Forgo a schedule and follow your eyes and ears at this year’s Mercantia Street Art Festival: an event that thrives on wandering. From July 11 to July 15, watch the streets, piazzas, and courtyards of Certaldo transform into a stage that blurs the line between audience and performance and embrace a viewing experience quite unlike any other.
An international festival, the street celebration enters its 31st year with the theme “Between the Earth and the Sky.” Breaking the fourth wall, the party invites audiences into its latest installation by occupying the space beyond the stage and integrating art between the city’s four coordinal points. The festival that made street theater known, the fair emphasizes the shrinking boundaries between performance and reality as it enters its third decade of spectacle.
With approximately 100 acts each night, Mercantia presents performances from over 400 national and international artists throughout the week. The European Community financed this year’s most recent project, “Mysteries and Drolls,” which brings performances from throughout Europe to Tuscany. Three years in the making, “Mysteries and Drolls” boasts selections from Northern Ireland, Poland, Germany, and Spain and reinterprets them through the event’s characteristic street theater.
Another focus of the week, “Project Account” lets Certaldo inhabitants open their homes to the public and engage with audiences in a new kind of drama that masquerades as the natural. Over 10 houses in the village will open to audiences, though visitors hoping to participate must call for reservations ahead of time. The residents of each home will offer visitors coffee or wine and then share stories of their lives through words, instruments, or physical movement.
Beyond these featured projects, Mercantia offers a medley of performances, from international exhibitions to marching bands to secret garden shows. Visitors can also explore artistic installations, craft markets, and comedy bits.
Under the patronage of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, the event includes transnational acts like the Ataro Taiku Percussion Band, jugglers Senmaru and Yuki, and Holland’s Close-Act, whose performance includes marionette-like dinosaurs soaring above the crowds. Secret garden shows include Ivana Caffaretti’s “Women Who Dance with Wolves” and the Dancing Family’s “Il Bacio” and “Solo,” among others.
A village accessible by funicular, Certaldo fuses the wonder of small-town Italy with hidden pockets of theater. Mercantia takes over the entire city, occupying the squares, streets, courtyards, towers, gardens, and the underground.
Shows go from 8 pm to 1 am, Wednesday through Friday, though Friday’s party ends at 1:30 pm. The weekend festivities begin earlier, running from 6 pm to 1 am, with Saturday’s ending a half-hour later. Prices range from €10 to €20 depending on the night, and guests can purchase passes for the festival in its entirety from €35 to €50.
The ticket office is located in Piazza Boccaccio, opposite the Town Hall. For those set on seeing a particular performance or installation, an entry ticket does not necessarily guarantee a place at any one show. Programs that occur in enclosed spaces (such as those in the secret gardens) require reservations.
No matter which show a visitor opts to watch, Mercantia is certain to thrill and charm all who encounter it. Defining itself as the meeting point between theater and life, the festival explores the importance of art within the harsh reality that has taken over the present day. The festival posits that the rediscovery of humanity is the principal task of both individuals and the celebration itself.
Alessandro Gigli, the festival’s Art Director, summarizes the festivities in poetic terms: “Mercantia is the oasis of theater that walks; [it] offers no truth, but quenches thirst. It is a forest in which to get lost, a path to meet again!” (anna staropoli)