Meet Max Mazzotta: director, Actor, Screenwriter, Producer. The Story.

In Montalto Uffugo, a town in the province of Cosenza, a young man is about to make an important decision. He will sacrifice his jeans to buy a train ticket. Today this would seem unusual or irrelevant to many, once it was not.
We are in the ‘90s and the iconic Levi’s 501 are a fairly expensive trend.
Max has a pair that he has just bought but he sacrifices them for something that has a much greater value than just a piece of working clothes. He sells his jeans in exchange for a journey toward knowledge. More than for the realization of a dream he does it maybe for the satisfaction of a need.
“Si sente il bisogno di una propria evoluzione”(one feels the need for one’s own evolution …) This is how Franco Battiato sang in the ‘80s. And we are back in the tome, when he was a teenager, Max together with his other companions, foundes a theatrical troupe. Their first performance stages a work written, in Calabrian language, by one of his music professors.

The theater troupe is called “I Pagliacci”. The name is a tribute to the work of the Neapolitan composer and librettist Ruggero Leoncavallo who spent his adolescence in Montalto Uffugo.
The work “I Pagliacci”, which was the artist’s best known work, owes its inspiration to a real story witnessed by Leoncavallo himself in that locality. In Montalto Uffugo, the “I Pagliacci” troupe dedicates itself to performances in the Calabrian language and is active for three years until Max, almost twenty, feels that the time has come to evolve and draw on new sources of knowledge.

Southern Italy is renowned for the “passionality” of its people and Max has it all. Armed with strong determination, he is increasingly eager to learn and he is aware of the fact that he will have to work hard.
With the support by his family Max leaves for Milan where he looks for a job and while taking theater lessons.
The journey towards the realization of a dream is not always as beautiful as the dream.In Milan the climate is much colder than home and the lifestyle is completely different from that in Calabria.
These years see Max between Cosenza and Milan where Giorgio Gaber’s words clear the fog and make the path to follow increasingly clear to Max’s eyes. During a Summer in Cosenza, Max receives a job offer in Milan. Before leaving, he sells his Levi’s 501s to buy a train ticket. An emblematic gesture that I like to consider the seal of a passage, from the first to the second act of his career.
Later Max returned to the South to attend the Palmi Theater Academy and, at the end of the same year, the auditions at the Piccolo Teatro brought him again back to Milan where he began studying under the direction of Master Giorgio Strehler.

Max – I left my home at 19 to go to Milan.
I wanted to get out of Calabria to look for things that were not there in my house. Except the Palmi Theater Academy which in the nineties was an avant-garde academy.
I was lucky because studying there I had the chance to get good teachers who came from all over the world. –

Compared to the Palmi Academy, at the Piccolo Teatro everything is organized with greater rigor and the students wear uniforms but as soon Max makes friends the cold melts and he settles in.
In the”Milano da Bere” of the 90s, the Milan of PR and discos, Max studies acting, he learns dialects, and he studies dance and music.
He doesn’t go around the city much, this is not primary for him, he prefers to immerse himself totally in the world of theater and study until the diploma he will get in 1993.

When I write “immerse yourself in the world of theater” I don’t mean achieving fame or connecting with the entertainment industry.
By “immersion in the world of theater” I mean an opening to the knowledge of the many nuances of being. This includes opening up to philosophy, literature, poetry, music, dance and preparing to investigate, study, deepen and practice.

It is no coincidence that his curriculum is enriched with other important training experiences including participation in internships with industry professionals including the famous French mime Marcel Marceau and the Californian choreographer Carolyn Carlson.

Max makes his debut as a theater director with the opera “The Cat and the Fox” in 1995.
Subsequently he stages “Grotesque”, “Open Rehearsals”, “Madness”, “The Jew of Malta” and “Hamlet”.

In 1997 he makes his debut in the cinema directed by Marco Risi in the film “L’Ultimo Capodanno” (The Last New Year).
This is followed by other film and television experiences that see directed by directors such as Renato De Maria, Silvio Muccino, Mimmo Calopreste, Guido Chiesa, Gabriele Mainetti.

