31.05 — 03.06.2023
Il Capitale. Un libro che ancora non abbiamo letto
One morning in the summer of 2021, 422 workers from an Italian factory receive an email: don't come to work tomorrow, you’re fired. From that day on, the workers have occupied the factory, organising canteen and guard shifts to prevent machinery and production from being relocated to countries with cheaper labour costs. Theatre group Kepler-452 entered the factory during one of the first solidarity meetings. Initially, they imagine collecting material for a performance inspired by Karl Marx's Das Kapital, but they quickly become aware of the distance between theory and life. After months spent in the occupied factory, something new emerges; the story of workers proudly rebuilding an identity after losing their jobs. Das Kapital. A book we haven't read yet is a performance conceived with these workers, and with them on stage. In a precise structure, they interweave their personal lives with a reflection on the life that emerges when production stops. How much time have we not spent with our loved ones because of work? How often have we traded solidarity for personal gain? Il Capitale speaks to us, above all, about time, about making it continuously productive; about a present that melts like ice, and the time that remains. A powerful hymn to the dignity of work and life.
Notes on Il Capitale. Un libro che ancora non abbiamo letto
Some time ago, at the end of the first lockdown, we as Kepler-452 made a mutual promise: we swore that we would not forget what had happened, that we would not partake in the carefree reboot of the country by erasing what we had witnessed during that strange time. When the situation eased both on stage and in the audience, we still had a promise to keep: we were committed to investigating the aftermath of the pandemic, starting from when the ban on layoffs was lifted in the Summer of 2021. It was in this context that the hankering hit us and we decided to tackle Karl Marx’s Capital head-on, which sounded frightening at first but we had been telling ourselves for a long time that we should not shy away from the classics, that we should by all means try to make them speak our language, which is that of an absurd and twisted present. In fact, it was this strange combination between the wave of pandemic layoffs and the reading of Marx’s Capital that made us think that we had to push beyond our customary orbits and this landed us smack in front of the GKN’s permanent garrison in Campi Bisenzio.
Smack in the middle of Italy there is an industrial area. It does not require much imagination: it is an industrial area, just like many others.
In this industrial area there is an industrial plant, nothing but a big shed suspended between the fog and the strong wind of the plain.
Someone put it there, and there it stands. Like almost every place on earth, no one thinks about that shed, no one remembers it, except those who go there every day and every night. Not only do they think about it, going there is a part of their life, a pretty good chunk of it to say the least.
There, underneath that shed, you will find machines that make axle shafts, a car part that connects the engine to the wheels. The machines have names like: milling machine, rotofló, lathe, semi-automatic cell, heater, thermal unit and other names we don’t know.
In this factory everyone has a nickname, everyone has something.
N. is sixty years old, he’s small and Molisian, skinny, when he went to donate blood, nothing came out. The first time we meet him, at the guard station, he stands up in all his tininess and says, as long as I’m here, nobody can come through. And we, we believe him. He has two vintage Cinquecento cars: one red, one black.
S. says: at first my youngest son didn’t understand, now every time I go out to work the night shift he tells me good guard, dad.
T. who used to be a cleaner, says when she went to the employment center everyone was younger, very young, just out of college. They all knew how to use management software that she doesn’t even know what it’s called. So she thought she was being ridiculous, at her age, there among all those younger people who were better than her. How stupid of me, she says. I can’t help but think how this whole thing is stupid.
F. was happy to do the work. He lost his parents when he was thirteen, and he says that once you’re an orphan you’re always an orphan, even when you are forty. He says his family is the factory, that if he had a problem he knew that the one person on the assembly line with him would give him advice. The idea that a family can shut down at some point is incredible. Because families can die, but that they could shut down, we never thought of that.
We walked through GKN’s gates, started asking questions (and were initially mistaken for DIGOS – General Investigations and Special Operations Division), now and then leafing through pages of Marx while under the garrison’s tents. We collected many stories of workers facing the threat of redundancy. We couldn’t help but think: this is just how the market works. Factories open, factories close, the market shifts. There’s nothing we can do about it, we’re sorry. So there was another rift to mend and this time it was an inner one caused by the inescapable power of capitalism, by the feeling that “history has already been written”, that “there is no alternative”, therefore turning the battle of a group of workers into something passé, residual and oh-so-twentieth-century. Can theater provide a different narrative? Could the onstage presence of these workers bear witness to the vitality of a political and human discourse that knows no expiration date?
The stories of Tiziana, Felice and Iorio are just three examples of how the eight hours of “a fair day’s wages” are not felt, as The Capital would have it, like time outside and beyond life; on the contrary, it is time taken away from it. The three are, like others, unwitting experts of Marx’s one thousand and two hundred page theory. They are living proof of how, in addition to job losses, relocations and widespread unemployment, there is a dark, unspoken truth lurking in our midst: in the grip of capitalism’s crisis, labor deprived of its rights and the unbridled quest for profits are able to drag human existence into an ever-worsening spiral in which it is forced into becoming nothing but a solitary, purposeless, empty, worthless, individual substance. And there is no mention of this because we have been willingly accepting this deterioration for far too long.
The central theme of this performance, and perhaps also of Marx’s work, is time. Due to some odd alchemy, within the confines of GKN’s permanent garrison time is freed from the hustle and bustle of the factory and its production rates. Rising between the tensile structures and dormant factory, moving forward we, workers and us alike, can see quite clearly what we had been overlooking all these years: the way we use our time.
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Les Tanneurs
A project by: Kepler-452 | Dramaturgy and direction: Enrico Baraldi, Nicola Borghesi | With: Nicola Borghesi, Tiziana De Biasio, Felice Ieraci, Francesco Iorio - GKN Workers Factory Collective | With the participation of: Dario Salvetti | Lights and scenic space: Vincent Longuemare | Sound design: Alberto Bebo Guidetti | Videos and documentation: Chiara Caliò | Technical-scientific advice on Das Kapital by Karl Marx: Giovanni Zanotti | Director’s assistant: Roberta Gabriele | Stage hand: Andrea Bovaia | Light and video technician: Giuseppe Tomasi | Sound technician: Francesco Vacca | Set and props realised in the Workshop of ERT | Workshop responsible and head carpenter: Gioacchino Gramolini | Set decorators: Ludovica Sitti with Sarah Menichini, Benedetta Monetti, Rebecca Zavattoni | Iconographic research and poster image: Letizia Calori | Photo: Luca Del Pia
Production: Emilia Romagna Teatro ERT/Teatro Nazionale
Thanks to: Stefano Breda and Cantiere Camilo Cienfuegos in Campi Bisenzio
Performances in Brussels with the support of the Instituto Italiano di Cultura in Brussels and the Italian Ministry of Culture