8 April 2011
Author: Augusto Corrieri
This is a 1920 postcard of a theatre in Munich, known as the Cuvilliés, or the Residenztheater, built in 1753.
In 1944 Munich was suffering heavy bombing by the allied forces. Fearing for the destruction of the theatre and its lavish rococo décor,
the city councillors decided to dismantle and hide its whole interior outside of Munich. On the 18th of March 1944, only six weeks after the Cuvilliés was successfully concealed, the site of the theatre was indeed bombed, but by that point it was merely an empty shell. After the war, the different parts of the interior décor were recovered and meticulously reassembled, enabling the theatre to reopen its doors in 1958. This is a postcard of the Cuvilliés as it stands today.
In Milan in 1998, just as I was beginning to plan what I might do after the end of high school, on the advice of a teacher I went to see a Checkov play performed by the graduating actors of a prestigious acting academy, Il Piccolo Teatro.
The theatre (and plays in particular) had always been an alien experience to me, something enforced through compulsory school visits to this or that "important" production, normally of a text by Goldoni or similar, most of which I have since forgotten.
I remember this particular show, however, due to an anomaly: there were far more graduating actors than there were characters in the play. In order to get round the problem of there not being enough roles, every 20 minutes or so a known character would re-enter the stage, wearing the same costume as before, but played by an entirely new actor. This kept happening throughout the performance, which gradually accumulated uncountable new bodies and faces. Each time a new actor appeared I experienced a sense of complete bafflement and wonder at observing this strange passage and transformation. By the end I believe each character had been played by at least three different actors.
What made the transformations strange or uncanny was the fact that the rest of the audience did not react to them in the slightest: spectators seemed to accept this convention without hesitation, aware of the twofold necessity of giving “stage time” to all the graduating actors and of allowing the fictional narrative to unfold “as if” uninterrupted.
I never quite managed to ignore or see past the repeated transformations of the characters’ bodies and voices. What stayed with me as I left the theatre was just how much an audience can collectively and silently choose to disregard what is most obviously taking place before them, simply in order that it may continue.
Strange pact of silence. A kind of self-taught deception, a real-time amnesia.