Giorgia Valenti is another Extraordinary Alien in New York. And she definitely is no ordinary Extraordinary Alien. Not just that Valenti has had a unique life because she has lived all over the world, but she has a unique passion for theater. Well yes, all young actors are passionate. But Giorgia radiates a unique maturity and work ethic. To call her an actor who takes her craft seriously would be an understatement. Acting, singing dancing, modeling — Giorgia does it all. She says the most important thing in her in life and in her art is “to play”, to explore life and her art with a childlike curiosity. And at 21, she has already explored a lot of her art- – from Shakespeare to realism, to commedia dell’arte to experimental theater.
I am meeting Giorgia in the morning at Mud Coffee in the East Village before her dance rehearsal. She comes in her dance/workout clothes and with her hair in a high ponytail. Even if I didn’t already know what she does, I would definitely guess dancer right away.
Are you excited about your rehearsal?
“Yes. I always need to start my day with movement. But now, first, I need some coffee.”
Can you tell be about your life before you got to New York?
“Well, the first thing to know about me is that my life and family are very scattered. I am Italian originally, but even my life in Italy is all over the place. I grew up in Treviso until I was 10 years old, but I have family in Milan and Trento. So when I go home to visit my family there is always a lot of traveling. When I was 10 years old my mom, my father, my sister and I moved to Bangalore, India, for my father’s job.
People say that assimilation is all the more difficult based on how different the culture is, and Italian culture is very different from Indian culture in every way. Family values, friendships, the way people dress, the humor. So, the adjustment was very rough at first. I cried a lot and I found myself craving going back to Italy. Ten years was just old enough to know what I was losing. The only thing that really stayed constant in my life was my passion for the stage. My mom said that before I was born I used to kick to the beat of the music they were listening to. I don’t know if that’s true, but I like to believe it is.
In India in 6th Grade I performed a dance solo for teacher’s day in front of the whole school. That was sort of a breakthrough for me. I felt that from now on I could be who I was. It was a very liberating experience and it connected me to everyone in the school. So I started to build myself a life in India. It wasn’t easy. A lot of people who move there for jobs don’t really become part of the community. But my parents made sure my sister and I would get a lot out of the experience. We did go to an international school, but it was not one of those rich international schools full of white kids and teachers. It was a very Indian school.
It’s quite remarkable how humans, especially kids, can adapt to situations. After a while in India going back to Italy felt more and more different, until at some point it started to feel too different. I started thinking very differently from a lot of my Italian friends. I wasn’t sure where I was from or where I belonged anymore. I struggle a lot with my identity because wherever I am it feels like I am a little different from everyone. When I go back to Italy I have to adjust the way I talk and dress to find my way back into the Italian groove. Half the time I don’t even know how to speak, because all my friends speak in different dialects. And in India it is the same. And in New York, well it is also the same, except that there is no one kind of people to adjust to. You are not really supposed to feel like you are from anywhere. I wouldn’t necessarily say that New York feels like home or that I am settled here, but it feels like I can be myself comfortably.”
Why don’t you feel settled in New York?
“I think I have lost what it feels like to be at home anywhere. If you were to tell me I will have to go live in Africa tomorrow, I would do it and it would feel the same probably. People ask me what place I like the best between India, Italy and New York, and I genuinely don’t know. I do suffer from that feeling of not having a home, but even though I don’t have a good sense of home I think I do have a good sense of who I am. I was always sure of one thing: that I belong to the stage and to performance. I have always been passionate about emotions and humanity and good in understanding and living it.”
So why New York?
“Well because I got into NYU Tisch. But it’s crazy because I was so clueless when I came to New York. In High School in India there were no theater programs, only dance. I did a few plays here and there, but really, I had no idea about acting or what acting training was. I remember when I came to my audition at Tisch the girl before me had a super professional headshot and was talking about her performing arts High School and asked me what monologue I was doing and who the writer was and I couldn’t even answer that. I am telling you, I was completely clueless. I auditioned for the musical theater program, but they placed me in the acting program, which I am so glad about. To be honest, I have no idea how I got in. But I never thought about pursuing another profession, and thankfully, my parents were always supportive. They are very forward thinking in that way and they would never go against my passion.”
How was the adjustment to New York?
