A Chronicle: 2008-2020

Riccardo Soliani1, Mario Morroni2

This paper offers an account of the authors’ activity of teaching economics by a means of theatrical readings. The starting point was the drafting up of two scripts written independently by the co-authors of this article. In 2008, Riccardo Soliani wrote a script from non-theatrical texts by Keynes on the economic consequences of the peace of 1918.3 Some years later, Mario Morroni wrote a script Nothing Is as It Seems based on his dialogues on the great recession 2008-2018.4  These early experiences have evolved over the years in distinctive strands of activities, performing numerous theatrical readings on economic issues: in public events, in academic conferences, both in Italy and in the United Kingdom, and in class. Table 1 sums up the various theatrical readings that have taken place since 2008.

1. Theatrical reading in public events

The first strand of activities consists in organising theatrical readings in open events that are addressed to the general public and contribute to the diffusion of culture out of academia.  This is part of the “third mission” of universities. , as  the Italian Minister of University calls the diffusion of culture to the general public.

This script of The economic consequences of the peace was first performed in Udine in 2008 by the “Teatro Club” directed by Angela Felice,  under the supervision of Riccardo Soliani.  The event took place in the town hall of Udine and raised interest and appreciation among the large audience composed of lay people.5 In 2015 Riccardo Soliani revised the script staged in Udine in 2008 and included a new part on the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, based on Marcuzzo (2011). The reading, open to the public, took place in the Renaissance hall of the Chamber of Commerce of Genoa.6 At the end of the reading, many questions and remarks from the floor contributed to a live and interesting debate.

Nulla è come appare (Nothing Is as It Seems) was performed by professional and amateur actors in 2017 in the beautiful Castello di Vicari-Lari in Tuscany in occasion of a cultural festival7 and in 2019 in the Palazzo Ducale of Genoa within a programme of open events entitled Economia in scena (Economy mise-en-scène).8

2. Academic conferences

The activity of theatrical readings in academic conferences started with the representation of Nulla è come appare (Nothing Is as It Seems)” at the Association for the History of Political Economy (STOREP) Annual Conference in 2016 in Catania. The dialogue was performed by colleagues who participated in the Conference.9 The surprise effect was remarkable: participants in the Conference did not expect something like that, and were favourably impressed by the idea of economists-actors performing ‘theatrical economics’ at the conference. This encouraged STOREP to go on with the event hosting new theatrical readings in the subsequent Annual Conferences. This soon became a warmly appreciated tradition.  For the following STOREP Annual Conference in Piacenza (2017), Riccardo Soliani wrote a script which is a free adaptation from the well-known, prize-winner play in verse Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini (2014) on the history of Lehman family, and from his novel Qualcosa sui Lehman (Massini 2016): their initial poverty, great success and, finally, devastating fall of the bank they had founded. The public reading The Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy was presented through acting, music, and slides.10

The original Lehman Trilogy, which is also known as Capitoli del crollo, was staged first in 2010 in Italy and, a little later, in various European countries and in the United States. This long play, which lasts five hours, was directed by several great artists: among others, Luca Ronconi and Sam Mendes.  As Luca Ronconi maintained: “There are many stanzas placed one inside another […]. It contains continuous returns, real formulas hidden inside the speech, as in epic poetry. What we must somehow try to do is to give an air, a natural trend to a form that is not natural”.11 In order to present The Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy at the STOREP Conference, it was shortened to about 40 minutes; however, maintaining the “ballad-like” flow of the original text, the chronological line and the atmosphere created by the language, the environments and the characters. This version for the STOREP Conference drew also from Marcuzzo (2011) and emphasized the more recent events of the Lehman family and the bank. The collaboration between the economists-actors and the young economists of STOREP was fruitful. The participants in the Conference appreciated the play very much. It triggered a lively discussion that continued even after the event was over.

