This week, we continue our series of spotlights on alumni Commedia dell’Arte company, Tut’Zanni! Liam Mulshine, spring 2006 alumnus, tells us about his favorite ADA memories as well as what he’s been up to lately! Read on to hear more!
When did you attend the Accademia?
I attended the Accademia in the spring of 2006.
What did you study there?
The emphasis was on Commedia dell’Arte and physical theatre with a healthy dose of clown, mime, Lecoq movement technique, Roy Hart voice, mask making (both latex and leather), philosophy and Italian.
What University/School were you coming from?
I was the 2nd or 3rd student ever to study at the ADA from Boston University’s theatre program, a school that has sent many a student to the Accademia since!
What was your favorite thing about the program?
Don’t make me choose! I think if I had to distill down my favorite thing about the program, it was the freedom to experiment. More specifically, I learned how to be ugly. That sounds odd but just hear me out – coming from my very rigorous BFA program at BU, I was myopically focused on being a “good” and “impressive” actor. The Accademia felt like a laboratory for theatre nestled in the Tuscan hills where I left my “good” actor pretenses at the door and experimented to find how far and wide I could stretch by voice, my body, and the characters I created. My teachers and classmates really fostered this amazing ethos of getting down and dirty to see what we could learn about ourselves and about performance.
One crazy adventure was traveling with some ADA friends to Rome on the Saturday before Easter. We had an amazing day exploring the city, had a nice dinner, an arrived at the train station just in time for the last train back to Arezzo only to discover there are two major train stations in Rome, and we were at the wrong one. So we were stranded in Rome all night on Easter eve (with nary a gay dance club open!) but made the most of it, hanging out near the Colosseum and getting in (free!) to a late-night movie theatre. We slept very soundly on the first train back the next morning. It was one of those “we’ll look fondly back on this in a few years,” and I definitely do.
Shalimar Kebab in Piazza Sant’Agostino for amazing doner kebabs and Italian beer, Il Cantuccio for a nicer dinner (good for when your parents come!) and the world-famous antiques market every month in Piazza Grande is a must, at least once, even if you only window shop.
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
This is a takeaway I’m realizing in retrospect, but the Accademia is a wonderful place to unplug and focus. Long ago in 2006, there was no such thing as a smartphone and high-speed wifi and connected cameras in every device were not the norm. I don’t mean to be a Luddite but I really valued how being in Italy without a device always at my side helped me see my life and the world from a bit of a distance and allowed me to put 100% of my energy into the work.
I also learned how good communication and storytelling doesn’t need a shared language – in fact, taking out words forces a new kind of creativity in understanding.
ALi, Tut’Zanni’s co-founder, asked me to coffee when we were both living in LA and told me “I’m creating a Commedia theatre company, I want you to be in it, and I want to fly us all out to perform in Arezzo this summer.” The idea sounded amazing and probably unlikely to pan out, but I love ALi’s passion and didn’t have much to lose by aiming big with her. Cut to five years later, we’ve traveled all over together, taught workshops and performed several shows in multiple festivals. It’s pretty unreal. We’ve pretty consistently shared the responsibilities of show creation throughout the years – everyone bringing ideas, everyone getting up to play around in mask and directing and helping to sculpt the final product. I’ve enjoyed helping out on the PR and “brand” front – including some of our website design, photography, video editing, posters, and more.
Something just clicked with Love Letter Lost, our second show. It had the classic Commedia dynamics of master and servants, feuding families, unrequited love, and a big crazy ending. But it wasn’t pulled straight from a book of old lazzi – we took a couple inspirational ideas and kept building, knocking down, and building again, basically from scratch. In the end we stepped back and realized we had birthed this show that we loved and audiences seemed to get a kick out of too. Each character, each actor has a moment to really ham it up. It hearkens back to the traditional form but feels completely our own.
Do you have a clip you can share or link to?
Here’s a trailer to the show from performances at the Capital Fringe Festival in DC in the summer of 2014.
What difficulties and triumphs have you encountered in your work? How can people support Tut’Zanni’s work?
One major difficulty is finding a convenient time each week to have company video chat meetings across 9 time zones! Another major challenge in the work we create is the element of the outside eye, the audience. While we act as audience to each other whenever we’re crafting lazzi, there’s nothing like someone completely removed from the work, seeing two (usually masked) characters interacting for the first time. The moment someone new is in the room, everything changes – we find clarity, both in really milking what works great, and instantly realizing that some jokes we found hilarious in rehearsal actually don’t land at all with anyone else.
A huge triumph has been the amazing reactions from students in middle and high school who saw performances of our first show, Art for Sale, during our tour of the southern US. THEY were a proper Commedia dell’Arte audience! They let us know exactly what they thought of each character, each lewd gesture, each slightly salty word – exactly what Commedia demands, total engagement, enough to affect the course of the show. Commedia and school students are a match made in heaven.
A great way to support us is money! Tutzanni.com/support or dollar bills thrown in our general direction works. A more fun way to support us is to like us on all our Faceplaces (including facebook.com/tutzanni), spread the love, and check out our ridiculously affordable shows and workshops whenever we’re nearby!
I work sometimes as an in-class actor with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, an organization that teaches playwriting to students across Philadelphia and then uses professional actors to bring the scenes and monologues to life. I’m always amazed by stories and dialogue students come up with and it’s fun to be a part of their creation process.
I also had the honor of taking part in a dance project called Levée des Conflits by the French choreographer Boris Charmatz a few months ago. It provoked some really interesting discussions (like “What even is dance?”), and it was a hell of a workout. The final performance was in the fountain at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was totally surreal and thrilling.
The Accademia helped me find my weird, unique voice as a physical theatre artist. I learned there to try everything once, to say “why not?” more, and to approach the scary and unknown with courage.
What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
Do it! But seriously, I’d say reach out to anyone you know who’s studied there, or reach out to the school and ask to be connected with alumni. Get some first-hand experiences to really get a sense of the benefits (and even downsides) to attending the ADA. Ask the questions you’re REALLY wondering about, and hopefully you’ll get some honest answers that will give you a good a sense as any of what your life might be like as a student at the Accademia. The ADA has an amazing alumni network with loads of people who can’t wait to talk about their experiences.
Honestly, if you want to go abroad just to party, the ADA is probably not the place for you. The best ADA students are serious about work, excited to explore and travel, and open to new friendships across cultures. The ideal candidate is adventurous, creative, passionate, and might consider themselves low-maintenance.
I would have to say an Innamorato, one of the lovers. Their lives are just so deliciously dramatic. Lots of falling in love, lots of servants attending to your every need (and yet never doing enough), lots heartache-filled poetry and balletic flailing and sneaking behind parents’ backs and midnight rendezvous. Who could ask for anything more?
Anything else you want to add?
Travel when you have the time, especially around Italy! There are so many amazing day and weekend trips just a short train ride away. Try to learn as much Italian as you can, especially by making friends with some locals. Take lots of pictures, but sometimes put away the phone and just go on adventures.