“So I got to New York when I was 17 and it was definitely a whole new adjustment. This time without my family. I was surrounded by different kinds of people and a very different way of eating. I feel like I became an adult here in this huge city. What the most difficult thing for me was that in High School I was always used to doing everything, and grabbing any opportunity that came my way. But New York is the worst place to do that in because there is so much stimulation. So, I was very stressed in the beginning. I am very thankful to New York though, because it helped me face my mental illnesses. And there is no other place that is more welcoming and forward thinking than New York. I learned to adjust and filter what opportunities I wanted to take and which ones I could live without. And I think once I learned how to filter my opportunities, my career actually started and I found the right path with my art.”
Tell me about your performance experiences at NYU and in New York.
“I focused a lot on school in my first years because as an immigrant what you can legally do outside of school is very limited. But at NYU I got to work with a lot of outside directors. And it was the right environment because I got to work seriously, but it was also a safe place to explore and not feel the need to be excellent. And thanks to Tisch I started to realize what type of theater I like best. I am very drawn to realism, I love the history of it and Europe (Stringberg, Zola, Chekhov). But I also stepped into experimental theater a little bit, which is very improvised and movement based.
There is no better place to explore your art than in New York because it has everything. The city and the people are actually so kind. Of course, there is the evil industry of mean directors and in general, the industry is hard and harsh, but I look around and the professors and friends and people I want to work with are so kind and accepting. And now, after having created contacts and having done so many things at Tisch, I am starting to create things with my friends. So, if the new generation of artists is as kind, accepting and open as I have experienced this far, then that’s great because that will be the future of the industry. Theater attracts me a lot more than film because I am able to really step into another world, the reality of it. I also like modeling. It sometimes gives me the boost of confidence I need. You know, sometimes it’s great to walk onto a ramp and feel beautiful and have other people think you are beautiful. Sometimes you just need that. I am very insecure about my singing voice, but I do actually think I have a good voice. I love to play. That is my thing: playing. I loved doing the NYU commedia dell’arte program in Florence, because it really taught me how to have fun and play.”
What is your daily routine?
“I try to get 8 hours of sleep, then I wake up and go to class, which starts with a vocal warm up. If my first class isn’t a vocal warm up I usually come early and do it myself. Classes usually last until 6 pm and it’s a mixture of acting classes, movement classes, voice and speech, singing, clown, script analysis. Then I either work as an usher at NYU Skirball or as an event assistant at NYU Casa Italiana. Otherwise I try to do homework or go to yoga or running. During the weekends I usually go grocery shopping and do laundry. And at night, if I can, and have time and energy, I love to see friends, go out. If I don’t then I read before going to bed. That’s my routine.”
What projects are you most proud of that you have done so far?
“One of my first big gigs was in my first year when I got to dance live at the Cutting Room to Vidak Radonjic’s music. I am very proud of that. I also did a short film that got into a lot of festivals, even some in Europe. It’s called Ripples in Still Water (by Jared Chinigio and Arman Nasim). Unfortunately, I was not able to go to any of the screenings because at the time I was in my run of Richard III, my first Shakespeare play, in which I got to play Lady Ann, directed by Giselle Cardenas. I also did my first experimental play called Fiction, by 600 Highwaymen.
When I was 12 I was in a local Kannada movie in India. I am very shy about this because it seems quite ridiculous but it was quite a big deal. The main actor of that movie won the record for youngest director in the world. His name is Kishan Srkhant and he directed Footpath.
I also just acted in a short film which I also choreographed. It’s going to come out soon and it was an amazing experience. Lots of fun, very professional team and I felt very artistically challenged. I felt like, hey, I can actually be good at this – at acting and choreographing and dancing.
I am also stage managing my friend’s play called For the Time Being (I came up with the title), that my girlfriend Ana Moioli wrote. It’s going to premiere at the New York Winterfest and I am very proud of it because I am working with very close friends.
I am also starting a company of international women with three friends of mine and we submitted a proposal for a play to the Tank, an Off-Off Broadway venue. The play was actually written by my Indian drama teacher’s son. His work has never come to the US, so it would be very exciting. He is a very good writer. Oh and I also might be walking for New York fashion week.
The most important thing I have to say is that I feel very lucky, and a bit guilty about how lucky I am. That’s a real thing. In Italy everyone is jealous of my opportunities and they always make fun of me when after the summer, I complain about going back to New York. And I do feel bad but also they have beauty around them constantly, and nature and a sense of belonging that I do not have. And even in India people think very highly of me, probably because I am from Europe and have lighter skin. It’s sad, but it’s true.”
What is the most important thing to you in your art?
“It is very important to me to communicate certain topics that resonate with me because of my life story. They are mental health, sense of home and feminism (and I mean real feminism, not angry feminism, but actually fighting for equality).”