For the 2018 STOREP Annual Conference in Genoa, Riccardo Soliani drafted a script freely adapted from The anarchist banker, a paradoxical, witty and bitter play by Fernando Pessoa (1922 in 2010), and from an original anarchist text by Errico Malatesta12 (Malatesta 1883). The script underlines the difference between the idea of freedom in the anarchist-libertarian thought and the eagerness to obtain total freedom thanks to great wealth. It highlights the sudden psychological overturning of the banker in a conversation with a young friend: the initial wise and relaxed attitude evolves in foolish stance that reveals the greed of power of the banker, who loses his temper and claims the accumulation of wealth as a means of achieving total freedom. The banker would pretend to embody the authentic anarchist ideal. In contrast, the young friend replies firmly, referring to the genuine anarchist thinking.

In the 2019 STOREP Annual Conference in Siena, we presented a new version of The Economic Consequences of the Peace: 1919-2019.13

Finally, in the Autumn 2019, “Nothing is as it seems” was performed by economists-actors in two academic conferences: “Developments in Economics Education Conference” at the University of Warwick, and “Integrating the history of economic thought in the classroom” at Queen Mary, University of London (see Table 1).

3. Theatre in the classroom14

The first experiments of didactical theatre took place in 2017 with two readings of Nulla è come appare (Nothing Is as It Seems) in courses of Economics at the University of Genoa15 and at the University of Pisa.16

In 2018, a group of volunteer students, attending the course of Economics in Pisa University, wrote and staged Eurostarnomics, a dialogue during a train journey on controversial socio-economic topics; in a dramatic form, the students-actors discussed and applied the concepts of macroeconomics that they had learnt in the course.17

In 2019 the theatrical reading The Economic Consequences of the Peace: 1919-2019 was performed within the course of Economics at Pisa University. The aim was twofold: to show students how to perform a theatrical reading and to discuss with them the economic implication of the Versailles Treaty in the light of the global financial crisis that started in 2008. The reading was warmly welcomed by the audience and followed by an interesting debate with several questions and remarks from the floor.18

In 2019, a project of learning theatre received financial support from the University of Pisa, that aimed at the realization of a series of scripts readable in public, addressing specific topics of the course of Economics. The students were encouraged, although not compulsively required, to participate in the theatrical training, which was considered an integration of fourteen extra class hours into the main course in Economics. The number of participants was higher than expected, and they worked for many more hours than scheduled; fifty-seven students, divided into seven groups, wrote and performed dialogues that covered several economic issues.

In the first phase, each group was assigned to choose a topic and prepare a short dialogue, which had to be correct, lively and easily comprehensible to their classmates. The texts were analysed, discussed and revised under the supervision of Patrizia Pasqui and Mario Morroni, until they were consistent and suitable for the theatrical performance. Students discussed with Mario Morroni the learned concepts of economics and their explanation in a dramatic form. Patrizia Pasqui taught students the basic rules of writing a theatrical text.  The second phase was dedicated to training the students for the public reading of the scripts.

At the end of the semester, each group was engaged in the staging before the class. All students voted for the more interesting and effective reading; three of them were selected and recorded. They dealt with the crisis of the European Union; the relationship between state, market and finance; and the consequences of climate change.19

The educational theatre project was considered by a Commission established by the Vice Rector of the University of Pisa Marco Abate, together with three other projects, as the most innovative teaching projects out of about 60 projects presented in academic year 2018-2019. In 2020, 15 volunteer students of the course of Economics at the University of Pisa formed four groups that are preparing four different scripts under the direction of Patrizia Pasqui. Due to the diffusion of Covid-19, personal contacts were impeded. Consequently, the activity of writing scripts has been carried out through meeting and seminars online. Considering the unfavourable circumstances, the outcome has been encouraging and the final reading, with the recording of the reading, will take place when in classroom activities start again after the interruption due to Covid-19.

[1] University ir Geona, Italy; riccardo.soliani@unige.it

[2] University of Pisa, Italy; mario.morroni@unipi.it.

