The perpetually creative Laura Caparrotti wears many hats. Not only is she a director, actor, writer, educator, and leader in various theater and language organizations, but she is also the Founding Artistic Director of the main Italian theater company in New York, Kairos Italy Theater, and of In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY, the first Italian theater festival to take place in all five NY Boroughs. In 2019, she inaugurated OnStage! the first American Theater Festival in Rome as associate director. To learn more about her and her work, please click on the link at the end of this interview.
First of all, how are you, and what are you doing now that theaters are no longer in the dark?
I am still in between. I feel that yes, theaters are not in the dark, yet we can be shut down any moment as we are considered not essential. Right at this moment, as I am answering this question, I am tired and somehow less hopeful than months ago where I thought that we were heading in a much brighter direction. What programs to do in the spring? Should we always have the online version ready? Do we want to have online versions ready? When will we be able to organize a season that includes international theater, tours in different locations and so on? This is why I say I feel in between. I still don’t see a clear future; I am still undecided on what makes sense to do and what to keep standing by. A lot of questions and very few answers.
Laura Caparrotti (Photo by Stefano Corso)
Please tell us about the concepts behind creating Kairos and In Scena! and the mission behind both. What do they each mean to you?
I started Kairos Italy Theater almost 22 years ago to present the theater I knew best, Italian theater. I noticed that there was very little Italian theater on the local independent scene in NY. There were some Italian American groups presenting some plays about Italy and then there were professional companies from Italy arriving at BAM, Lincoln Center or at La Mama. I wanted to present the playwrights I loved, and I started doing it in Italian, then bilingual with the Double Theater (One act performed first in English followed by its original version, but with different actors and director) and then I worked on translations of Italian plays into English.
The same thing happened with In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY. I noticed how many theater Festivals around other cultures there were in NYC and how Italy was completely absent. There were a couple of attempts that lasted a couple of years, that’s all. I knew, by having worked for more than 10 years in theater in Italy, how many beautiful playwrights, actors, directors, and companies there were in my country and as soon as I had the chance, which was the year of the Italian Culture in the States 2013, I started the Festival. Renato Miracco, at the time cultural attaché at the Embassy of Italy, asked me to present an event on Italian theater in the States and I said: ‘I will do more, I will create a Festival,’ and so I did. It started with three companies and some readings and, in the last edition in 2019, In Scena presented 12 companies, readings, lectures, meetings, all in the five NYC boroughs. The audience loves the Festival and we, my partners and I, are happy to bring Italian artists to meet the many interesting places and people there are in NYC and beyond as we also travel to other cities in the States.
“The Worth of Women” from the book by Moderata Fonte, directed by Laura Caparrotti and Jay Stern (Photo courtesy of Laura Caparrotti)
In 2019 you inaugurated OnStage! the first American Theater Festival in your native city of Rome. How did you come up with this idea and what do you hope to accomplish through it?
OnStage comes from the happy experience with In Scena. While In Scena has the mission of making Italian culture more available in the States and of working towards a more truly international society, OnStage fills the void of American Theater in Italy, especially the independent one. In Italy, we have a lot of international theater as we love everything that comes from outside our borders, but it is mostly theater coming from Europe and Britain. Oddly enough, the American theater produced in Italy is based on the usual suspects, on musicals or on Broadway hits. It’s very rare to find plays or shows that come from the independent Off Off world. The director of OnStage, Donatella Codonesu, is my longtime based-in-Italy collaborator with KIT and In Scena and she strongly wanted to create such a beautiful experience in Italy. We hope to contribute with both festivals to a broader and truer vision of both countries and to keep alive the two-way bridge we started to build many years ago.
Francesca Casazza, director of the Italian Cultural Society of Washington D.C., celebrating Laura Caparrotti’s career, October 14, 2021 (Photo courtesy of Laura Caparrotti)
You are the recipient of the Dante Award 2016 from the Association of Teachers of Italian for your work and dedication in spreading Italian culture in the States. Was propagating Italian culture in the U.S. always a personal mission of yours?
Honestly, it wasn’t. It was being in NY that made me want to spread my country’s culture. When I arrived, there was little or actually no Italian theater. Italian culture was spaghetti, pizza, and mandolino (mandolin) on a gondola (!) with some fashion and some design. I didn’t fully recognize myself in such a picture. I felt the need to bring the right image of Italy, bad and good, of correcting such old and fixed ideas of Italy with all the true and beautiful things I knew Italy was. And is, despite all the problems and faults.
Recently, you were one of the eight recipients of the prestigious grant for a documentary on Italian Americans by the Russo Brothers. Please tell us about it.
