Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy the Theater: Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome

the banner reads "How sad it is to be prudent - from
the theater workers" - the quote is from Argentinian
playright Rafael Spregelburd, and has become
a motto of the movement

Occupied space is a relatively current protest phenomenon starting on Wall Street this Fall. But for Romans, occupied space has been for decades a way of combining political statement with cultural events. The latest and most potent occupied space in Rome is Teatro Valle Occupato – the “occupied” 300+ year-old theater, Teatro Valle, just down the block from the large church, San Andrea della Valle, in the middle of what was ancient Rome.
Theater people – actors, musicians, technicians and their supporters – began occupying Teatro Valle in June when the government slashed support to cultural institutions and put the historic theater up for sale. Since then, tens if not hundreds of leading figures in the arts have spoken and performed there (e.g. Nanni Morretti – the Palme d’Or winning Italian director, and Stefano Bollani, one of the country’s top jazz pianists, playright Dario Fo, Italy's all-time top-selling novelist Andrea Camilleri). Self-management has resulted in daily programming of high quality, seminars, lectures, even guided tours.

Mamet was first performed in Rome here
We asked our Roman friends how the occupation can continue. Why doesn’t the government simply shut off the water and lights? Aren’t there safety issues? The answer seems to be that some levels of government (and the safety inspectors who apparently do come and inspect) are complicit. And thousands of people have been to the theater for something at sometime.  In other words, it's beloved.  The government is faced with an unpopular showdown if it tries to close “il Valle” (“the Valley”), as it’s often referred to. Hm, sounds a bit familiar just now.

Jazz musicians at il Valle

For anyone in Rome or going to Rome, perhaps even the first time, we recommend a stop at Teatro Valle, which seems to be open 24/7, and definitely a performance if your timing is right.  And look for the book launch of the Italian translation of David Foster Wallace's posthumous (and incomplete) The Pale King soon at il Valle.

For more information, Teatro Valle’s website has some information in English (click on the British flag), including an October article in London’s The Guardian. There’s a lot more information in Italian that you can access using an online translator.

Until recently, to us in the U.S., the notion of an occupied space has been, well, foreign. When we’ve tried to explain to our American friends that many cultural events in Rome take place in occupied spaces, they just don’t understand it. But there they are. Many last a few months, some for decades. In the latter camp are Forte Prenestino and Angelo Mai (both featured in Rome the Second Time). And some evolve – through much work on the part of their supporters – into government-recognized and often supported spaces, such as Casa Internazionale delle Donne, International Women’s House (also in RST). 

Some see Teatro Valle Occupato as distinct from these other occupied spaces.  The ones we mentioned started as social centers, they say.  The Valley started as a distinct protest.  We're not sure that distinction is so clear.  The Casa Internazionale delle Donne had protest beginnings as well.  In any event, are there models here for us in the normally more-law-abiding US, whose cultural budgets seem to be getting similarly gored?


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