Tut’Zanni Theatre Company is an all ADA Alumni commedia company based out of NYC. ALi Landvatter is a Spring 2006 Alumna that has taken the commedia world by storm. She founded Tut’Zanni Theatre Company with colleague Dory Sibley in November 2011. After 5 years and 5 shows, Tut’Zanni is still going strong and will be performing in the San Francisco Fringe this September. In her spare time, she teaches, paints, creates masks and writes. She recently published “Exploring Modern Commedia dell’Arte: A Step-By-Step Guide to Mask Work and Physical Theatre Development in Commedia dell’Arte” which shares some of Tut’Zanni’s technical secrets in its pages. She took a moment to tell us about the newest Tut’Z project, her book and her time at the ADA.
When did you attend the Accademia?
I attended the Accademia for a semester in Spring 2006, staying an extra 2 weeks afterwards for an extended commedia dell’arte workshop.
What did you study there?
I studied several things at the Accademia. Physical Theatre, which included Commedia dell’Arte, Clown, Mask, Neutral Mask, Voice (such as Roy Hart), Lecoq, etc. I also studied mask-making, which I loved, and Italian.
What University/School were you coming from?
I was the only student that was not coming from a college. I had just graduated high school and didn’t want to go straight into a school on a traditional path, so at 17, I applied and was accepted to Hendrix College and the Accademia dell’Arte concurrently, so that I could receive credit.
Although I had favorite moments and subjects, my favorite thing about the program was the people within it. I had intuitive, caring teachers and a bunch of crazy cohort members that I was studying with. I entered the program not knowing anyone and loved creating a new community and new relationships that are some of the most important in my life even now, 10 years later.
Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom?
When I attended the ADA, the Olympics were also going on in Torino (Turin), and one weekend Patrick Berger and I decided it would be a great idea to “go to the Olympics”, as if that was just something you could show up for. So we took a train up to Torino to see the Olympic Village, which was awesome, and picked an event, which was cross-country skiing, since it was the event going on that next morning (we had arrived in Torino at night). Since it was THE OLYMPICS, there were no hotels or hostels available. So we spent a good part of the night wandering about the city, finding whatever was open, squeezing through the crowds. Eventually, the last place closed and we spent the remainder of the night in the train station with our tickets for a train the next morning to some French-sounding town up in the Alps. At the crack of dawn, we caught the train and realized we had no idea where we were going. We went to a sort of ticket building and were told that, obviously, there were no more tickets available to the events (or at least not any that we would have been able to afford). So on a whim, we followed a couple that looked like they knew where they were going, got onto a bus and ended up in a tiny French-German style town where we saw the Olympic ski jumps and other such things indicating that we ended up in the right place… somehow. Now off the bus, we made our way through the winding streets, myself only wearing some chucks and my Accademia hoodie, trudging through knee-deep snow. We would not be discouraged, though, and we forged on. We found our way to a spa building, which had a little wooden fence, next to which the Olympics had put up their much taller chain-link fence, draped in many posters and banners and the like, most likely to prevent exactly what we did, which was sneak over to peek at the event. So we, along with an assortment of other sneaky onlookers stood on the inner wooden fence, and had a perfect view of the starting line for the cross-country event, with celebs and photographers swarming just under us.
I would not recommend making many of the choices that we did, but my time in Italy was seeped in a sense of adventure and exploration in many forms. Be careful and stay safe, but don’t say no to anything if you don’t have to. Oh, and bring along a friend 😉
Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo?
My favorite restaurant is Il Cantuccio. I love ALL of the gelato and crepes in town. Definitely see the duomo (not that you can miss it). See the Piazza Grande. Go to the park. Try to see as much of Arezzo as you possibly can. Go to the antique fair every month and go to the Saturday morning market. Explore.
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
The Accademia made me feel empowered in many ways. Academically, I was encouraged to move forward without fear of failure. In fact, I was encouraged to embrace failure. Try everything, say yes unapologetically, and when you flop, laugh, get up, and try something new. This trickled out into my life as well. I learned that the people in your life are important. Doing what you love is important. Drink in the beautiful moments, and learn from the difficult ones.
Tell us more about how Tut’Zanni got its start? What was your original motivation? How has that changed/evolved over the years?
I have loved commedia and physical theatre since I first experienced it at the Accademia. As I got out into the real world and began my career, I more and more realized that I had to create. I have always been a creative person, wanting to make new things- paintings, sculptures, businesses, projects, whatever. I wanted to create my own work and I had wanted to start my own company for a long time. Due to many circumstances and allowing some of the wrong people to influence me, I held myself back. I reached a point where I realized that I was living by other people’s rules and had lost a lot of who I was. So I broke free, hit the reset button on my life, and in 2011 bought a one-way ticket to go backpacking around Europe and wherever else I might end up. I spent a lot of time with myself, with new people and with people who I knew really cared about me. I nurtured back to life the parts of me that make me feel alive and came back to my desire to create. During this time, I asked my dear friend and prior classmate, Dory Sibley, if she would be my partner in crime and start a company with me. Thankfully, she said yes and my new life path started to take shape.
