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Happy days coming our way!

This year’s edition of the summer event will kick off with a week dedicated to theatre workshops and performances. As festival frenzy starts making itself felt, Ramona Depares finds out more from artistic director Mario Frendo

The late Samuel Beckett has an important association with Malta.The late Samuel Beckett has an important association with Malta.

The coming month has only one meaning for those who love the performing arts… the Malta Arts Festival.

Efforts were rewarded when, last year, the UK Sunday Times listed the Malta Arts Festival as one of the best 10 festivals in Europe

And this year the summer event, organised by the Malta Council for Culture and Arts, comes with a new addition.

It is Theatre Week, a series of workshops, work demonstrations and seminars intended to complement performances scheduled for the main programme.

Artistic director Mario Frendo explained that the idea was born after the previous editions’ one-off workshops proved to be highly popular.

“We discussed and developed the idea in collaboration with the directors of two theatre ensembles, the Welsh Llanarth Group and the Danish Odin Teatret, who will be taking part in this year’s edition of the festival,” he said.

“Phillip Zarrilli and Eugenio Barba are both key players in the contemporary theatre scene and for Malta’s Theatre Week they will be conducting workshops and demonstrations together with their actors.”

The two directors will frame their involvement around projects their ensembles are currently working on, which they will be presenting in Malta.

Odin Teatret will perform their latest collaborative work, The Chronic Life, a very strong theatre piece that reflects the huge experience these actors have accumulated over the 50 years they have been working together as a collective.

“Their director, Eugenio Barba, will discuss issues related to contemporary dramaturgy in a two-session work demonstration with actress Julia Varley,” Mr Frendo said.

“Their presentation will refer to the dramaturgical process of a new performance that the two are currently working on and that has not yet been performed anywhere.

“This will take the form of a work-in-progress where participants can follow dramaturgical work by a director and an actress.”

The Llanarth Group will focus on their award-winning Beckett Project, which includes Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days and 4 Shorts.

Mr Frendo explained that the decision to focus on Beckett was taken for two reasons.

“Beckett has an important association with Malta,” he said.

“He wrote his celebrated Not I, which will be performed during the festival, after seeing Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John.

“But there’s another reason. Beckett is considered by actors worldwide as one of the most difficult playwrights to perform.

“Even the most seasoned actors consider him an enormous challenge. We wanted to demystify the myth.”

During Theatre Week, director Zarrilli will be tackling this issue from two angles.

Firstly, in a six-session workshop, by focusing on embodiment and the work of the actor, a technique that is fast gaining currency with professional actors and schools.

The director will also be leading a one-day symposium entitled Performing Beckett for which he will be joined by several prominent names in order to investigate the theme from a theoretical and practical perspective.

“The main idea is to develop awareness about what goes on in the creation of theatre performance and the techniques adopted by actors and directors who are operating professionally in theatre arts,” Mr Frendo said.

The workshops are open to all those who are interested in the performing arts; attendees can choose to be full participants or simple observers.

The work demonstration and the symposium are best suited for those who seek to know more about the creative dimension of theatre.

Due to the high profile of the speakers, the events are expected to attract considerable interest even from foreign students and the plan is for similar activity to be further developed in future editions of the festival.

Mr Frendo added that the Malta Arts Festival has been laying the groundwork for this satellite event to take off for these past years – practically ever since together with Davinia Galea, he set up the first edition of the festival in 2006.

This year will be the seventh edition and Mr Frendo looked forward to continue witnessing its growth. Of course, the whole event has evolved considerably since those early days.

“From the very first edition, the aim was always to create a high-quality festival through a coherent and consistent concentration of artistic events that would help place Malta on the European culture map,” he said.

“Thanks to lots of teamwork and the commitment of the MCCA, today the festival offers a unique platform for artistic expression in Malta.”

These efforts were rewarded when, last year, the UK Sunday Times listed the Malta Arts Festival as one of the best 10 festivals in Europe.

“International recognition is very welcome because it helps gauge our efforts with other realities within the same area,” Mr Frendo said.

About the current artistic landscape in Malta, he added that he found himself intrigued by the way younger artists are looking at how to maintain their authenticity while operating in a global environment.

“For decades, Malta was developing in a pseudo identity that was literally inventing a fake Maltese culture,” he said.

“This fabricated identity made culture synonymous only with dgħajjes, pal tal-bajtar, bigilla and ġbejniet.

“Things are now changing and artists are looking for an honest authenticity and the Malta Arts Festival supports this attitude.”

Malta has come a long way when it comes to the arts, Mr Frendo noted. However, he added that there remained a lot to be done.

“We still lack a proper concert hall and a Modern and Contemporary Art space,” he said.

“These are very basic essentials found in any European city.

“Having said that, especially in view of the possibility that Valletta becomes the European Capital of Culture when Malta hosts the event in 2018, we are certainly on the right track.”

• Theatre Week is being held between July 1 and 9. Early reservations are recommended: for more information and registration e-mail Marilu Vella on [email protected]. For a full programme of workshops and festival events visit www.maltaartsfestival.org.

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