The theatre company “Raffaello Sanzio” was formed in 1980 and officially founded in 1981 in the Italian city of Cesena by Claudia Castellucci (b. 1958), her brother Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960) and Chiara Guidi (b. 1960), together with Barbara Bertozzi, Letizia Biondi, Raffaele Wassen [Tamburini] and the production director Gabriele Gosti. Chiara’s brother Paolo Guidi (b. 1962) joined them the following year. Before the formation of the company, the four young artists had already taken their first steps in the theatrical world, with the formation of smaller groups, such as “Il Cantiere” (1977) and “Explò” (1978-1980).
The company was named after the great Renaissance painter Raphael. To evoke the framework of an artists’ guild, this appellation was expanded to “Società Raffaello Sanzio” in 1984. In 1990, the Latin term “Socìetas” replaced the Italian “Società” to denote expressly an affinity and union of individuals toward a common purpose.
An apartment in Rome hosted the group’s first staging, a performance
entitled Cenno [Nod, 1980], presented to an audience of a single spectator, the Italian theatre critic Giuseppe Bartolucci, who thereafter
became one of their warmest supporters. A number of experimental performances followed, including Diade incontro a Monade [Dyads versus Monads, 1981], Persia Mondo 1a1 [Persia-World all one, 1981], Popolo Zuppo [A drenched people, 1982], Maiali anziani e malandati [Pigs old and shabby, 1982] and the paradoxically idyllic I fuoriclasse della bontà [The champions of Goodness, 1983], which recounts a historical-artistic meeting between the famous medieval painter Cimabue and his student Giotto.
In parallel to theatre, the members of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio developed their work in other forms of the visual arts, including short films, such as Assassinax and L’Istmo di Chiara [The isthmus of Chiara] (both 1981), Humana Pongo [Human plasticine, 1982] and the award-winning Romolo und Remo (1984). Showings of these artistic endeavours were held at various exhibitions as, for instance, Mostra di oggetti [Exhibition of objects, Rome, 1983] and Video Sound Art (Cesena, 1984), where the visual installation, Tappeto maior [Major carpet], was presented as a performance.
Moreover, the company sought to create new modes of expression beyond those traditionally found in dramatic art. For instance, they organized a series of rhetoric actions, the so-called oratorie (starting from 1983). These oratories functioned as abrupt interventions, frequently in non-theatrical spaces, during which a polemic text was declaimed in front of an audience demanding a level of “Ciceronian rhetoric”. Furthermore they attempted to replace dramatic speech with an invented elliptical language, the lingua generalissima. This linguistic system, created by Claudia Castellucci, was structured hierarchically in four levels, whereby a set of eight hundred senses are reduced to four terms: agone, apotema, meteora, blok. The lingua generalissima was incorporated in productions such as Kaputt Nekropolis (1984) and Interferon (1984).
The production Santa Sofia. Teatro Khmer [Saint Sophia. Khmer Theatre, 1986] marks an elemental and creative phase of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio that still reverberates in their productions today. Through an explosive text on iconoclasia, the famous manifesto of Claudia Castellucci, the company declared a “holy war” against fake images. Other performances developing this idea, include the Miserabili [The Miserables, 1987], in which the audience watched a standing herald who remained motionless and speechless throughout the duration of the show. Here the concept of speech reduced to silence and immobility is further explored and elaborated.
The end of the 1980s signals another creative phase, as the company
turned toward archetypal myths of non-western provenance, the element of initiation and rituality, as well as towards a strong presence
of animals on stage. Performances during this period include the trilogy Il gran reame della adolescenza [The great kingdom of adolescence, 1988], performed in three levels: under, on and above the earth, the pastoral-lyrical play Alla bellezza tanto antica [In praise of such ancient beauty, 1988], the impressive La discesa di Inanna [The descent of Inanna, 1989] which brought animals in the forefront of the stage and Gilgamesh (1990), a ritual performance which evoked the Mysteries of Eleusis, the celebrated religious rites of ancient Greece, and particularly the notion of εποπτεία (epopteia). In the same circle belong Iside e Osiride [Isis and Osiris, 1990] and the unicum Ahura Mazda (1991). The last of these was staged in an old technical school that later became the Comandini theatre. The teatro Comandini remains the permanent workspace of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio.
Also during this time, the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio expanded their activities to children’s theatre. Their most important contributions in this domain include Le favole di Esopo [Aesop’s fables, 1992], where some three hundred animals take over the Comandini theatre, Hänsel e Gretel (1993), set in a 200m labyrinth resembling the human digestive tract; and the highly successful Buchettino [Little Tom Thumb, 1995], where fifty very young spectators listen to the story of Tom Thumb tucked in bed under blankets, inside a small wooden house. The company’s engagement with children’s theatre will continue in the next decades, with several more productions.
The year 1992 constitutes an important landmark, as the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio decides to measure itself against the great dramatic tradition of Europe, by staging Amleto. La veemente esteriorità della morte di un mollusco [Hamlet. The vehement exteriority of a mollusc’s
death], a groundbreaking performance in which the main character was presented as an autistic child in a one-man-show by the actor Paolo Tonti. Framed in a closed circuit consisting of battery devices, electrical turbines, compressors and children’s toys, Hamlet-Oratio creates a hyper-icon of theatrical mimesis, setting the performer and his actions in the very centre of the stage.