Interestingly, Tut’Zanni was originally going to have sort of hired or rotating members. The original idea was that Dory and I would come up with a show, audition people or ask them to come onto a project, and move forward. After that project finished, we’d start working and auditioning the next one. So, nostalgia for 2006 and the people we worked with hit and I asked Patrick Berger, Liam Mulshine and Allegra Libonati if they would come on board. I had already been talking with some of them about how I was thinking of starting the company and I may ask them to jump on when the time came. I don’t think they realized how eager I was or what they were in store for when they agreed. By the beginning of 2012, plane tickets were sent and space was booked and before we (or they) knew what was happening, we were all together in my tiny apartment in Los Angeles, with a rough canovaccio and no clue how to really move forward other than to show up to the work space and begin warming up.
The process was an amazing whirlwind of white outfits, a frog mask, music and panic. We had originally planned to have our work-in-progress show be a spattering of scenes and lazzi we had been developing, but somehow we ended up with a show. Not a perfect show, by any means, but far more than we ever expected. It was an amazing experience and a level of artistic freedom that was intoxicating. The structure of this company shifted immediately. There were some serious growing pains as we figured out how we worked together and we came out on the other side with a serious bond. We knew that these were the people we wanted to work with.
There was a little niggling at the back of my brain that someone was missing, but at the time we just couldn’t afford another person yet. Running with the momentum we built in LA, we applied for the CrisisART Festival in Arezzo and the New York Fringe, and were accepted to both. Allegra sadly wouldn’t be able to make it to Italy, so this was the perfect opportunity to invite Molly Tomhave on board. One of my favorite stories from this time is Molly arriving and expressing anxiety over not knowing any of Allegra’s part and not knowing what to do, to which Patrick responded something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, it won’t be a problem. You’ll be fine.” Once rehearsals started, and we rewrote the show probably 16 times, she realized that she was, in fact, not behind at all, and right in line with the rest of us in terms of what this show was.
And we continued on from there, the 6 of us. We fell in creative love with each other and I can’t imagine creating work so intimately with any other people. We found something truly special and we didn’t want to let go of it. Fast-forward to today and we are still creating and developing, slowly getting better, flopping, getting back up and trying new things. It’s not that we always get along all the time. Everyone is great when things are good. It’s when things get difficult, we go to our dark places, when we get frustrated, pissed off at each other and break down that we are really tested. But I trust these people with my creative soul and we all love and respect each other so deeply that we know how to care for each other when we have these moments. We figure out how to move forward and pull ourselves back up. It truly is a chosen family and always will be.
Who are Beep and Bop? What is most exciting about this new work? What was the creative process? When and where can people see it?
Where hunger and imagination collide, there you will find Beep & Bop. Where Beep is practical, Bop is imagination. Beep feeds their bellies, and Bop feeds their hearts. A brother and sister up against a world that does not care about them, they must create their own world to help them survive.
Beep & Bop is our first 2-person show and is very clown-like. It features 2 Zanni masks, shadow puppets and more music than we’ve been able to incorporate before, which is very exciting and I believe adds a whole new level to our work. Creating Beep & Bop has also been the first time we’ve been able to spend so much time on a piece. We work over Google Hangouts, and Patrick and I are able to rehearse in person every week, which is a first for the Tut’Z.
You can see a 7-minute short from the show as part of the Clown Festival hosted by Brick Theatre one of the first Thursdays of September as part of their Cabaret showings (which Thursday TBA, but you should go to them all if you can).
You can see the full Beep & Bop as part of the San Francisco Fringe Festival at the PianoFight Theatre Second Stage:
FRI SEPT 16 7:30 PM
SAT SEPT 17 6:00 PM
THUR SEPT 22 9:00 PM
FRI SEPT 23 7:30 PM
Tickets available HERE or on our website, www.tutzanni.com
We are working on getting some clips put together. You can follow our instagram (@tutzanni) and follow along with 30 days of Beep & Bop – we’ll be posting videos and clips as we approach our debut show September 16th as part of the San Francisco Fringe Festival!
You have written a new book about modern commedia. Why did you write the book and what do you hope people will get out of reading it?