In 2013, ten years after the release of the film “Paz!” by Renato De Maria, in which Max plays Enrico Fiabeschi, Max publishes his first film as a director entitled “Fiabeschi Torna a Casa”(Fiabeschi goes back home). Film for which he writes the screenplay together with Giulia Steigerwalt and for which he writes and composes the soundtrack.

The film then gave rise to the live concert, “Torno a Casa”(I Go Back Home) that Max takes around Italy. A “Teatro Canzone” style show that includes excerpts from the movie. Music is another vehicle through which Max, together with his team, spreads culture.
This topic deserves a separate space which I hope will be an opportunity for another interview with Mazzotta as musician and producer.

His commitments in the field of cinema (last “Freaks Out” by Gabriele Mainetti, released last December) and television remain parallel to the theatrical activity that Max Mazzotta never stops.

Max Mazzotta was a pupil of Strehler, he is a theater and film actor; he is a musician and director of Libero Teatro, a theater company that operates at the University of Cosenza, toward the research and dissemination of our cultural heritage.
During a pleasant chat with the artist I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his career, about the Libero Teatro project and about the current situation of theater in Italy.
There have been no shortage of curiosities about Enrico Fiabeschi, the protagonist of his first movie.

PHOTO BY LIBERO TEATRO

LIBERO TEATRO BETS ON THE CREATIVE ENERGIES OF THE CALABRIAN AREA.

 When after the death of Strehler Max returned to Cosenza, as Enrico Fiabeschi would say for “a moment of intimate reconnection”, with the students of the University of Cosenza, he began a theatrical workshop that immediately gathers many and positive consents. Max says that
the workshop was born almost spontaneously, perhaps it was the right time and, from this moment on he began to operate by carrying out theatrical training projects and spreading the knowledge of theater in the broadest sense of the word.

Libero Teatro spreads culture, and, more importantly, it spreads culture starting from its own territory and in the territory. One of Libero Teatro’s missions is to educate about this form of art in order to make it understandable to everyone.
In fact, not everyone knows what really is theater. Therefore it can easily happen that the viewer confuses “spectacularity” with art.

The Libero Teatro’s productions are the result of an accurate and thorough work in the re-elaboration of classical scripts, such as Shakespeare, Brecht and Pirandello; and original ones written by Max himself, but they are also the result of an accurate and thorough translation of the texts in the Calabrian language, which is older than the Italian language.

This is an act of love by Max towards his own people and it is an act of love also towards the authors, especially foreign authors, who, being translated, are accessible to a wider range of spectators. Probably in this way they are even better understood due to the vastness of the nuances of the Calabrian language.
Promoting the dissemination of our language is a chance for our culture to survive the process of globalization; a way of preserving our cultural heritage. The first classic work that Max re-elaborates in the Calabrian language is “Menaechmi” by Plautus which he translates into “I Menecchimi”. With this piece Libero Teatro participates in an event on the concept of “Double” in the theater, presented in Calabria by the Piccolo Teatro of Milan. For the Piccolo Teatro Max directs “Visioni di Galileo”, based on “Life of Galileo” by B. Brecht, which he staged for two years with the Libero Teatro company together with some actors from the Piccolo, in the same Milanese theater.
If you are a lover of masks and comedy of art, you will certainly appreciate Max’s talent in the reworking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which he sees Giangurgolo’s mask as protagonist on stage with “Giangurgolo Prince of Denmark”. A show that particularly amuses the public, young and old, and the actors, so much so that it immediately becomes part of the repertoire.
Giangurgolo is a Calabrian mask halfway between a Zanni and a Captain, in some aspects, also close to the Neapolitan mask of Pulcinella.
Unfortunately, there is not much about Giangurgolo, only a few stories and a few sketches, but his character is known.
A search on the web in this case will not give all the answers. Beyond the academic studies that may exist in this regard, if you want to know more you must go to the place and, if you are lucky you can ask the old locals.

