Theatre, Art and Mental Disease: a path through the magic world of theatre-therapy

March 2019, Rome. Founded in 1992 by the day-dreamer actor and director Dario D’Ambrosi, the one of the “Teatro Patologico” represents a unique and avant-gardist reality: aimed at fostering the meeting between art and psychic diseases, the Theatre imagined by D’Ambrosi considers the encouragement of the free expression of any kind of artistic impulse in people with physical and psychical disability, as the key ingredient of a therapeutic path founded on creativity, freedom of expression and art, in all its shades.

When the lights go down and the characters come alive, an intimate and surreal atmosphere diffuses on the stage of the Teatro Patologico of Rome: the scene slowly unveils and brings the audience into a new dimension, where the contours of appearance and reality become vague and unclear, normality reveals its craziest side and folly transforms into the vital sap of the energy that, engendered by the stage, warms up both actors and spectators.
As soon as the show begins, the sensation that pervades is the one of having been catapulted and immersed into a magic place, where the ropes of one’s soul inevitably weave together with the ones of strangers, into a powerful vortex of emotions, impossible to avoid; a place from which witnessing the mise-en-scene of the Truth, the representation of the human nature, with all its vulnerabilities and weaknesses. On this stage, the masks that Pirandello loved writing about fall, forcing us to lay bare our most authentic, sincere and instinctive emotions. A strong, energic union of fears, passions, empathy comes alive and accompanies us through a journey that will make us change.

The show I attend is “The Coat” by Gogol, directed by Francesco Giuffrè: the crazy actors perfectly convey the profoundness of the script; indeed, they manage to enrich each glance, each word, each gesture of an unparalleled and disarming intensity. No filters dividing me and each one of the souls which have found a new home on this stage, where they move as creatures into their natural habitat. Metaphor of such emotional, spiritual and intellectual unity is the warm, woody atmosphere of the theatre, where stage and parterre, actors and audience fuse together into one, continuous structure.

The psychic disease of the actors is the magical ingredient that causes the break of the false appearances that lead our lives: no trace on this stage of the pretence with which “normal people” dress up, consciously and unconsciously, to face life and to try and fit, like perfect pieces, the mortal puzzle of social conventions. Might sound like a paradox, but indeed it is the truth: in this theatre, the theatrical fiction is far more genuine than real life. On the stage of the Teatro Patologico, the actors bring themselves, along with their stories and their depth, with a genuinely brave and explosive sincerity.

The amazing reality created by D’Ambrosi is a happy ending story and, as such, full of obstacles and struggles. The main challenge of the director was to prove how a therapeutic path cannot reveal efficient, unless it is led by the aim of freeing the emotional richness of these people by the chains of prejudice and by the stigmas of the mental disease; a richness that in this theatre finds a new home, a place where discovering redemption, but also a place where re-discovering a lost sense of belonging, of gratification and satisfaction and the awareness of one’s own value and importance.

At this point, the successes of the Teatro Patologico are worldwide recognized.
In 2016, from the synergy between the Association Teatro Patologico and the University of Tor Vergata, the first academic course of formation of “Teatro Integrato dell’Emozione” was born. The project, supported by the MIUR as part of the academic initiative “ZeroIndiffernza”, is addressed to students with different kinds of physical and psychical disabilities and wants to train professional figures able to work in the show business at different levels (scene operators, set designer, actor etc.).
As a matter of fact, a very special and significant research project that will bring interesting results in the field of the neuropsychiatric rehabilitation, for what concerns the evaluation of the long-term effects of theatre-therapy on complex and severe disabilities.

The show ends, followed by the metaphorical representation of the explosion of a bomb, activated by one of the actors: while the audience is still clapping, the actors, together with the director and the scene operators suddenly lay on the ground, their hands covering their heads. Three, Two, One…BOOM!!! The bomb of the revolution explodes, mixing up points of view and absolute truths, and enlightening the audience with a new, powerful awareness: the one that, in the end, we are all a bit crazy. And that folly, on closer inspection, is just a matter of perspective.


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