well, are we in danger of trying to second guess how a young child will respond to productions that are created specifically for different age-groups, and thereby denying them a fuller, more genuine experience? Or is it important, as you say (and I agree) to first try and understand how best to engage young children in any creative learning experience? Clearly a verbal, text based narrative will not appeal to babies as much as a more sensory based narrative, but are 3-4 years olds on the cusp as their brains develop? Very interesting stuff! We should ask some of our new Pathfinders to build these issues into their forthcoming Professional Development Days for further discussion… Thanks for such a great write-up.

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