Continuing the Conversation with. . . Marisa Vitali: Part II

 Marisa Vitali returns home to Northport, LI to show the premier screening of her movie, GRACE at the John W. Engeman Theater.  To raise awareness of the plight of recovering addicts Marisa shares her film and her courageous story of recovery in order to donate funds for the Northport-East Northport Drug & Alcohol Task Force. Listen to  interviews about the debut of GRACE:  Marisa Vitali (Actor, Producer, Writer GRACE),, Kevin O’Neill(Managing Director John W. Engeman Theater), Scott Norcott (Public Relations Coordinator, Npt.-E Npt Drug & Alcohol Task Force), Gabriel Manzueta (Sra NY Natl. Guard Counterdrug Civil Operations), Carissa A Cantone (SSG, NY Natl. Guard, Counterdrug Civil Operations), Irene McLaughlin(Asst. Supt. Human Resource Npt-ENpt School Dist), Darryl St. George(HS History Teacher Npt.-ENpt School Dist) and Anthony Ferrandino(Chariperson, Npt-ENpt Community Drug & Alcohol Task Force).



Take it Away! GRACE, the movie at the John W. Engeman Theater


The premier of the movie GRACE at the John W. Engemann Theater was held on June 7, 2016 to raise funds for the Northport-East Northport Drug & Alcohol Task Force.  Here are some of the reactions audience members”Took Away” with them after seeing the movie.

 Max Fulton-Peluffo, Video Editor

On the Red Carpet at SOHO International Film Festival

First Online With Fran got to ask the official participants and attendees of the 2015 SOHO International Film Festival how the arts play a vital role in our society. Listen to what they had to say…

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


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!


Staying Clean: Starting the Conversation with GRACE, the movie

GRACE: elegance; kindness; blessing; adorn; dignify.
Women in the Arts & Entertainment GEM Magazine 2013 Fall Issue.

Marisa Vitali and Chris Odal on set

Marisa Vitali and Chris Odal

Alysia Reiner on set at Tim's Shipwreck Diner

Alysia Reiner on set at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner

Photographs by Scott Kowalchyk.

After celebrating ten years of being clean from heroin addiction, Marisa Vitali, actor/screenwriter/producer created GRACE, a movie that centers on one woman’s first year of recovery, Janice, who 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.

Drug use and addiction continue to plague our civilization, particularly the lives of our youth. The scope of Marisa’s vision is to use the film as a teaching tool to inspire hope because “art is healing and what’s the best conversation starter other than an amazing piece of art or whatever forms that may be to get people to feel comfortable; to start talking.” With its emphasis on recovery, GRACE “starts the conversation between addicts and addicts; non-addicts and non-addicts.”

The evolution of the making of the movie GRACE began with a talented team: Chris Ordal, an award-winning director and screenwriter who crafted the screenplay into a visual form to translate it seamlessly to screen; cinematographer Lyn Moncrief brought visual cues to get inside Janice’s head; producer Claudine Marotte who brought it all together with a crew, actress Alysia Reiner who assisted in introducing Grace to the world, creative consultant Karen Giordano and a cast of actors who brought their ideas and open hearts to the work including Zach Grenier, an award-winning actor who plays attorney David Lee in the television series The Good Wife, and Alysia Reiner, award-winning stage, screen and television actress currently shooting the role of Fig on Orange is the New Black. The initial workshops of the script took place at the Indies Lab in NYC founded by actor George Katt.

To get an inside peek at that collaborative process Marisa and Alysia sat down with me to share some of their behind-the-scenes stories:

How did your paths cross and why did each of you commit to working with each other?

M: So grateful to have been introduced to Alysia, who has been in my life the past few years…She is a woman of talent, strength, inspiration and fabulousness! I spent about a year honing my script and workshopping it here in NYC at The Indies Lab. I felt I was at a place where I had done all the rewrites I could possibly do. I asked Alysia if she would have a read and let me know any thoughts or additional notes she might have. I have always valued Alysia’s professional opinion and her shared experience immensely. Her generosity of spirit responded with an emphatic, “YES!” and off my script went to Alysia’s inbox, while I patiently waited for her response. If I’m not mistaken her response, was something to the extent of: “Luv it! Count me in! When are we shooting it?” At that moment, my heart skipped a beat. OMG! WOW! I guess I’m making a movie and Alysia Reiner has just been cast. I was TRULY beside myself that she believed in the heart of this story and that she wanted to be a part of this journey with me. So GRATEFUL! She instilled the courage in me to move forward and make this film. Thank You Alysia! And then the meetings began…

A: I was so happy to collaborate with Marisa on this project because my film SPEED GRIEVING was made for similar reasons – to help people heal and not feel so alone. It is now used as a grief counseling tool at hospices, hospitals and all the clubhouses world wide.

Why here? Why now?

