The dramaturge Eva-Maria Bertschy in conversation with director Simone Mannino and actor Jamel Madani

EMB When we started working on Prometeo, you told me about the idea of founding a Mediterranean ensemble in Palermo. You’ve been on the road a lot as a set designer, artist, director, all over Europe, in Turkey, in Russia, but this would be a project worth committing to in the city where you grew up. You want to build something here. How do you envisage that?

SM When Peter Brook founded the global Ensemble and the Centre international de Re- cherche théâtrale back then, he was in a crisis. He asked himself the question: Why theatre? So he set out on a two-year journey with an ensemble of actors from differ- ent cultures to explore this question and confront new forms of theatre. When they returned from the trip, they had used up all their money. Peter Brook and his wife then travelled to the USA, where they met a millionaire who gave them a few millions. They were thus able to build Le Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, in an old theatre à l’italienne that had been empty for years and was totally run down.

That’s about how I imagine it: the search is in the journey and the question is always the same. There are many unused theatres in Palermo that could be suitable. I already have my eye on one, of course. All I need now is to find a millionaire. (He laughs.) The question of financing is central of course. You can’t do anything without money. And in southern Italy, cultural subsidies are less generous than in Germany or France.

JM That’s exactly why you should consider whether you would perhaps prefer to found the Mediterranean ensemble in Tunisia. Tunis would be a good place for it. I’m not say- ing that because I grew up there and love this city. But because in Tunis you can do much more with little money. Everything is much more expensive here and people still earn very little. At the same time, Tunisia is one of the only countries in the Arab region where there is subsidised theatre and the government is actually interested in culture.

EMB Does the Mediterranean Ensemble need a location at all?

SM It doesn’t necessarily need a location. In my mind, however, it is important for it to be lo- cated somewhere. Palermo seems interesting to me because of its geographical loca- tion in the centre of the Mediterranean. And also because Sicily never really belonged to Europe and Tunisia was always closer than the north of Italy. At the centre of the Mediterranean ensemble, however, is not so much a place as an association of artists, i.e. actors from all the countries around the Mediterranean. “A strange sight, to scrape the seabed and see bodies raining down on you. I have seen millions of them, swimming over Tunis, Palermo, Alexandria, Marseille, Algiers, Athens, Beirut, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Tangier, Tripoli…”, says Prometheus in our play. It is a matter of developing a common theatrical language, and perhaps even a Mediterranean theatrical circuit.

EMB We took a first step with Prometeo by asking actors from Tunisia and Italy to participate.

SM Of course, that brings with it the very pragmatic difficulty that we have to communi- cate in one language in rehearsals. And then there is the question of which language we speak to the audience. We have only become accustomed to watching theatre from other linguistic areas since we started regularly using surtitles in the theatre. In “Prometeo”, the actors speak Italian and Arabic on stage. It wasn’t that complicated to find actors in Tunisia who also speak Italian. Tunisians have a lot more connections to Italy than you might think at first.

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