The Dimitri family celebrates the half centenary of the Teatro Dimitri, founded by the famous clown Dimitri and his wife Gunda in 1971 in Verscio (Terre di Pedemonte), now a theatre of great importance for the Canton Ticino. David Dimitri tells us how his parents founded the theatre and why everyone should grab the opportunity to visit this amazing cultural centre at the heart of Verscio.
The theatre is in the village of Verscio (Terre di Pedemonte), which retains its old charm, with narrow alleyways and buildings with traditional stone roofs. Despite the maze of backstreets, it's easy to find the theatre founded by the clown Dimitri and his wife in 1971, exactly 50 years ago. Just follow the signs bearing the face of a clown and the words "Teatro Dimitri": these guide you to a series of buildings forming the cultural centre at the heart of the village.
«The theatre was set up here because my father wanted somewhere to produce new shows once he became famous, in the 1960s. Born in Ascona, Dimitri had close ties in the area. Moreover, the energy coming from Monte Verità and a community of people seeking an alternative lifestyle in Valle Onsernone meant he was really keen to do something here. So he found this small complex of three old houses in Verscio with a large cellar, where he built his first stage. His new theatre could seat just 100. As a child I can remember sitting there of an evening, watching him. Fantastic!» continues David Dimitri.
A few years later Dimitri decided he wanted to introduce his art to the younger generation and so founded the "Scuola Teatro Dimitri". «There was nothing like it at the time, just conventional theatrical schools. My father wanted to create something a little bit different: the chance to specialise in comedy and clowning. Over the years this school has become one of the 4 key theatre schools at a university level in Switzerland. It proved to be an important step: the school spread throughout Verscio. Indeed, village life is centred on the school, while the students benefit greatly from the local culture».
In the 1980s the small theatre became just too small
In the 1980s the small theatre became just too small. Everyone wanted to see Dimitri, and so the current theatre was built, with just under 200 seats. Many famous international stars have trod the boards of this now-historic stage. The Teatro Dimitri puts on shows for all tastes, with magicians, circus acts, musicians, comedians and many more besides. No need to speak Italian: there are many shows in pure Dimitri style. After all, clowning has its very own language, where words are not needed. The programme often includes shows in German and French.
The main feature of the Teatro Dimitri is, of course, the fact that this was Clown Dimitri's very own stage. But that's not all. It has been built with great skill. Its acoustics are first-class and the stage can easily cater for any kind of performance. «My father wanted to build a theatre that guarantees a full view of the stage from every seat, regardless of the audience sitting in front of you». Some great names have appeared on the programme over the years, including the Swiss mask theatre troupe Mummenschanz, who made an early appearance here, the Swiss comedian Emil Steinberger, the German singer/songwriter and poet Wolf Biermann, the Swiss dramatist Max Frisch, the French accordion player Richard Galliano and the English director Peter Brook.
The repertoire includes a play by Dimitri himself, ensuring the Dimitri family is ever present. «My parents are no longer with us. So now it's up to us, my sisters and brothers and me to continue the tradition. Every year, in the months of July and August, it never ceases to amaze us just how many people come from all around the world to visit the Ascona-Locarno region. It's a fantastic area, with mountains and the lake, plus plenty of sunshine... and a visit to the Teatro Dimitri in the evening». The theatre is just part of the cultural centre founded by Dimitri all those years ago. On performance days you can also visit the "Museo Comico" with its many posters, photos, musical instruments, masks, clowns, elephants and various other exhibits. Alternatively, enjoy a walk in the park and a tasty bistro meal.