The question of the actor’s passive activity will preoccupy the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio also in the next performance, Masoch. I trionfi del teatro come potenza passiva, colpa e sconfitta [Masoch. The triumphs of theatre as a passive, guilty and hidden power, 1993]. Here the theatrical stage becomes a place of passivity, where the game played by the actor is that of the theatrical double between acting and being the recipient of the action.
In the next production of the company Lucifero. Quanto più una parola è vecchia tanto più va a fondo [Lucifer. The older the word the deeper it goes, 1993], based on a polymorphic text by Claudia Castellucci, the “angel of theatre” explores the notion of fall and creation through interrogative speech.
There follows, in 1995, the performance of Orestea (una commedia organica?) [Oresteia (an organic comedy?)], in which uncommon figures, animals, weird and defamiliarising scenes break with any pre-existing conception of tragedy. This production is not just a radical representation of Aeschylus’ tragedy, but also a deep reflection on the notion and the essence of theatre itself, concerning the role of the text, the presence of the actor, the function of animals and the notion of tragic and of tragedy as a literary genre. Thanks to this monstrous masterpiece, the company became more widely known in the international stage. The production of Orestea toured widely in Europe and the Americas until 1999 and won the “Masque d’Or” award in 1996 as the best foreign performance of the year in Montreal, Canada. During the international tour, one of the four founding members, Paolo Guidi, left the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio.
The company’s next enterprise was a return to Shakespeare, with the Ubu prize winning performance Giulio Cesare [Julius Caesar, 1997]. The characters of the play were embodied by uncommon figures, wandering in a world laid waste by the emptiness of political speech. Amongst them, the mysterious Mr. …vski, evoking the father of modern dramatic art Constantin Stanislavski, the silent and aged Julius Caesar, the masterly orator Mark Anthony, played by an actor who has undergone tracheotomy, Brutus and Cassius, two anorexic ossified girls tottering between life and death. Through the means of technology, the spectators, as if peeking through a keyhole, delve into the corporeal interior of these actors, in order to discover the production mechanism of the human voice and speech through the rhetoric of bodies, which becomes the sole vector of true discourse.
From the end of the 80s and throughout the next two decades, in parallel with dramatic performances, the members of the company engaged in diverse creative activities. These include Claudia Castellucci’s Scuola della Discesa Teatrale [School of Theatrical Descent, 1988-1995] and Stoa: Scuola di movimento fisico e filosofico di Cesena [Stoa: School of Physical Movement and Philosophy of Cesena, 2002-2008], both studying movement and philosophy, Chiara Guidi’s award-winning (Ubu special prize) Scuola Sperimentale di Teatro Infantile [Experimental School of Children’s Theatre, 1995-1998], which presented her work on experimental children’s theatre, Romeo Castellucci’s film creations, such as the award-winning Brentano (1995), as well as the organization of a variety of public celebrations and festivals, such as the Festa Plebea [Folk Festival, 1994] which took place as a protest to censorship.
At the turn of the millennium, the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio approached themes relating to the creation or the end of the world. Genesi. From the museum of sleep (1999) –a triptych inspired by the Bible– encompassed both theological references, among which the fratricide story of Cain and Abel, as well as contemporary historical events, such as the discovery of radium and the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. Introducing Genesis on the theatrical stage, the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio bring the sacred words to a profane, transcendental space, out of the world, forgotten by God, away from the sacredness of the divine speech and the images it conveys. In this performance the fundamental contradiction of the human condition is stressed: on the one hand generation and creation, and on the other genocide and destruction.
As an experiment with sound and its possibilities, the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio presented the concert Voyage au bout de la nuit (1999), based on the novel by Louis Ferdinand Céline, where the deconstruction of language involved elements of sound and rhythm, noises and phonetic inventions. Subsequently the performance Il Combattimento (2000), from Montevedi's eighth book of madrigals, explored the sources of Western Opera.
For the next three years, the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio dedicated itself to the Tragedia Endogonidia [Endogonidic Tragedy, 2002-2004], a large-scale dramatic composition, consisting of eleven episodes each set in a different European city: Cesena, Avignon, Berlin, Brussels, Bergen, Paris, Rome, London, Strasbourg, Marseilles and back to Cesena. The Tragedia Endogonidia did not constitute either a set of shows neither or a full size production that moved from city to city. It was more of an organism in constant progress, following different trajectories. Therefore, the local character of the episodes was evident, since each episode was addressed mainly to the community of the specific city, where presented.
This gigantic overview of tragedy in Western reality stopped at some of the main cities in Europe which have become the focus of drama. Important sites of civic history and expectation, areas which carry a certain character, sites that generate an atmosphere, are the requirements of today’s tragedy. Subsequently, the theoretical question that the work asks is how tragedy might be reborn and represented for the contemporary spectator. The episodes of the Tragedia Endogonidia are intermingled with sixteen Crescite, i.e.“knee plays”, οf individual elements of the whole cycle.
In 2006 Claudia Castellucci, Romeo Castellucci and Chiara Guidi chose to follow separate artistic ways.
Eleni Papalexiou & Avra Xepapadakou