And the winner is . . .

Playwriting Contest Results


The Italian American Theatre of Chicago announces a tie for first place in its First Annual Playwriting Competition. It proved to be impossible to pick between two outstanding works: Passaggio Oscuro (Dark Passageby Rosemary FrisinoToohey and The Diagonal Trilogy by Vita Patrick Morales.

Gold Medal Winners

Passaggio Oscuro explores the little-known fact of the internment of Italian Americans on the West Coast after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Tracing its impact on three families from different walks of life, the play evokes a time when being Italian American was grounds for suspicion and “blending in” seemed a practical alternative. Ms. FrisinoToohey is a multiple-award-winning playwright whose plays (and musical) have been produced across the globe from New York to New Zealand. She brings a background as a radio news anchor to her dramatic tool kit, as well as television acting experience, including appearances on The Wire, Veep and House of Cards. We are thrilled to present the premiere of her beautifully-crafted, thought-provoking drama.

The Diagonal Trilogy traces the impact of an accident on New Jersey’s “Diagonal Highway” (aka the Pulaski Skyway) that takes the life of an Italian American boy, devastating his companions and exposing a dangerous family secret. Spanning several generations, the story reveals not only a long-concealed truth, but also the fierce love and courage of two family matriarchs. Ms. Patrick Morales is an award-winning playwright and librettist whose work has been performed by theatre companies throughout New York and New Jersey. She has directed several of her plays for the Alpha and Omega Theatre Company’s Children’s Division in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood where she lived and taught. She has also been a member of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater Professional Playwrights Unit. We are proud to present the premiere of her moving drama about the power of owning one’s story.

Silver Medal Winners

Our second prize winners will also share that distinction, and both will receive staged readings of their plays: A Long Shadow by August Nigro and Two Watches by Paolo Tartamella.

A Long Shadow poignantly portrays the last day in the lives of Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, awaiting their execution in Massachusetts in 1927. It tackles thorny issues that have not disappeared, including profiling, the miscarriage of justice and the death penalty. Dr. Nigro taught English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and led numerous programs abroad, including summer seminars for teachers at Oxford University. He is also the author of three non-fiction books. We will produce a staged reading of A Long Shadow at the Conference of the Italian American Studies Association at the University of Illinois at Chicago in October. More information on this event will be coming soon.

Two Watches is a “comedy of the absurd.” Two timepieces – one a working man’s watch and the other a six- figure, luxury model – challenge each other’s philosophy of success, the meaning of life and whether Chicken Parmigiano is really Italian when they find themselves side-by-side in a repair shop run by a mysterious Watchmaker. Mr. Tartamella is the Sports Editor for American Oggi and a writer for the professional journal of the Italian Footwear and Accessories Industry. His plays have been performed in New York, Buffalo and Bari. We can’t wait to debut this funny, smart and stylish play in a staged reading in the upcoming months.

Esteemed Contestants All

To the remaining 50 playwrights whose works were not selected for Gold or Silver medals, sincere thanks and congratulations. You are all winners. Your plays add depth and variety to the conversation about the Italian American experience.  We were honored to read and review your impressive and heartfelt works.

In future postings, we will comment on some of the recurring themes and issues that you brought to light. We will also explore some of the lessons learned from the first year of the contest and how those lessons will shape the future of the competition and the Theatre. In particular, the contest underscored the need to create a place for emerging playwrights to workshop and develop their works.

Please keep telling your stories, and we will keep striving to find ways to get them on stage!

Corraggio e avanti!

Cathy Sweitzer – Founder, IATC






First Annual Playwriting Competition Closed!

Thank you for your submissions. The contest is now closed and the judges will proceed with their work. Winners will be announced at this site in June or earlier.

Attention Playwrights:

We are no longer accepting submissions for this contest. For more submission opportunities, visit for a list of tons of contests and other play submission opportunities with deadlines coming up this month.

Vispetta! Commedia dell’arte with a Twist

Join us Saturday, March 3, from 6-9 pm for pizza and comedy at Casa Italia Community Center, 3800 Division Street, Stone Park, IL 60165, for an evening of commedia dell’arte Italian American style! Vispetta, a send up of traditional commedia adapted by Colleen Mraz, will keep you laughing and guessing as star-crossed lovers, clueless parents and crafty servants do their best to make matters worse! Tickets: $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12 can be ordered at Proceeds will support production of the winning play of the First Annual Playwriting Competition. Divertiamoci un po’!

