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,

Cathy

10/7/17

Standing Room Only!

Thanks to all who made our inaugural performance of Roxanne Christofano Pilat’s Piano, Piano: Stories from my Father a resounding success. The animated discussion following the play suggests that many of you have your own stories to tell. Check out our Playwriting Competition rules. Submissions will be accepted between October 1 and February 28. In bocca al lupo!

“Sold Out!”

Due to an incredible response by friends, family and community, we are happy (and sad) to report we’ve filled the seats available to us at Hull House for Friday night’s performance of “Piano, Piano.” Look for a post soon about our playwriting contest which will begin in October. Who knows? Maybe the next play will be yours!

Antonio Brunetti to star in “Piano, Piano”

IATC is pleased to announce that Antonio Brunetti, actor of stage, film and television, will portray Rocco in Roxanne Christofano Pilat’s dramatic memoir, Piano, Piano: Stories from my Father, August 25 at 7 p.m. at Hull House.

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Antonio is a Chicago-based actor and ensemble member with Trap Door Theatre and Collaboraction. His theatre credits include: Hamlet Machine, The Word Progress On My Mother’s Lips Doesn’t Ring True, Smart Phones, Chaste, Anger-Fly, and The Universal Wolf. Most recently he has appeared in The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui with Trap Door and 1001 and This Is Not A Cure For Cancer with Collaboraction. Selected film credits include: Graffito, directed by David Holcombe; the web series, The Art of The Deal, directed by Grant Horne; and Repatriation, directed by Douglas Mueller. You may also have seen him as Jo Jo in Season 3, Episode 1 of NBC’s Chicago P.D.  When he is not acting, Antonio plays drums in the performance rock band The Garvey Train.  He is represented by Big Mouth Talent.

Drama and Dolci – August 25th

Join us for drama and dolci at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, August 25 in the Hull House Dining Room for our inaugural production featuring Roxanne Christofano Pilat’s dramatic memoir, “Piano, Piano: Stories from my Father.” Hull House is located at 800 S. Halsted, Chicago 60607. Parking is available at UIC Lot 4 on the east side of Halsted and Polk. Admission to the performance is free. Email responses and questions. Non vedo l’ora di vedervi!

Upcoming Event – Saturday, June 17

Preview of “Piano, Piano: Stories from my Father,” by IATC playwright, Roxanne Christofano Pilat, Saturday, June 17, 9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. for IA Literati, at Casa Italia, 1621 N. 39th Street, Stone Park, IL 60615 — a chance to meet local Italian American authors and hear about their works-in-progress. The event, sponsored by Casa Italia and the Italian Cultural Center, is free, but reservations are requested.