Molly Tomhave is a Seattle based artist and a founding member of Tut’Zanni theatre company. Her positive spirit, thoughtful provocations and fresh sense of humor brings a much needed perspective and uplifting energy to the group. We’re delighted she took the time to share her experiences with us. Enjoy!
– When did you attend the Accademia?
Fall of 2005-Summer of 2006
I was one of four year long students at the school-it was only the second year that they had had students there for a full year so it was really exciting to be a part of that growth.
– What did you study there?
Commedia was the draw, but to echo (that means copy) what Liam said in his interview, we also studied clown, mime, movement, voice, mask making, philosophy and Italian.
– What University/School were you coming from?
I was coming from Seattle University, I was the only person from my school to do the program and because I did a year long I basically took a year off to go to Italy.
I knew I wanted to go away for study abroad my junior year, I knew I wanted to go to Italy, I knew I wanted to go for a year and if possible-I wanted to study theater. There was only one program I found that had all those options and it was with the Accademia. After I looked at the program I decided not to do any more research, I didn’t want to know too much because I knew that the work played to all the things I needed the most help with and I didn’t want to convince myself I couldn’t do it. I thought my best bet was to give myself no choice-go, dive in, find out what you are capable of. It turned into the most formative part of my education.
– What was your favorite thing about the program?
There is nothing like putting yourself in a new context. There are so many things we never get to learn about ourselves when we stay safe-which is my natural inclination, so to be in a place where you are given the opportunity to see a new place, meet new people, try new things, and learn about yourself is incredibly valuable if you can really embrace it. Paying attention is the hardest part because there is so much to notice. For me-I think the most incredible part of this work was letting go of ego in a new way. It didn’t matter what I looked like, if I was funny, if I was smart, if I was clever-being in a new context where you have to be present in the moment was very enlightening. It was refreshing to have your face taken away and to become expressive in your body to tell a story. Paying attention is an incredibly difficult skill to master-a year is not nearly enough time, but it was a great start (plus the 20 years of coaching I had leading up to that-thanks Dad.). It was so interesting to watch my fellow students, and to observe in myself, the struggle of having to let go of your ego to be successful-you can be clever and funny and make people laugh, but the real success of this kind of work was collaborating in the moment with your fellow actors and with your audience-it wasn’t about you, it was about the story. It was about the exploration and seeing what you are capable of, not what you can impress people with. It is so much harder than it seems because seeing incredible Commedia looks effortless.
If you are lucky-what you get from an experience like this you learn how to learn.
I was extra lucky because being there for a year I got to work with two groups of people because the majority of the other students were there for a semester at a time. There was a definite difference between the two groups, but we had a damn fine time. I am really grateful that the school seemed to draw really remarkable people to participate in such an unusual program.
– Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom?
There are so many. Sleeping in airports while waiting for flights…
EATING. (I wasn’t a vegetarian then…)
It is also the source of my absolute favorite picture of me and Liam Mulshine, fellow student and company member:
I cannot get tired of this picture-it makes me laugh every single time I look at it-it is just the worst. We look so terrible.
My favorite memories are also humbling-getting things wrong, making mistakes, learning.
I was also very lucky-I dated someone while I was there, an incredible man who was not only a wonderful boyfriend but a great friend to the other students I studied with. My favorite part was building a beautiful life for myself there-it was a magical window of freedom before the responsibilities of growing up really kick your ass. It is a golden time.
(Don’t over-think the abandoned stroller in this picture)
– Tell us more about how you started with Tut’Zanni? How has your role changed/evolved over the years?
I am the last company member to join Tut’Zanni so I had a really interesting reintroduction to the work. The other company members had done development and built a show in LA to bring to Italy, and I came in to take up the work that Allegra had done because she had an incredible opportunity with another show that made it impossible for her to go on the trip (I am forever grateful, by the way). I got to get back in the habit in Italy. I was totally terrified. I remember talking to Patrick and saying how nervous I was because everyone had already built something and he totally laughed in my face. “Don’t be.”
We changed that show at least four times. We do that with all of our shows-not because we want to exactly, but it seems to have to happen.
