Since his historic open mic performance at the Villa Godiola, Daniel John Kelley has been living and writing in New York City. He talks about his adventures opera house jumping and his newest project “Wall, Ball, Summer and Fall (a Coney Island adventure).
When did you attend the Accademia?
What did you study there?
Commedia dell’arte, contemporary mask, tanztheatre, music, butoh. Whatever they brought to us, we did! It was just 14 of us on a hill back then.
What University were you coming from?
Sarah Lawrence College
Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom?
I’m an opera nerd, so I spent most weekends traveling alone up and down the coast of Italy to different opera houses. One weekend I went to Bussetto- Verdi’s home town- and I found the little theatre there- couldn’t have been more than 500 seats but the walls were stacked high with opera boxes that made it feel like a literal jewelbox. They let me in, and there was nobody around, so I got up on the stage started to sing/warble my way through Act I of Otello with my ipod, acting all the parts as well. Then they came and threw me out, though they were more giggling at how preposterous I was than angry.
Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo?
I remember well the EPIC antique fair that happened once a month back then (perhaps it still happens?), and how the streets are lined with this forgotten junk that people deeply treasure. Also, I remember being thrilled to learn about Guido of Arezzo (there’s a statue of him as you come off the train, unless I’m mistaken), the man who invented the “Do Rei Me” musical scale. I believe originally it was “Ut Rei Me”, actually, and then someone realized that that was a terrible idea.
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
We had weekly sessions with Scott when we were there, where we talked about some of the ideas behind the physical work we were doing, and I remember clearly Scott talking to us about the question “Who gives a fuck?” About the work, about theatre, about commedia dell’arte! I was a junior in college, so it was really a question I should have asked myself before then, but as a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, whose parents had taken him to the theatre from a young age, who had done theatre in high school and taken acting classes and playwriting classes and blah blah, as a boy who had really lived a privileged existence where everyone, in fact, gave a fuck about the theatre, it really struck me for the first time that I needed to answer that question for myself, in a deep way.
What have you been up to since the Accademia?
I’ve been in New York, writing my plays and putting them up wherever I can manage to. I’m currently an MFA playwriting student at Hunter College, studying with Tina Howe and Mark Bly.
Do you stay in touch with anyone from your class?
Some yes! Some no! There are several people I see from time to time, some who live right near by, and some I call from time to time to catch up with- we, in fact, had a little mini-sort-of-reunion of about four of us when we all happened to be in New York a year or two ago. Laughs were had.
Tell us about your current project: Wall, Ball, Summer and Fall (a Coney Island adventure).
It’s over! Alas! But it was a great time. The play is an epic coming-of-age story about a young boy from Brooklyn heights who runs away to Coney Island and meets the master of handball, who shows him the myth, legend and legacy of the game and the cost of searching for the extraordinary in the world. Handball in the play is really a metaphor for the passions we follow in our lives- whether that’s theatre or journalism or computer programming or whatever- and how those passions can raise us up but also destroy us.
What have been the difficulties and triumphs as a playwright in NYC? Any advice for the youngsters?
Once you’re out in the world, it’s really true that no one gives a fuck, so it’s really up to you to dig deep and answer that question for yourself. Why should anyone care to watch you as an artist? To read what you write? To listen to you sing? You won’t always have the answer, but in those moments when you do, you become unstoppable.
You read about my mad plays here:
How has the Accademia helped shape who you are as an writer/artist/creator?
I wrote the first play that I consider the beginning of my real voice as a playwright at the Accademia. I had written plays before, but there was something about the work we were doing that made me more fearless than I had been before to celebrate what I found joyful. There was no playwriting class I was taking- i just wrote it on my own in my room, and had my roommate and classmates read parts when we had free time, because of the spirit of the work we were doing was one of “YES!”. Physical theatre, masked theater, movement oriented theatre really celebrates the possibilities of an audience’s imagination in a way that I found so wondrous and vital and that I continue to look to for inspiration today.
What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
It’s such a gift, a rare bubble of joy and wonder. Enjoy, experiment, work hard- even when you’re terrible at something. Especially when you’re terrible at something. Travel, eat, meet people, learn the language. Who knows when you will have this luxury again?