[3] Keynes (1919; 1931; 1933a; 1933b).

[4] Morroni (2016) and (2018). See Appendix C.

[5] The event was organized by Luigi Reitani, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Maria Cristina Marcuzzo gave an introductory speech to the public reading.

[6] “The Economic consequences of the peace” was organised by the Department of Political Science and the School of Social Science of the University of Genoa and was performead by three actors (Andrea Benfante, Fabrizio Giacomazzi and Giuliana Manganelli), directed by Riccardo Soliani, with live musical improvisations by Marco Mazzoli, economist at the Department of Economics and jazz pianist. The event began with an introductory conversation between Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, Realino Marra, Director of the School of Social Science, and Giovanni Battista Pittaluga, Head of the Department of Political Science.

[7] The theatrical reading in the Castello di Vicari-Lari was organised by Michele Sanfilippo and performed by Paolo Dellagiovampaola, Maddalena Gajo, Sabrina Funari e Marco Madrigali.

[8] Palazzo Ducale was the ancient seat of the Republic of Genoa and now the most important public cultural centre of the city. “Nulla è come appare” was performed by two economists, Hilda Ghiara and Riccardo Soliani, a playwright, Patrizia Pasqui, and an actor, Mario Spallino. After the reading, Enrico Musso opened the debate among Mario Morroni, Giovanni Battista Pittaluga and the floor.

[9] The theatrical reading was performed by Joselle Dagnes, Antonella Palumbo, Riccardo Solini and Francesco Trentin who collaborated in the final version of the script and in the organisation of the reading. Mario Morroni was backstage setting music and images.

[10] The Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy was performed by Riccardo Soliani and two other economists-actors: Alessia Bruzzo and Hilda Ghiara, with the technical collaboration of the young economists of STOREP.

[11] https://lucaronconi.it/scheda/teatro/lehman-trilogy, our translation.

[12] Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) was a protagonist of Anarchism, not only in Italy, but also in Europe and Argentina. His political action aimed at organising Trade Unions and spreading the anarchist ideal among workers. In 1920 he founded the newspaper Umanità Nova (New Humanity), where adopted a line of refusal of violence, if not strictly necessary. He was a strong opponent of Fascism, searching for the unity of all anti-fascist movements.

[13] The English version of the text is in the Appendix B. In Siena, the reading was performed by Hilda Ghiara, Patrizia Pasqui and Riccardo Soliani, with the assistance of Mario Morroni.

[14] This section is drawn from Morroni and Soliani (2021).

[15] The course was held by Giovanni Battista Pittaluga. The reading at Genoa University was organized by Riccardo Soliani and performed by the economist – actors Alessia Bruzzo, Hilda Ghiara, Marta Santagata e Riccardo Soliani, with the live musical improvisation by the economist and musician Marco Mazzoli. At the end of the reading there was an animated debate.

[16] The course was held by Mario Morroni. The reading was performed by students under the direction of the playwright Patrizia Pasqui. The video of this play is available on YouTube.

[17] The course was held by Mario Morroni. Students wrote the script and performed the reading under the direction of the playwright Patrizia Pasqui. The video of this play is available on YouTube.

[18] The reading was performed by Hilda Ghiara, Patrizia Pasqui and Riccardo Soliani with live music expressly composed and played by Luigi Traino. The video of the reading is  available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1rI65kAoe8&t=898s.

[19] The three videos are available in YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0wVHaoPsTI&t=2s; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0wVHaoPsTI&t=2s; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0wVHaoPsTI&t=2s.

