Why a foundation

There are people you feel you’ve always known. I felt as though I’d met Alessandro Fersen before.

In Rome in the fifties, when my mother was pushing me up and down the Pincian hill in a baby carriage, he was already in the office with my father, who was just starting out in the emerging profession of certified public accountant, helping him balance the books, or at least try to, while teeming with ideas striving to become reality, such as I Nottambuli cabaret theatre in Via Veneto.

And so, as a boy, when, in the years that passed between the Commedia all’Italiana and the movement of ’68, my studies prevented me from making my dream come true and joining the legendary Studio Di Arti Sceniche, Alessandro Fersen was a name I heard a lot, and dreamed about.

And then, between financial statements, I continued to see him periodically over the course of thirty years, when I was first trainee and then assistant to the proprietor of the practice, and later his successor, as the metamorphoses of life proceeded, in the company of Fersen’s words and personality remained unchanged.

We shared a lot of stories and situations and discussed their implications, both fiscal and social, spending a lot of time talking over my desk. He always had time for an extra word.

For telling an extra story that made everything make sense. Sometimes even a state of mind.

In the nineties, in particular, when I asked him why he preferred to stay out of the spotlight, to avoid television appearances and the public eye, which many people saw as the primary purpose and reason for living, he always, without exception, replied that he wanted to spend all his time writing, putting his work in order, and preparing it to be handed down.

This is the reason for the foundation.

To make sure this happens.

To support everyone who wants to make a contribution.

But also, if I may be sincere, so that what has been may continue to be, in the company of his words and personality.


I first met Alessandro Fersen when he was teaching in Via Sant’Eligio, a cross street of Via Giulia. And I attended a few of his lectures.

What struck me about his way of teaching was the relationship he established with his students: there was a direct line between him and each of them. It was his eyes that sought something in the other person, as if attempting to extract the actor’s deepest, most hidden abilities, perhaps unknown even to them. In this encounter with the student, I felt he was similar to my teacher, Orazio Costa, who sought entirely different ways of bringing out the actor’s greatest creative potential.

Fersen’s method – particularly the various forms of mnemodrama – touched upon formerly unknown aspects of the personality in search of the innermost human nature, which he viewed as the native seat of the theatrical event: if it had not been Fersen himself guiding the development of the creative phenomenon, this sort of exercise might have degenerated into psychic collapse.

Fersen began with a single individual, to work on providing an impulse for the group of actors as a whole. And he believed it was necessary to start again with the actor in a new way, giving the actor creative freedom, to revitalise a form of expression – theatre – which no longer reflected its “mythical” origins, but had not replaced these origins with anything else.

This is where his idea arose – going beyond the years in which he worked and above all anticipating developments beyond our times – that our society should go back to creating an authentic “theatrical whole” combining the solitude of the workshop with concrete aspects of theatrical life, in which communication in harmony with the public is essential.

Reflection on the crisis in playwriting truly reflecting a collective consonance appears throughout his work and is set down in his writings, particularly the book II teatro, dopo, in which Fersen essentially discusses the modern disappearance of theatre defined as an act of ontological foundation, without which theatre becomes superfluous, even useless.

The book, published by Laterza in 1980, anticipates the difficulties of a theatre with a multitude of different souls, in contrast and in confusion; it ought to be published again, perhaps with the addition of contributions from people in the field and academics responding to the author’s proposals and reflecting on the situation today.

In the hopes of seeing a new foundation of theatre in which the community can join in and see itself reflected, Fersen opens up room for discussion and above all commitment, which cannot help being political, for those who come after him.

A human and professional memory

Dear Ariela,

We met at the library in Piazza dell’Orologio in Rome a few years ago, when I was asked to provide my own personal testimony in Homage to Alessandro Fersen.

Today is a particularly important day for you. Allow me to help you remember your father.

I graduated from Alessandro Fersen’s Studio di Arti Sceniche in June 1978 with Dimensione perduta at Museo d’Arte Moderna in Rome. I worked intensely with Fersen for two whole years: I had chosen his school in Sant’Egido because it represented true innovation in education for actors in Italy. In addition to the academic schedule, I spent many hours with my teacher in Via Garibaldi, helping him order the studio material, printed material and films, translating rare articles, discussing ideas and projects and listening to him talk about his experience in theatre abroad, in contact with people who had made a very important mark in the theory and practice of drama, the people who laid the foundations of modern acting. I have jealously preserve my datebook and our academic correspondence, which is very precious to me. “I am, essentially, interested in ‘getting to know’ the kids”: this is what he used to say to us students. I am grateful to Fersen for teaching me the techniques of the stage and creativity, and honoured to have been worthy of his personal artistic and human esteem. It was Dr. Fersen, as well as Marceau, who encouraged me to continue in my work, and this is what I have been doing for the past thirty years. I really owe him a lot. Your father, Alessandro Fersen, is often present in my lectures.

