Atelier La Lucciola (The Firefly Workshop) by Elise Timm-Bottos


    It wasn’t expected that I would find a place like La Lucciola; it was just an uncanny coincidence, one that fell right from the sky into my lap. I was walking with a friend along Via Cavour, in downtown Palermo, Sicily, and I caught sight of the little theatre from across the street. “Let’s go there,” I said catching sight of the bright murals on the outside door. It was locked, but I rang the doorbell, and I was very happy that I did. It was my first meeting with Nadia, a bright, cheerful 30-something woman with wild curly hair. She was more than happy to show us around the place, which had been running for about 10 years as a workshop for kids and a puppet theatre. Nadia told us all about the crowds of kids that love to come to the studio, and the recent decision to stop workshops and become a full time theatre. “They just don’t understand the difference between the days that the space is running as an art studio when it’s fine to roam around, and the days set aside for performances, when they have to stay in the audience.” She said in Italian, “It’s hard to make it clear.” 

    I fell in love with the little theatre right away, having a passion for puppetry myself, and although I knew I wouldn’t be in Sicily for their upcoming performance, I told Nadia I wanted to help out in any way I could. I was thrilled when it seemed like both she, and her partner, Alessandro, were happy for the extra hand. A couple of days later, I talked with my parents, who were planning on visiting me in Italy, where I had been working and traveling for the past 9 months. I talked with my mom on Skype, and told her about this fantastic theatre I had found. “Would you be interested in visiting Palermo with me?” I asked her, “That way you can see the hostel I’ve been working at for the last month.” She and my dad talked about it and agreed. I was excited, because it meant I could also see the upcoming performance. 

The next time I visited, La Lucciola was already in full swing making things for the performance. When I told Nadia that I would be in Palermo to see the show, they invited me to help them create and perform the entire thing. I agreed, of course, and started my first project, a giant papier mache moon. 

Every day after, when I would finish my work at the hostel, I would go to the theatre, to work on a part of the performance. The show was a collection of short musical pieces, being performed for the first time by a band of piano, bass, drum and violin. It was being held at the conservatory for music, and the composer had asked La Lucciola to make a series of short puppet pieces for each of the songs. It was very free at the beginning, an exchange of ideas and skills. Nadia thought it would be interesting if I created a piece for “The snow is dancing” because I’m from Canada and have a bit more experience on the subject. I had my cousin bring me the puppet head and hands I had bought from a friend of mine in Montreal, and went to work with them making the body and costume. It was so incredible for me to find these two people in Sicily, with all the materials and expertise for putting this puppet together.


    The rest of the creation process was pretty easy going, each day making something new. The funniest part was that a photography class had asked if they could come to take pictures of the process, and Nadia had accepted, so often there would be a class of 15 photographers, taking pictures of everything as we would work. It felt like a very weird form of flattery, as if gluing these things became more important if a crowd of photographers were watching and taking pictures.

There was also one crazy rehearsal in which the musicians arrived, and we did a very quick complete run through of the pieces. It was almost comical, the contrast between the very put together and professional musicians, and us with our materials everywhere, buzzing around, “Where did I put that top hat?” style. 

 I went on a short trip to Rome with my parents, a couple of days before the performance. It was planned before I even became involved with the theatre, and I probably wouldn’t have made the trip if it hadn’t been. When I returned, it was dress rehearsal time, but Nadia and Alessandro seemed unfazed. They had figured out some of the big problems we had had during the run before, and I made a couple improvements on my shadow puppets. The time came of move all of the things over to the conservatory, and add in the extra special bits, like their friend Louise, on stilts for the musical piece “Serenade for the doll.”


    After a very long dress rehearsal, where almost everything went wrong, we stopped half way through. It seemed as though it was hopeless to fix all the things before the performance tomorrow, especially because we hadn’t had very much time to practice with the musicians, and it was improvisation all the way through. I had dreams of puppet malfunctions.

    The next day, we got into the conservatory around 6 pm and finished the run just in time to reset and do the show for real. The audience flooded in at 9 pm, and we barely had time to run into the bathroom for some quick clown makeup. It was right before the show that my fragile trapeze swinger shadow puppets decided to break, so I wrestled with some quick-dry glue back stage. The audience filled up quickly, but I managed to reserve some seats for my parents, and my boss at the hostel, who also brought along some of the guests. 

    The performance was full of magic. We worked to bring to life all of our ideas and projects. What started as a little seed of a thought, blossomed into a story that we shared, no matter what language, or country we were from.

 Everyone was full of praise of the images and stories we created, together with the fantastic musicians. I feel honored to have been a part of a collaboration of artistic talent, and I can’t wait to explore further at Atelier La Lucciola. 



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