Viva Italia, Due!

Last I wrote a bit about our journey with the original show, Love Is Crazy, But Good, forgoing a lot of the details about how the show changed in that process and what it finally came to be. That may be an entry for another day. Today, however, I write about some of the interactions we had with our Italian comrades, and the business and theatre opportunities that sprang up around us all like Periwinkle(s?).

Our original collaborators in venturing to Italy were the good people at Lingua Si in Orvieto; specifically, David's friend Piero Salituri. We met with Piero a few times whilst visiting, never for very long, as he is a very busy man (and we weren't sunning ourselves overmuch, either). You walk about Orvieto with him, and good luck making it a quick one, because he will know absolutely everyone you pass. We had an amazing time our first year in Italy, taking classes through Lingua Si and then watching our students suffer through those exact same classes with malicious schadenfreude. Or, in my case, watching them and wondering how they can talk the Italian so good that fastly. It's a great school with great teachers, and their philosophy of cultural immersion as the best route to learning a language goes right in time-step with our approach to introducing commedia dell'arte to American students. This time around, Piero proposed that we help him in an effort to bring Umbrian culture to America's universities. He runs these visiting workshops at universities, with segments about Italian art, language, theatre, cooking, etc., and it sound just like a perfect opportunity to associate our program, In Bocca al Lupo, with the educational communities here. An exciting possibility for promoting two great adventures.

I wrote previously a bit about our work with Angelo Crotti, someone with whom I was very excited to meet, and with whom I was not in the least bit disappointed. We found some common ground with Angelo over the course of several days, bringing him in to the folds of our friendship (and, I hope, we into his) almost as closely as our friend and fellow actor Andrea Brugnera now is. Andrea came to teach and perform in America a couple of months ago under the auspices of The Northeast Theatre (see 3/24/08), and it is our ambitious hope to bring him and Angelo over not just to work with us, but to work with us on our clown'n'commedia version of Romeo & Juliet. More on that ambition anon (Get it? "Anon"? Aw, geez...) but even if R&J doesn't go quite as planned, working with Angelo proved a gratifying experience for everyone, it seemed. It was in the final stages of our staggering toward performing in Il Theatro che Cammina that we really came together with him, finding the common ground in developing gags together. Between that experience and watching his workshop with Andrea's students, we discovered that in spite of differences in training and experience, Zuppa's aesthetic and technique is dramatically aligned with Angelo's. We work in threes, we attempt to make sequences that build, and value clear, specific action executed with a greater emphasis on timing than volume or exuberance. As we worked with Angelo bit-by-bit that Thursday before our performance, it felt like a homecoming to me; this lunatic Italian was doing more of what I wanted to be doing than I was.

Il Teatro che Cammina brought us a couple of interesting new contacts as well. The organizer of the truly impressive affair, Alessio Michelotti, is a very friendly friend of Andrea's whom we didn't actually meet until her picked us all up from the train station in his subcompact (thank God for low production values). We were tense, and perhaps not the best company over lunch. At lunch, however, we did meet Natalie Ravlich and Miner Montell who, together, make up the circus/theatre company Tilt. In the nature of festivals, we ran into Natalie, Miner and Alessio severally through the day into night, which was very, very good, because it afforded us the opportunity to seem marginally more normal and sociable. Alessio left us feeling informally welcomed back to the festival next year, which we take to mean we did good (enough). David suggested to me, upon viewing the rest of the entries to that spectacular spectacle, that the best thing to bring to it would be something very physical and trick-heavy, without too much effort toward character development and such. My mind instantly hoped for a space in the schedule/budget for fledgling circus and street-theatre productions. As to Tilt, it's hard to say if our paths will ever cross again, but I felt very at home with them and hope they do. They reminded me of circus friends back in New York.

It might have been easy, after the first Saturday of only two, to take the rest of the time to rest on our laurels. Well: It was. Very easy. And we loved it. All twenty-four hours of it. Then it was back to work with meetings of various kinds with Piero and Andrea to discuss specifics for upcoming ventures. Though we didn't exactly have a meeting with her, we did spend some time with Hanna Salo, when we also taught a class to Andrea's students at Teatro Boni (in Aquapendente), a theatre that is rapidly becoming The Northeast Theatre's sister stage. The class was utterly fascinating to me, so you'll forgive me getting briefly off-topic here with business, though it may be largely because of that class that our connection with Teatro Boni in general was left as strong as it was. Essentially, Heather and I taught some tumbling and acrobalance to eight Italian-speaking, predominantly non-actor young students. The language barrier was not absolute, but it was present, and we had to begin without Andrea to help translate. It was an amazing experience, and we owe a great deal of it to the willingness and gradual enthusiasm of the students. David excitedly video-recorded our journey that day, starting with a warm-up, basic tumbling, then moving on to basic acrobalance. To make up for my horrid Italian, I had to keep demonstrating movements in various ways, so I was utterly exhausted by the end. It was, however, very much worth the effort.

Perhaps the most personally exciting possibility for me as regards our work with Teatro Boni has to do with a space we visited (read: broke in to) last trip around -- the outdoor amphitheatre at Aquapendente. Last visit, this space was under refurbishment. That work is just about done, and Teatro Boni is working to get the equivalent of grant money to allow us to perform Romeo & Juliet there on our return next year. It would be a tremendous experience. The space is beautiful and ideal for Shakespeare. Just the thought of performing there motivates me to work as hard as possible to make it happen. In November, Heather and David are aiming to return to Italy to perform and to cement opportunities. I will probably not be joining them, seeing as how I will have just tied the knot, thereby missing a lot of work, being very poor and wanting to spend some time with my wife that is not spent planning a wedding (by then we'll be moved on to planning the honeymoon). November, however, is when a lot of important groundwork will be laid.

All of that was a lot, and we earned ourselves a much-deserved break, which we planned to spend sight-seeing in Sienna and Florence, and did so. The next day, not feeling quite so much like traveling again, we opted for more local fare. Marybeth had yet to see Civita di Bagnoregio, one of our favorite locations, and Heather and I had planned to take photographs there for R&J promotion, so on our second-to-last day we returned to "Civita."

Civita is a beautiful, tiny city on a hill, which you can find pictures of everywhere. (In fact, the moment after I got home I spotted it all over a frickin' DiGiorno commercial.) Our first visit there, over two years ago, was a big contributing factor to inspiring the Romeo & Juliet production. When you visit, you can see why. It's ancient, established by Etruscans (or earlier) and surviving through the Romans on into the eighteenth century, when an earthquake took out three-quarters of the place. In recent years it has been rebuilt and refurbished, some of it to the detriment of its particular history. Nevertheless, it is uniquely appealing, and captures everyone's imagination. We visited twice, once while it was still light out, then another time to walk off yet another incredible meal at Hostaria del Ponte. David disappeared for a time during our evening visit, a thing surprisingly easy to do in such a small town, then showed up with a light on inside. He had run into some people and chatted them up. Turns out they were among the very few people who not only lived in Civita, but had grown up there. As he was leaving their company, one of them said (in Italiano, of course), "You should do a show here."

So. The next day we returned, talked to people in charge, photographed the town square for staging purposes, and tried to get the mayor on the phone (he was out of town that day on business). Everyone we spoke to, however, seemed optimistic and enthusiastic about the idea. In November, Heather and David will meet with the mayor and whomever else, and on our next return we hope to bring an environmental staging of a clown'n'commedia Romeo & Juliet to Civita di Bagnoregio's public square.

Of course, we haven't built the show yet. But when has that ever caused us problems before?