The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - September 19

Spanish jugglers, acrobats from Chile, Ukrainian fire breathers and scores of other performers have spent the last three weekends helping residents on the outskirts of Milan keep a centuries-old tradition of open-air theatre alive. The 'artisti di strada', or street artists, were taking part in the annual International Street Theatre Festival, which wound up its third edition Sunday night with a bawdy burlesque parade and a dazzling display of fireworks.

Like commedia dell'arte, the improvised form of theatre developed in Italy's piazzas and back alleys in the Renaissance, Milan's festival was based on the idea that art is free: a public good, meant for public spaces. The aim was also to bring some family fun to the suburbs, which are often left out of Milan's cultural life. Some 60,000 youngsters and adults attended the festival, held in the streets and squares of 11 suburban neighbourhoods and involving more than 350 buskers from Italy and abroad.

Although the most famous performers received a small 'thank-you' fee, most troupers gladly performed free in return for being put up by a local Milan theatre. The festival was officially geared towards children aged three and up but it was not rare to see tears of laughter streaming down the faces of parents and grandparents as well.