Audition for Commedia dell’Arte


 LOOKING FOR IMPROV AND COMEDY ACTORS (Plus Musicians and Tumblers too!)

 Discover your comic roots and raise the roof for the Italians (and Italian Americans) who started it all with COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE! The mother of Improv and the first theatre to welcome women actors, COMMEDIA is a 16th century comedic form that has inspired writers from Shakespeare to John Cleese.

Audition for the Italian American Theatre of Chicago’s COMMEDIA CARNEVALE on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24th, 7:00-9 p.m. at Under the Gun Theater, 956 W. Newport, Chicago 60657. (Audition reservations required. Send resume/contact info by 1/22/18 to, subject line: Audition.)

Applicants will be asked to improvise in small groups based on a typical COMMEDIA plot. Results will be posted at within a day of the audition.  For those selected, rehearsals will be as follows:

Saturday, January 27, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (includes lunch, “flash class” on COMMEDIA stock characters, masks, movements and more) at Under the Gun

Wednesday, January 31, 7-10 p.m. at Under the Gun

Monday, February 5, 7-10 p.m. at Under the Gun

 Final dress and tech rehearsal, date and time TBD, CASA ITALIA (Italian Cultural Center) 1621 N. 39th Avenue, Stone Park, IL 60165

GALA MASKED PERFORMANCE and DINNER  Saturday, February 10, 6-9 p.m. at CASA ITALIA

In bocca al lupo!

What Italian Americans Bring to the Table

I recently heard a geneticist on the radio talking about the scientific consensus that there are no categorical genetic differences between races or ethnicities. Those physical characteristics that we ascribe to a particular group are merely cosmetic in nature, he explained, and of very recent origin. Human beings are human beings, he stated unequivocally; and that seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

But then he took it a step further. He suggested that we should stop focusing on racial and ethnic differences and focus instead on our common bond as one species. I think I know where he was coming from in these fractured and divisive times, and I value his scientific objectivity. But at this point in the program, my own inner-critic interrupted the broadcast: “If he’s right, then why did you start the Italian American Theatre of Chicago?” it challenged.

Fair question. So, I thought this might be a good time and place to try to articulate why I think there is a value in creating a theatre based on a particular cultural tradition. I build the case specifically from my own Italian American experience, but I believe it is a “theme with variations” that resonates for every ethnic and racial group.

It goes without saying that we are profoundly shaped by not just the larger society in which we grew up –big city, 20th century America in my case — but also by the family in which we were raised. Those of us raised in Italian American households not too far removed from immigrant parents or grandparents often experienced a conflict, or at least a tension, between the American public part of our lives and the Italian private part, lived in the confines of our homes – usually around the kitchen table.

In school, for example, we tried to be American – like our fair, blue eyed classmates whose families seemed to have stepped out of a TV sit com. We begged our mothers to give us peanut butter and jelly on Friday instead of sardines. We had to convince our parents that Boy Scouts and Brownies were not para-military organizations and that learning to swim was not a guarantee of disease or drowning. But as much as we tried, we knew there was something different about us and that something was our Italian background.

It took years for me and I suspect for many of us to appreciate how valuable that heritage was to who we became. Not everything about it was rosy; some lessons were as bitter as the ever-percolating coffee on the stove. Other lessons were more like the “dago red” fermenting in the basement, gaining flavor and potency in the dark. And still others were all sweetness and light, like the trays of dolci that appeared at holidays and weddings.

But why bring these experiences and memories to the stage? For me the answer lies in the power of theatre to connect. When we transform our memories into dramatic art, we connect not only with each other as Italian Americans, but with our genetically indistinguishable brothers and sisters of every race and nationality. We turn the spotlight on our common bonds rather than our cosmetic differences.

Following the first performance of Roxanne Christofano Pilat’s, “Piano, Piano: Stories from my Father,” I was struck by how many people stopped to tell me that Rocco’s Italian story was just like their Irish story, or their Jewish story, or their Polish story. It also occurred to me that I was witnessing what I had been taught long ago in drama class: in the particular is revealed the Universal.

At this moment, in our beloved country, in our broad-shouldered city, we have an opportunity to share our story. If ever we needed to use the power of drama to reach out to our fellow Italian Americans — and to our diverse, beautiful, and talented extended family from every part of the planet, it is now. This is the dish we bring to the banquet of life; and what banquet would be complete without Italian food?

One of my favorite novelists, E. M. Forster, once wrote: “Only connect . . . Connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.” That to me is the power of drama and the real reason for the Italian American Theatre of Chicago.

Auguri a tutti,