Interview with the winner-Sergio Casesi

The Italian language award of the 2018 edition of Carlo Annoni Playwriting Prize was won by Sergio Casesi, award-winning dramatist and musician in Milan, with his play Zeus in Texas.

Sergio Casesi has been first Trumpet at the Orchestra Regionale Lombarda, I Pomeriggi Musicali in Milan since 1999.

His numerous awards include the first prize in the competition “Anime Nude” at the Teatro dell’Orologio in 2012, with the staging of the one-act play Traditori, the “Premio per la nuova drammaturgia” of the Teatro la Pergola in Florence in 2015, and the important Cendic Prize in 2017 with #AnAmericanDream.

He worked as a dramaturgy tutor for the Biennale di Venezia, for three years, as part of Biennale College.

What do people not understand about diversity and so why is so important to dedicate a playwriting prize on this matter?

The diversity’s issue is a central theme of our time. Diversity is declined in different ways and for different worlds, but it always concerns the relationship between the individual and society, between the individual and the masses. The care of diversity in love and in general in the private sphere, sexuality but also politics, or the ideal, spiritual and creative sphere, is maybe the most urgent because crucial for the daily lives of millions of people. We often see, in the Western world, legislation chasing society and in countries like Hungary, Poland or Russia (we see) a return to the dogma of hate and violence. In the world there are powers that play with people’s lives and it is the duty of all free people, including writers and artists, to tell, denounce and fight for the right to live unhomologated, unconstrained and untrammelled. The battle for civil rights is then one of the battles for human freedom and, unlike older battles that were won but then lost along the way, we hope it can contribute to the progress of all humanity in a lasting and certain way.

The Carlo Annoni Playwriting Prize is necessary for all of this, as are the thoughts and words of all of those who are fighting and fought. Thanks to the Carlo Annoni Prize, which has become an indispensable international event, more and more people get in touch with the themes of diversity and are forced to come to terms with themselves, their habits, their fears and their truths. Young people and families, audience and artists, opinion and politics. I strongly believe in creativity as a fundamental element for the affirmation of rights.

Can you tell me an anecdote about your victory?

An anecdote… i found out that Carlo Annoni was originally from Agliate, a small Town in Brianza on the banks of the Lambro. Small town that i’m fonded with because my partner’s family still leaves there and, coincidentally, near the Annoni’s home. So, by chance, there was a trace in my experience with that of Carlo, at the center the wonderful romanesque Church of Agliate. I organised with the members of the Prize a concert for Carlo Annoni in the Basilica itself, with musician friends bonded in some way to that extraordinary place. It was a beautiful, rare and valuable moment.

What has your victory of the Carlo Annoni Prize meant to you?

The Carlo Annoni Prize has meant a lot to me. I received the evaluation of great professionals, of great artists. This is important when you give your maximum, when you try to write and live in the same way.

Can you give any advice on how to write a play to the dramatists?

I was lucky to work as a dramaturgy tutor at the Biennale di Venezia for three years. And I met many young people from many parts of the world. I learned a lot from many of them. But I see two very common evils in the approach to writing that I, at least I hope, believe I have always rejected. First, the fear of conflict. Dramaturgy is conflict. It is not to be avoided, on the contrary. It is necessary to always investigate it in depth, without succumbing to fear. To understand that imagined conflict what it means for us and why. Secondly, and maybe even worse, I have noticed the tendency of many to refer to pre-existing models, even fundamental ones. But this needs to be clarified. Never write in the way of Titius or Caius. Never ever want to write someone else’s text. If we are lucky, we will be original, otherwise the internalised models will still be visible in the filigree. But I often see a really thorny flattening, humiliating i would say. To write, you have to use your own blood, your own smile and your own pain. Your own experiences and dreams. You have to overcome the fear of living. You have to challenge yourself, knowing you can fail. Talking to scriptwriters or authors, but also to music composers, I have found myself discussing choices based on other works, other writings, other people’s ideas. No, this is wrong. Also ethically. It is vulgar and sterile. We may fail, make mistakes, not succeed. But it will be us. And perhaps, with confidence and strength, we will be able to write something valuable instead, as long as we use what we are and what we have in our veins. And not other suggestions and literary infatuations.

What do you expect from the future after this global situation that we are living?

I don’t know what to expect from the future. It seems to me that theatre, like music and artistic knowledge in general, matters little. We are in a period of the technical society in which economy is the moral horizon to which every man must tend. It seems that the theatre, that for millennia has been the place of secular and civil reflection, no longer has an authentic role. And if it is true that the narcissism of many authors and artists is guilty, at this point I do not feel like blaming us workers in the performing arts. It seems that society, and in particular politics and the media, also because of increasing problems in a context that is indeed only economic, do not care about the future of culture or even the future of actors, set designers, directors, skilled workers and musicians. I feel exiled from the perimeter of what is important, of what is vital. Yet I have always written, and played my instrument in the orchestra, believing I was doing something important, indispensable, for everyone. I don’t know if I am wrong now or was wrong before. But I don’t know what will happen in the future. I have no elements to understand if we are in a phase that will be resolved or if the fate of artists is marked, at least for many years. Theatre is not entertainment, which is important and that we miss, and it is a job for many professionals. But theatre is a manifestation of collective consciousness, it is a shared and free moment. And I do not want to imagine a society in which technology can dispose of everyone’s life without a place where this same life can be staged to search for its meaning, if there ever was any, and anyway its continuous recomposition over the time.

