For over forty years, the University of Dallas Rome program has coexisted with local Italians, but the two communities have rarely mingled. This spring semester, four sophomore Romers had the opportunity to integrate into Italian life through the world of Shakespeare.
Sam Chiodo, Annie Marcolin, Ellie Gardiner and Nikole Kramer acted in the English production of “The Merchant of Venice” in Marino’s Sala Teatro Vittoria, with performances on April 1 and 2. Chiodo played Antonio, Marcolin played Portia, Gardiner played Nerissa and Kramer played Jessica.
This is the first time UD students have been involved with the local theater company, Artemista Giovani, according to director Sabina Barzilai.
Originally, the students volunteered to help with English pronunciations, as this was the theater’s first English performance of Shakespeare, according to Barzilai. However, the play still lacked English performers for major roles. Barzilai asked the students to fill three empty roles, and the Italian actress playing Jessica dropped out to allow Kramer to perform.
The actors went to rehearsals for four hours every Tuesday for five weeks and had a grueling tech week in preparation for their two performances, according to Chiodo.
The first performance was for Italian high school students, while the second performance was reserved for the UD Rome class, which had just finished reading “The Merchant of Venice” in Literary Tradition III.
Gardiner was optimistic about the future of students’ involvement with the theater.
“No one really knew what to expect at first, and we had to keep reminding Sabina Barzilai, our director, about how little control we had over our schedules — we couldn’t even drive ourselves to rehearsals,” Gardiner said. “But even though it was stressful at times, it was really cool to know that we were doing something that might continue for more Rome semesters.”
Chiodo, Kramer and Marcolin had all been involved in theater before coming to Rome, and they noticed differences in the play’s production that gave them insight into Italian culture. Chiodo, a drama major, saw a “different world” of theater.
“The Italians had a lot of motions that just seemed unnecessary to us, but it made sense to them,” Marcolin said. “The physical acting is just a lot more dramatic.”
“Italians are a lot more easygoing,” Kramer said. “In American theater, 15 minutes early is ‘on time,’ but in Italy 30 minutes late is fine, because that’s when everyone else shows up too.”
Since Gardiner had the smallest acting role, she became the main English pronunciation consultant and noticed themes in pronunciations that she had never considered before.
“The possessive ‘s’ was very new to the Italian actors,” she said. “They all really wanted the show to be as authentic as possible, so I loved being able to help them figure out the language.”
“The whole time I’ve been in Rome, the most I’ve learned about [the Italian language] and Italian culture was during three days of tech week,” Kramer said. “For their bonding exercise before the show, the Italians actually get in a circle and put both hands in and say ‘merda, merda, merda!’ And then they go around smacking each other’s butts. And it was just so weird because it was April Fools’ Day, and the Americans just thought it had to be a joke.”
The actors had plenty of heartwarming experiences in their shared cultural bonding.
“At one point, the Americans were singing Disney in our little dressing room area, and the Italians started singing Italian songs to one-up us,” Marcolin said with a laugh.
“The Italians had never gotten to know Americans to this extent before,” Chiodo said. “They usually have the stereotypes of New York or Texas, they expect that we’re all big-city people or cowboys. They said it was interesting to see how many similarities we have in our likes and interests, regardless of our nationalities.”
“We’re enthusiastic about the experience and really hope to continue next year,” said Barzilai. The actors also expressed optimism that future Romers will share in the experience.
Kramer recommended participation, regardless of theater background.
“It’s so different to actually get to know Italians,” Kramer said. “Originally I was dreading rehearsals for every Tuesday, but now I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I miss them so much.”
“I think it’s really influenced my Rome experience,” Chiodo said. “There were times when the workload was really stressful, but [at] the end of the day I’m so grateful because I have these people in my life now. Even though we’re still outsiders to Italy, we were all still pretty much a family.”