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History of Piccolo Teatro Grassi in 60 Seconds

Picture of Livia Hengel
Updated: 4 July 2017
Dating back to 1947, the Piccolo Teatro di Milano was Italy’s first public theater. It was founded by Paolo Grassi, a theater impresario, along with his wife Nina Vinchi Grassi and Giorgio Strehler, an actor and director who oversaw over 200 plays. The theater comprises three venues, including Teatro Grassi, Teatro Studio and Teatro Strehler, and puts on approximately 30 performances per year, covering works by a variety of playwrights.

The Piccolo Teatro was inaugurated as a space that championed the freedom of artistic expression and welcomed international performances, while remaining true to its roots and traditions. Its philosophy was to be an “Arts Theater For Everyone” and it continues to put on quality shows at affordable prices, attracting a broad and varied audience to its productions.

The theater has put on over 300 shows since its founding, many of them directed by Giorgio Strehler, and its long list of productions includes plays by Shakespeare, Goldoni, Brecht and Cechov. Its first performance was a minimalist adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths (starring Strehler himself in the role of cobbler Alijosa) though the theater’s most famous production was Arlecchino servitore di due padroni, or “Harlequin Servant of Two Masters”, a reference to a comic character from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte theatrical tradition with masked “types”. This play continues to appear on stage after more than 50 years.

The Piccolo Teatro has been highly successful from its inception and has long been recognized as an ambassador for Italian theater culture throughout the world. In 1991 it joined six other venues to form the Union of European Theaters, which now includes dozens of members. Today, the theater has expanded its repertoire and become an interdisciplinary space that hosts dance, prose, film screenings and round tables to help promote culture in all its forms. It also hosts the Paolo Grassi Drama School.