A Model for Magic in a Small Community
My second time participating in FOF (Figura Offida Festival) in Offida, Italy, I came to understand it even better as a beautiful model of an event to bring a community together. My friends Remo di Filippo (who grew up in Offida) and Rhoda Lopez wanted to bring their vast world of experience as international marionette performers back to their town, so three years ago, they started this street theater festival.
Laid out long before right angles were considered essential, Offida, Italy, in the wine grape and olive tree covered hills of the Marché region, is a small medieval city populated by many families here for generations. Way of life is steeped in roles according to gender and the church.
Today, a few buildings are off limits, others have wood supports, some decorative, others strictly utilitarian, since the earthquake last year. A number of tourists do visit Offida for the exquisite medieval architecture as well as the tradition of Merletto – tombolo lace, a delicate and complex style of lace making passed down for generations, now dying out as the youngsters do not have the interest or patience to learn.
FOF Edition 2016 was canceled due to the earthquake which caused numerous deaths and injuries and destroyed several ancient towns in the region, occurring two days before the festival. This year, we drove on a small cross country highway through one of these towns, now abandoned and totally barricaded off with chainlink fence. The cost to repair these buildings, many which have stood for at least five centuries, must be immense.
But, what I want to focus on is the power and beauty of bringing the magic of street theater to a small and remote town. In 2015, I was invited to bring a show to perform, but this year, I was invited to build giant puppets for something new for the festival – a parade in celebration of life. Workshops for the children of four nearby smaller towns which received much more earthquake damage than Offida also involved them in the festival, building puppets and paper lanterns for the parade. I planned workshops, although was unable to present them due to a (VERY) surprise notification shortly before the festival started from my doctor at home that test results had shown positive for tuberculosis – so I could not get on a plane until specific requirements were met. I was quarantined eight days, missed the festival, and had to stay in Italy an additional week (went to Florence for six days after I got out – not so bad). I was very sad to not get to work with the children
myself, but the workshops were a success, and I worked on reading, writing and yet more Italian language immersion until I got out of quarantine.
BUT, building the puppets before the festival was so wonderful. I worked in my friends’ laborotorio on the narrow, cobbled main street, Corso Serpente Aureo (Street of the Golden Serpent – symbol of the town). Using recycled cardboard, bicycle inner tubes, and cane poles cut in a friend’s garden, locals and tourists alike stopped in to see the progress. Locals’ anticipation of the festival was clear, and adults and children dropped by various recycled materials for puppet making.
And this year, the festival was attended by 10,000 people – huge growth over 2015!
So, this is what I see as the essential ingredients for success:
1. Do it out of love – for the community, and the arts. Out of a true belief that the arts are important and contribute to quality of life.
2. Involve community members on many levels. People feel invested when there is a way for them to help on any level at all, at any age! From volunteering in puppet building, gathering recycled materials, being allowed access to watch parts grow, to meet visiting artists, involvement feeds everyone’s desire, and work, for success!
3. Make it unique. Use unorthodox spaces. Understand that unique does not mean expensive – use what is already there in a unique way. FOF places performances in stairways and corners of the city that naturally lend themselves as an audience space.