Arts & Culture » Stage

Presto change-o!


Clark Kent had his phone booth. Arturo Brachetti has a huge revolving box. Kent only had to make one quick-change, whereas for Brachetti, it’s the more the merrier. He’s the world’s foremost practitioner of transformism, a 16th century art form that involves lightening-fast changes of costume and persona: One minute, Darth Vader, the next, James Bond.

Brachetti learned magic from a priest in a seminary at the age of 11, but why pull rabbits out of a hat when you can turn the hat into hundreds of different people? He carries the torch for Leopoldo Fregoli, the man who single-handedly revived quick-change performance in the early 20th century. Since then, the technology has evolved and attention spans have shortened. Fregoli could do one change in 30 seconds; Brachetti does one in three quick steps.

Lanky and impish, Brachetti certainly is speedy. He’s also thoughtful. The man has that same beguiling melancholic air that made another of his idols, Federico Fellini, so unforgettable. We chatted recently when he was in town to stake out the Fisher Theatre for his upcoming three-week run.


Metro Times: Describe the philosophy of transformism.

Arturo Brachetti: Inside each one of us, there is a little boy who stays 8 years old all our life. He’s very cute, very playful, naughty sometimes. He’s the little boy who makes Albert Einstein stick his tongue out. In this show, I try to reach, to bring to life, that little boy in each spectator. I am still an 8-year-old boy playing in my mama’s attic with all the hats and the costumes, pretending to be Scarlett O’Hara or Frankenstein. The box opens into the world of Federico Fellini, who used childhood characters to tell his stories. The box is the world of our childhood, our dreams. The box is a metaphor for that attic.

Metro Times: How does quick-change relate to modern society?

Brachetti: The quick-change was very successful with Mr. Fregoli at the beginning of the last century. He was embraced by that movement of artists called the Futurists. Until that moment we had the man of the 19th century, one man of one piece with very strong ideas. The 20th century man, the quick-change man, has many different faces. In fact, it’s a sign of evolution, of intelligence. Of course, politicians take this idea too seriously. In Italy, we use the term Fregolism to describe, for example, [Italian prime minister] Berlusconi. My show, being so fast, with 80 costume changes in 100 minutes, is a theatrical zapping. It’s very close to what we see, what we experience in commercials and video clips. Is it a good life for us? I think so, even if it’s a bit stressful. We live so intensely, everybody does a bit of quick-change. The banker wears a tie to work, dresses like Rambo to go white-water rafting and then gets up in leather to go to the bar Saturday night. In London, for instance, I was in a bank and saw a clerk with his hair in a monkish fringe. Then I met him in a disco. He had the fringe slicked back and the word “shit” tattooed on his forehead. We have a need of squeezing life out of every moment. Is it more important to be who you are or who you dream to be? Or even, what you try to sell to other people about yourself? Now we have to open all the doors of the secret castle in our minds. We may not want to, but we’re forced to say, why not?

Metro Times: There’s a real novelty to this show that takes pop culture references and makes them into something deeper.

Brachetti: No one has done this sort of thing in 80 years. The only person that I’ve met who saw Mr. Fregoli perform live was 103 years old. He was 9 years old when he saw the show, mind you. The connection that the audience has to the show’s references is that they see somebody who has a dream and pursues it until he reaches it. It’s a dream of a boy who wanted to be on stage because he was little and ugly. After a lot of work, they can see him there doing everything, being everyone. They follow the story as if it’s the life of a friend. They are on the same train as I am and they arrive at the destination with me.

You see, I think something like Cirque de Soleil revived the art of circus. It’s not that something that was over 2,000 years old could disappear just because it had been badly done for the last 30 years. We thought that religions were going out of fashion, but in the past couple of years we see this is certainly not the case. The cinema has incredible tools available to it, yes, but when you do something like this on stage, it’s magical because it has a smell. You are living this thing with the interpreters as it is happening. They can see me sweating as I try to bring them to this childhood mood. It’s a fascinating rapport because you see them wanting to believe the fairy tale.


Arturo Brachetti will present his quick-change transformations at the Fisher Theatre (3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit) Jan. 14-Feb. 2. Call 313-872-1000.

Timothy Dugdale writes about theater and books for Metro Times. E-mail him at

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