Beep beep, went my phone.
“Ciao. Let’s meet at Piazza Castello at 5pm, between the two horses,” said the message I received from Claudio.
“Si. I will see you exactly in the middle, not even 5cm away from the middle. Hahaha. Ciao,” I replied.
At twenty minutes to 5pm, I left the house of my host to meet Claudio in the centre of Turin, which is in the North East of Italy. As I walked to the destination, I began to think about how everything had happened…
Claudio Del Toro is an Italian theatre artist and has been acting since he was 14. He has been performing in front of audiences all around the world now for the past 19 years. One year ago, Claudio went to Bali in Indonesia and learnt a traditional Balinese acting dance called Topeng Tua, which tells the story of fabled kings to Gamelan music in a mask costume. Before he left for Indonesia, he found me on social media and connected, intrigued by the traditional Balinese costume I wore in my profile picture.
It was not so difficult to spot Claudio in the crowd. He looked exactly like his picture with his outrageously curly hair flying everywhere.
The conversation flowed non-stop for several minutes. Then he said: “Come on, let’s get a gelato. There is a very nice gelateria, hidden in a small alley of Torino”.
As we were walking to the gelateria, Claudio started to tell me his story. “I travelled around the world to learn about acting and theatre. I went to Bali for Topeng Tua. I went to New York for a theatre workshop with Philippe Gaulier. I went to Berlin and Barcelona. I was in Genova to play at Teatro Della Tosse. It’s good that we are both here now because next week I am moving to Paris for one year to meet again with Philippe Gaulier. I will attend his school”.
Philippe Gaulier is a French master clown and the founder of École Philippe Gaulier, a prestigious clown and theatre school near Paris.
As we enjoyed our ice cream, Claudio explained to me that it was a typical Sicilian style of gelato, which was by far the best. To me, all gelato in Italy is the same. They are all delicious!
“I call my theatre company La Barca dei Soli, which means the ship of the suns,” Claudio explained. “I want my students to remember the power and the light that they have within. I want them to have a strength to not to be afraid of anything. Fear is an illusion. The stage is a metaphor for life. If you can do something on the stage, you can bring it outside to the real world. And on the stage, we want to see the best of you; the beautiful creature that is you!”
Lyn Gardner, a British theatre critic has also agreed that performances can help people to move through a difficult situation in their lives. “Theatre doesn’t show people how to live, but seeing or playing the right show at the right time can give us exactly what we need at that particular moment,” she said.
I can personally relate to the transformative influence of theatre. After I saw a play on Peter Pan, I had the courage to make one important decision in my life. I chose to leave the ‘glamour life’ of my ten-million-people strong home city in Jakarta and moved to a village of only a few hundred people in a forested area in Sumatra to serve as a volunteer teacher for one year. How exactly the Peter Pan showed me the way was really a personal connection between me and Peter Pan in that particular moment in my life.
This is the scene I saw when I was volunteering in Sumatra. Many children grew up without their parents because they had to go overseas to work as a pembantu, otherwise known as a house assistant. As a volunteer teacher, I could be there for them.
Les Miserables is another production that encouraged me to take the lead in my life. It inspired me to leave a relationship that was not working as much as I wanted it to and helped me realise that the behaviour of my partner was not my responsibility. Because of the bold actions of one of the characters in the play, I was able to control any feelings of anger or jealousy by simply remembering that they did it and succeeded.
In La Barca dei Soli, Claudio has students from as young as seven years old up until 75 years. “We walk, we look at each other, we touch, hug, run, we breath consciously to become aware of our life and endeavour to understand what make us come to life each day.” Claudio continued: “There are a lot of sleeping people walking around. They are not conscious of their life and I believe that theatre can help you realise that you are alive.”
I completely understood what he meant. He was talking about the soul and feeling inside the human body that needs to be expressed, in order to be a conscious human who is present in each moment in his or her life and not to be worried about something that you can not control. This is also what Oscar Wilde tried to explain about theatre.
Claudio and I walked around Turin until late in the evening, talking about life and theatre, and how in many ways, they are one and the same. Before we knew it, it was the evening and stomachs grumbled so we visited a pizzeria because visiting Italy is not complete without having a pizza, or pasta for that matter.
As we devoured the delicious pieces, I asked Claudio what his favourite play was.
“I love Macbeth by Shakespeare,” he answered. “I’ve had the chance to explore both sides of being human, the devil and the angel. I had a lot of contact with the dark side of my life, just like in Macbeth. I also love Candide from Voltaire. In this play, life changes so quickly. I’ve learnt that we should enjoy our short life.”
It was almost 10pm and was time to say goodbye. After waiting for 14 months to meet in person, one afternoon was too short to share a lot.. But one thing is for sure, Claudio inspires me to see more theatre plays and to appreciate this art in a different way.
“So Claudio, did theatre succeed in overcoming all your fears in your life?”
“No. I still dream of riding in a hot air balloon, but I am afraid of heights. I’m working on it and know I will one day”.