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    Maltese text available  


The Empty Maltese Stage


  towards a socio-educational theare  





ďIn order for something of quality to take place, an empty space has to be created. An empty space makes it possible for  new phenomena to come to life for anything that touches on content, meaning, expression, language, and music can exist only if the experience is fresh and new.
However no fresh and new experience is possible if there isnít a pure, virgin space ready to receive it

Peter Brook





In this impenetrable void on the Maltese stage, this emptiness disguised by hotchpotch efforts, sometimes mediocre, sometimes ragtag and rarely worth much, what does emerge is the total lack of genuine structured endeavours to bring to fruition Maltese drama.

When there are people who do not believe that Maltese theatre deserves to be saved (assuming that such a theatre does in fact still exist), if there are those for whom theatre is but a hobby, or, worse still, a part-time job, or if there are those who have plenty of energy to spend on theatre, but prefer to apply this energy on endeavours whose glitter and glory is guaranteed, either because these happen to be imported endeavours, or because they rely on comedy, or perhaps because it can rely on an abundant juvenile, student population which guarantees an audience... one sometimes has to come to the conclusion that those who do work in the theatre as an art form, are indeed few and far between. When there are these people do not have a single artistic spark to motivate them...

One cannot fathom how these people who claim dedication to the art of theatre, they then end up seeking gratification for this "art" within projects which shed neither honour on those who put them much less on those who attend.

Is it possible all we care for is to strut in public view, to make the extra pound or two? Could it be possible we have lost so completely our self respect?

Let us accept if we must that the situation is what it is, that there is no one left to accept the challenge of working in the true Maltese theatre; let us accept that after all in spite of the fact that nowadays there many new opportunities and bigger temptation for actors, producers and even writers, they prefer to indulge in the mediocrity and commercialisation of television outlets which have spawned in the past few years. Let us accept and admit all this.

Does this mean then that there is no one left willing to accept the responsibility and decide once and for all to do something about our theatre? Is there no up to the task? 

The finger often gets pointed at the Manoel Theatre. I do not know exactly how the Manoel theatre does or does not function, whether they have or have not the funds to cultivate a Maltese Theatre. Or if there is, or there has ever been, someone who came up with a new play program. This I know not. There is a lot I do not know about the Manoel Theatre.

Neither, for example, do I know whatever became of the script I sent some five years ago together with an application to put on (out of my own funding) the only winning play in the first Francis Ebejer Competition. (Il-Belliegħa fil-Bir). I do not know if they ever bothered to answer...  I do know I never received a reply. Ever.

The finger also points at the thousands of liri spent on opera. It's been said we have a theatre of a "tourist" leaning  (be this a condemnation or a justification of our theatre?) How true this is I do not know. I do not know how much this smacks of elitism or of opportunism. It is easy for many to lecture, pose, gossip and pontificate about what is and what should be a national theatre.

Another thing I do not know about the management of the Manoel Theatre is how they expect writers to offer their work for some play-reading activity when they contend that "Maltese writing for the theatre is bad literature, supported by friends of friends". I do know if such a pronouncement was aimed at all writing in Maltese or if whoever spouted it had in mind to make any exceptions to this general condemnation.

Well so, now what then?

Give up on the Manoel?

Ok so, if the Manoel is out of question, who can do something about this state of affairs?

When will this be done?

And  should someone try to, should all hell break lose,as it invariably does?

In any case, the impression I get is that the Manoel Theatre is happy with their production status quo (as far as it pertains to Maltese theatre), or perhaps, that if they are not that happy, they have no idea about what could be done to improve it.

I also get the impression that whoever would like to do something, try something new and find other ways to tackle the problem, is of the opinion that the Manoel, out of the thousands of liri it is funded. could afford to put aside a pound or two more towards the Maltese Stage. Not surprisingly the Manoel Theatre begs to differ...

A possible solution might come from the Department of Culture by figuring out if there is any way to spread out its budget further to encompass more its support for new Maltese plays. The solution, toothless and overplayed, of organising a playwriting competition every couple of years appears to be just a smokescreen disguising in fact how little is in fact being done.

Perhaps it might be worth mentioning at this juncture that the launch of a playwriting competition is but a beginning of a process which aims to produce new writing for the stage. The real work of the competition has to start after the plays are read and prizes awarded (or not) for the scripts. One finds it hard to believe that apparently no one has ever heard of a play development program. Much less of dramaturgy (in the professional sense of the word) whose aim is to help nurture new writers, new productions. But dramaturgy is probably truly another unknown realm and,  one forgets, we do happen to be in the realm of pomp and circumstance, after which the curtain comes down not to be opened again for a repeat performance until some two seasons later perhaps.

Is there a point in trying to raise the awareness of those who work within the scope of the local stage, and of those whose job it is to see that this scope be no longer ignored as it has always been? This writer doubts it very much. The funds will keep on being channelled the way they have always been, those who have administered them (or have had them administered) will keep on so doing, those who close one eye on the process, will keep on so closing, and those who delight in seeing the Maltese artiste ignored and vilified will keep on seeking their jollies through the imported foreign talent.

Just as long as it is not local.

Well, there is only so much heat one can take. On times like this it is better to leave it all behind, take a walk down by the Sliema Chalet and infiltrate the foreign talent parade we import each year on our shores. In seasons like this, the catch is always abundant and well worth delighting in. And to reciprocate and offer them delight (so they might return next year) one can be sure we can always find something to offer them for entertainment. For which purpose one can of course do without the Maltese stage.


Everything is possible, but you must
 find your own way 


                                                                                                          (OC - August, 2002)          



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