Beyond the Fourth Wall

Theater.  It’s an elegant word, and an even more unique place. When we go, it’s a happening … an excuse to dress well and go out to dinner afterwards with someone special; a captivating space where the hard work of actors, set and costume designers, directors and stage hands converges to transport an audience to any place or any time without ever leaving the room.  

In short, theater is magic, which is exactly why I was so excited to meet Elena Bianchini, a young Florentine artisan and founder of  the in-house Costume and Set Design Atelier at Florence's iconic 17th Century Teatro della Pergola Opera House.     


Elena Bianchini in the wings of the main stage


Elena has already spent the better part of 10 years working in the theater world.  After completing her university studies in Art History, she felt compelled to recreate what she had spent so much time researching and began sculpting faces and bodies borrowed from the greatest masterpieces in Italian Renaissance art.  It wasn't long before her talent was noticed and she was commissioned to sculpt a series faces for a local adaptation of AntigoneThe rest is history ... Elena began working alongside some of the greatest names in the theater world.  

After recently creating the in-house Costume and Set Design atelier in Teatro della Pergola, Elena has transitioned into the driver's seat.  She provides creative direction to a team of seamstresses and craftsmen for operatic productions, incorporating her artistic perspective and penchant for in-depth research to recreate history. 

Teatro la Pergola - Set and Costume Design Studio

Teatro la Pergola - Set and Costume Design Studio

Her golden rule is simple: sustainable quality.  Her sculptures are made from paper mache, and it is not uncommon for her team to utilize household objects (even rags!!) to replicate 18th Century frocks.  The gem, though, is that unless she told you, you'd never be able to tell the difference.  For Elena, the quality of the final result is just as important as the sustainable means she uses to attain it. 

This practice fits into her larger philosophy to capture through her costume design a magical world that she experienced each Summer as a little girl: Sicily. She spent some evenings watching productions of Greek tragedies, and others observing Feast Day religious processions through the winding streets of Siracusa. Vivid colors and elaborate baroque details of saints and icons carried by worshipers were juxtaposed by Sicily's arid landscapes and the monochromatic dress of the elderly local women.   

The result is a manifestation of Elena's world, a place where common, everyday objects are transformed into the epitome of  elegance.  Baroque statues are stripped of their adornments and bare a minimalist expression that communicates boldly with any onlooker.  It's a magical world, befitting to transport any audience to any place, or any time. 

Teatro la Pergola - Set and Costume Design Studio

Teatro la Pergola - Set and Costume Design Studio

Teatro la Pergola - Set and Costume Design Studio

Teatro la Pergola - Set and Costume Design Studio

An Example of Elena's "essential" baroque sculptures.

Elena Bianchini consulting with a co-creator in Teatro la Pergola's Set and Costume Design Studio.

Marcello's Journey, Part 3 of 3

We've made it to the final installment of Marcello's Journey - an interview hosted by Professor Giovanni Fiorentino (Director of the Mediterranean Center of Environmental Education - CMEA) in which artisan and artist Marcello Aversa shares his story with us.  

Passion, courage, and conviction: signposts on the path that Marcello traveled to become the world renowned sculptor that he is today.  He was guided by his trust in nature and the beauty that humans are capable of creating when working in harmony with it.  

In Part 3, Marcello shares his vision for safeguarding a vibrant future for artisanship.  It's marked by openness and sharing.  It's guided by an appreciation for the very thing that surrounds us no matter where we are: nature

(CLICCA QUI per la versione in ITALIANO.)

CLICK HERE for full interview. 


Prof. Giovanni Fiorentino (GF):

What’s the timeline of your workflow?  Is it true that it echoes nature’s timing, like agrarian processes that coincided with the changing seasons?

Marcello Aversa (MA):

I need to take my time in order to be satisfied with my sculptures.  After shaping them, I dry them: each sculpture is covered with a glass dome that is gradually lifted over the course of a few days to ensure that the clay dries evenly without cracking.  I follow the progress of each sculpture for days, even months for more complicated pieces.  When it’s finally dry, I place the sculpture in an oven for a few days at a low temperature to avoid drying it out completely. When I open that oven, and everything went well, I’m compensated for the hard work and patience that went into it!

