Albacete, 1405 km from Turin – 6th, 7th, 8th May
The hotel and the school The road to Albacete is very nice. The weather is sunny and cloudy. Through the window we can see fields, meadows and rock hills. We cannot find the hotel. We were given the address, but it must be wrong. We drive around for a while, but the only place that we can find is a day care centre for homeless people. There is no shadow of hotel. In Albacete, we are guests at the boarding school “La Paz”, in collaboration with the Universidad popular de Albacete, run by Ricardo Beléndez, situated within the city’s House of Culture. The Albergue Municipal is a day care centre for homeless people, for families waiting for a housing project and for men and women addicted to alcohol and drugs. Into the centre, it is forbidden to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs. The hotel has five floors, each of them giving hospitality to people with different situations. At 8.30 pm the centre closes. Just after the entrance, there are a metal detector, two security guards, some security cabinets and a coffee vending machine. After 10.00 pm nobody can leave his or her floor, or the alarm system will ring. The rooms have no door lock and there are no electric sockets. In the morning, wake-up time is 8.00 for everybody. This is also a place of rebirth: if you do not know where to go, you can come here. In Spanish, “albergue” means “place of shelter”. It is here that we are going to eat and sleep tonight.
Workshop in Colegio La Paz
“What’s the most important place in your district, for you?” “School!”, answers immediately Juan, a fifteen-year-old boy, showing his smile below his black eyes. I wonder what would have answered a boy of the same age living in Turin. Juan is a big and pleasant-gazed gypsy. “Because it’s here that we build our future! We learn here! …and there’s a lot of girls!”. Mrs. Rosa is the headmistress of Juan’s boarding school, “La Paz”. The school is situated in the most difficult district of the whole city: La Milagrosa, the district of miracles. Once, here it was necessary to frisk the students, one could not walk alone and the teachers were always threatened. For some years, the school has been adopting an experimental education method: a more active participation of the students’ families. And the results are extraordinary. There is a car, out of the school, upon whose dashboard someone wrote “Nobody can judge me, apart from God”. A nice sentence, a sentence to remember. Here we met Juan and his school friends: in all, two classes of the institute. What strikes us is the noise coming from everywhere: people shouting, hands clapping, doors slamming. There is a great energy with bots and children of all ages. We wonder how we will manage to put 20 boys in one room to do acting. It is going to be very, very difficult if we want to reach the results that we expected or that we planned before meeting the group. We will have to use our listening skills. The two classes are mixed classes: boys and girls of different ages from 10 to 15 years old. It is self-evident that they do not like listening to someone talking. We cannot explain an exercise for more than one minute, or they will start dancing their flamenco -a very popular version- and we will lose them. So we decide to show the theatre. We do not explain exercises, we just show them, going on stage ourselves first. And the silence comes. They are charmed by how we handle an invisible ball, we make it grow out of all proportions, communicate its weight by bending our knees, transform it in an umbrella or a flower. The exercise goes on by itself: the imaginary ball goes from hand to hand, turns into something else, creates connections. Right then, we make our question: “What’s the most important place in your district?” The school, the street market, the square. All places of rebirth, places where the futures are planned, where people meet and make exchanges. The crisis here is lived in a different way. “For me, it is like having nothing that is worth living for”, says Lorena, a mother in the district.
In the evening, the small square is crowded with families, those of the gypsies in the district of Milagrosa and those of the neighbouring districts. It is a good mix. The kids are in the front row. There are the families met the day before and the boys and girls of the school. Juan smiles at us from behind a tree. This show is a very particular experience: moments of absolute silence alternate with moments of excited involvement. If something falls down from the stage, it is immediately grabbed. The scene of the flying newspapers becomes a party for the kids, that rush to take the paper balls and play in front of the stage. The women are very attentive. In the end, a storm of applause. Three really intense days.
What we take with us (Fabrizio and Federica, actors)
The strong, gritty gaze of a woman of Milagrosa, with her little daughter sitting next to her, that identifies herself in the character of Erika. Gypsy kids that, during the show, came and said hello to us, asking Federica whether she was really pregnant or not. Albacete was the place of disorientation. A cold shower, sudden and unexpected. This small town puts us in crisis, because you can touch and see the crisis here. A crisis much more important than the economic one, the bank one. A crisis that has maybe always existed: the crisis of poverty, of exclusion, of the hard issue of coexistence between different ethnic and cultural realities. What we take with us from Albacete is the effort to establish a connection with thirteen-year-old agitated kids that seem more cunning than us, thirty-year-old men. Strong and intense eyes and very, very much noise. The noise of young voices, shouts and singing on flamenco rhythms that suddenly outburst by hand clapping, while we are proposing an acting exercise. We also take with us some of their gazes and laughs of the next evening when, at the end of the show, they were in the front row and called us by our names.
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