PHOTO BY LIBERO TEATRO

Max’s choice to invest Giangurgolo with the title of Prince of Denmark is guided by the parallelism that exists between Hamlet and the Calabrian mask. Giangurgolo, like Hamlet, is a coward even if, watching the show, you will certainly find Giangurgolo more funny. The work includes sung parts but it is not a musical. Music aside, to assist you live the feeling is that the entire show is completely invested with its own musicality on which the protagonist dances, masterfully interpreted by a woman and the actors are very close-knit.
The director’s work is an exceptional job. But how is Max Mazzotta as a director?

MM – I’m pretty stiff and as a director I follow Strelher’s line.
It is a question of roles. In theater, in-depth study and hard work are both required.
There is everything in a theatrical performance. There is music. Dance..-

Max’s study about Giangurgolo’s mask is not limited to the definition of a character and to the creation of a story but it is a research and a reconfirmation of his’s own cultural identity. It is no coincidence that he argues that many should experience the mask and know our masks because masks are the soul of what we already have inside even though we are unaware of it.
Another show of Libero Teatro repertoire is “Prove Aperte” (Open Rehearsals). On stage there are three actors and a magic square. About “Prove Aperte” Max explains:

MM – It is the show that represents us because it speaks of theater, of theater rehearsals.
In this show, the spectators laugh, they have fun but also they understand what theater really is. Many do not actually know what theater really is, they do not know how the rehearsals are, and they don’t know how things are handled … “Prove Aperte” is a moment of disclosure. –

Over the course of two decades Libero Teatro has produced more than thirty theatrical performances and it resists. This is a good sign, especially in the South of Italy. In fact, the Palmi Theater Academy, an academy that at the time was an important reference for the theater, on a national level, had a sad fate due to the interruption of the disbursement of funds from part of the Calabria Region and in 2009 it was closed.

MM – A lot of beautiful projects are born in Calabria which, unfortunately, fade after a certain time and cannot survive forever.-

If we add to this condition, which is familiar to the whole of Southern Italy, the difficulties of this historical moment, we realize that now, more than ever, cultural dissemination projects such as Libero Teatro are not only important but also fundamental for all of us.Unfortunately, the spread of talent shows, short online courses that issue certificates after a few weeks of attendance, and a number of other businesses have led to such superficiality that teaching has become cheap. Everyone becomes “experts actor ”after a workshop only while many who have skills and are talented do not work. Meanwhile, a global pseudo-culture continues to spread in which
as I was once told by a well-known Los Angeles lawyer “Art is not art if it is not business”.
In fact, the closure of theaters due to the pandemic was yet another blow inflicted on culture. I ask Max what he thinks about the closure of the theaters.

MM – With the right rules and greater organization, it could have been opened but given the obvious bad information and lack of organization, it is better to close so as not to make a mess. They should have acted differently, in football they have been able to organize in a certain way but
in the theater it is more complicated because you cannot do theater with a mask or rehearse in these conditions.
When there will be the conditions to work, we will work.
I’m not catastrophic and I think things can improve too. This for me is a moment of reflection, testing and study.
Otherwise I would die. I had things in the drawer that I didn’t have time to make. Now I can do them.
I rehearse for a monologue at a theater in my neighborhood. I prepare myself and try to take advantage of this time to find myself prepared when this confusion ends.
To deepen and study it takes time and dedication.-

PHOTO BY LIBERO TEATRO

While there are those, like Max, who spend this time dedicating themselves to their mission, there are those who, as we say in Napoli, take advantage of this situation making everything a business. Thus the network aims to solve the problem by proposing the possibility of doing theater online.

I wonder what sense it would make and it worries me. Max’s response is comforting and
he explains that it is not possible for this to happen precisely because of the very constitution of theater itself.

MM – That will never exist. It can never be.
I have rarely seen theater on television or, as at the time, on videotape, I remember something of De Filippo, Pirandello … Imagine online!

No, I don’t understand theater seen in this way. Theater is a unique alchemy that takes place at the same time as it is performed.-

Thanks to his determination and the partnership of various long and in-depth training experiences, through Libero Teatro Max he educates in theater which, beyond being a mere form of entertainment, is in fact the discovery of our inner world.
As such, theater is, due to its completeness, the only way for man’s evolution because it helps us to think. Thinking. An activity that, unfortunately is no longer “cool”.
At this point, if, as Luciano De Crescenzo says, life must be lived in width, I personally believe that theater must be lived in depth. The exciting thing is that there may not necessarily be a bottom.

