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The story of the Piccolo

The first public repertory theatre in Italy, the Piccolo Teatro di Milano was founded on 14 May 1947 by Giorgio Strehler, Paolo Grassi and Nina Vinchi with the aim of creating a Theatre that provides a public service; a necessary institution that works to the benefit of the entire community.

“An Art Theatre for All” is the motto that has accompanied the Piccolo ever since it was founded, and it continues to express its mission; to stage quality shows aimed at the most wide ranging of audiences possible.

With support from the State and local administration – first and foremost by the Municipality of Milan and the Lombardy Region – the Piccolo currently has three auditoriums; the original location in Via Rovello, renamed the Teatro Grassi, is situated in Palazzo Carmagnola and also includes, since 2009, the magnificent Renaissance cloister, which was brought to light and returned to the city as part of a restoration project, and which is now named after Nina Vinchi; the Teatro Strehler is the main venue, designed by Marco Zanuso inaugurated in January 1998 to the music of Così fan tutte Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the last production to be directed by the great director; and the Teatro Studio Melato, an experimental theatrical space dedicated to the actress Mariangela Melato and located on the site of the nineteenth-century Teatro Fossati, which reopened to the public in 1986. The latter also plays host to the Luca Ronconi School of Theatre, founded by Giorgio Strehler in 1987 and currently directed by Carmelo Rifici.

Over more than seventy-five years of activity, the Piccolo has produced more than 400 shows – half of which were directed by Giorgio Strehler –, staging works by both classic and contemporary writers in the form of important productions that have over time become part of the history of international theatre. With regards to Strehler’s works alone, these productions include: William Shakespeare (King Lear and The Tempest), Carlo Goldoni (Harlequin, servant to two masters, Brawling in Chioggia, The little square), Anton Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard), Bertolt Brecht (Threepenny Opera, Life of Galileo, The Good Person of Szechwan) and Samuel Beckett (Happy days).

Since 1991, the Piccolo has also been a “Theatre of Europe”, a status confirmed by article 47 of Ministerial Decree 322 dated 27 July 2017. Strehler was the first to strongly promote a vision of openness and to seek a position in the international theatrical panorama, and this philosophy was carried forward under the directorship of Sergio Escobar – who headed the Foundation from 1998 to July 2020 – and of Luca Ronconi (artistic consultant and director of the School of Theatre until February 2015).

During his time in Milan, Luca Ronconi created a number of extraordinary masterpieces for the Piccolo, which – among their many merits – exalted the interdisciplinary nature of theatre. This was the case with Infinities by the English mathematician John D. Barrow, a veritable theatrical event staged in a stage set warehouse in the Milanese suburbs for the 2001/02 season, or with Lehman Trilogy (2015), the last production to be directed by the maestro and based on the work by Stefano Massini – who soon after was called on to take over as artistic consultant from 2015 to 2020.

Thanks to these figures, and to the efforts of all the artists, staff and skilled workers who have played a role in its history, the Piccolo is now an urban and European centre for culture, and its stages play host to theatre and dance, reviews and festivals, round tables and cultural events.

As of December 2020, Claudio Longhi is the director general of the Piccolo. Under his guidance, in addition to the traditional rich programme of in-house and guest productions, the cultural policy of the theatre has focused on the last few years on supporting contemporary playwriting, the promotion of young artists, internationalisation and the development of European networks and programming.

In particular, as of the 2021/22 season, the Piccolo has become in line with the desires of its founders – a veritable “home” to artists.  The theatre now collaborates with fifteen Associate Artists, both Italian and international, with the conviction that the theatre’s activities are not confined to producing shows, but must also serve to favour processes of exchange, creation and cooperation, allowing spectators to experience processes and not simply the individual events.

On the occasion of the celebrations for the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Giorgio Strehler, the 2021/22 season also included the presentation of the Festival Presente indicativo: per Giorgio Strehler (paesaggi teatrali); a grand expression of international theatre that, in the month of May 2022, saw the participation of 21 companies and ensembles involved in 25 shows that were staged not only in the Piccolo’s auditoriums, but throughout the city, offering a total of more than 70 hours of theatre.

Lastly, the Piccolo focuses particular attention in its various activities to the theme of sustainability, seen in its broadest sense as a relationship between the environment, politics, economics and society; a driver for the implementation of new forms of participation and awareness within the territory and the communities that inhabit it.