The Venice Biennale has been for over 120 years, one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Established in 1895, the Biennale is held in the magical city of Venice every two years, and attracts over half a million visitors from around the world.
As well as the more well-known Biennale Arte, showcasing contemporary art from around the world , there is also Biennale Danza (Dance), Biennale Musica (Music) and Biennale Teatro (Theatre). I caught up with the recently appointed dramaturge-in-residence for Biennale Teatro, Federico Bellini, and started by asking how he got the job!
Federico: It’s quite strange! I had been working as the dramaturge for Antonio Latella’s theatre company, based in northern Italy, and Antonio had just been appointed director of Theatre Biennale; he then asked me to join him for this four-year appointment. I think this is the first time that Biennale has had a dramaturge… it’s quite strange for Italian culture and an Italian institute to do this!
I think I also understand why Federico says it’s “quite strange” he got the position; for most theatre companies it’s often seen as a luxury to have a dramaturge on staff, even though the role is actually really important. Typically, a dramaturge is like a kind of “literary editor”, who liaises with authors and edits texts. The role is particularly relevant when the company is presenting a new work by a contemporary author. I was interested to better understand Federico’s role at Biennale Teatro.
Federico: In Italy, often the dramaturge is the playwright, but in Germany, for example, the role is quite different. Often they are not directly attached the to the text, so they can support the playwright and director in developing the scripts. In the case of Biennale Teatro, Antonio and I collaborated on selecting the featured directors and their plays, and I have been checking the texts.
In preparing for my interview with Federico, Biennale’s publicist had sent me a Press Release by Antonio Latella about his vision for Biennale Teatro: “Watching a play is not enough, we cannot simply showcase the productions, we must try to showcase the directors and their works. For this reason, within the boundaries of our possibilities, for each guest director, we are trying to create a small “personal exhibition” that can bring us closer to the different creative worlds of each artist. For my first Biennale Teatro, we open our doors and give the entry pass to women directors… ladies first!”
“WHAAAT?” I yelped out. Were my new reading glasses playing tricks on me? Was I reading this Press Release correctly: a focus on female directors? It’s been a common discussion in theatre and film circles in recent years about the lack of pay equity for women within the arts, and the dearth of female directors. What a pleasant surprise to find this amazing opportunity for female theatre directors!
Federico: (laughing at my shocked reaction!) Yes, the focus will be on European theatre, seen through the works of nine women directors from Italy, Germany, France, Poland, Holland and Estonia, most of them around 40 years old, with a consolidated artistic career.
While women make up the majority of drama students and typically theatre-goers, recent research in various parts of the world has found that the percentages of female playwrights, directors and even actors on stage are far less than their male counterparts. Whilst I am still in two minds about “quotas”, like Shakespeare, I am a firm believer in theatre’s ability to hold a mirror up to nature. Theatre companies, especially those that receive public funding, have a duty to represent us all. As I say ciao to Federico, and exit the Biennale offices, I pause for a moment to take in the beauty of the glistening Grand Canal. There can no doubt that international gatherings of creativity, like Venice Biennale, makes us move forward as a society.
If you would like to know more about the Venice Biennale go to labiennale.org