Continuing the Conversation with. . . Marisa Vitali, actor/screenwriter/producer

SOHO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL WINNER
SOHO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL WINNER

In 2013, Marisa Vitali, Alysia Reiner and I sat down to talk about GRACE, the movie:  its message, its momentum and its moving evolutionary progress.  To bring you all up to date on GRACE, the movie, now with a SOHO International Film Festival premiere, Marisa and I talked about the inspirational arc of this project.

Here are some clips from our conversation:

Fran:  Oh my goodness.  It’s been quite a while since our last interview.  And it looks like you’re on fast forward here and I’m so excited about GRACE being at the Soho International Film Festival. So, how did it get there? What happened?

Marisa:  I’m really excited, too; actually, it’s like a week away, at this point. Just through the festival submission process.  Soho was on my list of festivals that I wanted to submit to right here in NYC and just patiently waited to hear back.

Fran:  When did you hear?

 M:  I think it was probably about the second week in March which is awesome because most festivals you hear back from like 3 weeks before the festival.  So, I feel that I’ve had enough time to prepare for the festival and the festival run.  So I’m really excited about that.

F:  And this is the first time you’re doing

 M:  Yes, this is the first time GRACE is coming out into the world.  Yes. It’s her premier; we’ll be screening here in New York and really I’m just kind of over the moon about it.  I can’t believe it’s happening.  It’s surreal.

F:  And it is happening!  And now that it’s happening, how about some updates? How has this process given you clarity in terms of your objective?

 M:  I realize more and more that this film is not my film in the fact that I realize it’s so much bigger than me.  And, yes, I’ve taken all the actions I could possibly take in having her come out into the world, to tell this story, and show up for her.  But at the end of the day, it’s totally in God’s hands, you know, and I really, really truly believe that.  And I feel that as I’ve gone on this journey since we last spoke I see that and believe that, and have trust in that more and more.

F:  And in terms of your original intent of this movie, about this movie being about a movie about hope and about celebration.  Could you talk a little bit about that?

 M:  I really feel that there is a billion dollar industry built around the problem of addiction and I really want to be part of the solution.  And in talking with a lot of people it’s always kind of brought up about addiction and the problem and I really want to change that and talk about the solution.  I feel that in being in the hope and being GRACE, a story of recovery, it kind of allows us to settle into that conversation.

F:  What is it about film, as a genre, that can affect change and achieve that objective?

 M:  I think there is something to be said about sitting in a dark room filled with people you know and people you don’t know, and it being comforting in a way.  But, at the same time having your own experience watching a story unfold and that it’s safe to be able to kind of go on this journey and to find identification with these characters and kind of see how you really feel about addiction, and recovery, and like what you question, and what you think about it. And the fact that you are in this dark room with all of these people, it’s safe to explore your own feelings about that.

F:  How is GRACE  your way to measure success by taking positive action?

 M:  It’s so interesting that you say that because going into the last week before the festival is really what I’ve been sitting with is this idea of celebration.  I have really truly come to understand that every tear, every joy, every defeat, every victory in my life has been leading me to this one point.  Of GRACE.  And so, with that thought that I’ve been sitting with is just kind of being open to that kind of experience.  And really celebrating that life which has led me to this point.

F:  People have watched your film.  How do you know GRACE has already been a success by taking positive action?

M:  Well, I can share one story in the fact that there was a young man that had seen the film and it was in a business situation so he had seen the film and I was speaking with someone else, and there was no comment, no feedback given about the film and then when the other person was no longer present this person began to share with me his own journey of sobriety and how only his family knows about it and how professionally he hasn’t come out and shared it with anyone.  I just thought that was so beautiful that here is this stranger that I’m somewhat working with who felt comfortable enough to share his own experience and his own journey and how he was moved by GRACE and that in itself touched me so much.  I felt that by sharing GRACE with him that he had an opportunity to kind of come out and share his experience.  Intellectually, you know that will happen that’s what you desire to happen when you’re creating something, but not until you’re actually in that moment with that person and just sharing that unspoken bond does it really have a whole effect kind of thing.  And it was just so beautiful.  We kind of just stood in silence and we both shared a tear and a hug and it was like I didn’t even need to know all the details of his story.  We just both knew.  I think that is the beauty of recovery and being on the other side of all of this and what I shared with this young man is that bringing compassion to this disease and allowing ourselves to feel that much more comfortable talking about it, expressing our feelings about it.  I think that’s really beautiful.

F:  And you’re really beautiful.  See you on the red carpet!

http://www.grace-the-movie.com/

http://www.grace-the-movie.com/trailer

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Here Come The Tempest Ladies!

An Interview with Stella Berg & Katherine Elliot

By Frances McGarry

In 2008, six Syracuse University Acting students imagined a novel approach to presenting Shakespeare.  Inspired by a semester abroad program at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, Stella Berg,  a co-founder/producer/actor of the company, experienced Shakespeare in an entirely different light. “I saw what it was like to really witness a Shakespeare performance done the way that he would have done it; full of music, dancing, humor, life — and it was electric.” Growing up in Istanbul, Stella was taught to dissect and analyze Shakespeare’s plays line-by-line: “I hated Shakespeare in school; it was so boring and I couldn’t understand anything.” Everything changed the moment she saw her first Globe production.  For their final assignment, their class performed a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Globe stage. The founding members were all paired in the same group and since there were no men in their troupe, the women assumed all the roles.  Having a mutual affinity towards the Bard and playing roles they never would ordinarily be cast in, the ladies decided to continue working together as an ensemble.  Being a group of only six, they developed a unique way to cast their shows.  “We switch roles constantly throughout the play.  So no one is cast in any given part, but rather we share the roles and switch often throughout each play.”  The switches happen at very deliberate points – whenever there is a change in the status quo of a character.  Because of this, each actress is given the opportunity to play a wide variety of characters, both male and female.  Thus, became the creation of The Tempest Ladies.