Alessandro Fersen and the birth of mnemodrama

Alessandro Fajrajzen, known as Alessandro Fersen, is one of the greatest masters of twentieth century western drama. His mnemodrama marks a milestone in the process of transformation of acting techniques which was begun by Stanislavsky and amplified and modified by other great figures in drama such as Artaud, Craig, Meyerhold, Vakhtangov and Grotowski.

We might say that his life encompassed an entire century in the history of drama, including two world wars. Alessandro Fajrajzen was born into a Jewish family in Łódź, Poland in 1911. When he was only three years old his family moved to Genoa, Italy, where he attended elementary school, secondary school and university. After graduating with a degree in philosophy, he went to Paris, where he frequented the cartel, an artistic partnership of directors including Dullin, Jouvet, Baty, Pitoev and Copeau which began around the year 1930 as a reaction against nineteenth-century commercial and academic theatre. He moved from Paris to Warsaw and Belarus, miraculously managing to escape in 1939 just before the frontiers were closed due to the war begun by the Nazis’ criminal folly. This marked the start of Alessandro Fersen’s fight against fascism, which saw him join a group of intellectuals founded by Carlo Rosselli and Giuseppe Rensi. He joined the resistance movement early in 1943 and was soon forced to flee to Switzerland with his family. He moved about from one refugee camp to another until he was able to return to Italy in 1945, where Sandro Pertini appointed him secretary of the National Liberation Committee for Genoa and Liguria. Fersen accepted the appointment while at the same time working on the newspaper “Corriere del Popolo”, but he was primarily interested in theatre. In 1947 he staged the comedy Lea Lebowitz, based on an ancient Hasidic legend, with sets and costumes by Emanuele Luzzati, a great friend and partner of his, marking the beginning of a prodigious career in the theatre, as director, playwright and teacher. In 1957 he founded Studio Fersen di Arti Sceniche in Rome, where he initially applied the Stanislavsky method, though he later abandoned it because he considered it overly influenced by early twentieth-century naturalism and positivism. He held that modern theatre had lost the power to affect the way people behave in the world and become a strictly aesthetic, ludic activity. He was convinced that true, total rebirth of the theatre needed to draw on anthropology, the only science capable of helping the pedagogue educate a new kind of actor capable of re-acquiring the lost ancestral memory common to all human beings, re-appropriating the primal act of theatre, that of “man who identifies with God, who becomes God”. At this point Alessandro Fersen undertook a lengthy, fatiguing voyage in Brazil, where he studied magic and ancestral rituals still practiced by indigenous populations. He himself described the reasons for this long and complex study in a rare film segment: “While the other arts have managed to renew their expressive capacity, the theatre continues to use its traditional idiom. The result, above all in comparison with the mass media, is a sort of confusion of languages. In this situation of uncertainty, I believe it is necessary to search for a true language of theatre, if one does exist, going back to the origins of theatre to discover how theatre was in its original culture, its position, its language. And this is where anthropology comes into it. Anthropology can provide us with very accurate information on that original form of theatre that is ritual. In ritual, the practitioner identifies with his god, loses his own identity and becomes god. This is the core of theatre, that is, the ability to become something other than what you are. God was later replaced with a character, but it’s still the same operation. This operation has now become oddly frustrated, distorted, even obliterated by the conditioning of modern life. And so we need to see if it is possible to restore it to its original form. In the workshop, I began with the consideration that in all rituals there are symbolic objects, rituals that are fixed or manipulated by believers, by participants, which have the power to trigger deep states of consciousness, states of trance. It is in this highly theatrical event that is the trance that we may observe the birth of the theatrical event. In our culture we have no symbolic objects which are valid for everyone, because our cultural horizon is extremely fragmented, and we cannot depend on significant symbolic objects. In the workshop we therefore resorted to a series of objects from everyday life, abstract or commonplace objects, on the basis of the hypothesis that there is a psychic structure which oversees the theatrical act and is always the same, but has fallen into disuse. Can we bring it back? This is the question. I therefore created a particular technique, which I refer to as mnemodrama, or drama of memory. But not of private memory, or not just of private memory; of ancestral and collective memory.”

