Shakespeare, Italian Style


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Nov. 26, 2012

Shakespeare, Italian Style


The Trinity University theatre program, with Italian Theatre Troupe Teatro del Drago produced an adaptation of The Tempest with puppets and shadow work.


Trinity Theatre students perform in La TempestaTrinity University theatre students perfrom in the original production of "La Tempesta," using puppets and shadows.

Alyx Gonzales, a sophomore from San Antonio, glided across the Stieren Theater stage in gentle figure-eights, moving much like the spirit she was playing. As she went back and forth, she held a large puppet above her head that seemed to be floating with her across the stage. Gonzales was portraying Ariel in La Tempesta, an original adaptation of William Shakespeare's play the Tempest.  Although the words were from Shakespeare, the staging included dramatic traditions from Italy - puppetry and shadow theatre - to give this production a cross-cultural flavor.

La Tempesta, which ran for two weeks in November, was adapted by Roberto Prestigiacomo, associate professor of human communication and theatre, and staged in collaboration with Teatro del Drago, an Italian family-run theatre company composed of Andrew Monticelli, Mauro Monticelli, and Roberta Colombo. The Italian troupe came to Trinity as guests of the Stieren Arts Enrichment Series.  

Prestigiacomo first met the Italian theatre company 15 years ago and was captivated by their work and tradition. Teatro del Drago, from Ravenna Italy, was started in 1820 by Ariodante Monticelli and has been staging productions using puppets and marionettes for five generations.

Since that first meeting, Prestigiacomo and Teatro del Drago wanted to work on a project together but did not find the right time until this year.  With support from the Stieren Arts Enrichment Series, made possible by Jane and the late Arthur Stieren of San Antonio, the Italian theatre company was able to take up residence in Trinity's human communication and theatre department.  This would be first theatrical production by Teatro del Drago in the United States.

Producing La Tempesta

Alyx Gonzales and Roberta ColomboFor the show, the student actors used large puppets to help convey the dramatic action of the story. Most of the students held the puppets in front of them while they recited their lines and moved the puppets to accentuate the dialogue.

In the background, three large cloth curtains fell to the stage floor and during the show, scenes from La Tempesta, such as the image of a ship caught on a stormy sea, were created using lights, shadows, and props.

Earlier this year, while Prestigiacomo was working on the script, Teatro del Drago began creating original puppets to be used in the production.  The torsos of the puppets were made in Italy and sent to Trinity where they were completed and dressed by Trinity costume designer Jodi Karjala.

The show had to overcome a few production challenges.  The electrical equipment Teatro del Drago normally used for staging had to be left in Italy since the wiring was not compatible with American outlets.

And the members of Teatro del Drago spoke little English and would have to rely on Prestigiacomo to translate their instructions.

"On the positive side, we found big energy from not only the students, but also from the staff and other faculty," said Colombo, about the production.

"In any art form, it is always wonderful to have some challenges and to find solutions, that's what we do when we work," said Mauro Monticelli.

Monticelli added that he saw great growth in the students from the time they first met in the first week of October, until a few days before the start of the show, not just in terms of what they were learning but in the way the ensemble was working together.

A unique and positive experience for the students

The students starring in  La Tempesta were delighted to be part of a production that had roots in traditional Italian theatre.

"I am taking a lot out of this," said Gonzales. "I am learning so much and adding it to my theater training. It's so unique and so elaborate -everything that we are doing. I am really grateful for this experience."

Amy Rossini, a first-year student from Dallas, said she was excited and felt very lucky to be a part of the show.  "At first, I was intimidated. It was unlike anything I have been a part of," said Rossini, who added that the members of Teatro del Drago soon put her at ease. Still, "whenever they said anything, it sounded intense because it was in Italian," said Rossini, laughing.

Senior Evan Brooks also found the work rewarding.  As the assistant director, Brooks was in charge of producing the shadow work used in the show. "It's something we haven't done at Trinity before.  It brings an element to the stage that is so unique and so powerful. It's such a striking visual image that is so unique and so powerful," he said.

Brooks said working with Teatro del  Drago was one more great opportunity he has experienced while a theatre major at Trinity. He previously worked with director Alan Muraoka, who appeared as an actor on Broadway and on many television shows, including a recurring role on "Sesame Street." Brooks also worked with Carl Weber, a world-renowned director who had worked with the legendary German director Bertolt Brecht.

"I can't imagine any other institution being able to bring guest artists like the ones who have come to Trinity," said Brooks. "These fantastic artists are really masters of their craft."

A hope for more collaborations

Prestigiacomo said he and Teatro del Drago hope this will not be the only time the Italian theatre company and Trinity work together. In fact, they would like to restage La Tempesta again, the next time in Italy.  

- Russell Guerrero '83