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Monticchiello Journal: A Tuscan Village Bares Its Soul on Stage, Again and Again

Mr. Vignai, who acted in the Teatro Povero for the first time when he was 32, is versed in military roles.

In 1967, he played the commander of the troops from the Republic of Siena that in the 16th century warded off the Florentines in Monticchiello.

He can confidently recount the glorious episodes of this Tuscan community’s past: its resistance to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in the 1500s; to French invaders a few hundred years later; and finally to German soldiers during World War II.

Yet this year, Mr. Vignai forsook his military role on stage to play a more pedestrian but poignant part.

The generational handoff is the hardest thing for the theater, and the village, the actors say.

“This is a great place when you are a child and a retiree, but living here requires giving up on a lot of things,” Mr. Giani said.

In this year’s performance, Valeria Cardini, a red-haired 11-year-old, played a schoolgirl — but one attending the same class as her older and younger brothers because the village didn’t have enough children to organize more than one class.


The director, Andrea Cresti, 79, with the actors at a local tavern after a performance. “A little like this community, the theater has always been on the verge of extinction,” Mr. Cresti said. Credit Alessandro Penso for The New York Times

She has been acting for three years and going to theater classes during the winter “many more years.”

“I like the theater because so many people come to Monticchiello for this,” she said.

“And it helps me express myself,” she explained. “I am on Facebook, but I don’t really use it.”

Social media doesn’t seem to have substituted for real life in isolated Monticchiello. “That’s also because phones don’t have great signal in medieval walls anyway,” Mr. Giani explained.

During the show’s three-week run, Monticchiello plays host to 4,000 spectators. A tavern inside a vaulted medieval crypt springs to life, and tourists crowd the streets at sunset, awaiting the show.

But the magic fades after the Teatro Povero is over. “When I am here, I sometimes don’t check my phone for an entire day,” Mr. Giani said. “But once the theater is over, it’s just empty.”

In the off-season, residents have one A.T.M., a post office open three days a week, and a public space, once the farm’s granary, where older residents can leave their medical prescriptions and collect their drugs later, or buy daily papers.


Roberto Giani, 23, played a young, unemployed father-to-be. In real life, he left Monticchiello after working low-paying jobs and moved to Bologna to study. Credit Alessandro Penso for The New York Times

“A little like this community, the theater has always been on the verge of extinction,” said Andrea Cresti, 79, the director, sitting on a bench in the village’s cobblestone square, where children played and cats rested in the shadows.

“For 51 years, we have been doing it uncertain whether we’d do it the following year,” he said.

For many here, the theater has substituted for other forms of collective engagement.

“It is a powerful aggregation tool,” said Riccardo Severini, a 47-year-old farmer who serves as the sound engineer for the three weeks of the show. “It used to be soccer, but everyone left and so we were not enough to play.”

This longtime exercise gives purpose beyond the daily routine.

“The idea of building a drama on themselves is unique in Italy,” said Pietro Clemente, an anthropologist at Florence University who has followed the Teatro Povero for decades. “That’s why over the years even Federico Fellini came to watch them acting.”

Beyond Fellini, other aficionados have also been drawn to the Teatro Povero. It has even been the subject of a documentary.

“We saw it evolving,” said Susan Fisher, a 77-year-old San Franciscan who has lived in Siena for more than 40 years. She has come to Monticchiello for the theater since the 1990s.

“You can recognize people and see them growing,” she said. “It’s fascinating.”

Source: NYT > World

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