Spotlight on our Alumni community: Meet Lorenzo Pappagallo

Meet Lorenzo Pappagallo, Alumnus of the Festival Production Management Training in Antwerp 2018. 

Lorenzo is cultural manager, artistic director of the Dance Festival ESCENA PATRIMONIO for the UNESCO Spanish World Heritage Cities and performing arts associate curator of several institutions in Spain and abroad, among which stands out the Performing Arts Fair dFERIA for San Sebastian City Council.  

dFERIA, together with Victoria Eugenia theatre will host the 23rd edition of the Atelier for Young Festival Managers in San Sebastian 2025. 

 The Festival Academy had a chat with Lorenzo about his career and love for Hispanic culture, about borders and building bridges, and how to internationalize your festival.

Hello Lorenzo, first I would like you to introduce yourself. Who are you and what is your background? How did you become interested in the performing arts?

Great, before starting to say what I do and where I work, I usually describe the context of my personal background. I always say that I feel European. I am coming from different places that are all close to borders, I grew up at the border of borders. I was born in Gorizia which is called the ‘Berlin of Italy’, because it was a city split in two. Born at the border with Slovenia and Austria, being half French and half Italian, I always had influences of many different languages, different cultures – and never feeling at home somewhere, So, at one point, I think I decided to feel home everywhere.

And culture really helped with that. I don't come from a family background that was involved in the arts, but my parents always used the arts to connect me to the people and to the different places where we used to live. I think I'm into the arts now because it was really a need for me as a teenager to connect to other cultures that were not mine.

You seem to have a deep love for Hispanic culture, you are now based in Madrid. Could you please share with us how you arrived there?

As for my academic and professional background, I come from international relations in political science. When I was sent for an internship in Buenos Aires with Goethe Institute and started to work on a project on immigration and politics in Argentina, I discovered that I really love the Hispanic culture. And I even found a bit my roots there. Because my grandparents, they are actually from Greece, but Sephardic Greek, so they were speaking Spanish at home. So, it was this thing of ‘Let's explore this further, there is some connection to the Spanish world’. And after I had spent one year in Latin America, I couldn't come back to Europe just like that. And Madrid, where I am based now, was the bridge. Spain was for me the bridge between Latin America and Europe.

Was it also in Spain that you made your first steps into the cultural field?

Yes, but when I arrived in Spain, I hadn’t started working in the field of culture yet. I studied at the diplomatic school in Madrid and worked for a company that was organizing big conferences and events worldwide. We had a lot of relations with the Ministry of Culture. It all started with that experience and these relations, that one day I made the crazy decision to leave my job, to say ‘Let's quit everything!’. I decided it since I was anyways dedicating most of my personal free time to attend cultural events, especially to see theatre and dance performances.

What was the first festival you worked for and in which position did you work?

I started to work for a very important national festival in Spain which is called Almagro Festival, a big public institutional festival. It takes place in the city of Almodovar which is kind of the mecca of Spanish theatre – actually, in the 80s, after the dictatorship, there was a very ambitious project to transform Almagro into the ‘arts campus’ of Spain, especially for performing arts. There is still the National Museum of theatre: it is not in Madrid, but in Almagro. The festival is now 45 years old - it was founded just after the dictatorship - and it is really making the bridge between the ‘Golden Age’ Spanish theatre and contemporary theatre. I was first working there in the production, then I started a bit more on international relations and advising the international programming, with a focus on making bridges with international institutions, international theatres ensembles, and so on.

We also had a section of the festival that was called ‘Almagro Off’. ‘Off’ here in the sense of supporting and giving visibility to independent companies that normally don’t have space in the institutional theaters.

But during my work there, I felt that a lot of emerging great artists, after presenting at Almagro Off, didn’t have any other opportunities to show their work, especially outside Spain. So, in my free time, I decided to try to support them, to work, to collaborate with these artists to make them a bit more international, to do an international dissemination, to help them start doing projects abroad. And for the first time, this started to feel like a real position to me - I was the creative producer of these emerging companies.

You are now working as artistic director for ESCENA PATRIMONIO Dance Festival. Tell me where it all began and about your work there!

There was an opportunity, an open call, for creating a new festival. The aim was to connect 15 cities all over Spain - it was about creating a new festival from scratch without bending to one artistic discipline. I decided to propose a project about dance and how dance and heritage can have a dialogue with each other. I wanted to work with the ‘enfants terribles’ of these 15 cities, artists who were coming from the cities, but who never had the chance to present their work in their city because it was considered too contemporary, too expensive or just too much. And so, I got the project, there was the first edition, and from there, it expanded. I became the director of the festival, we are now in the 7th edition, and the idea still is really to bring the heritage of the cities, the world heritage to life. By now, we have had more than 100 artists, choreographers who presented their work in the festival. And they all bring a new approach, a ‘nouveau regard' at the heritage of the city, with their artistic practices.

And you also continued to work as a consultant for theatre companies…

I've been called to collaborate with other festivals and theatres in Spain and abroad, to consult and support them with two things. 1. internationalization: How to build bridges for emerging artists who are not known abroad, and 2. decentralization: How to promote artistic projects (also international, artistically demanding, or well-known works) not in the main capital cities and metropolis, how to bring them to more rural areas, or smaller cities, or spaces that are invisible in the cities? I collaborated with different artists, festivals, theatre and cities across Spain, and somehow always very international and very local at the same time.

What is your connection with San Sebastian and DFeria?

