For nearly three centuries, a small and beautiful Baroque theater in Malta’s capital, Valletta, has stood the test of the changing world around it.

Longevity has long been a hallmark of Teatru Manoel, built at a time of unprecedented stability in the country after near-endless unrest amid countless conquerors.

To celebrate this newfound peace and prosperity, António Manoel de Vilhena, Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. John, commissioned and personally financed the construction of the theater in 1731.

Since then, Teatru Manoel has responded to the island nation’s insatiable demand for theatrical productions, operas, historical re-enactments and concerts, withstanding invasions, occupations, colonizations and now, even a global pandemic.

As the third oldest operating theater in Europe, it remains today the cornerstone of Malta’s artistic community, as well as a much-loved figurehead of the country’s cultural heritage.

“Shifting consumer preferences and behaviors during the pandemic and new economic realities may have longer-term effects on audience patterns.”

Far from being relegated to the history books and national nostalgia, Teatru Manoel’s continued success depends not only on its endurance, but also on its ability to remain relevant over time, evolving alongside the community that it serves and the wider cultural industry it supports.

“The continued success of Teatru Manoel stems from its mission and vision statements,” says CEO Massimo Zammit. “It strives to provide directors, writers, actors and designers with a platform to unleash their creative potential and further explore their talents.

“Le Manoel offers a diverse program of events and productions, which appeal to a wide audience and attract people from different walks of life.”

Preserving the cultural community

But it wasn’t all easy. Massimo took the helm as CEO of Teatru Manoel at one of the most difficult times in the arts business. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters around the world have closed as instructed to protect both performers and audiences.

Artistic opportunities disappeared overnight. Yet throughout its 300-year history, theater has weathered many such storms – and ushered in new eras for the industry in the aftermath.

“To survive, we got more creative about how we reached our audience. The future of theater – like the sector – depends on continued innovation. With the Maltese artists, we have learned to work better and collaborate remotely,” reveals Massimo.

“Online theater productions have resulted in global collaborations, accessible productions, and the incorporation of modern techniques to further spread theater culture. The community must take advantage of this momentum to ensure that the inclusivity and innovation of containment is not lost.

The theater closure and pandemic-enforced hiatus presented another opportunity for Teatru Manoel, which normally has a busy schedule of events.

“Le Manoel offers a diverse program of events and productions, which appeal to a wide audience and attract people from different walks of life.”

“After its closure, the theater embarked on structural projects that would otherwise have caused significant inconvenience to the public, producers and artists,” admits Massimo.

Structural improvements included the restoration of the building’s facade and stage floor, as well as the addition of new curtains, a blown Murano glass chandelier, and Rezzonico-style sconces in the theater itself.

“Other works have also improved access and the experience, including the renovation of the Priory of Navarre building, a larger reservations office, an exhibition space for costume and theater artifacts, a cafeteria, a dedicated VIP area and an extension of the Maria Ghirlando room”, he says.

“The structural and restoration work at Teatru Manoel is an important undertaking to preserve and sustain the National Theater of Malta, not only for today’s artists, but also for the future artistic and cultural community.”

Pivoting alongside a changing society

Teatru Manoel

And as the theater revitalizes its architecture, it pivots behind the scenes with a global arts sector once again undergoing a metamorphosis.

“We are constantly discussing developing situations in an ever more difficult environment, working to ensure that theater survives, thrives and serves the creativity of the community,” says Massimo.

“Teatru Manoel is committed to equality, diversity, inclusion and innovation in its artistic program.”

As CEO, Massimo channels his passion for the arts and its impact on community life in his dynamic and varied role.

“I guide the development of a vision and strategy for the theater’s long-term growth; provide strong leadership to the board, staff and community; and produce professional quality artistic productions, courses and workshops – all to ensure that Teatru Manoel remains a key platform for artists in Malta,” he says, adding that he is also responsible for commercial management. , administrative and operational aspects of the theatre.

Running Malta’s National Theater involves working with the country’s most inspiring minds. “Every day is different and you never know what’s going to happen next,” he says.

“The inspiring people I work with are simply remarkable. Much of the role is management, but when planning the next theatrical season, you discuss exciting and universal themes and ideas. The work is infinitely stimulating.

“The future of theater – just like the sector – depends on continued innovation.”

Having overcome the challenges of supporting the Maltese arts scene during the pandemic – with seasonal programs featuring fewer virtual-only productions and more physical or hybrid productions – global news nonetheless still shapes life at the theatre.

“Audiences are coming back but given the current economic challenges, they are selective about the shows they attend. Teatru Manoel will have to explore different financial and organizational models for a different world,” says Massimo.

Innovation in the arts sector is also key to finding diverse ways to reach audiences. “The arts sector is likely to gain momentum towards sustainability,” he predicts.

“Organizations need to innovate even more and experiment with alternatives. At the same time, the arts sector must capitalize on the most forward-looking approaches.
Warning the industry, Massimo underlines the vital role of Teatru Manoel in the future of the arts.

“Across the cultural sector, changing consumer preferences and behaviors during the pandemic and new economic realities may have longer-term effects on audience patterns – and on the livelihoods of artists. and artistic organizations”, warns the CEO.

“Sustaining the sector will continue to depend on creative solutions from arts organizations like Manoel, as well as government and the private sector. With a strategic approach, Teatru Manoel can implement its vision effectively, efficiently and sustainably.

About Massimo Zammit

Massimo Zammit has served as CEO of Teatru Manoel since November 2020. He brings to this position extensive senior management experience gained through various roles in the public and private sectors.

His vast expertise ranges from business and strategic development of clients to the successful management of multidisciplinary teams and the delivery of complex projects. Highly skilled in building and animating cohesive teams, interfacing with public entities and liaising with key stakeholders, he also has proven managerial experience overseeing large cross-functional projects and initiatives.

Gifted with exceptional executive skills, Massimo is a dynamic leader who is well equipped to guide Malta’s leading arts organization as well as revamp its image and offerings.

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