Back in Italy, he and his young pupils experimented with a new technique in the workshop which he called mnemodrama, while his Studio di Arti Sceniche became an interdisciplinary cultural centre frequented by artists and intellectuals. Between 1975 and 1978 he directed Teatro Stabile in Bolzano, where he presented, among other performances, one of the Studio’s works, Leviathan, in which the actors work in accordance with the mnemodrama technique.

Alessandro Fersen died in Rome on October 3 2001. His daughter Ariela established Alessandro Fersen Foundation in 2004 with the intention of promoting, developing and studying the great master’s works and teaching methods, methods which have already been the subject of graduate theses in Italy and abroad and are practiced by many of his former students and academics.

from “Scena”, n.57, 2OO9

Genova, Via Somalia 2

I first met my father, Alessandro Fajrajzen, when I was six years old. At the beginning of May 1945, he walked up to the house of the farmers to whom he had entrusted me three years earlier. He had come to see if I was still alive. Everyone around me was very excited: they were all talking, crying, laughing, and saying over and over again to me, “your father is back!”

The next morning, he was gone again. He had begun the long walk back to Milan to tell my mother I was alive.

I saw him again a few weeks later, when we went to live in the building at Via Somalia 2 in Genoa. At that time my father was Secretary of the National Liberation Committee for Genoa and Liguria. Oddly, at a time of great confusion all over, the Fajrajzen family was going through its only time of normality: my father would come home in the evening and, after taking a rest, pick up his accordion, his beloved shiny black accordion, with fake diamonds on the sides, and take great pleasure in teaching me songs in Italian, French and Polish.

After writing Lea Leibowitz, my father and Lele Luzzati began rehearsing in the sitting room on the ground floor of the building. I remember the laughter, the improvised actors, Lele who once, to satisfy my father, who required him to speak Yiddish, pronounced our surname, Faj-rajzen, shaking his hands and jumping about. Then came the time of the two films, Il grido della terra and Le mura di Malapaga. Jean Gabin acted in the second one, and he often came to Via Somalia to talk to my father. I probably wouldn’t remember him if he hadn’t spoiled me with treats that my parents and the other people in Via Somalia couldn’t afford at the time.

The house in Via Somalia was not really a true literary salon, but artists and poets often came over, and numerous performances and exhibitions took place within those walls, with plenty of enthusiasm and hope.

Then came the magical evening, the first night of the show Le allegre comari di Windsor during the Stagione Mediterranea di Arte e Cultura organised by my father. In my eyes, it was a most wonderful evening; I was delighted and dumbfounded that my father would allow me to go and see the show. For my father had come up with an odd pedagogical theory: the more ignorant people are, the happier they are, and to ensure that I would remain ignorant and happy, he had prohibited me from going to the cinema or the theatre. He would have been happier if he could have prevented me from going to school, but he had to give up the idea of not sending me to school because my mother, who was a schoolteacher, could not be persuaded. But for the rest, my mother had given in to him, so that when they told me I would be going to see Allegre comari, along with my joy, I recall having the sensation, perhaps a premonition, that something was about to change. And a few months later, my father went to Rome. We did not get back together again until I chose a path in life that took me far away from Italy.

Alessandro Fersen or on curiosity

The figure and work of Alessandro Fersen are, as we know, extremely complex. The speakers participating here will definitely go into the various aspects of such a rich personality who produced such fertile results in various fields of art and literature. For my part, I would like to emphasise an aspect that appears to me an essential aspect of his intelligence and his interest in various fields of knowledge: his curiosity. I don’t mean the curiosity of one who wants to know all the gossip, a frivolous taste for the more or less scandalous details of people’s private lives, but curiosity as the starting point of intelligence, leading us to digress, to wander into different fields of science, into different intellectual gardens, always asking questions and never settling for conclusive answers.

In my meetings with him, in our conversations on the anthropological dimension, I have always been struck by the vivacity of his eyes, the sharpness of his interests, in short, by his curiosity. This is, in my opinion, what makes Alessandro Fersen exemplary, and this is where the power of his intellectual mastery lies. My best wishes for the success of the meeting, and my kind regards.

Click OK and continue to consent cookies. more information

This site uses cookies to ensure you a better browsing experience. It does not use any profiling cookie, but uses third-parties cookies related to the presence of "social plugin". Click OK and continue to consent the cookies. For additional information about cookies and their deactivation please see our Cookie Policy.