Published on Friday 12 February 2021

Life has a strange way of leading you to some interesting places - for me, one of these was Teatru Salesjan…What grabbed my attention when accepting the post of consultancy was the fact that this was a Community Theatre - quite different from the centralised state funded theatres mainly situated in the capital. This was a regional theatre in another prominent part of the island with a purposeful mission to serve people - the communities.

Years ago, I remember indulging in thoughts around relevance, meaning and impact of the Arts on community and communities. Are we, as artistic beings, giving enough attention to the people on the receiving end, do we question what it means to them, do we actually care?

As a pianist I was doing what pianists seem to do – play. Follow scores, work hard at learning them as authentically as possible, depress the keys all as perfectly as possible. Then the penny dropped. I realized something that felt like a profound realization – I didn’t want to just ‘do’ to the piano, to make it work for me. I wanted to allow, entice, receive, accept the sound it offered, the most beautiful sound it was able to produce. And in return, I responded, and was led to allow for more. It was a two way relationship – a communion between this glorious instrument and myself. That’s when my world opened.  This realisation forms the basis of the approach of my practice as an artist, a therapist  and now consultant for this theatre; a commitment to explore the opportunity - to share, to facilitate, to relate, to engage, to listen, to create together – whether this is by respecting a director wishing to do a good job no matter how demanding, whether it is by reaching out to people working with NGOs so that the Arts can begin to play a part within ‘other’ communities, whether it is meeting locals to listen to their views on what the theatre means or could mean to them… Teatru Salesjan has urged me to really consider what it means to know communities, those closer and further afield.

At the point of my own entry, the theatre had no full-time employees or organisational structures in place. Of course, it had relied on the generosity of many volunteers that had contributed so much over the years. Now, the theatre had reached a point where it needed structures that would equip it with the human resources to run a full season of events, performances and community programmes.  This became one of the main intentions and direction for the theatre to continue to pursue the ethos that was set over a century ago.  These intentions, like seeds, sprouted, and thanks to the ICO Partnership with the Malta Arts Council, the theatre welcomed its first full timer - Francesca, our Events Administrator.  A few months later we welcomed Julienne, our Community Coordinator, this time thanks to Premju tal-President.  Teatru Salesjan was fortunate to continue to win the support of the ADRC Trust and BOVJCF - in order to continue with its work with children and young people.  We thank all partners, sponsors and personal donations made by the community. None of the theatre’s work would be possible without each and every contributor.

I think that in time, all this will really come together - performances created with communities, productions that serve the community, artists that collaborate with our communities, communities that seek the theatre – merging the Arts with society so that people that were once mere spectators can feel a sense of belonging within the theatre... A theatre in full bloom at the heart of its community. 

These are challenging times but exciting in some ways too. It is often through challenges that we become more aware, more responsive, more than just a theatre. This is an interesting place life has led me to and I can't wait to see the story unfold.

Words by Rosetta Debattista, Artistic Consultant.