Marisa Vitali: Life Imitating Art: This is NOT an Act

Marisa Vitali
“It’s been a long road . . . but there is actually a moment when you choose to say, ‘THIS is what I’m going to be doing with the rest of my life.’”
A successful actress, voiceover artist, and producer in New York City, Marisa Vitali’s Long Island roots established the foundation to be where she is today. The arts were always a large part of her growing up; frequent trips to the city were a staple of family outings including visits to museums, attending the theater, coupled with fond memories as a nine-year-old staying up late on school nights to attend the opera with her dad at the Met (even though she would fall asleep before the end of the opera). And Christmas was not officially launched without seeing The Nutcracker at New York City Ballet. In addition to these family forays, her k-12 education in the Northport School District included an abundance of music and art programs having had access to choirs, orchestras, bands, musicals, and a theater program experience that was both a curriculum track and an after-school musical club: “I couldn’t even imagine what public school would be like without an arts program. For me, it’s like – our human spirit is the spirit of creativity and so to not have an outlet for that – to not have a place to cultivate that – I just don’t know what that human experience would be like and I can’t say it’s one that I would want to live.”

In fact, she credits the arts for saving her life. Despite her acceptance to the prestigious New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Marisa’s life spiraled into the world of drug addiction. Stemming from childhood bullying and feelings of inadequacy Marisa’s drinking and drugging became the means to self-medicate that pain: “For me, having that first drink [became] the first time . . . I didn’t feel that pain. I don’t need to feel inferior, I’m not good enough. I don’t belong.” Going to clubs consumed her seven days a week. Despite this lifestyle, she excelled in all of her studies. Scheduling classes early in the day would accommodate her party existence to maintain her Dean’s list status. But when heroin became the drug of choice, Marisa’s existence became a vicious cycle of finding the next high. After years of denial, Marisa hit bottom and decided to get clean. At the time, the only promising venture she could imagine for herself was to sell perfume at a department store and “not that there’s anything wrong with working at Bloomie’s, but to think that a University graduate with a BFA was as big as I could comprehend at that time when I first got clean.” This was when her mentor, Lawrence Sacharow, a Broadway director, suggested she get back into acting: “It was the most healing experience I’ve ever had. . . and in that moment I realized that, for me, that was what I had to live for. At that point in time, that was the reason for me to stay clean and not go back to using.”

Utilizing the skills she learned from her years of study at NYU and taking acting classes at Michael Howard Studio, Marisa found it to be “the most therapeutic way to process my emotions.” After years of feeling disillusioned, she was determined to use this skill set in a positive way. “It’s kind of like when the head and the heart come together at one point; acting, for me, isn’t about performing, a performance. For me, it’s about the journey; for me, it’s about having an experience in that moment in time. As an actor I want to tell stories, and I think that the more life experience you can bring to your story the more full that story can be told.”

Having been through so much Marisa used that life experience to culminate in the creation of the film Grace, a screenplay by Chris Ordal, an award-winning director and screenwriter. The story is inspired by Marisa’s first year clean where the main character, Janice, finds herself back at home, poor, waitressing at the local diner and in a custody battle for her daughter. Faced with the truth of the wreckage of her past, she must cope with a series of events that transpire without going back to using drugs. What is of upmost importance to Marisa is that the film “starts the conversation of recovery between addicts and addicts; non-addicts and non-addicts.” Her desire is to use it as a teaching tool because “art is healing and what’s the best conversation starter other than the amazing piece of art or whatever forms that may be to get people to feel comfortable; to start talking.”

As for the vital importance of an arts education, Marisa argues that who among us hasn’t had to speak in front of an audience be it a committee or interview? Who doesn’t give a toast at a wedding which requires that poise and confidence to deliver? “The Arts,” Marisa asserts,” allows you to be who you are and accepts you regardless.” Moreso, the arts, “whether it be an art class, a play, or music — is an outlet for that emotion, for that feeling.” And like life imitating art: this is NOT an act.

Marisa Vitali

Check out the Sizzlin’ Fireworks Issue of the 2013 Summer Issue of GEM Magazine

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