ITALIA: June 17, 2007

Today—Todd’s last day—though we had grand plans involving visiting lots of people and spending time at il lago di Bolsena, we ended up spending most of the first part of the day sitting around the table on our patio and discussing Zuppa at large and our fall plans in specific. This fall’s show ties in so many elements and so much community involvement that it’s almost ridiculously ambitious. We’ll begin by teaming up with Marywood University’s theatre students (and possibly students from the Scranton State School for the Deaf, though finding sufficient resources for that is looking difficult) to teach them busking and street theatre. (Which we’ve never actually taught before. Heather is fond of quoting Kurt Vonnegut…approximately: I call all my workshops this, then talk about whatever I feel like.) After a week of this, the students will perform on Labor Day at a street fair held in Scranton. From that experience we go on to select the more promising performers to be cast in roles in Prohibitive Standards, and train them for the next week in our distinctive style of commedia dell’arte. “Distinctive” is a nice word, and I’m sticking to it as my catch-all adjective.

Our discussions of just what Prohibitive Standards will be will be posted to the show’s collaborative ‘blog in good time (read: when I get back to free interwebzitude), but in the meantime, here are some notes from the meeting (bear in mind that it ain’t over ‘til the commediani do their final pratfalls):

Style: Incorporating three styles—farce, seedy & bright commedia? Romance?

Devices/Settings: Vaudeville stage/cabaret appealing in that it gives an instant place for students with acts. The better can also interact with the main characters, perhaps evolve plotlines. Environmental seating for audience. Start with flashback to history behind scenario? Character who tells story, or backstory, who is unrecognized on some level. Masked? It’s a special place. Speakeasy? David inclined to no: too cliché, more interesting to acknowledge Prohibition as a law that just didn’t take. Well-funded refuge from the outside world? Train up and running in this time.

Plots: Coming of age amidst gangsters and vaudeville performers? The hard-bitten member of that world throwing him or herself in front of the train? Two brothers—Johnny Dangerously—living in the two worlds? Story of Jermyn (research)?

Todd’s involvement in the show at this stage is tenuous, bordering on completely impossible. I shan’t say much more about it at this stage, and hope for the best (for the show, selfishly) but we’re remaining open to a variety of possibilities. We will, however, have at least three central actors (I’m still hoping for four) plus whatever student actors we can effectively wrangle. I’m much more excited about the subject matter this year than I was for Operation Opera, and looking forward to the research that will be required of me for July and August. Hopefully I will feel more capable of the comedy by the end of that period as well. Something about my recent forays into drama and naturalism has me wanting to do something different with my comic performances. Not make them more serious, but somehow more nuanced, whilst retaining the absurd physical reality. How? Non lo so, ma forse…

Once we finally got off our butts, we were off into Orvieto to meet Andrea for a guided tour of some of the countryside. There’s a tremendous hike from the duomo to Porano that Todd and I wanted to make, but it would have been too much time, so instead we drove to a cappucine monastery on a hill opposite Orvieto. Andrea spoke with the padre, who then very kindly gave us a tour of the entire facility and sent us off with free postcards. Andrea took over as we marched up the mountain, admiring views and vegetation. We passed a middle-sized wheat field that whispered in the breeze, and farther along he took us into several Etruscan tombs. It was a beautiful jaunt, and further amplified my respect and admiration for Andrea as a person. Un molto gentile huomo.

We were fairly famished after our hike, and headed back into Orvieto for dinner. The restaurant we hoped for, Pizzeria Charlie (really—it’s good), was closed. In the nature of all things Italian we ended up at a restaurant we had all expressed a desire to get back to this trip, l’Antica Rupe (chiuso il Lunedi, per gl’informatzioni), with a beautiful terrace overlooking the duomo. There we learned the pope had flown by the city in his helicopter that day, which we just missed. (I want a helicopter I can call “my helicopter.”) Andrea left after a beer to attend to his pregnant wife, Natsuko, and after dinner we went to Piazza del Duomo for our favorite place for gelato. Sitting on the steps of the duomo as darkness fell, I thought about how blissful it would be to live in a place where the accustomed activity after dinner was to have a walk around to say hello to whomever you pass.

The night ended early in the interests of getting up early enough to get Todd to the train on time. My allergies were ballistic after all our time in the fields and woods, so I had a little of David’s Airborne® and retired to read some of Heather’s Coarse Acting scripts (if you’re in theatre and haven’t experienced Coarse Acting: go out, buy a book or two and lock yourself in a soundproof room to avoid irritating your neighbors with guffaws). I quickly drifted off, to wake suddenly to the sound of Todd’s packing, thinking I had already slept the night through and it was time to get up and out. But I was deceived. It was mezzonotte, and there were hours to go before goodbyes.