Founded on 14 May 1947 by Giorgio Strehler, Paolo Grassi and Nina Vinchi, the Piccolo Teatro di Milano was the first public Italian repertory theatre to be established and is the most important both in Italy and abroad. The idea of the founders was to create an institution funded by the state and local entities (the Municipality and Province of Milan, as well as the Lombardy region) as a public service which was necessary for the well-being of the citizens. “An Art Theatre for All” was the slogan which accompanied the Piccolo at the time of its foundation, and it is one which today still fully sums up its objectives: to stage quality shows aimed at the widest-ranging of audiences possible. Since 1991, the Piccolo Teatro di Milano has also been a “Theatre of Europe”, a status confirmed by article 47 of Ministerial Decree 322 dated 27 July 2017.
The Piccolo manages three auditoriums: the original location (488 seats), renamed Piccolo Teatro Grassi, which recently underwent conversational restoration work which “uncovered” and returned to the city the splendid adjacent Renaissance Cloister; the Teatro Studio experimental space (368 seats), a building which also houses the School of Theatre; the main theatre with 968 seats, which was inaugurated in 1998 and which bears the name of Piccolo Teatro Strehler. In more than seventy years of activity, the Piccolo has produced approximately 400 shows, half of which were directed by Strehler, written by playwrights ranging from Shakespeare (King Lear and The tempest) to Goldoni (Brawling in Chioggia, The little square and above all, Harlequin, servant to two masters), Brecht (The Threepenny Opera, Life of Galileo, The Good Person of Szechwan), Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard).
Since 1998, when the direction of the theatre was passed to Sergio Escobar (director of the Foundation until July 2020) and Luca Ronconi (artistic consultant to the Piccolo until February 2015), the Piccolo has increased its international and interdisciplinary dimension, presenting itself as an ideal civic and European cultural centre.
Its stages host shows of theatre and dance, film reviews and festivals, round tables and events aimed at cultural study.
During his career, Luca Ronconi proposed classics such as Calderón de la Barca (Life is a dream), Aeschylus (Prometheus Bound), Euripides (The Bacchae), Aristophanes (The frogs), Shakespeare (A midsummer night’s dream, The merchant of Venice), alternated with playwrights less represented theatrically (Schnitzler, Professor Bernhardi), or contemporary writers (Jean-Luc Lagarce, It’s only the end of the world; Edward Bond, In the company of men; Rafael Spregelburd, Modesty, Panic; Michel Garneau, Celestina laggiù vicino alle concerie in riva al fiume, based on de Rojas), alongside stage versions of celebrated novels (one memorable example is Lolita by Nabokov). One authentic theatrical experiment was the show based on five scenarios regarding infinity (Infinities) by the English mathematician John D. Barrow, staged in a set warehouse on the outskirts of Milan. His last work as director was Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini (2015), the artistic consultant for the Theatre since 2015.
In the most recent seasons, the Piccolo has entrusted its productions to both Italian and international directors, including Declan Donnellan, Robert Wilson, Thomas Ostermeier, Lluís Pasqual, Toni Servillo, Antonio Latella, Federico Tiezzi, Emma Dante, Marco Paolini, Carmelo Rifici, Mauro Avogadro, Sonia Bergamasco, Mimmo Borrelli, Jacopo Gassmann, Roberto Latini, Damiano Michieletto, Giorgio Sangati.
It has hosted, and continues to host, productions by the most important artists from around the world, including Robert Lepage, Lev Dodin, Ivo van Hove, Luk Perceval, Milo Rau. It has toured the world, from Russia to the United States, from China to Japan, from Europe to North Africa, to New Zealand.
Since 1987 it has run a School of Theatre - founded by Strehler, named after Ronconi, and currently directed by Carmelo Rifici - which has seen the graduation of 278 actors.
Claudio Longhi assumed the role of Director of the Piccolo Teatro on 1 December 2020. Support for contemporary playwriting and young artists, the promotion of internationalisation, an openness to new platforms and an in-depth exploration of the relationship between live performance and modern digital technology, in the search for new audiences, form the foundations of the Teatro’s activities for the future. Of particular importance is the theme of sustainability, seen in its broadest sense, as a relationship between the environment, politics, the economy and society, and aimed at fostering new forms of participation and levels of awareness within the community.