Artists with OI: Chiara Bersani
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Chiara and I am a writer/creator and a performer with a disability. I am Italian and I am 35 years old. I work in different fields like performing arts, contemporary theatre and contemporary dance.
In what way has OI affected your art?
Honestly, I am not sure if I would have chosen to do this as a profession, if I didn’t have OI. I was 19 when I moved to another city in order to attend University (Psychology). During the school year I enjoyed participating in theatre groups and it was therefore quite logical for me to seek some kind of course to attend in order to do something nice and enjoyable and to meet new people. The meeting with the Scuola di Formazione dell’Attore of Lenz Rifrazioni theatre company changed all the rules for me. That was the place where, for the first time in my life, a very physical teaching method was offered and proposed also to me and to my body. And my fragility was never used as an excuse to be excluded from the practice or lessons. I was asked the very same commitment and discipline as all the other students. The only difference was that I had to translate the instructions of the teachers into my own possibilities and range of movements. I started also, quite early, to work without the wheelchair both during rehearsals and on the stage and that was the place and time where my revolution happened.
In many years of school, in hours of physical activities, that I attended only as a bored observer or during which I was asked to study the theory while my class-mates’ bodies were sweating and flourishing; in many years of physiotherapy, rehabilitation, swimming pool, passive gymnastics and static tables/standing benches…no one had ever recognized my body as an entity that could be something else than a sick body to look after, take care of and possible make better. The day someone saw an expressive potential in my body, it felt for me like looking out into a new endless archipelago of possibilities.
My body and its history have influenced and keep influencing my entire career. Sometimes I accepted it, sometimes I haven’t, every now and then I asked loudly the right to talk about something else. It is something constantly present in my work, with which as it happens in life, I start a negotiation at each new beginning, and every time it ends in a different way.
What projects are you currently working on?
For years I have been asking myself about the concept of the Political Body, which is what the shape of our body reflects when it enters society and how we can change the image of it. I have always considered this concept applicable to every human being, even though I knew that for people with an eccentric body like mine the question was even more evident and therefore easier to delimit.
For this reason, the first works that dealt with this theme have always involved very significant bodies (old bodies, my body, etc.). In my latest work however, called “The Whales Song”, I wanted to try to face the same reflection but starting from a more common and canonical body: the one of the performer Matteo Ramponi.
Why do you do what you do?
Initially I did it for pure, deep, essential personal pleasure. I wanted to discover this incredible world from which I was always excluded. Then I started, almost without asking myself any questions, to answer the first job offers as an actress. One day I realized that the company I worked for was starting to feel a bit too small for me, I realize that I wanted to study and work in other contexts too. This would have meant abandoning the city where I lived and making investments in time and energy that hardly could go together with the project of getting a degree in psychology. There are many of my colleagues who have done both, a degree and an actor training but at that time I realized that I could not.
Living with OI also means living with different timings. The time to go to the bathroom, the time to take a train, to get dressed, to clean the house … studying and working in the theatre both required a time and concentration that for me, with my amount of energy, was not sustainable. That was the moment of choice. 4 exams from graduation I left university and moved to central Italy to work. From there it all really started.
What themes do you pursue?
The issue of the Politically Body is certainly central, but there are other topics as well moving around it such as The Society, the alliances between bodies, the relationship between human and landscape, the fragility.
What kind of work do you most enjoy doing?
As an author I like to do a constant exercise of dis-affection to languages. I am not the kind of person that overthink about scenic language, I think about the emotional waves I want to ride. Emotions has unpredictable rules that only listening can allow you understand. As an interpreter I like to experiment with different languages as well.
In Italy the life of an actress with disabilities is very complex because we are a professional category that does not exist. There are no roles for us, nor there are other authors with disabilities who created worlds in which to move. This is why I listen a lot, I talk a lot with directors, both male and female, and whenever one of them opens a chance of collaboration I go for it no matter which is the language he or she is looking or asking for. Being trained as a contemporary actress fortunately makes me quite versatile and if my body is not considered such, then it is my skills that remind the world that I am, like any other trained and competent actress.
What’s your scariest experience related to your work?
Getting hurt on the stage. It has never happened to me but I am perfectly aware that it can happen and that statistically, if my work continues at the current pace, it will happen. It is scary mainly in the solos, when you know that no colleague will be able to intervene and help you leave the scene without excessive trauma and maybe even without interrupting the performance. If one day I get hurt during a solo I will have to stop it. Declare it. Create a bubble of terror and accept that my fragility gets exposed. This is, working-wise speaking, my worst nightmare.
What is your dream project?
I have two and neither of them concerns a piece of work. I would like the role of artist with a disability to be recognized in Italy and all the protection and associations of reference to be created. We are working in this direction but we are only few and it could take years … but I would like to retire, one day, knowing that a 19 years-old girl in the future will be able to dream of becoming a dancer, actress, director or screenwriter regardless of her fitness.
The other dream project concerns the training system for artists in Italy. I would like it to be open to every type of body as are compulsory schools. We boast one of the most inclusive school systems in the world, yet this wonderful facility crumbles down as soon as we leave the high schools and it completely disappear if we talk about artistic training. With other colleagues we are working to bring the matter afloat until we get to the art academies that receive state grants to become by the law truly accessible for all.
Interviewed by Anna Rossi – OIFE Communication Manager