Well here I am, sitting at home in Wisconsin in my warm bed, and my study abroad experience has ended.
I apologize for not writing – there was so much to do in the last week and I felt that I couldn’t waste time at the computer.
What a week.
Clowning with Allesandro and Stefano was definitely the highlight in terms of academics. They were absolutely incredible – so high energy! They are completely different from each other which was perfect when co-teaching a class because they each brought different things to the table. Stefano was CRAZY and full of energy and Allesandro was a bit more slow paced.
They taught us several different “rules” of clowning but the main thing we focused on for the four ½ days we had with them was just finding our own personal clown. We did so by watching each other walk normally, then exaggerating our own personal walks, finding how our clown runs, and the little “nervous ticks” that our clown might have. We played a million different games – simple little kid games like tag, cops and robbers, soccer, cat and mouse, jump rope, and although all of us were having a ton of fun we were sort of wondering how all these games would come into use. Well, after we found our clown we played these games as our clowns. Let's just say they became very different games all of a sudden. haha
We had clown outfits, complete with red noses (although they told us that the red nose is more of a training tool. Most clowns don’t actually wear them because they tend to bring the stereotype of "clowning at little kid’s birthday parties" which is not the kind of clowning we are doing).
Then, after we got a general overall feeling for our clown, we had to stand in front of them and they named us. Here is me: Florinda. Also known as “the worst in the class” :) Clowning is a huge test of strength. It’s incredibly vulnerable work and it makes you feel very uncreative and untalented at times. One of the exercises we did, the clown had to stand at one end of the room behind a rope, and the rest of the class stood with plastic bottles at the opposite end of the room. The clown had to entertain and try to “stop” the audience. The audience walked closer unless they were intrigued. As soon as they got close enough, the audience would smack the clown with the plastic bottles. So basically – if you weren’t funny or somehow captivating you got beat. Literally.
They made a point in saying that the way they treat us as clowns is as clowns, not as people. When we were our clowns we were sort of like dogs to them. They would whistle and say "come here Florinda. Florinda. SHUTUP! What are you doing? You are the worst in the class." Etc etc etc.
Despite their tough nature with all of us I don’t want you to think they were slave drivers – they were really amazing teachers and their method for teaching clown is exactly the way I think clown has to be taught. You have to build up tough skin.
At the end of the class Stefano mentioned he was happy we were a smaller group. He said with big groups it is hard because he “needs time to destroy the people” which I thought was pretty brilliant.
We had a clown presentation on Friday, and then again on Saturday. After our clown presentation we did our commedia presentation which I personally wasn’t too keen on. I mean, we hadn’t done commedia in….4 weeks? So basically it was shit. But this leads me to my next point.
Biggest lesson I learned at the Accademia? How to Fail. How to fail and be okay with it. All semester long, I FAILED. OVER. And OVER. And OVER again. Our commedia presentation? Not as together as it should have been. Our clowns? Individually, they were great, but our presentation? Crickets. Even in class exercises, I made HUGE failures. I used to be the kind of person who had to feel good about something before I presented it. Here there wasn’t time. With improv, you just have to get up and do it. I think the ability to be okay with failing in the end gives me exactly what I came to the Accademia for. I wanted to find the “playfulness” that actors have in their work; the ability to get in rehearsal, make BOLD choices, fail, and then try new bold choices. It was definitely emotionally and physically draining. Failing messes with your mind a lot - - and to be honest I’ve had three months of failure and now I’m ready to succeed at SOMETHING. But I will say, that learning how to fail and admitting to failure is probably one of the biggest successes I’ve ever had. I couldn’t be leaving more proud of what I’ve learned. All the sweat, tears, sore muscles – completely worth it.
Aside from class this week we had tons of events. MFA presentations, a dance presentation, a concert on Tuesday done by Italian musicians that were visiting the villa - - on Friday all of us performed in Cortona for the Italian public in a beautiful theatre. It was mostly a show for the dancers – a culmination of their work for the semester and then after a brief intermission the MFA students did their final semester scenes. The theatre track did an acrobatic piece in the middle. I will say, though, the one downfall to this program that I think most, if not all, of the theatre track would agree with is that we wish we could have gotten the opportunity to perform more. We had amazing workshops with teachers who were beyond comprehension and everything we learned in class was incredibly insightful – but we only had our commedia and clown presentations. I also told the Accademia in our feedback session with them on Saturday that I think they should try to do more outreach stuff with Arezzo. It's such a small community; there are ways to involve them more, and that way we would be more immersed in the Italian culture too! :)
Saying goodbye was rough. Despite various bouts of homesickness and me getting fed up with people at times (natural; we were all working, sleeping, eating, studying, and breathing together 24 hours a day) the people here were pretty amazing. I’m kicking myself for not getting to know certain people better but I am so thankful that I was able to be in the presence of them for the time that I was.
Saturday night we had a dinner party (I was packing for most of it) and then we went out and sat on the aquaduct, singing, drumming, and staring out at the dark, deep, Tuscan mountains and night sky. It was a perfect way to end the semester.
Pictures taken by other people - but I love them. I miss you already, Arezzo.
I didn't sleep at all that night because we were all hanging out so late and my taxi came at four in the morning. Kadie, Marissa, Elaina, and I all took it to the Florence airport (about an hour drive). I said my goodbyes, as I was the first to leave, and got on my hour and a half flight to Munich. Once in Munich, I had a four hour layover and then a 8 1/2 hour flight home to Chicago. No, I did not run into any volcanic ash. :) YAY!
It was such an odd experience. Packing, getting into the taxi, being on the plane - - I was so tired that I felt as though someone was literally picking me up and carrying me through all of those things. I didn't have time to process what was happening. To be honest, I don't think I have processed it yet. Leaving came far too soon - I can't even begin to fathom it.
So that is that. I am home - completely exhausted both mentally and physically - but in one piece. I had dinner last night with family and then passed out - I woke up at five this morning starving (lunch time in Italy!). Let the jet lag begin.
For those of you from the Accademia who may be reading this - Thank you Thank you Thank you for everything. I had the time of my life. For those of you not from the Accademia, thanks for reading :) and thank you for your support. It is good to be home.
Until next time...