Stella envisions a three-fold approach to achieve this undertaking:  first, to strip away gender stereotypes; second, to embolden young people to access Shakespeare’s plays in real and practical ways, and finally have these aspirations coalesce to be a source of entertainment for their audiences.  Katherine Elliot who recently joined the ensemble this past year was surprised at how audiences embraced this gender-friendly presentation of Shakespeare.  As Producer for The Taming of The Shrew, Katherine was concerned that a 3-hour performance would have audiences streaming out during intermission; in fact, “People were blown away!  The audience was entertained and very active the whole time. They wanted to come again.  They were upset that there wasn’t a longer run.”  As performers, both Stella and Katherine spoke of the dynamic nature of switching roles as well as gender onstage.  “Every actress brings her own idiosyncrasies to that character,” says Katherine, “it’s also fun to have the opportunity to play male roles and to get into their heads.  You learn that men and women are very similar in a lot of ways.”  “These stereotypical elements that we attribute to the male versus the female actually become irrelevant,” Stella explains, “because at the end of the day we’re all human beings [thereby bringing a transparency to] human sexuality. . . It doesn’t matter if it’s a female character or male character; they have the same wheel of emotions. For instance, there’ so much strength and so much murderous and treacherous energy in Lady Macbeth – qualities typically attributed to men. Simultaneously there are moments of intense vulnerability and childlike behavior, of dread and fear from Macbeth – emotions usually attributed to women.  When I play Lysander and play opposite of another who’s playing Hermia, we’re two people in love, regardless of their gender of who’s playing what.  You feel the same jitter and excitement for someone you adore – an element of fear.”  Katherine interjects, “Kate [The Taming of the Shrew] is written as a very masculine character, she’s tough and won’t submit, so she’s seen as this “shrew”. . . and watching actresses in our company play her is interesting.  She is psychologically masculine and biologically feminine, and since we are an all-female ensemble, she tends to be played as a male character would be.  It was a lot of fun for me to watch every night.”  No matter which female is playing which role—audiences suspend their belief and their perceptions are altered by this artistic invention.

The arts can transform people’s lives and this is why The Tempest Ladies are intent on making this accessible to students.  “It can be a bit intimidating to play Shakespeare in English for Turkish students attending a French school in Istanbul,” reported Teaching Artist Laura Borgwardt in her testimonial:

The idea of a language barrier begins to creep into your subconscious. The key is remembering that movement is a universal language. It can convey feeling, story; meaning. Using our bodies to express is innately human. We ‘jump for joy,’ we ‘tremble with fear’. There is a shared understanding of the way we use physicality to communicate. It no longer matters if the audience comprehends every single word that we were saying – they follow the meaning through the movement.

Our workshops in Istanbul focused on ensemble-building and using movement to help tell a story. As a companion to seeing the play performed, they allowed different access points to the material and to the experience. To delve into the themes and physical vocabulary beforehand left the students more prepared for what they were going to see. It gave them ownership over their own experience and allowed them to take part in the process.

I was impressed by how willingly the students jumped into exercises, trusting us and trusting their peers – their fellow ensemble members – and in doing so, creating something so beautiful together. The joy of self-expression, and of working together to accomplish a task, permeated the classroom. It is the same joy we have as an ensemble when we rehearse together and create. It was incredible to be able to share that passion with future storytellers.

After raising $10,000, The Tempest Ladies are readying for their Off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this April.  Looking to the future, they would like to take A Midsummer’s Night Dream back to Turkey, but for now, The Tempest Ladies will set the NYC theater world afire with their talent, their passion, and their tempestuous tale of comedy and gender subterfuge.

For more information about The Tempest Ladies visit: http://www.tempestladies.com, http://www.facebook.com/TempestLadies

To purchase tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream visit: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1382019

The arts boost student learning,

The data is in: The arts boost student learning, particularly for English Language Learners

Posted by Marna Stalcup On September – 10 – 2014

 Arts instruction has long been used as a tool for reaching English Language Learners. In fact, the origins of the children’s theatre genre lie in the Settlement Houses of Chicago in the early Twentieth Century, where Jane Addams utilized theatre and poetry to help students learn English (this tradition can be seen today in the plethora of children’s books adapted for the stage.)

There is a wealth of information available today about the usefulness of the arts for reaching multiple learning styles but there are few studies that directly link arts integration with student test scores (particularly long-term, richly collaborative integration models). Read more…

The Survivor Tree Poem: Arts Advocating Healing

“There is nothing so bad that we cannot survive it.”

The Survivor Tree is a children’s poem on behalf of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. It’s the story of a lone pear tree at the World Trade Center that miraculously survived the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Discovered in the rubble by recovery workers and nursed back to health, the Survivor Tree has become a metaphor for hope and the resilience of the human spirit.

 

Another testament to The Arts and its healing powers.