I never pictured myself writing a book, let alone anything non-fictional, but as I have been spending the past decade researching, performing and teaching, I found myself writing down a lot of thoughts about this form. Since 2006, I have constantly been asking myself the same questions: What if Commedia dell’Arte didn’t die? How would it have continued to develop today? Commedia was constantly changing and growing because by its nature, it must change and adapt to its audiences, performers and the world around it. And although I don’t claim to be the only person who asks this and explores it, there definitely isn’t a lot written about that. I wanted to create a resource for others who were asking the same questions. I wanted something that wasn’t intimidating, that would allow someone to explore it on their own to see what they think. Not everyone wants to or is even able to enroll in a specialized school to study the form. So I started writing down my thoughts about what commedia is and can be today, how Tut’Zanni utilizes and performs it, and shared many exercises to begin work within the form the way that I find most helpful. I am working on a longer, more in-depth version of the book with pictures and diagrams to add some more clarity, but I wanted to publish what I had and begin sharing with others. I don’t think I will ever be finished writing about commedia. It is a constantly changing thing, with new facets to explore and share.
What difficulties and triumphs have you encountered in your work?
Tut’Zanni is a work of passion. It is hard. It is VERY hard. But it is something that I can’t let go of, so I move forward the best I can. There is a lot of administrative grunt work we had to trudge through. We all live in different places and have our own lives, so logistics can be painful. But the payoff is more than worth it. We have created shows that we love to perform, and that we believe in. We are able to get people interested in what we do. We have helped youth to get excited about theatre. I never expected we would be able to influence so many people in the ways that we have. I know I myself have gone through many changes through fighting for things that I believe in, fighting for myself and what I know is good for me, and for what can bring good to others.
How can people support Tut’Zanni’s work?
The best way to support Tut’Zanni is to join in the conversation. Talk to us, come see our shows, try out our workshops and let other people know about us. If you don’t agree with something we do or say, tell us! If you do love what we are doing or saying, tell us! If you have new ideas or questions, let us know! What I love about commedia is that it is a conversation within a community. We are not on stage to preach. We obviously come preloaded with our own ideas and opinions about things, but we try to be inclusive and make it a “we” conversation instead of pointing fingers. We aren’t perfect, but that is something that we really strive for.
What kind of person might be interested in similar work and how might they go about pursuing this?
Anyone! You never know until you try, and there isn’t just one specific form of Commedia dell’Arte or Physical Theatre. Try out different things. Try your own version. Bounce it off others and audiences, and get feedback. See how you feel. Take workshops, practice on your own. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. You may not be doing what they are aiming for in their specific workshop (this can even happen in our workshops), but don’t be discouraged or feel chastised. You are an artist. When you find what resonates with you, don’t let go of it. Find others that it also resonates with. Pursuing a craft looks different for everybody, but don’t let that allow you to hold yourself back, either. Try things that make you a little uncomfortable. Push yourself. Personal practice is important. Schedule time, as little as it might be, to develop yourself. It’s never too late and you’re never doing it the wrong way. Find what works for you and keep doing it.
The Accademia was my coming into adulthood as a human and as an artist. It inspired and empowered me, and is a place I consider a home. A part of me woke up at the Accademia and nurtured me as I grew. The Accademia was a magical time in my life that I am incredibly grateful for.
What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
DEFINITELY consider going, and if you do decide to go, commit to it. It is a conservatory-style program, which is intense. It will hold many fun adventures and beautiful moments, but don’t go into it thinking it is a vacation. The work is real and you shouldn’t deprive yourself or your classmates of your full potential. I speak of the Accademia as a sort of magical home, where I was springboarded into a life I wouldn’t change for anything, but I would also advise that you are ready for something like that. It sounds ridiculous, sure, but big changes in your life only come when you are prepared to also push yourself through them. Be ready to work. Be ready to push yourself forward, because no one will hold your hand without you reaching out for it first. I think that is true of anything big change in your life. The Accademia is warm, helpful and nurturing, but if you close yourself off and expect to be pulled through and changed by something external, you are doing yourself and your classmates a disservice. Go, be vulnerable, be willing to work, be willing to say yes to the whole experience and everyone will be right there with you. If there are struggles, they will be there for you. It’s a big move and if you are going to go spend a chunk of your life somewhere new, then get all you can out of it. It will amaze you and you will amaze yourself. It can change your life if you let it.
In your opinion who is a good candidate to get a lot out of the program?
I think I speak a lot to this in the above question, but I would say the best candidate is someone who is open, curious and willing to work. I believe this program is helpful for ANY performer (or person, really), and much of what you learn can translate into other parts of your life. It supports classical work, shakespeare, contemporary drama, puppetry, singing, dancing, music, teaching, public speaking and private conversation. The work you do at the Accademia can connect you back with yourself, your body, your drive and your soul. Part of becoming a well-rounded performer is becoming a well-rounded person. Understanding others and communicating clearly are skills that are valuable in practically any aspect of life. You will get the most out of this program if you are willing to listen, willing to see other perspectives, and willing to go through some growing pains.
Anything else you want to add?
I love commedia dell’arte, I love mask-making, I love Italy, I love the Italian language, I love physical theatre, voice work, and connecting with people and the world around me. The ADA changed my life. Tut’Zanni has changed my life. I hope that I can inspire others just as I am constantly inspired by the amazing people that come into my life.