The same thing goes for farmers that don’t take shortcuts.  The Earth and its bounty articulate the rhythm of our lives.  At one time, we anxiously awaited the summer to eat a watermelon, the winter to eat tangerines, and the springtime to taste a cherry. The Neapolitan crèche even has 12 characters that represent the 12 months of the year.

Today, we are no longer forced to wait.  We can have what we want, when we want it, and we are convinced that this convenience does not have an impact on our happiness. Adults and children hurry to buy things that the globalized world imposes upon them; sometimes we have a hard time understanding if we really want these things, or if we want to emulate those who have them.  The funny thing is that, once we have them, we become their slaves rather than their masters.  Modern devices have improved our quality of life; but we risk losing many basic aspects of our culture like human interaction and storytelling.


You mentioned Peninsulart.  What is it? What are its goals?


Peninsulart is a cultural association open to everyone – especially to artisans.  Its goal is to pass on traditional artisanal crafts that risk extinction. 

All too often, petty motives like jealousy ensure that artisans’ tombs become the vault of their secrets.  In the past, this has led to the disappearance of many traditional crafts. Peninsulart’s goal is to turn the tide on this trend and create venues for sharing tricks of the trade with younger generations.

Sometimes, I feel discouraged when I see that young people are not exposed to artisanship so as to develop a passion for it; but when I see the excitement in the eyes of children that touch clay for the first time, hope is restored in me!

The situation that we find ourselves in is the fault of my own generation.  We conceived a world without points of reference that is increasingly selfish and inconsiderate, where everything is expected to be perfect, but without sacrifice; where employees are encouraged to seek hand-outs rather than hard work. . . the old-fashioned way.


How can we rectify the situation?


With new ideas. 

Once in the midst of a conversation about projects for local artisans, Mayor Cuomo (the Mayor of Sorrento) told me, “Marcello, we want to help you, but we need your ideas.” 

Alda Merini once said, “I love the simplicity that accompanies humility.” I truly appreciated the Mayor’s words, especially because it came from a politician that evidently appreciates the importance of being humble in order to solve a problem.

As adults we also need to hear ideas from young people. Francesco de Gregorio used to sing, “we are history.”  Better yet, we make history, and so will the young people.  My hope is that when this happens, they don’t make our same mistakes.  My dream is that future generations make history by working together to solve problems

To go back to our conversation about nature, lets hope that the younger generations love it as much as the Little Prince loved his planet, and that they take care of it just like he took care of his rose; lets hope that they maintain our culture and traditions. 

The Earth is the most beautiful gift we ever received.  She never betrayed us.  Lets not let her down, lets protect her for those that will come after us.  Lets live with her in the present, thinking about the future, never forgetting her past.  

Ph: Marcello Aversa

Translated by Salvatore Ambrosino

The Art of Appreciation

I've loved artisanship ever since I can remember - ceramics, leather goods, jewelry, clothing.  For me, it's so much more than the product itself; I’m passionate about the hands that give it form. It's an inspiration to learn about the artisan himself, his personal story, and the pearls of wisdom he invariably passes on. That's because artisans operate in a different sphere than the rest of us. In their world, passion and creativity replace meetings and monthly reports. Their work day is driven by the tradition of their craft and their talent for innovation.

For a long time I thought I was alone in my enthusiasm for artisanship... that is, until I met Gianluca Migliarotti, who opened an entire world to me through his work. 

An artist in his own right, Gianluca applied his background as a film maker to one of his greatest passions: Neapolitan tailoring. The fruit of this undertaking was a documentary entitled o' Mast, an immediate success among lovers of beauty, elegance, Italy, and Naples and just one among many visually stunning documentaries that he is famous for.

I've embedded the trailer below... it speaks for itself...  

I'm really excited to share more of his work with you. Keep an eye on FACEBOOK, where I will be posting 1 video a day for the next 5 days. It's the cheapest 5 minute trip you will ever have to the most beautiful corners of "il bel paese," a.k.a. Italia!!  

If you love this as much as I did, you can purchase the full-length documentary on iTunes HERE.