Theatrical Readings in Classroom (TRC), in Academic Conferences (AC) and in Public Events (PE): 2008-2019

Title, Author and Director Year and Venue Kind
The Economic Consequences of the Peace Free adaptation from Keynes (1919 in 2019; 1931;1933a;1933b) Script by Soliani – Directors: Felice and Soliani 2008 Chamber of Commerce, Udine PE
The Economic Consequences of the Peace Free adaptation from Keynes (1919 in 2019; 1931;1933a;1933b); Marcuzzo (2011); Massini (2014) Script by Soliani  – Director: Soliani 2015 Chamber of Commerce, Genoa PE
Nulla è come appare Free adaptation from Morroni (2016) Script by Morroni – Director: Soliani Director: Pasqui 2016 STOREP – Catania Univ. 2017 Genoa Univ. 2017 Pisa Univ. AC TRC TRC
The Lehman Bankruptcy Free adaptation from Massini (2014) Script by Soliani  – Director: Soliani 2017 STOREP – Piacenza Univ. AC
Nulla è come appare Free adaptation from Morroni (2016) Script by Morroni – Director: Sanfilippo 2017 Castello di Vicari-Lari PE
The Anarchic Banker Free adaptation from Pessoa (1922 in 2018) Script by Soliani  – Director: Soliani 2018 STOREP – Genoa Univ. AC
Eurostarnomics Script by students – Director: Pasqui 2018 Pisa Univ. TRC
The Economic Consequences of the Peace: 1919-2019 Free adaptation from Keynes (1919 in 2019; 1931; 1933a; 1933b); Marcuzzo (2011); Massini (2014; 2016) Script by Soliani  – Director: Pasqui 2019 Pisa Univ. 2019 STOREP – Siena Univ. TRC AC
Mai stati uniti (the crisis of the E.U.) Script by students – Director: Pasqui 2019 Pisa Univ. TRC
Breakfast Club (state and market) Script  by students – Director: Pasqui 2019 Pisa Univ. TRC
A Wicked Problem for a Dismal Science (climatic change) Script  by students – Director: Pasqui 2019 Pisa Univ. TRC
Nothing Is as It Seems Free adaptation from Morroni (2018) Script by Morroni – Director: Paredes-Fuentes 2019 Univ. of Warwick AC
Nothing Is as It Seems Free adaptation from Morroni (2018) Script by Morroni – Director: Tavasci 2019 Queen Mary, Univ. of London AC
Nulla è come appare Free adaptation from Morroni (2016) Script by Morroni – Director: Pasqui and Soliani 2019 Palazzo Ducale – Genoa PE


Keynes J. M. (2019 [1919]), The Economic Consequences of the Peace. With a new introduction by Michael Cox, Palgrave MacMillan, London.

Keynes J. M., (1931), Essays in Persuasion, MacMillan, London.

Keynes J. M. (1933a), “Dr. Melchior, a defeated enemy”, in Essays in Biography, London, Macmillan.

Keynes J.M. (1933b), “Lloyd George”, in Essays in Biography, London, Macmillan.

Marcuzzo M.C. (2011), “Reason and reasonableness in Keynes: Lessons from The Economic Consequences of the Peace 90 years later” in A. Amon et al. (eds), Perspectives on Keynesian Economics, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg.

Massini S. (20142, ed. orig. 2013), Lehman trilogy, Einaudi, Torino.

Massini S. (2016), Qualcosa sui Lehman, Mondadori, Milano; repr. Oscar Mondadori, 2018; English translation by R. Dixon, The Lehman Trilogy. A Novel, HarperVia, London, 2020.

Morroni M. (2016), Nulla è come appare. Dialoghi sulle verità sommerse della crisi economica, Reggio Emilia, Imprimatur.

Morroni M. (2018), What is the Truth About the Great Recession and Increasing Inequality? Dialogues on Disputed Issues and Conflicting Theories, Cham, Springer Nature. English revised and updated edition of Morroni (2016).

Pessoa F. (1922) “O banqueiro anarquista”, Contemporânea, Lisboa; English transl. by R. Schein, The Anarchist Banker, R. Schein and Guernica Editions, Oakville, Canada, 2018.