Mayhem and Madness at the Mercantia Festival of Street Artists

July 10 – 14, 2019: MERCANTIA FESTIVAL XXXII; ‘SACRED JOY.’ Certaldo. Open Wednesday – Thursday: 8 pm – 1 am. Hours Friday: 8 pm – 1.30 am; Saturday: 6 pm – 1.30 am; Sunday: 6 pm – 1.30 am. Full admission Wednesday – Thursday: 10€, reduced 7,50€. Full admission Friday and Sunday: 15€, reduced 10€. Full admission Saturday: 20€, reduced 15€.

For five whole days, the enchanting medieval town of Certaldo will be transformed into a haven for the arts.  During each night of the Mercantia International Fourth Theatre Festival, the narrow streets, quaint squares and key landmarks around the town become the stage for over 100 performances. 

A detailed programme of the festival’s shows and their location can be found on the Mecantia Festival website.   Traditional street theatre performers – jugglers, clowns, fire-eaters and mimes – meet contemporary experimental theatre and an array of art installations in bursts of colour and energy to showcase artists from all over the world, bringing people together to revel in the mayhem and madness of Mercantia.  

The 32nd edition of Mercantia, the largest international street theatre festival held in Italy, will follow the artistic concept ‘Sacred Joy.’ This theme serves to recall the past and present functions of theatre, from the roots of ancient theatre as sacred performances, through decadent bourgeois theatre, to today’s varied expressions of contemporary theatre. 

The extravaganza of performances, events and installations all share the common goal of seeking to spark joy in their viewers and underline the sanctity of art and street performance. According to artistic directer, Alessandro Gigli, in a world with too many walls and borders, a world that divides good and bad, poor and rich, that isolates us in our ego, cultural miscegenation is valued, as is the mixing of genres and artistic and cultural styles. It is in this spirit that over 80 art and theatre companies and 400 artists will come to Certaldo to delight the crowds with their unique shows and talents. 

Mercantia Festival will welcome performers from all over the world through the ‘Mysteries and Drolls’ project, alongside other international festivals, and funded by the European Union. These international artists include German and British companies Tempus Fugit and Festival of Fools, who have collaborated to present ‘Sketches of live and death of everyman’ in Palazzo Stiozzi-Ridolfi. The show of Flemish origin, that has been adapted to take place in the streets of Certaldo, tells the story of an average man’s attempts to escape divine punishment. In addition, the Spanish theatre troupe i Maracaibo will perform the great Calderòn de la Barca’s ‘El gran teatro del mundo,’ a Golden Age masterpiece that explores man’s place in the world according to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. 

Another new addition to this year’s Mercantia is the ‘tribute to…’ section that groups three research performances dedicated to Italian singers Gabriella Ferri and Fabrizio De Andrè, and rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Guitarist and singer duo Doppio InCanto and violinist and singer female duo Eviolins will pay tribute to Gabriella Ferri and Fabrizio De Andrè, performing ‘Le passanti’ and ‘Dove sta Zazà’ respectively. To complete the trio of tributes, The Legendary Straniero seeks to breathe life back into Weber and Rice’s 1970 musical in a one man band interpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar.

This year’s festival has reconsidered the use of space and sought to create mini festival areas to organise the performances thematically. There will be a space entitled ‘I giocolieri del sole’ dedicated to Japanese juggling and clowns, another dedicated to five surreal shows in which performer Marco Buldrassi metamorphoses from a minotaur to dinosaur rider, from an explorer riding a camel to other unexpected and mystical characters. Dotted around the town there will also be ten ‘secret gardens,’ a series of more intimate shows for smaller audiences, meaning that there truly is something for everyone at Mercantia Festival – whether you want to be engulfed in lively crowds marvelling at street performers and marching bands or enjoy a more serene viewing of theatre.

The ‘Sacred Joy’ theme of Mercantia Festival makes available a wide range of theatrical experiences from the serious to the sublime, exploring various facets of life, simultaneously projecting that which is sacred and that which is joyous. Not only an artistic statement that reminds viewers of the fundamental purpose of art to entertain, the Mercantia Festival extends to a broader comment: we are urged to smile and laugh in the face of uncertain times, to embrace rather than fear or shun that which is different. (saskia brown)