wisdom from the director of "The Venetian
|Director Paolo E.
Wednesday April 10, 2002
"People have forgotten how to have fun, to
laugh, to feel alive. If my work can change that even for a
couple of hours, then I have succeeded in my craft," says
stage director Paolo E. Landi, a visiting professor
from Rome in the University of Richmond's Theatre and Dance
Professor Landi, who is directing Carlo
Goldoni's "The Venetian Twins", has had a disease since
the age of 17. It's not deadly, and it's not really
contagious, it's the theatre bug. "It chooses you," he
explains, though he doesn't seem to mind being its victim.
Landi is a Renaissance man extraordinaire. He stages
modern and classic plays, travels world-wide as a TV
journalist and director, teaches, translates, has served as
director for cultural activities of the Rome City Council, and
is a polyglot. He has worked extensively in Russia and has
become a Goldoni expert making his American debut in 1999 with
a production of The Servant of Two Masters at the Milwaukee
Landi is comfortable and confident
in his role as director, requesting that cast and crew call
him by his first name: "Everyone calls me Paolo. It's not
necessary to use titles to show dedication and respect."
Paolo and his actors have been hard at work for
several weeks and tonight I get a preview of Act II, not to
mention a sneak peek at the rehearsal process. Goldoni
scripted his version of the greek comedy Menecmi as "The
Venetian Twins" in Italian. Although UR's production is in
English, at one point lovers break out in song to one another
Before the rehearsal officially begins at
7:15 p.m. when the stage manager calls "places," I take a seat
in the audience halfway back and watch the preparations:
actors put on rehearsal costumes and warm up -- stretching,
dancing, vocalizing; the stage managers prepare the stage --
placing set pieces and props for the top of the act; and the
director instructs the set construction team – demonstrating
which way a door should open. The stage manager gets "On Book"
ready to follow the script so actors can call for a line. The
assistant stage manager takes his place beside the director,
ready to take down performance notes, the changes that Paolo
wants to remember to convey to the cast.
I can readily
appreciate the relaxed atmosphere. Actors do indeed address
the director as Paolo, one asking him to clarify motivation,
another asking him to clarify movement in a scene. They are
comfortable and articulate on stage, projecting their voices
without sounding forced. Paolo is meticulous, often stopping
to make minor adjustments and pointing out that characters
have turning points not only in the grand arc of the play but
also within individual scenes. The rehearsal progresses in
this way from scene to scene until completion of the act. Then
the actors run through it again without stopping, followed by
more notes and questions.
After sitting in on the
rehearsal, I sit down with the director…
But before we
can begin, I follow Paolo from his office to the costume shop
where the costume designer he has brought over from Italy,
Santi Migneco, checks on the stitchers' progress. Next
we go to the stage, where he touches base with the set
designer. Those tasks accomplished, the interview begins:
Q: How did you become interested in
A: I was a student in poetry and
philosophy. Theatre was a natural progression and an effective
voice for the politics of the late '70s. At first, I did
everything from hanging lights to sweeping the stage, and then
I got my chance to work assisting professional directors.
Q: What kind of preparation do you do? How do
you approach working with the actors?
A:Of course, I
do my research. But, basically, I trust my instincts. I have a
sixth sense about what works, what's needed. I can't explain
it. It's organic; I feel it.
As far as the actors, in
the beginning I like to get up on stage with them. It's a very
physical play, and it's important to establish a rhythm, to
choreograph the movement. They have opportunities to
improvise, to make discoveries, to be creative. But this must
all happen within an established framework.
Why do you do Goldoni? What's the attraction for a modern
A:Goldoni is well known for reforming the
commedia dell'arte, but it's his early works that appeal to me
-- "The Servant of Two Masters" and "The Venetian Twins"
precisely because they are closer to their origins and so
maintain the essence of commedia. That is, "going from the
stage to the page" and not the opposite. Improvisation and
interaction with the audience, that's living theatre. The work
evolves through doing it. It's pure theatre. It's not
literature. Or maybe it's a little of both. There is poetry
and lyricism in classic theatre. We are working with a text.
Dorothy Holland, my colleague here at the University of
Richmond, spent a considerable amount of time and effort on
this translation. Then, the actors and I add bits that are
generated through rehearsal.
Q: What's your
interpretation of the play?
A:For Goldoni it is
about one thing and for me just the opposite. Goldoni favors
the smart twin, Tonino, who represents the middle-class
Venetian merchant class soon to be the ruling class. He kills
off the simple twin, Zanetto, to demonstrate the establishment
of new values. "Out with the old, in with the new."
on the other hand, sympathize with Zanetto, who is naïve,
tender and funny. He is our inner child, the one who is not
understood. He is not just out for profit. He, like the rest
of us, is looking for happiness.
Q: How do you
like working at the University of Richmond? In the
A:Every new experience enriches one's life,
and being at the University of Richmond is no exception. I am
teaching classes and directing a company of students who
benefit from working with a professional director and along
side professional actors. Pancrazio, Il Dottore and the twins
Tonini/Zanetto are played by guest artists-in residence, Linda
Livingstone and Darryl Phillips, and local actor Jim Morgan.
This experience is very different of course to working
in a strictly professional arena. It's more demanding; there
are more compromises. But the academic community is very
supportive, and this helps resolve problems as they arise,
before they get out of hand.
Working in the U.S. is an
important extension of my education. I studied Anglo-American
Literature and did my thesis on Tennessee Williams. Still
there is much to learn about American culture. The Americans I
have met are not like the stereotypes we see on television.
Their mentality is complex and totally different to ours in
One thing I have observed, the students have
so many activities that they have no energy to do anything.
They are afraid even to begin. They have no concept of doing
absolutely nothing or how this is essential to an artist. It
is when the creative juices begin to flow. Ideas need time to
Q: You have expanded your endeavors
A:Yes. My work in TV journalism has
taken me to places like Kosovo, Bucharest, and Rwanda. Those
experiences have made a permanent imprint on me. They inform
my being, which in turn influences my theater work. It's
amazing how when people see a man with a camera, they are
willing to open up to him. Stories of desperation unveiled
change your perception, help you understand. These stories
touch my soul.
Q: What's next for
A:My TV special "Puritanism in Contemporary
American Culture" will be shot here in Richmond at the end of
the month, and then I'm doing an adaptation of "The Full
Monty" in Russia. Five more plays in Russia over the next few
years and some work at other universities here in the U.S.
Q: What makes it all
A:It's the audience, their laughter,
their appreciation, their applause.
then, Paolo tells me something that's kind of like a
A: There's something I do. On opening night,
when the actors have cleared and the applause still sounds in
my ears, I go backstage. I stand there, perfectly still for
five minutes, being thankful. To whom? For what? To destiny,
to God, to my craft, to all those who came before and who have
passed on. This is my life and it is not one traded away
easily. You see, I am grateful because I know it is difficult
to work in the theatre, to keep getting that phone call, "Hey,
Paolo what are you doing next season? We want you."
Michele Costantini is an intern at
Written by Carlo
Directed by Paolo Emilio Landi
April 11 to
Thursday through Saturday 7:30
Sunday 4:00 p.m.
Modlin Center for the Arts