When I think back to the earlier days
I think of this magic energy that somehow made everything come together-almost by accident. We had resources and a network that really helped, but that came with (and comes with) serious hustle. We are interested in and try to incorporate a lot of different things, music, clowning, puppets, whatever might bring a story to life in an exciting and engaging way.
Now, we are in the painful process of growing up and finding the balance of how we can be sustainable. We are spread out-we have different schedules in different timezones, we have to collaborate not only in the creative work, but the logistics as well and that shit sucks.
We have to learn how to stay connected and communication is incredibly important and never not a challenge.
We don’t always have the luxury of being in the same place at the same time.
I started with the company because Ali called me asked if I wanted to go to Italy to do a show-who would say no!? What blows my mind is how well we work together creatively. How easily we felt connected to each other and the work. These are people who have truly seen me at my worst-covered in bug bites from rehearsing in Italy in the summer, sick, exhausted, angry, sad, again with the bug bites. I cannot stress how terrible I look covered in bug bites. We have evolved to learn more about the logistical demands of our work, not just the creative.
Growing pains are real.
– What difficulties and triumphs have you encountered in your work? How can people support Tut’Zanni’s work?
Our greatest challenges are time and money. We are a budget conscious group because we are artists so we do everything we can on the cheap but finding time to be together is a challenge second only to paying for it-travel and rehearsal space are our biggest expenses. We are grateful for any support: http://www.tutzanni.com/support/
In addition to that, it is getting people interested in Commedia – it is not familiar to a lot of audiences so we are excited to work with students to provide them the opportunity to see and experience a kind of performance that they might not otherwise. The work we do is great, but we do it for audiences, that is when Commedia works best. If you happen to be where we are performing-come! Tell people, bring a friend!
There are other interesting challenges-not really in the scope of the question, but that always make for interesting stories-traveling around New York with masks, set, props, on the subway:
Rewriting a show a night before you are in front of an audience:
Rehearsing in friends or families homes:
Recording songs the day of the show:
Making it work is a triumph-getting a show on it’s feet, getting people to see it, that is a triumph. Collaborating is a triumph.
– If you had to play one commedia character for the rest of your life, who would it be?
In the year that I was at the Accademia, and the years that I have been working with Tut’Zanni, it is no secret that I tend towards the older characters.
For reasons I do not fully understand the exploration of characters like Magnifico and Pantalone is really challenging and rewarding.
A part of that might be playing master characters as a woman.
Sometimes being a woman playing a man. It is something that I am better able to tap into than the younger characters-different energy.
– What kind of person might be interested in similar work and how might they go about pursuing this?
Go to shows, go to galleries, go to concerts, support local art-read books, participate. You don’t know when something is going to resinate with you which is why it is so important to find interesting things and experience them-support them, support art in communities. There is some terrible shit out there-there is some magic too-and that magic is MAGIC.
I think the kind of person who would be interested in similar work is really anyone-Commedia is relevant to anyone.
– How has the Accademia helped shape who you are as an artist/creator?
It made me grateful and braver. I have had the opportunity to see and meet incredible people and be humbled by how big and small the world is.
It has taught me to really check in with how much I am giving and taking. I remember having a conversation about the value of the work that we do-what is that providing a community. I believe that art is a reflection of the time it is created in, and I am grateful to have tools to help me explore and express this time-especially this time.
It made me aware of my voice, my body, my attention-and how powerful those things can be when you are engaging them. It also introduced me to my collaborative family-for that I am forever grateful.
– What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
– In your opinion who is a good candidate to get a lot out of the program?
I think the best kind of person for a program like this is a person who is really open to the experience. There are specific skills you might expect or be interested in improving-voice work, dance, Commedia-but the more open you are, the more you can get form a program like this. It is a beautiful place to learn. I also think being in a different place-surrounded by things that might be really unfamiliar, almost overwhelms you into surrendering to a new experience. It is really hard work, and really fun. It shows you that you can make the kind of art you want to participate in. You can make that-that is really empowering.
– Anything else you want to add?