Beginning this semester, selected students from the Coastal Carolina University Department of Theatre have been training at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Arezzo, Italy as a study abroad program. There, six theatre students, ranging from Sophomore to Senior with degrees in Acting, Physical Theatre, and Dramatic Arts are training quite extensively. I exchanged emails with two of those students, Richard Schiraldi and Brantley Ivey, who gave me a "virtual tour" of the program.
What's your name, year and major, and where are you from?
Richie: Richard Schiraldi, Richie if you will. I am originally from Orange County, New York. I am currently a Senior BFA Physical Theatre major, the first undergrad program of PT in the history of the USA. Brantley: Brantley Ivey. Thomasville, Georgia. BFA Acting. Sophomore.
What inspired you to study abroad?
Richie: I wouldn't so much say that I was inspired to, more so I happily went along with it. However, I was inspired to join Physical Theatre from watching comic geniuses such as Chaplin, LeCoq, and Bill Irwin. The fantasy of running away to join the circus or developing the many skills of a street performer (juggling, unicycle, sleight of hand, illusion) added to the mix.
Brantley: Honestly, the initial idea to come here was an impulse decision. The idea was brought up back in February, and I thought, "I wanna do that." I met with [CCU Theatre Professor/Head of Acting] Monica Bell the following week. She told me that the best thing we can do, as ‘hungry' artists, is to "eat from every plate" and take every opportunity extended to us. That discussion sealed my decision.
What was your first day like?
Richie: Introductions were made, and we all got to know each other. Every class is taught by an expert in their art, and they were from all over Europe. Claudia (movement and acrobatics) hailed from Germany, Michele (pronounced Mick-ay-lay. If you said "Michela" or "Michelle," he would disown you) was our acting/comedia mentor from Italy, Kevin (vocal production) came from England.
Brantley: It's difficult to divide classes up into days, because the schedule is specialized.
What is your favorite class?
Richie: There is absolutely no way I can choose. In my first vocal production class, I gained so much knowledge about ways I never thought I could contort my voice. Movement and acrobatics is a fantastic class. Comedia brings out all of my worst fears and all of the things I love to do.
Brantley: A seven-day intensive on Ma'Ai, a style of movement which combines elements of martial arts, mindfulness meditation, and other forms of Asian movement. Ma'Ai seeks to relieve the body of unnecessary strain by identifying tension and releasing it through movement. All of the work is supported by music, and, unless otherwise instructed, you must be in motion throughout the entire session. All three hours.
What has been the most challenging thing you've learned?
Richie: Realizing how terrified of my own voice I am, overcoming it, and tying it to the physical life; working with partners who all have different experience levels; finding free time between classes and meals to use to work; sacrificing leisure to get all of our work done and sleep enough.
Brantley: Our Commedia teacher told us: "Stop thinking of your work as good or bad, because every creation is good. ‘From diamonds grows nothing, but from shit, comes flowers.'" The Italian "Break a Leg" is "Merda Merda Merda Guerra" (literal translation: "Shit Shit Shit War"). I did some amateur research on this (*ahem* Google). Most results led to this Italian folk song with the refrain "make shit, not war." Basically the idea is that any human creation --even if it is, literally, poop-- is more useful than war. Something grows, regardless of how ugly it may seem.
How do you think studying abroad has benefited you as an artist?
Richie: This program is very vigorous. We train to keep our bodies, our instruments, healthy and prepared. We explore our temples to find ways to move, think, and feel. I have never felt my creativity come so freely. Our job here is to become an ideal actor: one who has fully integrated voice and physicality in performance. This program has equipped me with the proper tools, pushing me to strive for this goal.
Brantley: In my 4th/5th week I thought I had made a mistake, like I wasn't really progressing and the things I needed to work towards were at Coastal. I no longer feel that way. In physical work, there will be some things that you'll do without a lot of trouble, and others that you'll never fully be able to do. Just as you want others to be patient with you in this process, you become more patient with them. You see yourself as a part of a community. What you can do "well" or "badly" becomes obsolete, and the focus shifts to a larger picture. What you can create together goes beyond what you had the potential to do on your own. I've become less judgmental of myself and of others, and it's enabled me to do so much. I'm not sure if that's due to this program or because it was just time to grow the hell up. I think a little of both.