Allegra Libonati is a Resident Director at the American Repertory Theater in Boston, MA. She is also one of the founding members of the all ADA Alumni company, Tut’Zanni Theatre Company. She took the time to tell us a little about her time at the Accademia, how it has influenced her creative life and all of her new adventures!
When did you attend the Accademia?
I attended the Academia in 2006 for the Spring semester.
What did you study there?
I studied voice, philosophy, commedia dell’arte, clown, mask making and physical acting.
What University were you coming from?
I had graduated from NYU and was looking to do a post graduate semester in physical theater. When I found the website for the ADA it was exactly what I was looking for. I couldn’t believe a school like it existed.
What was your favorite thing about the program?
The ADA provides a unique and empowering environment. You are given the opportunity to be outside your culture and experience life with a fresh perspective. You have a chance to slow down, breath, listen to your body, and hear your own voice. You are challenged to discover a source of creativity from your own impulses and inner life. To find a school that creates an environment where one is truly safe to fail, that demands artistic discipline, and that allows valiant risk taking, is an invaluable gift to any developing artist. The ADA provides that rare moment in time when you are able to really get outside the fishbowl and look at the world and ones creativity with a clear, rigorous eye.
Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom?
One of my favorite moments was with Lino, the mask making teacher. I was working on creating a Magnifico mask, when Lino came up to me and said “slow down, New York.” He added “piano piano” and sent me out to take a 5 minute coffee break. Years later I realize what he was trying to teach me. Sometimes you need to slow down, take a break, reflect and then return to a project. Moving slowly, you become more deliberate and aware of the event, instead of racing through something with the intention of getting it right. It continues to be one of the most profound lessons and I often tell myself, “piano piano – slow down, New York!”
Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo? A Favorite Gelato spot, restaurant, historical/cultural landmark?
You must hike into the olive groves and watch the sunset. You must go into town and people-watch around 5pm. You must jog to the San Fabiano winery, fill up a 5 liter water container with wine (for 5 Euro), and hoist it back to your friends. You must go to every gelato shop. You must go to Il Cantuccio and order the cinghiale and polenta.
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
The students I met at the Academia become some of my best friends and partners in creative work. I am a member of Tut’Zanni, a physical theater commedia company and all the members came from the work we began at the Academia. I also continue to work with my colleagues from the ADA in projects I direct. Working with people who share an ideology from the Academia is full of trust and exploration.
The ADA taught me principals of engagement, specificity, collaboration, awareness, and generosity in all elements of performance. It broke me out of the idea that the mind is the source of all creative output, and placed the power center in the body and creative impulse. I feel the ADA gave me the second half of theater training – the training that guides the performer to unleash their power from the human body and voice.
What have you been up to since the Accademia?
After the Accademia I went to graduate school and got my MFA in Directing at Carnegie Mellon University. I began to work at the American Repertory Theater my final year of grad school and have been working there ever since. Currently I am the Resident Director at the A.R.T. I have worked extensively with Diane Paulus, Artistic Director, and assistant directed on many of her shows, including the Tony Award winning Revival of Hair on Broadway.
Who have you stayed in touch with?
Since the ADA, I have continued to collaborate with with Molly Tomhave, Liam Mulshine, Ali Landvatter, Dory Sibley, Patrick Berger, Omen Sade, Ben Sota, and Ali Tesluk.
Can you tell us about how you began working at the American Repertory Theatre? What have been the projects you have most loved?
I began working at the A.R.T. in 2009 – the year before Diane Paulus began her appointment as Artistic Director – and worked with her to prepare for her inaugural season. The first year – the 09/10 season at the A.R.T. – was a thrilling experience. We began the season with the Shakespeare Exploded Festival where we produced The Donkey Show, Sleep No More, and Best of Both Worlds which all ran in rep. The amount of innovative theater happening at one time at the A.R.T. was ground breaking. The energy was palpable and kickstarted the incredible serge of successful and out-of-the-box productions that have come after for the past five years. Since then I have developed new children’s shows for A.R.T., directed club theater shows at OBERON, A.R.T.’s second stage, curated outdoor theater festivals in Harvard Yard, and created street theater events.
There are two productions that I am most proud of at the A.R.T.
The first one is The Light Princess, a new children’s musical, which we just closed at the New Victory Theater in NYC. We developed this show over two years at the Institute of Advanced Theater Training at the American Repertory Theater, Harvard’s graduate acting program. This musical by Lila Rose Kaplan and Mike Pettry tells the story about a Princess who was born without emotional or physical gravity – through love she learns how to find her gravity and return to the earth. Performing this show for thousands of children and their families was a great experience. The production featured an ensemble of physical theater actors whose precision and generosity created the illusion of flight and under water sequences. The story touched my heart and was a beautiful poetic representation of growth and love.
I am also proud of the A.R.T.’s production of Prometheus Bound which was a reinvention of the Greek myth, written by Steven Sater and music by Serj Tankien. The production envisioned the character Prometheus as the first prisoner of conscience. I assisted Diane Paulus who directed, and was responsible for the collaboration with Amnesty International. Each production was dedicated to a specific prisoner of conscience Amnesty was working to free. The production ended in a postcard-writing rally which generated over 6,000 postcards and required over 100 activists who worked to raise awareness for this person, staged a rally, and collected postcards. Placing our theater event at the service of human rights work was a pivital experience for me. This show was a successful example for how theater can play a practical role in peace building and civic work.
Who have you enjoyed working with the most?
I love working with so many colleagues at the A.R.T. I love working with the Donkey Show cast for whom I’ve been the Resident Director for the past six years. This group of performers must have extreme stamina and physical skill, while still maintaining deep acting moments, humor, direct audience engagement, and vocal power. The ADA training came directly into play when working on this production and with these exceptional performers.
What other work do you do?
I direct shakespeare and musicals at the Summer Theater of New Canaan, a company run by my family. You can see some of this work on my website! www.allegralibonati.com
What kind of person might be interested in similar work and how might they go about pursuing this? What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
If you love spectacle theater, ensemble-based work, transformative experiences, and audience engagement you would be interested in this kind of theater! There are lots of incredible immersive experiences popping up all over. I would recommend seeing as many alternative theater experiences as possible, keep lists of your own ideas, and then set out to find collaborators you trust and want to work with. The creation process is all about the team. Also, identify the theater companies creating work you admire and work for/with them to watch, build skills, and stay inspired.
I would highly encourage anyone interested in the physical theater to attend the Academia. My advice would be to arrive with an open mind, a big appetite, an adventurous spirit, and an good sense of humor (about how bad your Italian will be for a while).
Do you have a clip you can share or link to?
Here is the promo video for the work I am doing with Tut’Zanni!
Here is a video clip for The Light Princess.
Here is a video clip of a production of Taming of the Shrew, featuring Omen Sade, another ADA alumnus!