ITALIA: June 16, 2007

We’ve had a couple of amazing days working and playing here, but I’m also losing a lot of endurance for the unfamiliarity and somewhat self-imposed isolation. It’s very difficult for me to feel I’m contributing anything when I’m so terrible with the language. I didn’t fully appreciate all the contact I had with our American studenti last year, and the way that made me feel more valuable to the experience as a whole. It’s going to be particularly difficult once Todd flies back this Monday. I don’t speak the language, Heather is much better with it but lacks confidence and David often has trouble hearing what people say. What exactly we’re going to do, I don’t know. I have to confess that I have contemplated trading my ticket with Todd if he were willing to do (capable of doing) what is necessary to stay.

The lesson for next time is to really work on my Italian. That’s the primary difficulty. Though my shyness is moderate, in Italy the desire to connect is much stronger, and if I can break past the language barrier my enthusiasm will undoubtedly carry me through any timidity I might otherwise have in new social situations in my native land.

Thursday began with a business proposition from our friend Piero, head of marketing at LinguaSi. He had a very strong proposition to essentially host Zuppa del Giorno through LinguaSi, establishing a separate association and including courses through the school that we would teach in a sort of high school, period structure, for LinguaSi’s students from all over the world. It was all very appealing—in some ways exactly what we’ve been hoping for—but there remain a great many considerations to be made and discussions with our other Italian contacts to be had.

Later we met with Andrea at Teatro Communale Porano to show each other what we do. As is by now to be expected, from the first moment there we were blown away by the environment. The theatre itself was not nearly as impressively beautiful as Teatro Boni; in fact it fairly closely resembled a little regional theatre in America. Then Andrea pulled back the curtain that ran along the back of the stage, and there was a fresco covering the entire wall up to the roof. It turns out the theatre was formerly a church. All that was left exposed were the wooden roof beams, a huge entrance door and that marvelously surprising fresco.

We presented the Valentino excerpt from Silent Lives, sans rehearsal. It went fine, all things considered. Andrea responded very well, but it has also been agreed since then that our timing and listening were strange after so long away. Not bad, per se—maybe just quirky. One of the benefits of performing this piece again was that—finally—thanks to my investment in my shiny red camera we have a little video of what we do. The quality is far from great, but it’s great to be able to watch what we’ve done to represent our work of the past three years. Afterward, Andrea presented a portion of a solo piece he’s performed for years: an encapsulation of the movie The Ten Commandments. It was absolutely charming, and afterward there was much discussion of how to bring Silent Lives over next year, and Andrea to The Northeast Theatre.

Thereafter it was off to il lago di Bolsena for the first time since our arrival (a favorite spot of repose last year). A gorgeous, huge volcanic lake, it was cold. Last year we had been there just a week later and the water was wonderfully temperate. In spite of the chill, David, Todd and I plunged in (well, I waded). It was great, once my body numbed itself a bit. A short drive later we had an amazing meal at a chance restaurant in nearby Montefiascone, and for surprisingly little Euro. I drove home as my friends dozed, enjoying the freedom of a little car on long, hilly Italian roads.

Friday was our day in Rome, to meet Sebastiano (a.k.a. “Romano”), another actor and a friend of Piero’s. He met us at Termini, the train station in Rome, which was a bit like meeting us on our doorstep for breakfast, as we all slept on the train. He is, in many ways, what I might have expected of a Roman actor. We all went to lunch at a place of his choosing (where they were accustomed to tourists, which is at once relieving and entertaining for me—they say things like “would you like water with gas?”—definitely a far better gaffe than some of the ones I’ve made in their language) and while we were there, a man on moped crashed right outside the door trying to avoid a young girl. American girl, of course. Everyone was fine, but it was startling. It perhaps also set the tone for the meeting. There was a lot of kvetching about how hard it is to be an actor in the big city. It’s nice to know some difficulties are not exclusively American.

We spent the rest of the day until our 20:00 train back to Orvieto sight-seeing. Sebastiano joined us for Dumo de San Petro (where Michelangelo’s Moses and the chains that bound Saint Peter are to be found) then departed for an appointment. The rest of our tourism was something of a disappointment. It was muggy, and some of us tired pretty quickly. We tried to see a commedia dell’arte puppet theatre Todd had discovered last trip, but it looked as though it were being torn down, and I did get to see my favorite place in Rome—Piazza Navona—but only as we charged through it to make our train. Todd remained in Rome overnight, of course (pazzo lupo that he is) and there’s yet another reason for learning Italian better. But the rest of us did have a good little meal at a pizza place where Orvieto’s furniculare lets off, and Heather and I stayed up a bit talking and watching the recording of our Valentino sketch.

Finally (I know you’ve been holding your breath [wait, are you still there?][hello?]), this morning we rose and Heather and I ran off to Orvieto to buy groceries and meet Todd’s train. It seems he ended up going to Sebastiano’s apartment and staying there, where he got a much more detailed (and increasingly positive) impression of the guy. We finally got more toilet paper (YAY!) and all settled in to a meal at a trattoria at the base of the winding dirt road from our agriturismo to the main road, which was splendid and cheap (yet again: YAY!). Andrea met us there and we ran over to Teatro Boni again to receive one of his workshops.

He brought his masks—amazing masks—and we spent three hours working our way into and learning how to effectively use them. We began by walking the space, getting into the feeling of our feet (a marvelous way to begin) and then imagining a specific environment of our choice to walk through. Mine became a vast, shallow, rocky river lined with trees. Once that was well-established, he asked us to choose an animal nature to occupy our environment. We lived a long time in that nature (mine, a beaver) before he asked us to bring it to our feet and interact. At this point we were almost our characters, and he set out the masks for us to discover in character. We all chose (I ended up with a Brighella mask—not entirely inappropriate for a beaver) and a tiny play of interaction developed. After a break, he assigned us masks, and we improvised a scene. Then we performed monologues as the various characters before calling the end of a working day. All in all, it was a lot of work, and very rewarding. We had planned on working in Andrea’s style with prop work as well, but there simply wasn’t enough time. Always our time is borrowed, always we steal some more.

The rest of the evening was pretty amazing too. First we drove to San Angelo to try and track down David’s friend, Mauro. He wasn’t around, and we had many interactions with locals to determine this. We spent a total of about twenty minutes walking around the town. We passed the house of a woman David had told us about last year. She had been the local priest’s mistress for years. When he died, the town chose to ignore her connection, and refused her any of his property. In response, she “went crazy” and began collecting all the wild cats to her apartment. When we were walking, we turned one corner and suddenly we were surrounded by all different manner of cats, and we knew where we were. Also in that time, a local man approached us and tried to give us the keys to Mauro’s apartment, assuming after word got around we were American tourists he had rented it to. Finally, upon leaving the town, we were approached by another man, who explained without prompting that Mauro and his wife had left town at around 2:30 to buy some meat. Google’s got nothing on a small Italian town.

Unsuccessful in our attempt to contact Mauro, we headed to nearby Rocolvecchi, the town that was the inspiration for our first show as Zuppa del Giorno, Noble Aspirations. It was meant to just be a quick nostalgia trip, but on our way by the local church we heard amazing music. We stepped inside and received a free, hour-long choral concert that was just amazing. I believe it was some sort of arrangement of medieval music, and it was thrillingly beautiful. Thereafter we were off to Civita di Bagnoregio, where we had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, overlooking the ancient city on a hill, before ascending to walk the city late at night. That’s a whole new kind of stillness, right there. We rather disturbed it for a little while, as Todd and I gave in to some fantasies and climbed a thing or two we really weren’t meant to climb. It was worth it. Risk is always worth it.