Michelangelo Buonarroti said: Â “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
I think about this statement a great deal because I lived and worked in Florence, Italy from 2005 to 2010. I lived in an apartment down the street from one of Michelangelo’s homes and my work was the co-founding of Florence International Theatre Company of which I became Producing Artistic Director in 2007. My time in Florence transformed me from the actress I labeled myself to be when I lived in LA prior to that, to the “cultural advocate” I know myself to be now. Florence, as I am sure you know, is the city which is the heart and heartbeat of the Renaissance.
What we tried to do with FITC was “create a renaissance of theatrical tradition in Florence which reflects the city’s international status.” And, in many ways we did achieve that. Introducing primarily international professional English theatre to the city, within four seasons we produced 14 main stage productions as well as countless and varying outreach and educational projects, initiatives and special events in both English and Italian. We were the only institution actively working to bring together the various community groups in creative collaboration or dealing cross-institutionally with the enormously growing and serious problem of the relationship between the American students and the city. Life was busy in Florence to say the least and full of creativity and meaning. So why return to Los Angeles?
The answer to that, I hope, will be found in a newly established organization which develops out of the work of the last five years: The Global Theatre Project. I learned a great deal in Florence, most of which was surprising. My experiences continually exposed me to the profound and necessary value of creative engagement with the residents of a city and the importance (and challenges) of international collaboration.
I was witness to the negative opinions and stereotypical understanding of the American character and engaged in creating opportunity through working with theatre and theatre artists to counter that opinion. I also had invaluable lessons from coming face-to-face with our government and with our study abroad. My experiences in Florence were challenging beyond words (in either English or Italian!), rich with the kind of growth which only comes from trial and error, obstacle and cultural ignorance (mainly my own) and were clearly meant to bring me “back home” so I can base my work here and take it out again. It was a privilege living abroad and establishing a home in Florence. More than anything it opened my eyes as an artist and an American.
However I don’t believe simply bringing theatre productions to Europe or Asia is what is necessary in our world today given the current view and position of the United States. The contact has to be more personal than that. It must be intimate and active as well as responsive to the community in which the production, initiative or project is found.
I believe, from my experience, something we as Americans are extremely gifted at doing must also be an aspect of this work: community outreach and mentorship. And this is why they will be found at the core of the work of The Global Theatre Project. Theatre is possibly the most relevant of all art forms for developing true community in this rapidly shifting time of globalization and technology. For this reason I have to consider how much could happen to our relationship abroad if we focus a directed intention on interweaving two things: putting our professional theatre artists and students together with international theatre artists and students in projects and productions that reach out to the community in which they are working.
I don’t think there is a better city in this country to base The Global Theatre Project than Los Angeles which is rich with theatre and diversity. It reflects an America I know from my own experience is not generally understood abroad: that we are international. Having recently lived so long in a city which is only now embracing the question of contemporary arts, Los Angeles, for me, is a welcome cornucopia overflowing with enormous theatrical expression, offerings, exploration and talents.
We hope, as we begin these first steps of establishing The Global Theatre Project, there will be companies and artists as well as educational and not-for-profit institutions here in Los Angeles and abroad who will work with us in collaboration on the projects, productions and initiatives we seek to create in the years to come. The response in these initial months has started some extremely exciting conversations.
This brings me to our first project to be developed in Los Angeles. For the second year in a row The Global Theatre Project will work in association with the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations Committee of Stratford-Upon-Avon for its 447thÂ Shakespeare Birthday Commemoration. This year the celebration in Stratford will focus on the sonnets and we will seek to encourage collaboration among various Los Angeles-based theatrical institutions, linking them to multiple international communities of the city and using their diverse languages in a presentation of the sonnet they create together.
Then we will be sharing that work both in a live event and in a final video to be aired in Stratford. Last year’s event, An International Romeo and Juliet, took place in Florence in a nine language balcony scene with 37 Romeos and Juliets.
I am discussing with the Shakespeare Celebrations Committee Chair collaboration to expand our project to include their contacts in Spain, Russia, Australia and Pakistan as well as other US cities. Additionally the Artistic Director of Stratford’s Orchestra of the Swan is interested in working together on this. Right now we are in the planning stages for a date that would happen in late March or early April. The idea is to keep it simple in execution and deep in creative experience. My hope is that through doing this project here in LA, we will not only celebrate the individual international communities and theatres we work with, but more so the integrated community which is developed from this work. If you, your company, educational institution or community would like to be involved, please contact me and we can discuss the details.
Another great Florentine master, Dante Alighieri, said, “The secret of getting things done is to act!”
What I learned in Florence is there is much to be done in terms of how we relate to each other. And this comes most effectively from truly knowing one another. If we build a world-wide creative community, through The Global Theatre Project’s productions, programs and initiatives we would, actually, be working toward finding a way to live together on this planet in respect and love because we would have firsthand experience of making something with one another. Can theatre do this? My experience has shown me it can with support, structure and, most importantly, the will to see it happen.
I spent the major part of my time in Florence taking the advice of Michelangelo and Dante: to raise the vision high and to act upon that vision.Â We may not make it but we will open doors to new relationships and opportunities and, who knows, we might create a bit if a theatrical renaissance in towns and cities around the world and, maybe, here at home while trying. We are just now building the floorboards of this new organization but it is being built on the fertile ground of five years of work in the city of the Renaissance, a word which means “rebirth.” I used to joke during the most difficult times, of which there were several, that one day I would write a book called “Florence International Theatre Company: The Birth, Death and Rebirth of a Theatre Company.” At the time I didn’t realize that rebirth would take me back to Los Angeles with the birth of The Global Theatre Project.
Production photos by Lucca Fontanella and Tomaso Fontanella