A few years ago a series of plays directed by Romeo Castellucci turned the theatrical world on its head, creating an aftershock that circled the world three times. Each member of the audience attending his work know deep down that the message carried by Castellucci will follow them like a shadow until the end of their days.
The Territory Festival was opened by a visit by the Castellucci Theatre. On seeing his name next to other equally celebrated names from European Theatre, Romeo began to treat his visit to Moscow as something of a mission. As props for his play «Tragedia Endogonidia BR.¹04 Brussel» he requested a police uniform, a cow’s heart and a six month old baby. Our interview coincided with the casting session for find the lucky young Muscovite who will, undoubtedly, not remember his or her theatrical debut.
DE I: Is the appearance of the child on stage the beginning?
R.C.: At that moment the play sort of explodes and the child is an Aristotelian ‘mimesis’. From the moment he appears, the usual theatrical rules don’t apply. The infant is not an actor; he is not capable of performing. But that very fact makes him an ‘artist’ of the highest order, an actor squared. At the same time, he is the perfect viewer; his sensations explode the play like a bomb.
DE I: And then what?
R.C.: Then a ‘mask’ appears and teaches the child the alphabet – the first law. The mask voices letters that are situated around a puddle of blood. In Italy the letters would be A, B, C, D which politically speaking would demarcate each piece of evidence found at the scene of a crime. Thus, at the scene of the crime, through blood, the child is subjected to the second law of the alphabet. For me language and the child are connected through the image of Law. It seems to me self-evident. The child, the mature man, and the old man are one and the same hero. The situation can get a bit chaotic, but that is necessary as my purpose is to take away a person’s the ability to orientate himself in space.
DE I: How did you select the plays for this tour?
R.C.: Tragedy is an aesthetic form which is created for the passions of the city and makes no sense at all to the country or village. Tragedy in nature has no point – it’s a poison which the city feeds off. ‘Tragedia Brussel’ is dedicated to all the cities of the world. The play develops around the most important thing which fills the city – the problems of justice, the transformation of law in a prejudiced society. I merely accompany the audience along the dark side of the law.
DE I: What do we find on the dark side?
R.C.: Violence. Without violence there is no tragedy, no history. Violence affecting law is the motor of history. In each tragedy, someone steps over justice, through the law, moves forward to a higher point and fails to notice how he is left in isolation, how people turn away from him. The law is always connected to silence and loneliness. Loneliness and silence are symbols of the tragedy of our time. I present on stage tablets with the Ten Commandments and present them from the other side. For that reason, the play is in two parts, the two sides of justice: black and white.
DE I: Why is loneliness a sign of our times?
R.C.: The existential aspect of tragedy is the cutting off of communication. Communication is the empire of the moment. So when communication breaks down, even there where a person is an ordinary member of the audience that is a real blow for one’s sense of reality. In life such a blow would lead to emptiness and a new way of assessing oneself, a new evaluation.
DE I: In tragedy does size matter? Is the dimension of the tragedy significant?
R.C.: Tragedy can appear everywhere, even in the parting of human cells. In such a case it would be a tragedy that is not only historical, not only archaeological. Tragedy determines our future. It is micro and macro. Because at no place or time can be rid ourselves of a feeling of guilt. Even if we are innocent bystanders. I try and temper the audience towards its own responsibility regarding what it is witnessing. And I am involved with tragedy because there is nothing more powerful or stranger than tragedy. It is an unconquerable format and it is impossible to simply ignore it.
DE I: In overcoming loneliness and tragedy, a person can choose two ways forward, dictatorship or sainthood; become either a protagonist or a victim…
R.C.: No. You are both a protagonist and a victim. Tragedy is always directed against a person, it is a rug which is constantly being pulled from under your feet. There is no place here for sadness – it’s an aesthetic thing. The unbelievable pressure of a space in which every step forward conceives only doubt. It is a biological process. And I avoid, edit out that state as it is important to deliver the full beauty and depth of the situation when the human soul is as fragile as glass. So I see the beauty of tragedy in its geometry.