Max Mazzotta Vs Enrico Fiabeschi.

“Fiabeschi Torna a Casa” is a comedy set in the imaginary village of Cuculicchio, where the slacker Enrico Fiabeschi returns after spending years off course at the University of Bologna, without having done anything, without a job and without his girlfriend.
In the small town of Cuculicchio, social life still takes place in the “piazza”(square) even if this is no longer experienced by teenagers as it was a few years ago.
The protagonist moves in this context in the succession of amusing anecdotes.
Max describes Enrico Fiabeschi as a real character who lives in a world that touches the surreal sphere.
I have watched the movie and I can assure you, however, that poetry is typical of these lands that offer characteristic pictures and authentic feelings such as the spontaneity and genuineness of the inhabitants, a unique thing, almost unknown overseas and Mazzotta is managed to pass it on deeply. In fact, you will notice that some scenes in the film are pure theatrical gags that sometimes exceed the limit of the camera. Fiabeschi himself sometimes oversteps the limit, talks to the video camera and is truly a character!
The poetry and that veil of surrealism that runs through the film brought me back to some scenes in Maurizio Nichetti’s “Ratataplan”. In the same way, it gave me the feeling of looking at reality from a fantastic filter, from a point of view that is a bit … “fairytale”, simply fantastic.

Photo by Cecilia Vaccari

IP – How is the Enrico Fiabeschi in “Enrico Fiabeschi Torna a Casa”? –

MM – I took the character of Fiabeschi (from Paz!. The movie) And I had to evolve it. It was a risky job because Fiabeschi by character, does not evolve. With these assumptions I had to imagine a Fiabeschi “10 years later.” So I had to create a context for it, from the village to the family and I put the things that are close to my heart, my Calabria, some situations in my country that maybe don’t want to say anything, don’t want to shock but have a poetic value. –

IP – Can you tell us how did you meet Enrico Fiabeschi? –

MM – I knew Fiabeschi by fame, I had read something but I had never concentrated on it. The official meeting took place thanks to Renato De Maria.
Renato De Maria had seen me in “L’Ultimo Capodanno” by Marco Risi and my name is for a television drama but he told me “I didn’t call you for this fiction but to give you a script for a movie”
So then I got to know better Andrea Pazienza’s work, which struck me a lot, and then I met Fiabeschi who is the part of us that will never grow up. Andrea’s characters are the evolution of his conscience. –

Someone remembered that one of the important themes for the Neapolitan actor Massimo Troisi was the language.
At the time he encountered many difficulties already from the first film “Ricomincio da Tre”
because it is in Neapolitan language. It is known Isabella Rossellini’s interview with the actor when she invites Massimo Troisi to speak in Italian. And here we are, in 2021 the languages of Southern Italy that are part of the collective heritage are still excluded from the means that should spread culture. Regarding the first movie, Max Mazzotta also had the same experience as Massimo Troisi. In fact when I asked him about his debut as a director Max replied:

MM – Unfortunately, movies like this do not have the impact that other movies have.
However, I was penalized by the fact that it is in Calabrian language and this thing did not pay off.That’s fine though because I did it more out of feeling. Cinema takes a lot of money.
I learn from the experience. I am learning many things about cinema slowly. Then there are those who are born already “learned” … –

IP – Is it possible that in the future another movie with Fiabeschi could be released? –

MM – If I had to do it I should think of an aged Fiabeschi …
How could it be? … It is a question of how he would observe and experience things. –

IP – Would you let Fiabeschi direct your film? –

MM – It would blow everything due to its character. He would get lost in his world.
Someone like him will never be lucky but he is always lucky.
If I make a film it is likely that Fiabeschi will enter it but not as a director. –

IP – If Mazzotta and Fiabeschi have dinner together, which of the two cooks? –

MM – If we had to go to dinner I would cook. I do not trust him. It would certainly be a disaster! –

 

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