There are several reasons why it is worthwhile to examine the rehearsals of Armando Punzo and Compagnia della Fortezza, who in Spring 2012 worked on Mercuzio non vuole morire [Mercutio does not want to die] in Volterra, Italy. I will list the main three and discuss them briefly by way of introduction: (i) Compagnia is one of the earliest theatre ensembles established in a prison; (ii), the Mercutio project is a grand-scale production involving not only inmates, but also the inhabitants of Volterra and nearby towns; and (iii), Punzo is renowned for his approach to rehearsal as an open process that takes place collaboratively through shared exploration of sources and the development of individual participants’ potential.
Punzo established Compagnia della Fortezza in the male prison in Volterra in 1988, leading the company with the support of Carte Blanche Association, which he founded in 1987. Since 1997, he has been artistic director of the Festival VolterraTeatro (with Roberto Bacci as artistic co-director until 2000). Since 1998 he has also been artistic director of Teatro San Pietro di Volterra. Over the years, Punzo has staged several productions with Compagnia, winning prestigious awards such as the European Prize for New Theatrical Realities (for Jean Genet’s The Blacks, in 1996), ex aequo with Théâtre de Complicité, and Premio UBU (for Punzo as the best director of the year) for Alice nel paese delle meraviglie—Saggio sulla fine di una civiltà (a show based on Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in 2010). In recent years, Punzo has been campaigning to establish a permanent company in the prison of Volterra. The Mercutio project promotes this idea, since the work it generates is inherently linked to the region and its inhabitants.
The Mercutio Project involves elements of theatre, street performance, happenings, interventions and live music. Punzo’s first study on Mercutio premiered during the Festival VolterraTeatro in July 2011; an extended [End Page 548] version of that initial performance took place in July 2012. It is common for Punzo to develop productions over a long rehearsal period and to present works in progress as part of VolterraTeatro. In these ongoing and developmental processes and outcomes, the director explores multiple texts and themes, approaching theatre as a means of discovery, whilst attempting to instigate transformations in both space and spectators.
Punzo claims that since we all know the story of Romeo and Juliet, its mere repetition will not bring about any change. Instead he offers to focus on Mercutio. In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Mercutio is a supporting character—a friend, a brother, a kinsman. He also dies early. In fact, as Punzo argues, even before the duel that finally kills Mercutio, it is evident that he cannot live. When Romeo reproaches him after the Queen Mab speech, “Thou talk’st of nothing” (1.4), Mercutio is revealed to be too much of a visionary. As a poet and a theatre artist, he is akin to Shakespeare himself. For Punzo, Mercutio embodies lightness—that is defined as a principle of great literature in Italo Calvino’s American Lessons (1988). Since, according to the director, Mercutio’s death marks the beginning of destruction in Shakespeare’s play, sparing this protagonist would mean saving both poetry and theatre. However, this can only happen if the director is able to find friends for the protagonist and reimagine the beautiful Verona as the beautiful Volterra. Finding theatrical means to solve these problems was the main goal of Punzo’s rehearsals during the Spring of 2012.
My observations of Punzo’s rehearsal...