Since the Accademia dell’Arte, Nina Giacobbe has been a performing theatre and circus artist in Philadelphia. Glow is the current project with her theatre company, Kaleid, and will be featured in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival this September. She took a moment to reminisce and catch us up on her exciting life in the land of Philly Cheese Steak and physical theatre.
When did you attend the Accademia?
Fall of 2008
What did you study there?
Theatre! Movement and Acrobatics, Feldenkrais, Commedia dell’Arte, Roy Hart Vocal Technique, Mask Making, Clown, Philosophy
What University were you coming from?
Muhlenberg College, Class of 2010
What was your favorite thing about the program?
I have to pick just one?! I loved that I was challenged every single day to push past my boundaries and explore uncharted territory. It’s such exhausting work but so very rewarding when you can finally say “I did my first headstand today!” or “Oh man I finally understand what Scott was saying about the difference between Hegel and Plato!”
Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom?
It became commonplace among the theatre students to perform various acrobatic feats during our travels around Italy and Europe. My friends and I took a trip to Rome, and I decided that what I really needed was a photo of me doing a headstand in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. While I’m holding my headstand and waiting for my friend to take a picture, another tourist ran up to me, yelled something in a language I didn’t understand, took a picture of me, and ran away again.
The following day, another tourist filmed me and my friends Natalie and Liza doing more headstands in the Colosseum. He was very sweet, and although we didn’t speak the same language, he showed us the clip that he had filmed. It struck me in that moment how strong performance is- it can span language and cultural gaps in ways I hadn’t imagined before that day.
Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo?
I always adored the Piazza di San Francesco. It’s a smaller piazza, and always felt so cozy. Plus, there’s great food (Bucco di San Franceso), great art (in the Basilica di San Francesco) great drinks (at Caffe dei Costanti) all in one place. Arezzo is a beautiful city that is full of history- take time to wander and discover it for yourself! My friend showed me a tiny street she had discovered that had vines crawling up the walls of one building. It was so quiet and beautiful there, and completely unexpected!
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
A deeper understanding of who I am as a person as well as a theatre artist; that travel is just as fun by yourself as it is with your friends; a desire to explore the world around me, not just through travel but through the craft I had begun to perfect through the Accademia program; and that home is where the people you love are.
What have you been up to since the Accademia?
I was able to put my physical training to work when I was cast as the Beggar Woman/Death in a production of Blood Wedding during my senior year at Muhlenberg. After graduating, I moved to the Philadelphia area and began training in the aerial arts at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. My favorite apparatus is the static trapeze (it doesn’t swing, that’s the flying trapeze, silly!) but I also train on rope, silks, and lyra. For me, aerials is another way to tell stories with my body. And no, I am not afraid of heights, but I’m terrified of knocking into the rigging when I get close to the ceiling! Earlier this year, I was invited to perform with Tangle Movement Arts in their spring cabaret, Invert! It was my first time preforming my trapeze solo outside of the circus school, and although I was nervous it was such a rewarding experience.
I also had the honor of performing in Betty Shamieh’s Architecture at the first annual CrisisArt Festival in 2011, hosted at the Accademia. It was incredible to return tho the place where I had grown so much and show my professors the work I was creating with the tools I had learned from them. This piece was directed by Vanessa Lancellotti with her former company, Punch Theatre. Vanessa and I studied at the Accademia together, and we were both happy beyond belief to get back to Arezzo.
Do you stay in touch with anyone from your class?
I try to! It’s difficult, since we’re all so spread out and we all have very different lives and schedules, but it is always wonderful to get a message from someone just to say hi! I recently started a ‘Letter Project’ to write letters to all the friends I don’t get to see very often, and many of the letters I’ve written were to my friends from the Accademia.
Can you tell us about your company Kaleid?
Kaleid Theatre (as in Kaleidoscope, as in Collide) is a physical theatre company that combines an obsession with language, a compulsion to dance, and a thirst for community understanding to create new, daring work. The company was founded by my friend and theatre collaborator, Sarah Mitteldorf. I met Sarah in the summer of 2010 when I auditioned for her first Fringe show, Spill. We were both beginning our careers as theatre artists, and found that we had similar ideas about the shape theatre should take. I wanted to focus on the role of the body on stage, and she wanted to create a new language that moved beyond the words we use everyday. Sarah and I became very good friends through working on that project and continue to work together today.
Together, Kaleid has created Eurydice in Market East/Eurydice in Grand Central, a re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that used found text to examine the way we talk about love as a society. We also premiered our first short piece, Bounce, earlier this year. Bounce explores the boundaries of human resilience, and what it feels like when we have to ‘bounce back’ from something physically or emotionally.
Tell us about your current project, Glow, and your participation in the Philly Fringe.
Glow explores the deep human need for validation that is exposed by our compulsion to use, check, and constantly monitor the media in our lives. On our screens, validation becomes the foundation of identity, one we try to solidify in a fury of words. But in this world of gadgets and social media sites, the words are fragile and easy to undermine, manipulate, and efface. When do we successfully write our identities? What happens when we fail and the words fly back at us?
Glow will premiere on the final weekend of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival on Friday, September 20th (8pm) and Saturday, September 21st (12pm and 8pm) at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia at 2125 Chestnut Street. Tickets are $15/$10 for students 25-and-under and are available through http://fringearts.ticketleap.com/glow/
Expect to see a lot of movement, a lot of limbs flying in places they shouldn’t, maybe some writing on bodies, and lots and lots of quirky, neurotic characters. Expect to hear as well as see; expect to feel and to walk away with (hopefully) a new way to look at the world.
Remember how I said that Glow is about all of us? We really mean that, and we need help to make it happen. We are running a crowd-funding campaign to help cover the cost of production, and it would mean the world if the ADA alumni could help. Our campaign home is http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-us-glow/x/400396.
We recently created a short, ‘Towards Creating Glow‘, in which Kaleid artists came together to discuss our approach to theatre and why art is so important to have in our lives. Watch it at http://vimeo.com/70433609
How has the Accademia helped shape who you are as an artist/creator?
My experiences at the Accademia helped me realize just how important the role of the body was to the stories I wanted to tell onstage. Verbal language can only take you so far, and as humans we learn so much more from body language than we do from what we actually say to each other. What happens when we exaggerate that physical language and put it on display? I wanted to explore how many ways I could tell a story with my body- through dance, through mask, through whatever means I could. The Accademia ignited that spark in me, and I haven’t looked back since.
I also realized that realism in theatre was sooooo boring to me- I mean, where are the crazy body shapes? Why isn’t anyone climbing on the walls? I wanted to create theatre that was visceral, that the audience could understand in their gut instead of with their brain.
What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
Learn the language. Buy a good guidebook. Be willing to explore- both as a theatre artist and as a citizen of the world. And be willing to push beyond your comfort zone.