“ARCH-Archival Research and Cultural Heritage: The Theatre Archive of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio” is a research project which runs in Italy, Greece and other European countries. It aims to conduct primary research in the field of theatre genetics and cultural documentation, focusing on the artistic work of the Italian theatre company Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio.
The story so far
The ARCH project emerged in three phases. The first of these was “Archivio”, a two-year initiative under Dr Eleni Papalexiou and Dr Avra Xepapadakou, made possible by the endorsement and financial resources of the University of Crete, and supported by a team of undergraduate students in theatre studies. In the first months of 2012 this small research team began their collaboration with Claudia Castellucci and the other members of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio. By the close of 2013, they had completed the classification of a considerable part of the company’s source materials.
The second phase (2014-2015) marked the development of a research proposal submitted within the framework of the European Union-funded action “Aristeia II”, under the acronym A.R.C.H. An international scholarly committee evaluated this proposal and selected it for funding at the start of 2014. Hosted by the University of Athens (academic supervisor: Professor Anna Tabaki), the ARCH project was then implemented by a research team of twenty four participants. The team comprised lecturers, researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, from across various academic institutions. Experts in the fields of archival and library sciences, informatics, communication, visual design and audio-visual arts assisted them as external collaborators.
Today, the ARCH team remains active and productive and continues its documentation work under the auspices of the University of the Peloponnese. The Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, the internationally acclaimed theatre company, stands at the heart of this undertaking.
The members of the group, Claudia Castellucci, Romeo Castellucci and Chiara Guidi still continue their artistic activity in over 55 countries. Romeo Castellucci, especially, has been recognized worldwide as one of the leading directors of our times, and has earned several major distinctions for his diverse work.
He was recently named Director of the Year 2014 by the prestigious German Opernwelt magazine for his production of Orpheus and Eurydice, staged at the Festival of Vienna. He has also received the Golden Lion in Venice for his work in 2013, and was awarded an honorary PhD (honoris causa) by the University of Bologna in 2014.
The processing of the SRS Archive
Research on the artistic oeuvre of the company is oriented along two axes: comprehensive study and analysis of invaluable primary materials, and the organizational tasks required for the documentation, digitization and diffusion of those materials.
The archive is kept at the Italian city of Cesena, at the Comandini Theatre, where the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio is based. This archive testifies to the artistic activity of the theatre group from its establishment in the 80s until today: hundreds of boxes hold the history of contemporary theatre in the form of scenarios, academic texts, posters, notebooks, programs, calendars, correspondence, photos, videos and publications.
200,000 items have already been classified, recorded and digitized thanks to the work of the ARCH research team. Recently, as a result of the intensive and thorough documentation work, the Italian ministry of Culture declared the theatre archive of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio to be of “major historical interest and importance”. Its valuable contents document the work of one of the most important theatre groups of the international avant-garde. [Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo, Soprintendenza Archivista dell’Emilia-Romagna, Ref.n. 2152-24.08.2015]. The Italian press has extolled the national importance of the archive of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio in many news publications and has highlighted the valuable work of the ARCH research team.
Other events and projects
Apart from its successful enterprise of archiving and documentation, the members of the ARCH team have been invited as speakers and presented their research work in international conferences, such as Tracing Creation: Genetics, Genes, and Genealogies of Performance, Antwerp, 2016; Percursos de genética teatral : esboços, (re)escritas e transmodalização(ções) dramática(s), Lisbon, 2015;
Processus de création et archives du spectacle vivant : manque de traces ou risque d’inflation mémorielle ?, Rennes, 2014; La quinta parete nel teatro di Romeo Castellucci, Bologna, 2014. They have also participated in international academic meetings and have given lectures at various institutions, such as the California State University-Sacramento, Stanford University, University of Leeds, Université Rennes II. Much of their work has been published in international volumes, proceedings and journals.
Moreover, the ARCH team has for the past year organized important cultural events, among which stand out: the “Rhythmical Exercises of Athens”, a workshop by Claudia Castellucci held last year at The Isadora & Raymond Duncan Dance Research Center (2014); the “Tribute to Romeo Castellucci”, together with a public meeting/conversation with the director, co-organized by the Athens Festival (2015); the workshop and lecture by Chiara Guidi entitled “Between Childhood and Human Voice. You poor actor”, focusing on children’s theatre (Athens, 2015); and, finally, the lecture of Sophie Lucet of the Université Rennes II “Recording the creative process in the digital era: la Fabrique du Spectacle” (Nafplion, 2015).
Have you –during the course of your project– discovered any new “method” of archiving theatre performances? (apart from the ones already known)…
When we first started we realized that Claudia Castellucci, the director of the archive, had already applied a personal archiving system. So her “method” constituted for us a solid base on which we built our archiving plan. We have maintained her classification system and we have respected a large part of her personal vision regarding the history of the artistic œuvre of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, introducing at the same time a scientific methodology. However, the work and the documentation methodology of the archivist differs from the point of view of the artist: the latter considers the archival material his/her own creation and handles it in a selective and subjective manner, while the archivist has a holistic approach according to which all the documents are treated without distinction of value or importance.
Another particularity of the archive lays to its own nature: this is not a historical archive which remains unaffected by the artistic creation. We have developed a methodology focusing on the fact that the archive is alive and evolving. In every single of our visits at the theatre Comandini we find with astonishment numerous new impressive artistic items!
So today the archive of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio is already a historical reality but beyond, as it recounts some of the history of contemporary theater, it is in fact looking to the future. The Italian Ministry of Culture declared recently that the archive of the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio was of international interest and of major historical importance.
How come that you developed a Greek-Italian cooperation? Is the Socìetas your personal research focus?
Our involvement with Romeo Castellucci and the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio started in the mid-nineties in Paris: Eleni Papalexiou, first as a spectator and shortly afterwards as a Ph.D. student, experienced with astonishment their unique stage creations and became a regular. After her thesis, in which a chapter was dedicated to Castellucci’s Orestea, a masterpiece of 1995, her research developed in-situ, by visiting Cesena and working at the Teatro Comandini for her book Romeo Castellucci | Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio: When the words turn into matter (Athens: Plethron, 2009).
Regarding the relation between Greece and Italy, we’d like to point out that all three artists, Romeo Castellucci, Claudia Castellucci and Chiara Guidi have always admired and honoured Greek culture. Their artistic references to Greek thought run through their entire creation, while strong intellectual and emotional bonds connect them with ancient and modern Greece. They have spoken many times with great enthusiasm and high appreciation of the fact that a Greek team works in Italy being in charge of the “titanic” project of the processing of their archive. Citing Romeo’s own words:
It is very important to me, and of major significance, that ARCH was a research project born in Greece. It constitutes the highest honour, if not an ideal, for me, to be under its auspices. And correspondingly, my connection to Greece was ideal, its civilization has always been for me a source of inexhaustible inspiration. I would even dare to say, I believe I am a Greek.
I guess you had to spend long periods of time in Italy to carry out the project?
A large part of the archival research takes place in situ, in Cesena. We organize two or three field-trips each year, and we work along with our team for about 15-20 days each time.