ccc1The Italian company Teatro di Piazza o d’Ocassione (T.P.O.) was founded in 1981. However, it was 21 years later that it had its turning point. In 2002, they performed, for the very first time, The Children's Cheering Carpet, which they like to define as an interactive theatre in immersive environments.

“Currently the Teatro Fabbrichino, where we are based, looks more like a tourism agency than our company's residence”, said the director Davide Venturini when speaking with Australian Stage's Roberta Alves after a presentation of his “Italian garden” during the Perth International Arts Festival. Venturini’s joke is an understatement: the success that the T.P.O. has obtained worldwide is quite real. Nowadays they spend 80% of the year travelling and they have performed in Chile, Japan and now, for the first time, in Australia.

“Four of us are here, another four are travelling in the United States, another group is presenting our plays in Europe and finally, a last one is in Italy working on a new project”, says Venturini, who directs the company alongside Francesco Gandi. “It feels like we have become slaves of The Children's Cheering Carpet.”

The Children's Cheering Carpet story began as a motor skills workshop for kids with learning disabilities. The “Clic-lab”, as they called this initial phase, was presented in 2002 at the Percursos Festival in Lisbon and at the Catch Festival in London. “At that stage, we wanted to study the relationship between movement, animated images, perception of space and, at the same time, observe children's reactions”, recalls Venturini.

Since their preliminary phase with the “Clic-lab”, Venturini and Gandi have been working with the graphic designer Elsa Mersi and computer science engineers Martin von Gunten and Rossano Monti. Together they have developed a system capable of building an interactive relationship between movement, sounds and images, using an array of pressure sensors placed below a rubbery carpet. Using this system T.P.O. created their Garden trilogy: The Italian garden, The painted garden and The Japanese Garden. “As we were working on the floor the idea of recreating different gardens came straight away”, explains the director.

ccc2The Children's Cheering Carpet uses cutting-edge technology, but is quite simple and beautiful as a theatre act. In “The Italian garden”, for example, two performers dance establishing a perfect connection with the changing images on the floor: something amazing happens every time they activate the sensors, which are hidden under the carpet, out of sight of the audience. Out of the blue, beautiful red flowers can spread all over the carpet, or a labyrinth may appear.

During the performance, every now and then, children are invited to interact with the two dancers, and especially with the carpet. “We have a script, which we normally follow, but every time we present The Children's Cheering Carpet it is a new work, because anything can happen”, explains the director. Depending on the country, children invited to participate can behave in very different ways. “In countries like Chile, Japan and in Northern Europe children are very respectful. They think a lot before starting to interact with the carpet. This is the best way to act, because the carpet can be an interactive instrument, but it’s not a Playstation, it’s still a theatre, so we need to behave accordingly.”

How about Australian children? “Oh, they are very kind, but too wild. They act before thinking, and that can be a problem because they can't realize this is still theatre.”

The Children’s Cheering Carpet
performed as part of the 2008 Perth International Arts Festival

Images - The Children’s Cheering Carpet by Teatro di Piazza o d’Ocassione: The Italian Garden

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