In 2015, at the Biblioteca di San Giovannino, the lights rose for the first time in 300 years on Gian Gastone and Anna Maria Luisa, telling their story beneath the dusty collection of ancient tomes. As Gian Gastone shouted in tortured sleep, a lone man watched from the darkness. He’d read about The Medici Dynasty Show in Corriere della Sera and was the single audience member to attend on opening night.
One was enough. Fascinated, he became a friend to the production, lending a hand to promote the ambitious project. The challenge for producers Giuseppe Arone and Cristiano Brizzi was to show the history of Florence without overwhelming the audience. With so many stories to choose from, it’s easy to “fall down the rabbit hole” of information. The key was to select one element and chip away everything else, as Michelangelo carved the David out from within the largest block of marble ever worked. That element was the last generation of the Medici. A chance to reflect on the entire lineage, the end implying the beginning and, in particular, the little-known story of The Family Pact, now coming to prominence in public awareness. It is the reason Florence has remained, for centuries, a beacon for inspiration seekers and cultural nourishment.
The show grew in popularity fast, an experience that creates strong memories, sometimes for extraordinary reasons. In the first year there was a fierce lightning storm and, mid-performance, the lights went out for a full 15 minutes. Undeterred, Carolina Gamini and Tim Daish improvised an entirely new section in the dark, entertaining the nervous audience until they were in raptures and laughter. With this indomitable spirit, The Medici Dynasty Show has grown to arrive now, in its third extended season, at over 400 performances celebrated this autumn.
There is joy in combining the pleasure of a night out with learning, to walk away more than entertained but also enriched. The performing arts offer a storytelling experience unlike any other. A chance to lose yourself in the darkness, for the people around you to vanish as a scene plays out in front of you. You hear the thunder of Anna Maria Luisa’s raised voice and laugh as Gian Gastone’s crudity takes on a life beyond his scandalous reputation, one also coloured by his fragility and sadness. We realise these historical figures were human, with the complexity that brings.
The Medici Dynasty Show team
Practically speaking, theatre can cover a serious amount of history and locations (thanks to immersive video projections); a 360 view without walking for hours across the city. The 7pm start time for a one-hour performance pairs perfectly with dinner, as many of the museums and galleries are closing—a convenient way to program an evening itinerary for tourists and locals alike.
With every show, the community around The Medici Dynasty Show has grown. From Advancing Women Artists to tour guides and companies, teachers and students, and ongoing guidance and input from The British Institute of Florence, just to name a new, the family expands. It is the love of history, respect for its artefacts and passion for contemporary contribution that binds us together.
The team behind The Medici Dynasty are the embodiment of this international fascination. Italian playwright and critic Gherardo Vitalo Rosati wrote the original script in 2015, guided by Giuseppe Arone and assisted by Argentinian-born and London-raised Carolina Gamini. The roles are performed by Gamini and her co-star British stage and screen actor Tim Daish. I joined them from Australia as understudy actress and collaborated with Rosati on a new version of the script. Together with director Bari Hochwald, hailing from New York, we asked ourselves: What if, instead of the characters telling us their story, we instead became a witness to it?
The new script launched with a new location to match, a lesser-known and magnificent historical site, the evocative church at the convent of Il Fuligno. The changes were immediately successful, plunging into the emotional lives and troubled relationship of Anna Maria Luisa and Gian Gastone. Through brother and sister, audiences see the history with a combination of awe and irreverence. As they argue over the significance of the statue of David, witnesses laugh to discover the rivalry between Da Vinci and Michelangelo, and it reminds us that genius can be as petty as we are.
On leaving the show, people step out onto the street with new appreciation for the city. They engage in tours and exploration with excitement, feeling a connection with the history and a hunger to know more. This is the cultural entrepreneurship that beats the heart of Florence. The past in live motion, celebrated by an international team of creatives who see value not only in the artefacts left behind to behold, but in the lives of the people themselves. We want to know from history about the very parts of ourselves we fear will be lost, whatever our legacy—that of our inner world, our laughter, our tears. Here, we find it.
The Medici Dynasty Show
Il Fuligno, via Faenza 48 (black), Florence
The performance lasts for about one hour and begins at 7pm. November dates: 4, 5, 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29.
Box office by the Duomo, in piazza San Giovanni 1, 10am-6pm