Friday, May 16, 2008

Italy: A Retrospective

Well, I promised you a post about my trip to Italy and here it is. It's only about four months late, but better now than never, right? I didn't expect to have as little time as I had during the spring semester. So, Italy...

As you may recall from my previous post about the trip, we stayed and studied at the Accademia dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy. By we, I refer to myself, Shelby Bowling, Leslie Brown, Christina Johnson, Stefan Neeley, Sarah Schiesz, and Skyler Vallo accompanied by Dr. Jackie Leary-Warsaw of the Music Department. Here is a picture of what the Villa Godiola looks like:
Jealous yet? Oh, just wait. And the view from the Villa:This is literally what we were surrounded by. It is breathtaking. And honestly pictures can't even come close to doing it justice. There is no substitute for the real thing; these are just mechanical reproductions...a term we came to use a lot in our Philosophy of Art and Performance class.
It can easily be said by everyone in our group that Philosophy of Art and Performance was our favorite class. The director and founder of the Accademia, Scott McGehee, taught us this class. We were given the readings for the class before we arrived. Each class period, we would sit in these ridiculously comfortable sofas and chairs, drink our morning or afternoon tea, and discuss philosophy for two hours. Not to say that is was always light and cheerful subject matter. The things we talked about were actually quite a bleak insight into our art. Our discussions ranged from arguing if anything can be original anymore to how our society has come to accept mechanical reproductions of the real thing as the real thing. So, what we all came away from the class asking ourselves was "If art is dying, or dead in some people's opinion, then why do we do what we do?" What I found amazing is that we kept talking about this stuff even when we weren't in class. It affected us all so much; and I still think about it to this day. I think that question is one that should always be on your radar as an artist of any kind. If you don't know why you're doing whatever is you do, you're probably should find something else to do...especially if you're in theatre. The payoff from theatre isn't that great even if you know why you're doing it. Like I said, pretty harsh stuff, right?
Our other favorite class was Stage Movement with world famous dancer Giorgio Rossi. We were all going into the class thinking stage movement in terms of stage combat because that is what stage movement is here at BSC. But this class was focused on how you use your entire body and connect it to your performance. This class was truly an experience unlike any other. We did countless movement exercises that taught us how to use our whole body to work with itself and not have any part of your body working against you. It was one of the most powerful, yet humbling, feelings I've ever experienced. As Giorgio would say "You have to be the biggest sun and the most humble man." Giorgio was full of wonderful little sayings like that. He was also very interested to learn other English words from us to add to his very heavily accented speech. His favorite word that we taught him was probably "hug." :) On the last day of class, he asked for all of our email addresses to keep in contact with us and kissed us all on both cheeks...the standard Italian greeting or farewell. A week after we got back he sent us all a picture of him and his son.
Our Alexander Technique class was only for two days, but it was set up so that we would do group work for one part of it and have individual lessons for the other. The individual lessons were absolutely the most helpful . Our instructor, a tiny woman from England who I can't for the life of me remember her name, observed our sitting, standing, and walking habits to determine what we could do to better use our body for performing and even for everyday life. For example, she noticed that my right arm hung a little lower than the left and said that that was the reason why I've had neck problems all of my life. She gave us the proper techniques to fix our problems and it was up to us to work on them. What we fix about our everyday body use would also fix those bad performing habits that we all have. I guess this is a good example of the old saying "Art imitates life."
Our Italian class...was taught in Italian. No English. None of us had ever studied Italian language outside of vocal pieces. This made the class quite challenging. Leslie and I had taken several years of Spanish and since the two languages are very similar we used our knowledge of that to help us understand a lot of the Italian. Although, the instructor would frequently tell us "No espaƱol" and laugh at us. We had Italian everyday and we learned most of the basic things we needed to know to get around in restaurants, train stations, shops, etc. On the day that we went to Florence, we saw our instructor at the train station and just started bombarding her with all of the vocabulary words we had learned the day before. She looked at us like we were crazy, but we had a good laugh about it.
Jackie was our Voice class instructor. We met twice as a group and twice for individual lessons. I think it can safely be said that our second group lesson was everyone's favorite. Jackie made us close our eyes and think about a song we were working on or have already worked on. She asked us questions to help us find out who it was we were singing to, what they looked like, and what the point of the song was boiled down to one sentence. What this did for us was connect us with our piece. Never before have I felt that I knew everything about this one song. It allowed us to really know the person who was singing, the actual character, and let them live inside of us. It's really a beautiful way to think about a song. I don't think I'll ever again have to question why a character decides to sing these words, rather than speak them.
I could write a novel about our adventures outside of class, so I'll just give you some of the highlights. In our free time away from class we would walk the 15 minute trek into the town of Arezzo and would sightsee, shop, eat, sightsee, shop, eat, and eat some more (we had a lot of gelato and cappuccino). On our first free Saturday we took a train to Florence and spent the day there sightseeing, shopping, eating...what else? Then the second week we left early Friday morning and took a train to Rome. We took a tour of Rome on Friday and visited the Colisseum, ancient Rome, the Pantheon, and other cool sights. On Saturday we took a tour of Vatican City. Some of us even got to attend a mass at St. Peter's Basilica. One! Then on Sunday morning we began our trip back to the States. I'm not going to sugar coat it...I'd rather be in the hills of Tuscany than smoggy Birmingham anyday.
Luckily for you, they are doing this trip again next year...and hopefully for years after that. You don't need to leave college without having traveled abroad; and what better way to travel abroad than to study your art form, right? I say that if you want to experience something that you will never forget, you need to start planning your interim now. Don't miss out on this opportunity.

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