When Elena Dragonetti read for “Dieci” – Ten – by Andrej Longo for the first time, she was struck. She had to turn the stories of these ten characters into a show. And thanks to her passion and devotion to the piece, she did it. Elena Dragonetti is an actress, playwright and director. She graduated at the Scuola di Recitazione del Teatro Stabile di Genova and master classes at the Drama Accademy of Warsaw. Her resume boasts many collaborations all over Italy as well as in France and the direction of an award-winning show. Elena directed “Dieci” along with Raffaella Tagliabue, an actress colleague, who graduated at the Scuola di Recitazione del Teatro Stabile di Genova as well.
“Dieci” tells the stories of ten very different characters from Napoli, presenting their fears and cowardice, but also their passions, love and kindness. Ten chapters that are linked to the ten commandments draw attention to a reality that seems completely forgotten by God, almost as if he was looking somewhere else. Through the places and characters that characterized her youth, Elena Dragonelli impersonates the hidden shades of humans and makes you face an uncomfortable, but concrete reality that most of us don’t want to hear about. Andrej Longo’s dry, harsh and at times brutal language depicts the atrocious events of this reality like they were ordinary routines, though using a hint of irony and in this way getting closer to the Neapolitan drama genre. Comedy and tragedy are presented as two faces of the same coin in these ten lives. This emotional, heartbreaking and ironic show will debut at the InScena!2017 Festival on May 3rd at College of Staten Island.
How was this show created?
I was in a book store and I randomly found “Dieci” – Ten – by Andrej Longo, a book published in Italy by Adelphi. I was fascinated. It’s well written, all the characters are depicted with great skill, in just a few pages it brings you into their intimacy, and it has a sharp point of view when observing and describing the reality around the author. Moreover, “Dieci” seems to be a piece of fiction written deliberately for the theater. While I was reading it, I couldn’t help acting it out loud or reading extracts from it to friends. Another feature I love about “Dieci” is the ability of the author to give back a tragic dimension to the dramatic reality, at points even melodramatic, that characterizes and often defines the city of Naples. The typical folklore of the irony that accompanies and crosses the narration, the apparent inevitability of the destinies and the contrast between necessity and freedom allow the language to get out of the drama and transform it into a contemporary tragedy.
When I first started to make a show out of it, my first doubt was about the presence of ten different characters. At first, I thought about performing with other nine actors, but it would have become a mess to stage, and probably less interesting. I thought about two actors, an actress and an actor to play female and male roles, but there were male characters I fell in love with and I would have like to play personally. At a point, I had to admit I already connected with all the characters of the book, and I would have loved to play all of them, not out of over-confidence, but because I felt like all of them were a part of me.
What was the process of adapting the book to a scrip like?
When I decided to make a monolog out of it, I was scared, because it was the first time I was staging a show all alone. I have to thank three people in particular who encouraged me to keep going. Then, I just needed to ask for the royalties to the author. The first time I wrote to Andrej, he later told me that he thought: “How can an actress from Genoa play Neapolitan character? What does she know about this reality? No way!” And he told me that the royalties of the book were stuck in other projects and he couldn’t give them to me. I was hurt, but, having no alternatives, I accepted the rejection. A few years later, I was asked to perform some readings in the alleyways of Genova’s historical center and I decided to read a chapter from “Dieci” very similar to life in the alleyways. The reading moved the audience and the desire of working on this text and turn it into a show came back to me.
I wrote again to Andrej, asking him again the permission to stage his text. A this point, he thought that if after so long I still had this strong desire and my artistic thoughts tied to his book, maybe it was the case to let me do it. And so it was. What Andrej didn’t know is that I am not from Genoa originally, but from a small town 40 min from Naples and that I ran away from that town and that lifestyle, from the arrogance and tyranny of that reality. For a while, I tried to distance myself from it, but when I found “Dieci,” it was like, after a long time, I went back home.
The InScena! Festival allows Italian acting companies to perform in the US. What do you think is a good way to efficiently spread Italian theater in the United States?
I think that the InScena! Festival provides an important service to the Italian theater, by giving space to it in the American theatrical scene. I think it will be interesting to also have the chance to meet and exchange ideas and experiences with the American artistic realities, get to know what is really happening in the artistic world but in different geographical ideas and, under certain aspects, I think culturally it would be a great wealth. It would also be great to be able to stay longer, to have the chance to keep the shows on-stage. I think that no matter what, one of the merits of the InScena! Festival is its ability to highlight the independent Italian theater, today a place of vibrant passion, but also research and experimentation.