With San Sebastian, Theatre Viktoria Eugenia, and the performing arts platform DFeria, I started to collaborate three years ago. It happened a bit by chance – I had met the artistic director Norka Chiapusso during our many travels around the world. And every time we were saying ‘It's not possible that we meet every time we travel from Spain!’ and decided that we needed to do something together. And then I received a more institutional invitation to help find new approaches to internationalize the DFeria fair and develop other formats to close the gap between professionals and artists.

You have to know that DFeria is a big fair with more than 650 promoters, presenters, and programmers coming every year. And this makes it complicated to create this relation, this dialogue between artists and programmers. So, part of my mission was and is to find new formats to make this dialogue happen. This could be through workshop activities with mixed profiles, in terms that on the same table are sitting a politician, or somebody from administration, an artist, maybe even a member of the audience, very different profiles at the same table. Or even more fun activities, like giving the artists the chance to talk to programmers, but not in a formal meeting but rather by having a drink together in different districts of the city, to try out the local food together, and like this get to know each toher not just superficially with a project, but through getting to know their daily life, their districts, traditions and so on.

We also developed the idea of a guest country for each edition. We started with Belgium, then Italy, next year, we're going to have Germany. For now, it's within Europe, because the idea is to make the fair first of all well-known in Europe. But after these three years, we're going to open up more to Latin America and Africa, and then of course, keeping expanding.

What is your history with The Festival Academy? Have you been to an Atelier?

Well, I must admit that The Festival Academy has changed my life. It helped me paving the path somehow. So, when I was at Almagro festival, I took part in the Atelier for Young Production Managers in Antwerp which was conceived as three-modules training, including an internship at a festival. I was doing my internship in Gothenburg at the Fringe Festival in Gothenburg and Teater Dans Festival. Then, when the Atelier was happening in Gothenburg, I became directly involved and helped designing the programme. And I had the chance to also taking part in some of the activities and met amazing people with whom I am still in touch. The Alumni world is great!

Since I couldn't make it to the third module of the production managers training, I applied for the Digital(R)evolution training on digitalization. This was before the pandemic, and it was great as well. And when the pandemic started, thanks to the online session that were organised during the lockdowns, I kept in contact with a lot of the other participants and peers during this time. 

The Festival Academy has a huge impact on my career.

For example, I worked at the Wiener Festwochen because of The Festival Academy’s production manager training. One of the participants was Celestine Kubelka, the head of production of Wiener Festwochen at that time, and we started to get along very well, so she invited me to work for them for one edition.

Then I met Ruth Mackenzie in one of the Ateliers with whom I am still very much in contact. Then Teresa from Materias Diversos in Portugal. And with a lot of mentors, peers and colleagues, we've been in touch also through various projects. I feel that in most of the projects I did, there was always a connection to The Festival Academy somehow.

Why did you think that it could be interesting to organise an Atelier in San Sebastian?

I think two years ago, I had a call with Inge about The Festival Academy and we talked about the idea of doing something in Latin America – but we said maybe we should do something in Spain first, that could be the springboard to connect with Latin America. And since I'm working for DFeria in San Sebastian where we have the strong mission to internationalize on all levels, to get the festival known in the international community, I thought it would be interesting to become even more global and open it up.

I thought that San Sebastian could be a really good option for an Atelier. DFeria had always been a quite important platform for Latin America. Most of the International programmers used to come from Latin America, there is really a strong network. Then as well, San Sebastian and DFeria are prepared, because they are already able to receive 600 people every year for the fair. And San Sebastian is a beautiful city - a border city, again - very close to France, very traditional on its own. It's in Basque country, easy to access from different cities. And the city was European Capital of Culture in 2016. So, I think it is important to see what stays from a Capital of Culture. What could be inspiring as a debate? What has happened after being the Capital of Culture? And also for the global community, is it still a capital of culture or not?

As a last question and in order to share some of your expertise with the community: Do you have any advises for peers to consider if they want to internationalize their festival?

It always depends on your context, the local context, the starting point and the objectives. What kind of internationalization are you targeting, because there are different scales. Most importantly, I would say: being aware of being part of an ecosystem. The artistic world, we are already an ecosystem. Even if you think there are hierarchies, the ecosystem is actually horizontal because without one of the connections the whole thing doesn’t work.

So, don’t think only about who your funders are or what the most renowned production is but look at what is the ecosystem around – in a country that you want to collaborate with for example. Knowing more around the institutions, the balance between public funding and independent scene. Funding systems of each country. Because oftentimes you want to do international projects, but the funding systems don’t match.

And then I would suggest to always start from the emerging artists, because bigger companies are maybe more used in touring abroad, but they might be less adaptable to change to a context, to become involved in new collaborative projects and not just present their shows that have already been produced. If we think about internationalization of being more sustainable – of course, keep having more and more international bridges - but in the same time let’s do it in a sustainable way, let’s consider more the mid-long-term lasting effects. And this is through real collaboration, for example inviting creative teams to mix or inviting an international artist to work with a local artist.

And I suggest working with emerging artists not only because they are more flexible but working with them also gives them the chance to change the production system. We are seeing how the needs of artists transform. Right now, we are seeing a lot of artistic residencies. Before, artists were looking more for co-productions or touring dates, and now, they are investing in research. Instead of being funded to present a show, many artists now prefer to work with funding for a residency over a longer period which is a good and interesting development.

So, yes, for me, in internationalization it is very important to think about long lasting effects of any encounter.