DE I: If you had to write your own commandments what would they be?
R.C.: Unfortunately, a theatrical author often is led towards self-censorship. Dependent on substance, he holds back the core idea. For me art is the absence of substance. Open imagination allows anything to happen, forbidden or permitted. Art should be substanceless – substance, content is a false problem.
DE I: Do you think that an artist is not influenced by the spiritual values of his chosen faith?
R.C.: An artist needs freedom, but it’s wrong to confuse that with the obvious provocation created by someone who is consciously acting immorally.
When you position yourself against someone or something, you immediately become a part of another belief system. It’s difficult of course, but it you can stay somewhere in the middle, you can open up a huge ocean of imaginative possibilities.
I was born in a Catholic country. Aesthetically speaking that is very important for me. Our churches, even in the smallest towns, are full of images thanks to which much you can understand so much of what our world is about. That culture also arouses the imagination, and the church no longer is capable of keeping track of that.
Western theatre is not for God or gods. There’s no need to try and find anything mystical there or search for a new definition of humanity but you can find an idea of who we are. In tragedy there is no hope. There is only an exit point in a slightly elevated sense.
DE I: One other commandment :don’t belong to anyone…
R.C.: Yes, possibly.
DE I: But something of you has to be left behind, if nowhere else then at least in the theatre?
R.C.: What remains is the act, the gesture which remains in the audience’s imagination. Everything else dissipates. Theatre is a corporeal art, more about the ‘meat’ than any other similar to life. So much so that it changes life. And therefore it is the more important of the arts. It can change the master-plan of fate itself.
DE I: Art can alter fate. What is the common denominator between the people who come to your plays?
R.C.: Maybe it’s a bit like a tattoo that disappears in time and leaves no trace. Because the third commandment is ‘nothing remains’. As an actor or an artist I simply seize the moment, and when that moment cools off, it turns back to ice. And just as the ice melts, my tattoo disappears.
DE I: Robert Wilson also like freezing the moment.
R.C.: I don’t know Wilson well and I’m not ecstatic about what I’ve seen of his. His work is like graphic art and it doesn’t alter anything. Graphic art is formalism, but form is not. Form is living. Formalism is thought which becomes stone just like architecture or various design projects. It’s just very beautiful, safe and harmless. It has a calming effect. I can’t see myself in a safety zone.
DE I: Tragedy increases a sense of loss to a factor of three. How do your losses affect you?
R.C.: They nourish me. I am alive thanks to them but sometimes I can’t find the right images for them. For me tragedy is something cosmic. But tragedy disciplines you. It would be more correct to talk about ‘tragico’ and not tragedy. Tragico can be anywhere, in any play, even in a comedy, or in a painting. For example the most tragic artist I can think of it Mark Rothco
DE I: The success of the plays allows you re-evaluate yourself. Do you feel you are growing, or is the spectrum of feelings you have much broader?
R.C.: Of course, it’s much broader, but I haven’t been swallowed up by it yet. I’m much more worried about the position of the audience because often the artist is a coward.
DE I: Do you understand that you are a great artist?
R.C.: Yes, I understand.
DE I: Does that create pressure for you?
R.C.: It does. But you have to be brave.
DE I: Yet another commandment: don’t be afraid…
R.C.: Yes, don’t be afraid. The stage is like somewhere where an atomic explosion has taken place. The resulting radiation penetrates into your body, into your bones. And you carry around those traces for the rest of your life. Only art can justify the danger of your existence.
DE I: In the last while is there anything you can think of that made you laugh so much that you couldn’t stop?
R.C.: About ten days ago two idiots were fighting in the street, real retards. They were beating themselves with such a terrific frenzy that it was difficult not to burst out laughing. It was wonderful and I had tears pouring down my face…
© DE I / DESILLUSIONIST ¹-1. "Tragedy Tattoos"