Interview with the winner-Mark Erson

Mark Erson won the English language award on the first edition of Carlo Annoni Playwriting Prize, in 2018, with his play Mark in Venice. Here is an interview with the author.

What do people not understand about diversity and so why is so important to dedicate a playwriting prize on this matter?

While there are many contests for playwrights to enter, we do not always know how gay-centered stories/scripts will be received.  There are many theatres around the US that have to be concerned with how such stories would be received by their patrons.   Another challenge of producing theatre in a hyper-capitalistic system. Contests like these help voices that have not typically been present in the theatre to have a place to be and to be celebrated.  It ensures development of new stories and new voices.

The year after my win, I wrote a play about daVinci that I would have never written if I hadn’t been encouraged by the contest organizers.  In doing so, I learned about daVinci and what a hero the LGBTQ community has in him.  Recently, commercial TV in the US has depicted him with little truth about the man.  A contest like this can also help our community claim and tell a history that has otherwise been hidden and even hijacked.

Can you tell me an anecdote about your victory?

I was able to come to Milano to receive my award and participate in the celebration.  A true high point in my life.  Because I wrote a story that lifted up a coming out story to live in harmony and equivalent to a spiritual story, and since I am a openly gay pastor serving a parish that welcomes LGBTQ people, there was more discussion about me as a pastor than me as a playwright.  But that was okay.  My play, MARC IN VENICE, is definitely born out of my own spiritual journey and coming to terms with my own identity.

What has your victory of the Carlo Annoni Prize meant to you?

It was such incredible validation and affirmation.  I’ve written a good number of plays.  Most have been self-produced.  Winning told me that someone else saw value in what I was writing.  Since winning I have been more prolific and am writing with a greater sense of confidence.

Can you give any advice on how to write a play to the dramatists?

Look at your own life for ideas.  Not to write autobiographical plays, but to see the themes and passions that have fueled your journey.  Write what you know intimately.  And play the “What if” game.  Take an actual event or story idea and then start to ask: What if this happens or that happens.

What do you expect from the future after this global situation that we are living?

I want to believe that, like the renaissance that followed the plague of the 14th century, we will come out of this with new understanding about what is important, what feeds us, what is essential to our well-being.  May the gift of 2020 be a refocusing (pun intended) and may we come out of it with a better vision of what is valuable.  Of course in my opinion, the arts are at the heart of this re-birth.

Are you curious about the past editions of the Carlo Annoni Playwriting Prize?

The first edition of the prize occurred in 2018. The jury received 122 plays, 100 in Italian and 22 in English. The award ceremony, presented by Corrado Radovan Spanger, creator of the prize, took place in Palazzo Reale (Milan). Among the winners, there were Sergio Casesi, Italian language winner with his Zeus in Texas, Mark Erson, English language winner with his Marc in Venice, and the special mentions’ authors Ana Fernandez Valbuena (Gazali per l’emiro), Lisa Capaccioli (Le probabilità dell’asterisco), Gianni Clementi (Gino, lunedì riposo). The ceremony was enriched by the large audience and by Ferdinando Bruni’s reading of some passages from Zeus in Texas.

In 2019 the second edition of the prize took place. This time, the number of plays in the competition was six times higher than the 2018’s edition, with 689 competing plays, 540 in English and 149 in Italian. The award ceremony occurred in the conference room of Milan’s Piccolo Teatro, and was characterized by numerous talks about the history of theatre and civil rights. These two matters are in fact the soul of the Carlo Annoni prize.

Furthermore, together with some drama themed video projections, a lot of famous personalities, representing Milan’s theatrical context and the attention for the civil rights, spoke about these issues: Yuri Guaiana (Associazione Radicale Certi Diritti), Marina Gualandi (Teatro Filodrammatici), Giovanni Soresi (Piccolo Teatro). The winners of the 2019 edition were Laura Fossa, with her play Shalom, the English language winner Bixby Elliot with his Lincoln was faggot, and Fortunato Calvino (Pelle di seta). Federica Cucco (Orlando), Mark Erson (The unfinished genius), Joe Gulla (Sleeping with the fish) were awarded with special mentions.

The third edition of the Carlo Annoni Prize was in 2020. Despite the very difficult world situation, the number of plays in the competition grew further: there were 759, 70 more than the previous year, in particular 601 in English and 158 in Italian. The award ceremony, presented as always by Corrado Radovan Spanger, took place in Milan’s Piccolo Teatro but, unlike the previous edition, in Nina Vinchi cloister. The commitment of the prize regarding the social rights’ matter was again confirmed by many speeches on the matter (Yuri Guaiana, Daniele Nahum of the European Parliament, Pietro Vito Spina of the Milano Pride) and by the presence of Social policies and civil rights councelor Gabriele Rabaiotti and Milan’s chairman of equal opportunities commission De Marchi Diana Alessandra. There were also Giovanni Soresi (Piccolo Teatro), Mario Cervio Gualersi (Festival Lecite/Visioni), and Andrea Ferrari (Festival Mix).

To enrich the moment, Ferdinando Bruni, Renato Sarti, Fabrizio Caleffi and Dorothy Barresi read some passages of the winners’ plays: La resistenza negata of Fortunato Calvino, Pochos of Benedetto Sicca, Antonio Lovascio’s Calascibetta44 (special mention), Alberto Milazzo York’s Aspettando Manon (special mention), Sergio Casesi’s La peste (short play special mention). The English language winner was Joseph Aldous with his Get happy and the special mentions were given to Gus Gowland and Melissa Li (Musicals special mention).