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"Il-Festa bil-Bandieri"
The first play  put on by the Manoel Theatre  Management Committee in the 2003-2004 season as part of its new Maltese original drama program



Elsa Romei, Roberta Curmi and
Mark Spiteri 

Photos
Mario Mintoff/O Calleja.
Poster above: O Calleja.


Flying the flag of Maltese Theatre
Revamping and harrumphing this historical  year of our lives.



The end of the 2003-2004 theatrical season
could have been a watershed year. After the bangs and thunder of the past two years or so during which there was much ado about... nobody seems to acknowledge exactly what, there seemed to have been achieved a  groundbreaking (sic) compromise as to what could possibly formalise the concept as to what our national theatre season could be like. After a lot of chest-beating and harrumphing, a modicum of reason seemed to have won the day; between October of 2002 and end of the 2002-2003 season anybody who scanned our papers and other multifarious media would have been hard-pressed not to have been duly informed by the Manoel Theatre that it was in fact re-thinking its commitment to local drama (i.e. original drama in the local vernacular) and would henceforth be promoting, subsiding, funding and bolstering the medium to the tune of two original new productions per season. No effort was spared to publicize the fact. And true to their word, our National did in fact live up to this commitment. Myself being the first one to have benefited from this "innovation", I have first hand knowledge as to how we lived (or survived) this experience. But that's another story.


From "Il-Festa bil-Bandieri"
Roberta Curmi


 

Early assessment - or post-mortem?

End of May saw another commendable decision taken by the Manoel Theatre management to  try to do an early assessment (not a post-mortem, one hopes) as to what has in fact been achieved this past season and what could be improved. One must point out that those who like me attended  the debate were hardly numerous. Perhaps the inappropriateness of  advertising  the event as a reassement of "LoggiaPalk" put a lot of us off the scent. LoggiaPalk (a horse of a totally different colour) was not responsible for the new Manoel Theatre policy regarding original Maltese  drama; nor was it responsible, (as advertised) to put on the plays of Ebejer, yours truly, Anthony Portelli and Joe Friggieri during the past two seasons. (This year, as far as I am aware, LoggiaPalk's and its euphemistically-referred-to-as play readings were essentially absent.)

The two and a half hour meeting did not in fact even mention LoggiaPalk at all. Instead the debate ran more or less on, once again, why Maltese drama does not seem to top anybody's agenda. (barring that of  some playwrights).  Two topics seem to me to have been worth lingering on: a, the initial comment by Alfred  Buttigieg (new to Manoel Theatre management) concerning the necessity of better marketing Maltese plays, and, b, the appropriateness or not of channeling some effort, and I assume funding, towards resuscitating the practically extinct art  of radioplay broadcasting (championed by Tony Cassar Darien).

Marketing, a non-issue

Alas, the debate about marketing did not seem to  mature much. I believe it was by far the most obvious point to develop, but once I brought up for consideration the specific funding and expertise needed to accomplish this, a stone wall seemed to arise and  block further discussion. Instead it was dropped back into the laps of the hapless actors, producers, authors, et al  who were told (more or less) they should skip to it and go out there and drag people in to see their plays...  The concept of a professional (like?) approach and appropriate  funding was dropped like a veritable hot-potato.

Someday, someone will have the guts to take this particular bull by the horns. It is lamentable that after the brouhaha about proclaiming to all and sundry what the Manoel theatre intended to do with its new play program this season, when it came to actually launch the event, there was dead silence. The launching and presentation of the 2003-2004 season skimmed over, avoided, neglected and generally ignored the momentous, sic, occasion. Same goes for when the plays were actually going into production. Marketing indeed.

Educating the masses... with radio plays?

Instead attention was turned to the suggestion (albeit with equal short shrift) that one should perhaps reconsider the resuscitation of radio plays. All this in the name of the grand crusade "to enhance the value of the Maltese spoken language now so bastardized by the local media" (my quotes - but one gets the gist). Myself a product of the radio play culture of the fifties and sixties I more than appreciate the value of this medium. I truly love it. Yet I believe it would be a grave mistake not to recognize the signs of the times. If radio plays have been dropped from local media it is for a good reason. The now limited and fragmented audience of our radio stations  makes them "profitable" no longer. Gone are the thousands and thousands of listeners of the golden years of Rediffusion. And if some fifty years of radio play listening leave us today still decrying the fact we need to "educate" (how I hate that word) the Maltese people to love (sic) their native  language, I do not see how putting on a couple more plays in the present media-barraged environment is going to "educate" anybody.

This red-herring must die. Be done with. Scavenging even one-pennies worth from the often lamentable poor funding of the live-staging of new  Maltese plays would be a crime. Put that money into marketing, rather.

Persevere we must

Alas, our cultural cringe syndrome persists. But one must persevere. The "new" Manoel theatre policy regarding Maltese drama has survived one year. Let's not start dragging our feet already. Focus on the marketing. Drop dead weights like the Francis Ebejer Competition. The king is dead. Accept it. Focus on strategy on how to garnish the effort of new playwrights. Seek new blood. Proclaiming "we need a new Francis Ebejer" with one breathe and claiming "Maltese theatre does not need prophets (viz: writers)" with the next, is a reflection of the utter chaos and insincerity which still prevails.
Yes, the 2003-2004 season just might have been a watershed year for European Malta. But, would anybody have been any wiser in the theatre?
s
t

                                                                                                                                                           June 2004
 

INIDIĊI TA' L-ARKIVJU

Θ 
MANIFEST '72
 
Θ
  THE NEED OF A
     CONTEMPORARY THEATRE 

Θ   ANSEJT U ANESTESIJA

Θ   LIVING  OFF-OFF MANOEL

Θ   F'DAN IL-BAĦĦ

Θ  THEATRICAL COLONIAL
     TIME WARPS


Θ  DEAD PLAYWRIGHTS
     REVISITED


Θ  WHITEWASHING
    THE MANOEL


Θ  GĦAX HEMM PALK MALTI

Θ  THE CULTURAL CRINGE

Θ  KWISTJONI TA'
    MASTURBAZZJONI

Θ  FLYINGTHE FLAG

Θ  GĦAŻLA ĠENETIKA

Θ  DWAR IL-PALK MALTI 
     LLUM

 


Joe Cortis and Mark Spiteri
Joe Cortis - Mark Spiteri

 


Francesca Vincenti -Mark Spiteri.

 

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