This is a funny story that proves that you never know in life what you are going to end up doing! A friend told me about this opportunity and offered to co-write the proposal. Being my friend, Luca Martera, a director of documentaries, I assumed that he was going to eventually direct the film. When we got the news that we were one of the eight subjects selected by the Russo Brothers Film Forum, we were in lockdown, and I had to do the film myself. My very first time as a movie director! And then I was one of the finalists. It’s just amazing to me. I am very proud of what we did, and I say ‘we’ because I had a crew of friends and colleagues that were with me in this adventure and made it possible to do a product which has been recognized as valid and important for future generations. We know very little about the Italian theater scene at the end of 1800 and beginning of 1900, even though it was very alive and vibrant. I am now trying to figure out the future of the documentary, and I am also looking to make more documentaries because there is so much history of Italian theater in the United States to be told and it is all very fascinating.
As a kid, did you ever dream that you would travel so far in the world of theater and also become an ambassador of Italian culture?
Absolutely not! I did acting in my room and with my friends since I was very little—my mom recalled shows since I was two or three years old. I put on home shows where I directed, acted, and produced, but never, never, never I thought I was going to live in a different country, speaking another language, and making it in the field I loved in another place that wasn’t Italy. The trip to New York, in 1993, was the first one I did by myself. The first one, and if I did it it’s only thanks to my parents who were the best parents anyone could dream of. They always encouraged me to dream big and never give up. If I am where I am, it’s thanks to them.
Laura Caparrotti with Marta Mondelli in “Tosca e le altre due” by Franca Valeri, 2021, Lucido Sottile Donne Extra-Ordinarie Festival (Photo courtesy of Laura Caparrotti)
Italian theater is such a venerable, early form of theater; I’m thinking of course of commedia dell’arte. What do you think makes Italian theater so special, in general? And do you ever incorporate any elements of commedia dell’arte in your work?
I base much of my work on another form of theater, still Italian, but rooted in ancient Greece. I am talking about the “Cunto” [a Southern dialect term for “racconto” which means tale], a form of storytelling based on breathing and rhythm. Commedia dell’arte is the most known form of Italian theater in the world and rightly so. It comes from the touring theater companies of centuries ago, when a group was moving from town to town to perform well-known stories in squares, streets, and sometimes in front of nobility. They were making a living with theater so they needed to be popular and to please all the tastes and the different audiences they could encounter. For sure, the Commedia gave the Italian theater a tradition of being very present on stage, being very connected to the audience and not based on a specific method or school. Nowadays it is different, but you can still find traces of the Comici dell’Arte in the Italian artists’ DNA.
What can Americans learn from Italian theater? And vice versa, what can Italians take away from the American Theater Festival in Rome?
To me, and it is a very personal opinion, Italy is still the land of art, and it does still show. There is a very special sense of harmony, of beauty, of elegance that I don’t find so rooted in other cultures. For the Italians, as the Festival goes to several Italian cities, they could take away the opposite, the will to experiment all the way. Without limits. There are also producing factors that are completely different. Due to the unions, American theater, cinema, and voice over work is more regulated, bringing much order and a sense of being somehow protected for the artist. I feel that in Italy we still have work to do towards the better and more respectful use of artists. In both countries though I would love to see the word ‘culture’ more often in government programs and laws. Culture is important like oxygen, for the minds and the hearts of everyone.
Why do you believe people should spend some time in Rome, even for a little while?
Rome is to me the most beautiful city in the world and one of the most difficult, corrupted, and challenging. It’s the only city in the world with every era of history present in its territory. You breathe history and art from thousands of years ago to today. It is a huge city, lately very dirty and chaotic, and yet when you walk on the streets, passing by monuments of all eras and breathtaking views, you forget all the negative sides of the capital and you become part of the history of the world just by walking through Rome.
The first poster made for the documentary directed by Laura Caparrotti
What does New York City mean to you? As a successful immigrant woman making waves in her adopted country as well as at home, how does it feel?
I remember the very first time I arrived in New York; it was July 4th, 1993. There was a beautiful sunset and I felt immediately at home. I still have that feeling, 28 years later. Sometimes I still smile thinking that I live there. All I did in NY I did with the enthusiasm and the passion of someone who was living the time of her life. I never had a real plan, at least until years ago. I did what I loved to do, what it felt right and important and FUN. I followed my dreams without thinking they were big or small dreams. I was just doing things I thought I could do. Actually, I never thought I couldn’t do something, and in fact, I did everything I wanted and still do. I think that New York gave me more courage to be myself. It is so true that “if you can make it there you can make it anywhere”. And not because New York is tough; New York wants you to be honest with yourself and your dreams. If you are, she helps you, supports you and makes you feel like a queen.
Any future plans that you can share with us?
In 2022, we are planning to have two or maybe even three productions of Italian contemporary plays, winners of past Mario Fratti Awards, in the spring at The Tank NYC. We are also working on some touring in the States and in Italy with some shows and on bringing the documentary “Tutti In Scena” around the States. Check our website, and subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for our future events.
Top photo: Laura Caparrotti as Professor Margherita – photo by Stefano Corso