Nicholas Gabriel reflects on the impact of his experience teaching acting at Civica Scuola di Teatro Paolo Grassi in Rome this summer.
“My entire upbringing was informed by the traditions of the Italian American experience: we traveled to New York City for the Feast of San Gennaro, belonged to the local Italian American Community Center, played bocce, ate ‘seven fishes’ on Christmas Eve, and my father tended an extensive tomato garden that my mother turned into elaborate Sunday dinners, prominently featuring ‘red sauce’ that had simmered on the stove for hours. In fact, my sister and I have a running joke that the only meal we remember from our childhood is pasta with red sauce. However, it wasn’t until recently that I began investigating my ancestors’ extraordinary lives. They were poor carpenters, farmers, and merchants. My great grandparents on both sides of the family, whose surnames were Americanized at Ellis Island, emigrated from Calabria in the early nineteen-twenties and eventually made their way upstate. Because of my desire to grow deeper roots, I plan to establish dual American and Italian citizenship ‘jure sanguinis’.
Through the generous support of the Chapman University College of Performing Arts and, in particular, Dean Giulio Ongaro and Associate Dean Louise Thomas, I was able to travel to Italy for the first time in my life. Dr. Federico Pacchioni, Director of Chapman’s Italian Studies Program, connected me to a colleague (and former Chapman University student) currently working at Teatro Piccolo in Milan. She then connected me to her friends at the Civica Scuola di Teatro Paolo Grassi (CTPG). Founded in 1951 by Paolo Grassi and Giorgio Strehler, CTPG is Northern Italy’s academic gateway for serious theatre artists.
The students I worked with at CTPG were extraordinary. They were well-comported and respectful, uniquely physically expressive, and their acting was poignantly vulnerable. Their single most important distinguishing characteristic was their curiosity. They had an appetite for knowledge that was exceptional. They were excited by a new perspective, and especially interested in the mindset of an American professor who teaches in both screen acting and theatre performance programs at an American university outside of Los Angeles. They shared that our time together was valuable to them because I helped clarify some of the principles they’d learned previously and deepen their understanding of others. They also shared that I taught them some Chekhovian principles they had not learned from their tutor. At the end of the week, I did not want to leave. They thanked me profusely and I thanked them profusely and we reluctantly said our goodbyes. At the request of the CTPG’s director, Mr. Maccieri, I plan to teach for another week in June of next year there. My long-term goal is to establish an ongoing arrangement that allows me to return regularly. I gained a fresh, Italian perspective, and an entirely new community of theatre artists that will inspire me for the rest of my life.”