Sharing beauty: Intergenerational theatre during COVID in Italy

February 22, 2021 |  Anna Fascendini

How can creative workshops involving lots of play and physical contact between young and old be reimagined for COVID times? This is exactly what PER TERRA IL CIELO (the sky on earth), an intergenerational theatre workshop project in the North of Italy, has achieved over the past 6 months. The theatre workshop is the creation of actor Anna Fascendini.

It began in 2017 as part of the Dementia Friendly Community in Albino, in the Seriana Valley.

Typically, children aged between 3 and 10, teenagers and older adults some of whom are living with Alzheimer’s and dementia participate. The aim is to create intergenerational encounters for the community that promote inclusion and provide an opportunity to develop new communication and relational skills for all generations.

In the theatre workshop the participants develop body awareness, work on relational dynamics, and awaken their body’s emotional and sensorial memory. Theatre becomes a tool for sharing play, beauty, and joy as well as a powerful means of telling one’s story.

‘Per terra il cielo’ is an artistic experience, an experience of individual and collective change.

Beginning in September 2020, the theatre workshop that normally takes place face-to-face in schools and nursing homes needed to find a new way of involving children and older adults.

A guest of the nursing home watching the show from his window

Because of the isolation that the COVID restrictions caused it was essential to create a community using art and theatre, that would involve everyone, including the weakest and those most lonely.  In the new style theatre workshop, the concept of “taking care” assumes a new meaning.  It was about sharing in the public space in a way that is visible and accessible to all.

It is not important to have singing, dance or theatre skills; what counts is being together, giving the best of oneself in the game, in the party, and maintaining physical presence where possible and bridging the ‘physical’ gap with energy, voice, movement, music and vibrations.

In practice, Per Terra il Cielo means bringing the theatre workshop under the windows of nursing homes, with children singing, dancing, parading and flag-waving. Where physical contact through play might have been enough to keep the encounter alive pre-COVID, now distance makes it more difficult.

Anna Fascendini and a child painting a window of the nursing home

Per Terra il Cielo is a “spectacular encounter”, an event where time, space, music and action are arranged to keep gaze and intentions together, drawing on improvisation in the moment. The children and a musician occupy a space next to the nursing homes, whether it is a courtyard or a park, so they are heard by the older adults at the windows but also by passers-by: a way of giving expression to a sense of sharing and sociality. Interaction with older adults is limited by distance, but the possibilities of encounter are being explored: a time can be shared, an action, a song, a sign, a drawing. To return to sharing beauty.

The project is a creation of Anna Fascendini, founder of Scarlattine Teatro. It started in 2017 as part of the Dementia Friendly Community in Albino, in the Seriana Valley (North of Italy). It is the result of the collaboration with the Honegger Foundation and its facilities (Casa Albergo and Day Centre), the children daycare centre Centro per la famiglia S.G.Battista and some classes of the I.S.I.S Romero psycho-pedagogical high school.