Is this your first time performing in the States? What does being in New York and performing in this city mean to you?
Yes, this is the first time I take a show to the United States and I am very happy to do so. New York is a charming, rich, multi-faceted city and being a part of its cultural and theatrical scene is an honor. However, since New York is not a stranger to Italian culture, which is intertwined in its foundation and in the folds of its identity, I believe bringing part of the Italian cultural and theatrical panorama has an important meaning.
What do you hope to bring back to Italy after this experience, from both a personal and professional perspective?
Every time that we bring our work to a different context from what we are used to work, we enrich our path. I am sure that this trip to New York and the comparison with the American public won’t be only a treasure, but also an opportunity for new consideration and maybe the birth of new research paths for me. It goes without saying that I would love for some new opportunities to come back and bring my works to the United States to be created.
Why should we come and see this show? What do you think or hope to give to the New York’s audience?
You need to come and see this show, because with the excuse of telling the story of Naples, a loved and hated city, decried and glorified, it is a city that, no matter what, leaves a mark. Andrej Longo narrates the humanity of universal characters, a humanity in which we can see ourselves and through which we can forgive ourselves.
Those characters are dealing with a reality that is greater than them and with a God that often seems absent.
It’s a shoe in which you can find your own struggle to live and maybe, if you read between the lines, a possible way out. It talks about a special push for survival, that in Neapolitan is called “pacienza,” a word that combines the verb “patire” – to suffer – and “darsi pace” – to find some closure, to let go. It’s not a matter of resignation, but more of a jump in the social status of experience. “Holy sailors on earth that know how to sleep in the storms:” I am sure that many will see themselves in this statement.
Moreover, “Dieci” is a shoe that was born out of struggle, difficulties and independent productions’ backflips. It’s a show that wouldn’t have been even born, if a deep necessity, love, passion and a visceral desire to stage and tour with this story weren’t the driving force. In fact, when we first thought about this project, we were in no condition to produce it. But the desire to stage it was so strong that we started to create the opportunities to tell as many people as possible about our work and ask for support.
And that’s how the crowdfunding was born, using a platform of “Produzioni dal basso” – productions from the bottom. More than a hundred people responded to our call, and they became fond of the project and they actually co-produced it. This is part of the value of the show.
What I hope is that even New York’s audience will grow fond and attached to “Dieci” as the Italian audience did. Our audience is our best promoter; every time we tour, they are promoting the show telling everyone they know, and don’t know, in the many cities and inviting them to see the show. This is part of the successes of “Dieci” just as much as all the awards we won.
What I hope would stay with New York’s audience is the sensation that they heard a story that talks about an intimate part of each one of us and at the same time that makes us smile and cry. And, while giving the impression that there is no way out, it takes us with unexpected sweetness, kindness and poetry to a search for possible ways out.
Ten stories, ten different and diverse characters. What’s the common thread that links the characters?
Each story is titled like one of the ten commandments. The contrast between the commandment which came from above and the hard reality of the stories creates a clash that determines and defines the tragic aspect of the text. At times, the loneliness of these characters, who are facing hard situations under the look of an absent God, is heartbreaking. But at the same time we can’t help but being on the same side as these men, women and children, who are fighting an uneven battle. We can’t help but intimately connect with them.
During the show you play 10 different characters. How did you prepare from a technical and acting perspective?
At first, the difficulty was in playing and crossing characters of different age and sex. There is a 17-year-old boy, two mature men, a 13-year-old boy, an amolst-14-year-old girl, a 43-year-old woman, two guys in their 20s, a father and a son, a mother and her soon-to-be-married daughter. We had to define and delineate in the most specific way the world of each one of the characters, their thought process, their physicality. Thus, we worked until that physicality wormed its way into my body, without ending in too strong characterizations, and holding on to the characters’ simplicity and truth. We tried to let the characters’ thought process and the story lay on my body and modify it. Going and crossing from character to the other, all so different, is for sure an interesting experience and even a lot of fun from the actor’s perspective.
The show will be on stage in New York on May 3rd at 4:40PM at the College of Staten Island and on May 5th at 8PM at the NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò.
For more information: InScena!