The MIAF has a long tradition of commissioning new and challenging work; it is a major annual collaboration for us. As we’ve already established, this year it offered a platform for camaraderie in our sector but more importantly it gave us a digital platform to work on what we hope and believe is relevant art – despite not being able to make theatre.
While the pandemic is certainly nothing to get cavalier about, Sean Buhagiar, Artistic Director of Teatru Malta - the island’s ‘national theatre without walls’ - isn’t quite ready to succumb to defeatism.
“Certainly, we did not see this coming: our season has stalled and we’ve had to go back to the drawing board,” Buhagiar says. But while on the drawing board, the company has not ceased its ongoing “doodling”.
“As a national theatre company, we should never stop doodling. We need to be flexible, relevant and ground-breaking but we also need to be cautious. Neither should we work in a vacuum. So we’re treading carefully.”
So, in their ongoing pursuit of “newfound opportunities” and while the doodling’s going on regardless, Teatru Malta are proud to announce their brand-new, social-distancing-friendly initiative: L-Għanja ta’ Malta, an ensemble-powered dramatic performance of Oliver Friggieri’s landmark poem, organised and staged under the umbrella of events forming part of this year’s online-only edition of the Malta International Arts Festival.
Describing it as an “artist-centered initiative”, Buhagiar recounts how the initial pitch for the project – as presented by MIAF Artistic Director Ruben Zahra – gave him pause.
“When Ruben approached us to collaborate on a video rendering of a Maltese poem, we gave it a lot of thought. It was definitely very different to the productions we're used to being commissioned to produce during such festivals. I myself believe the National Theatre Company should primarily focus on making theatre. Nonetheless, considering the circumstances, we understood that this initiative stems from the need for our sector to come together,” Buhagiar says, while identifying the project as yet another example of the innovative approach that the Malta International Arts Festival injects onto the local cultural scene on an annual basis.
“The MIAF has a long tradition of commissioning new and challenging work; it is a major annual collaboration for us. As we’ve already established, this year it offered a platform for camaraderie in our sector but more importantly it gave us a digital platform to work on what we hope and believe is relevant art – despite not being able to make theatre.”
Describing the company’s take on L-Għanja ta’ Malta as a ‘Poetronica’ project – “a term coined in the 80s by Italian experimental poet Gianni Toti” – Buhagiar explains how Teatru Malta wanted the project to serve as a platform that would marry theatrical visuals, original music, poetry and text into one singular piece.
"Then came the most important part… choosing the text.”
L-Għanja ta’ Malta, a cantata which Oliver Friggieri wrote in 1989 in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Malta’s Independence, was finally selected after much thought, deliberation, and parsing through various worthwhile works in the Maltese literary canon.
“Oliver Friggieri is one of our foremost living poets, often addressing philosophical questions related to Malta through his literature, so it felt quite appropriate to turn to him right now,” Buhagiar says. Directed by Buhagiar, filmed and edited by Kevin Kiomall with music by Mario Sammut, the video performance features the contribution of over 30 of the island’s most prominent acting talents.
“I believe L-Għanja ta’ Malta speaks volumes about the challenges undergone by our nation and most importantly, how they were overcome. It is also a romantic and patriotic take on our ancient and modern history,” Buhagiar says, acknowledging that 2020 has posed a series of challenges to the world as a whole.
“Looking onto a world that is placing covid-19 behind it, we need to make sure that we’re conscious of the other challenges that lie ahead, or lay ahead, and make sure that this time we’re better prepared to face them.
“Although - and this is true of all art in general - I guess the answer to this question should lie in the experience itself”.
The Malta International Arts Festival is happening between the 19th June and 5th July. Visit www.festivals.mt/miaf for more information or follow the MIAF Facebook page for regular updates and amazing content.