So, with an election looming, there are those of us who are hoping that the development of Pjazza Teatru Rjal into a proper theatre will be on the cards of at least one of the parties.
Although the Maltese have always harbored this wish, attention to this space intensified when in the run up to the 2013 election, Lawrence Gonzi’s government commissioned super architect Renzo Piano to design a new entrance to Valletta with a State-of-the-Art Parliament in mind. Many of us were afraid that the Old Opera House would be knocked down completely to make way for the new Parliament Building. I was one of those who opposed this idea vociferously as I believed then as I believe now that this space should be reserved for the Arts.
Renzo Piano came up with a compromise where the building was to be developed into an open air theatre and the Parliament Building was to be built in the adjacent Freedom Square. When I saw the plans, I admit to have been in favour of the idea. Let me explain why.
First of all, Malta direly lacks spaces that can be financially viable as open-air theatre spaces. In my career as a theatre producer I only twice held an open-air production (Ovid’s METAMORPHOSES at Fort St Elmo and Brad Birch’s GAME at Ta’ Qali Stadium) but this had to be heavily subsidized by external Government bodies. I would never have afforded to stage these productions without substantial financial help.
With an election looming, there are those of us who are hoping that the development of Pjazza Teatru Rjal into a proper theatre will be on the cards of at least one of the parties.
Second point is that this space was to be a flexible space to be used according to the artistes’ needs. This means that it could have been used as is today, but also an artist could have turned it into an in-the-round space or promenade. This flexibility would have needed to be reflected in the rental package obviously but it would have catered for the artistes’ needs.
So, what happened?
Someone had the bright idea of installing a permanent stage and those awful green seats. Now it really is a roofless theatre that is fit for nothing. It can only hold mega shows to make it viable but these can’t be held at a late hour because of the neighbouring flats. Many mention that it was never viable in the first place because of the Maltese traditional Festas in summer, the only season when the space can be used. True but irrelevant.
The real problem with the space is that it is 1) expensive and 2) rigid. It exposes the lack of imagination and theatre knowledge by those who went on to install those horrible seats. The space was made to be proscenium when in reality, it could have been malleable.
Sadly, this is what happens when authorities don’t listen to the artistes, the people who will be using the space in this case.
As is right now, it would be better for the space to be rebuilt into a good old-fashioned Opera House. But there are still other solutions. If only the authorities would listen to the artists!