The show must go on

The inside of Teatro Valle

The plush interior of Teatro Valle which exudes old world charm.

While in New York the occupy movement is already history, in Rome it’s still going strong. Theatres and cinemas are under threat of becoming supermarkets, parking lots or casinos, as economical struggles continue. 

Teatro Valle is one of these places. The old theatre, built in 1716, is occupied by a theatre company of actors, directors and technicians. When you walk in the street of Rome you will not think this is such a special place because a lot of buildings are old and beautiful in the centre of Rome. But when you go inside the theatre, you see the splendour: soft red chairs, red carpet, u-shaped balconies lit by small lanterns which shine a yellow light on the sculpted ornamentation.

Around 20 people are sitting in the more modern lobby of the theatre. They are talking and typing on laptops. Martina Ciabatti is eating an apple. She is an actor and has been here since the beginning of the occupation. “It started on the 14th of June, 2011. The government cut all the money of the public theatre association Ente Teatrale Italiano (ETI), and they abolished the organisation. ETI had four theatres, and they didn’t know what would happen to those places.” The control of the theatre passed to the Ministry of Culture, then to the Town Council of Rome who wanted to sell it to private owners. “That means they could build a supermarket or parking lot here,” Ciabatti says, shaking her head.

Martina Ciabatti and another riot in front of Teatro Valle

Martina Ciabatti and another protest in front of Teatro Valle.


“We started with three days of occupy as a symbol, a protest,” says Ciabatti, in front of the building, sitting on a steel chair in the warm Roman shadow. “Suddenly it became very big. Everyone wanted to do something, so we discussed with a lot of people. A foundation was born, where a large group of people have to decide what happens to the theatre. We are now writing a statute for this foundation together. In this statute we say that everyone has a vote. In an assembly we decide what is going to happen. We don’t have a leader. Every week there is an assembly. Sometimes it is hard to make a decision, sometimes it is easy. Every year we want to revise the statute.”

“We ask people to participate as co-founders,” she says. “They can participate with a small amount of money, like €10. This way, we raised already €150,000. With this amount of money we can create the foundation. It’s beautiful, but tiring. You know, some people are here since the first day, two years ago. The group that is really working every day is probably fifty people. We have a lot of support, but it is a lot of work. We have to clean, to organize shows, websites, everything and we still have to protect this place, so we still sleep here.” Ciabatti shows how they sleep. Little bedrooms are situated in the old offices behind the theatre. Sometimes a bed is placed in a toilet or shower. There is only one room with windows. The hallways are filled with little tables, simple wooden chairs, the smell of old cigarettes and wet laundry hanging around. People are living here.


“When ETI was cut, the theatre passed to the mayor, Gianni Alemanno,” says Ciabatti. “He doesn’t like that we are here. The first day, he came here to talk and get us out, but we didn’t want to.” We are a problem for him and his imago. He still tries to get us out, not with violence, but with saying bad things to make us evil in the eyes of the citizens. We still have support from a lot of people, but it is hard. The elections for the new mayor take place in June. I hope Alemanno will not be the mayor again. Something will change when there is a new mayor. We don’t know what, but something will happen.”Nuovo Cinema Palazzo in San Lorenzo

Nuovo Cinema Palazzo in San Lorenzo

Besides Teatro Valle, a lot of other places are occupied in Rome. San Lorenzo is a student neighbourhood on the other side of the centre of Rome, which also hosts citizens of all kinds; professors, workers, the elderly and children. An old cinema, Nuovo Cinema Palazzo, is occupied in the centre of this neighbourhood. Not as beautiful and popular as Teatro Valle, but still a cultural place that needs to be saved.


“They wanted to build a casino in here,” Valeria DePauli says with her never ending sun browned smile. “The neighbourhood didn’t want it, so they occupied this building two years ago. The people from the casino took us to the court. The judge said it is better that we are here instead of the casino, because we bring the cinema back to something cultural, which is also in line with the original function of the building. Besides that, we are not a private company, we don’t have one leader and we do something important for the neighbourhood.”

“There are a few differences from Teatro Valle. In the first place, this is not a theatre, but an old cinema. We are not especially artists, but people from all sections of the population. Like this old riot,” DePauli nods to an old woman who sometimes interrupts to talk about the weather and groceries in very fast Italian. “The main focus of this project is the neighbourhood, but we organise a lot of cultural things. We play movies, we have concerts, theatre plays, book presentations, conferences with professors from the university and sometimes we do things together with Teatro Valle. All the events are for free, you only have to pay your drinks at the bar. We have 20 to 40 people who work here, all part-time. No one ‘works’ here really, we don’t use the word ‘volunteer,’ because it doesn’t feel like working, but as commitment. But in fact, we are working and volunteers. While we are totally illegal but the judge gave us the right to stay here, so we don’t have to sleep here at night to protect the place.”

The volunteers of Teatro Valle and Cinema Palazzo work all day to keep them running and make the best out of the occupied place. Maybe a lot will change when a new mayor will be elected, but one thing will stay the same: Teatro Valle and Cinema Palazzo will always be places for culture.

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