It was a little more than a year ago that, while browsing the web for Shakespeariana, I chanced across a weblog post by Eoin Price at Aside Notes, telling about The Paper Stage, Canterbury’s public play reading group. I read the post, followed the link, read some more – and by then I was in love with the beauty and simplicity of the idea. People gathering to read aloud seldom performed plays? Wonderful! So I wrote a glowing post of my own on my English blog, and ended it by wishing very much I could do something like it…
And then Harry Newman, from The Paper Stage, wrote to me, saying basically: Why Not? And indeed, why not do it? Why not copy The Paper Stage in Mantua? So I got in touch with friends at the Accademia Teatrale Campogalliani, Mantua’s theatre school and semi-professional company. They fell in love with the idea as promptly as I had: in fact, we had been lamenting together the near-impossibility of staging anything that veers from the most widely known repertoire – and The Paper Stage offered a welcome chance to explore a little.
And so Il Palcoscenico di Carta (literally “the stage of paper”) was born. We put together a little website [translated here], presented the project at Campogalliani’s annual press conference, and set to work on it.
We felt that we had to make a few adjustments to adapt the project to our needs. Instead of integral readings in one sitting, we chose to split the plays into one-hour chunks, and to have weekly meetings late in the afternoon, rather than after dinner. After some searching, we found a home for the project at the lovely Libreria Einaudi, a bookshop cum art gallery, whose owners welcomed us with genuine enthusiasm. Finally, following the footsteps of The Paper Stage, we chose to begin with Romeo and Juliet – Romeo e Giulietta, in a beautiful translation by hermetic poet Salvatore Quasimodo.
With everything ready, we began recruiting – and on May 7 we gathered at the Libreria. There were about twenty of us, between readers and listeners. Readers ranged from semi-professionals to amateurs and theatre-lovers who had never played in their lives… What misgivings I might have had about rhythm, disappeared the moment we started. Led by the Campogalliani players, and swept up by Shakespeare and Quasimodo, we all fell in step with surprising ease, and had a lively and very enjoyable first reading. The experience was just as pleasant on the following two weeks, as we rotated parts and gathered more members of the audience…
In the end, when our imaginary curtain descended, the feedback was extremely positive. The actors enjoyed the chance to experiment with characters they’d never play otherwise, the neophytes had a taste of the thrill of theatre, the listeners discovered the difference between reading a play and listening to it… Everyone pronounced Il Palcoscenico di Carta a very rewarding experience, and expressed every intention to be there again when we meet next – very likely in September.
We have not yet decided on our next play, but requests are arriving from our readers and listeners. Marlowe, Jonson, Webster and some less known Shakespeare are on the wish list – and in time we mean to stray from the Elizabethan period. We will see, and we will read. Meanwhile, one thing is sure: The Paper Stage/Il Palcoscenico di Carta has landed in Mantua – and it is here to stay.