The first time I got to Stromboli was in the early hours of a hot day in July 2015. I had spent the last two years listening to enthusiastic accounts of the daring adventure of organizing a nine-day run of theatre, art and dance without using any electricity and I was truly amazed.
The dream of every organizer of theatre events is to curate something different and unique and the idea of coordinating the organization of the Eco Logical Theatre Fest was quite enticing. The simple fact that the Fest didn’t go by the name of “festival” spoke volumes about the kind of experience that I was about to make.
I suspected that working on the Fest wouldn’t be like anything I had done before, so I took my time before accepting the offer to see with my own eyes what I was getting into.
My job started with an ‘investigative’ holiday. As soon as I set foot on Stromboli, after a nine-hour trip by ferry from Naples, the stunning view of the island with its wild beauty confirmed the challenges of dealing with such a peculiar space. Stromboli is a unique and fragile ecosystem that needs constant protection. This might prove difficult to manage when planning a full schedule of events concentrated in a single week. A challenge that no theoretical knowledge and no previous experience could prepare me to face.
Generally speaking, there are no rules to organize a festival, just precautions. Experience helps you prevent and guess what you’ll need to create a relaxed and safe environment. The ability to manage last-minute changes is a fundamental skill for people doing my job, and this is even more true on Stromboli where your coworkers – whom you need to trust – and the locals are the only people you can count on should you need any help.
I remember a year when one of the interns that we had trained in the previous months witnessed an eruption just a few moments before docking and asked me if we were truly about to get on an active volcano. That’s when I realized how hard it is to explain what it really means to work and live on the island. No matter how hard you try, people just need to work it out on their own and to find their own rhythm.
Thinking back to the organization of the Fest there’s not a start nor an ending: it’s like a constant flux of work spanning from 2013 to today. The Fest has grown so much in the past few years, as well as its ideas and the artists and the people joining it. There are some accounts from the first editions telling about events made to host 20 people.
This number has now increased up to 250/300 people. The core ideas and the concept behind our project are still the same. The island is not just a background but the protagonist of each event: it’s Stromboli who decided the how and when of our performances.
In May, I feel like a tour operator. I need to plan for the arrival and the accommodation of so many people coming from all over the world. The ferries from Naples are not travelling every day, so the events need to be scheduled according to this fact. If a guest coming from abroad misses their plane – and consequently the ferry and the train we have booked for them – then we need to reschedule their trip so that they can land at Catania and take a cab to Milazzo, which is two hours away.
This is actually an option and it really happened! I still remember how proud I was when I managed to solve the problem without panicking. It took me a lot of effort, but in the end our guest managed to get to the island: he was Bruce Myers.
Sometimes, even the shipping of a package might prove difficult, so each delivery needs to be scheduled at least a few weeks in advance. On the island there are areas where there’s no internet connection and no line. All it takes is some wild wind to prevent ships from docking. There are no buses, just Piaggio ape cars and electric cabs so you better get ready to run all across the island. More than once, we have been forced to ask some of the artists to bring us new cartridges for the printer, since they are impossible to be found on the island. The last people getting to Stromboli are usually charged with the task of bringing us some spare reams of paper. The event schedule should be defined up to a month before the actual beginning of the Fest so to have all our printed material ready on time, but we never succeed in the task and every year we end up bringing some paper with us.
Every year, organizing the Eco Logical Theater Fest reminds me that no matter how much time you spend on planning and scheduling, you will always end up making some last-minute changes so you need to be ready.
There’s no such a thing as the perfect schedule, just the beauty of what you let happen before your eyes, a mix of the brilliance of the performer and the benevolent or sometimes hostile attitude of nature towards the event. The beach who is supposed to host a performance can always be lost to a storm surge. This is why our daily meetings in the morning are focused on trying to account for any potential disruption.
The network of connections and collaborations that we built with the locals is precious and fundamental. The locals are truly invested in solving the issues we encounter and in making our ideas possible – opening us their homes and their gardens and providing us with all the necessary support.
Every time that I am working on another festival, I smile noticing the heels and the makeup I am wearing and the accurate way I’ve styled my hair. I think about the way me and my adventurous colleagues wander around the island wearing comfy clothes and casual flat shoes with our hair ruffled by the sea breeze. We work 18 hours straight and yet we are fueled by such an amazing energy. I often ask myself how this is possible, and I agree with the idea that the power of the volcano is somehow transferred into our work.
I have a ritual. Every morning at dawn I get to plunge into the sea. It’s my way of immerging myself into nature and releasing the stress. The beauty of Stromboli makes you forget all the strain of organizing ten days of events.
I am writing these few lines after a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to reschedule the 2020 edition to the following year. The nostalgia and the desire to come back to the island have been mitigated by the fact that I still went to Stromboli this summer for my first true holiday.
This year, I felt how strong is the link that bounds the Fest to this place. The locals and the people that have been following us for years and that still decided to come to the island told me as much. Every member of our team is essential for we have all gained this intimate knowledge of the place and we all have the right mind to face this adventure.
After years of organizing the Eco Logical Theater Fest, I can affirm that the only way theatre can happen in this place is with the actual presence of artists and audience, performing this ritual on the slopes of the volcano. Making it in any other way or in any other place would mean losing its true essence.
This is why we have never stopped: we are already working on the edition that I like to call “2020+1” because it is a follow-up of what we had already created for the past summer. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding us at this moment, but we are ready to recreate the magic.