M: The film was shot at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport, Long Island where I worked my first year clean. At the time having just celebrated 10 years clean, Alysia gave me that little nudge to jump off the cliff. Ten years was symbolic for me… I felt that it was a coming of full circle to do it at that time.

A: I am so fricking proud of Marisa, her recovery and courage and so thrilled to have helped this dream come true! I know, it, in turn will help so many others.

What were some of the obstacles you had to face during the course of this project?

M: As my friend and mentor, actress Karen Giordano always says: “There’s no such thing as an obstacle, only potential inspiration.” Filmmaking is a process and a journey. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen, which is not necessarily the way you had expected it to. I had a director for the film, a female, come on board who I was super excited to work with and then due to personal conflicts she was unable to move forward with the film. Who was I going to hire now to direct my film? That was a decision I had to sit with…at the time I was set on a female director. My ultimate decision shifted and came down to: Who is the PERSON to tell this story? That’s when Alysia introduced me to Director Chris Ordal, who then came on board to direct GRACE. The rest is history…

A: I will say as an actress I had a blast. Brigitte is a classic foil; [she’s] such a fun, fun character to play – the classic narcissistic bitch, but as an actress you always want to make it unique and relatable and human.

Share some moments during the shoot that made the message particularly personal and/or moving for you as an artist?
M: I shared a scene with my father…As Director Chris Ordal prompted him with thoughts and moments about me, his daughter, I was able to see his humanity come through and experience his love, without any attachments or stories…just a pure love…it was a shared moment that is difficult to put into words…but it was shared. To me, that moment was the most moving as an artist, as Marisa Vitali, as a human spirit.

A: I love supporting other women, cheerleading them and their dreams. I feel like I was always looking for a mentor and never really had one until recently and I therefore want to go out of my way to support other women in any way I can.

Any amusing incidents to highlight during the course of this project?

M: We were actually slated to shoot June 2012 and 2 days before shooting I was faced with a decision. Postpone shooting in order to shoot the film I envisioned or go ahead and shoot anyway? Despite the decision being an emotional one, I knew it was the right decision and that production would happen when it was meant to happen as opposed to when “I” wanted it to. It’s AMAZING what can transpire when your ego is taken out of the equation. Alysia introduced me to Producer Claudine Marotte, who then came on board and everything fell right into place.

Who is the audience you are targeting?

M: People who love movies…I had the opportunity to work with so many talented professionals on this film that there’s really something for everyone. And what better way to conclude the film but with a conversation about recovery?

How does the film meet that goal without becoming didactic or a documentary?

M: It’s a movie, it’s entertaining with an AMAZINGLY TALENTED cast …the audience is able to feel and experience what the main character Janice is thinking and feeling. In this way, when she’s faced with her decision of what to do, so is the audience. They are posed with the question of what would they do…and so the conversation begins.

What are some of the outcomes and goals of this movie?

M: The short film GRACE, of course, will do the festival circuit. And then, I want to pair the film GRACE with a recovery organization to raise awareness and start the conversation of recovery, between addicts and non-addicts. I want to be able to bridge this conversation gap. Similar to what Alysia did with her film SPEED GRIEVING.

A: I am so thrilled I was able to help in any way to make it happen, show her the way, the steps to production – having done it with SPEED GRIEVING – and introduce Marisa to Chris and Claudine and I’m so excited to cheer her at the premiere!!!

Once the film is “in the can” what happens next?

M: Director Chris Ordal will be heading up the postproduction, editing, color correction and sound out in LA. GRACE will be ready for our FIRST festival submission: Sundance.

Robert J. Lindsey, President/CEO National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) will be utilizing the movie GRACE as a resource to “start the conversation” and raise awareness about recovery programs.
> NCADD’s Hope, Help and Healing: Personal Stories of Recovery is a public education campaign designed to increase public understanding and support for recovery from alcoholism and drug dependence, for the individual and for the family.
Long-term recovery from alcoholism and addiction is a reality for millions of individuals and family members. In fact, NCADD estimates that almost 20 million individuals and family members are living life in long-term recovery!
But you don’t just check into rehab and get better by the time your stay is over. You don’t just go to a few twelve-step meetings and get sober. Recovery is about learning to live your life in a new way, without alcohol or drugs. It’s about developing a network of sober friends and families, people who you can talk with and relate to. It’s about creating a new life. Most important, recovery is a remarkable gift.

Alysia Reiner is an award-winning stage, screen & television actress. She is currently shooting the role of FIG on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, the new series by Jenji Kohan who created WEEDS, and this month shooting the film REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONand GIRL IN THE BOOK, as well as having recently wrapped ARE WE OFFICIALLY DATING with Zac Effron. Go to, follow her @alysiareiner
Marisa Vitali is an actress/audio book narrator/producer. She is currently in post-production for her film GRACE. Recently wrapped NOVEMBER LIES and her most recent narration THE RISE AND FALL OF ROCKY LOVE can be heard on Go to,, and follow her @marisavofficial

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