Two incidents in Fall 2005 provoked the writing of two (actual) letters.
The offensive-to-Italians material in a TV script (Rent A Goalie), and a set of equally offensive reviews of a theatrical production (The Amourous Servant, a “commedia dell’arte” play by Carlo Goldoni) left actor/writer Tony Nardi with this:
– How can otherwise intelligent, opened-minded and skilled screenwriters reflect (define) a slice of the Canadian mosaic in this way?
– How can otherwise intelligent, opened-minded and skilled critics, belonging to ‘ethnic’ communities, and writing for Canada’s two largest English-language newspapers, reflect & define a centuries-old theatrical tradition in this way?
(The reviews of the Amourous Servant were – in a sense – more offensive than the theatre production; their capacity to perpetuate misconceptions, falsehoods and theatrical stereotypes was far greater – more people read papers than attend theatre.)
Nardi copied the letters to friends in theatre and film (from different cultural backgrounds). Equally distressed, these friends encouraged him to publish the letters, to not let them die. Nardi decided to go public: not in print … but ‘on stage’.
Nardi was faced with a dilemma: The letters were dramatic in tone, true. But if read out loud, would they sound “preachy”? (a question he still asks himself today).
In February 2006 a reading of the two letters for a handful of people was held at The Columbus Centre. The reactions were strong, often vitriolic. They also (and unexpectedly) offered a dramaturgical approach and narrative.
Nardi decided the controversy – and its progress – would be the foundation upon which Two Letters would be created and developed – as a two-part ‘performance’ piece. Anna Migliarisi joined the project as co-producer. In July ’06 Lisa Pierce came on board as Publicist/co-Producer.
Since February 2006, weekly (private) readings were held where space could be found for people (fifteen on average) from different professions and cultural backgrounds: Grano Restaurant; U of T’s Robert Gill Theatre and Carr Hall; Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto. The weekly readings continued right up to November 2006.
From the outset there was a clear, pronounced line between two camps: those who believed Two Letters should be presented publicly, and those who believed it should cease and desist. Even the ‘for’ camp was divided: more play/less letter vs. more letter/less play.
Interestingly, and predictably, those ‘against’ were mainly from the theatre/film/tv community. Those not involved in theatre/film/tv – for the most part – supported the project.
Interestingly, and surprisingly, some of those initially ‘against’ the project were later ‘for’ it and saw validity in what they had previously dismissed. This openness to a change of heart and mind, and willingness to cross the floor, attested to the relevancy of what the piece provoked.
Why was Two Letters developed (partly) through readings?
The controversy Nardi imagined he would face during the public presentations is what he faced at the readings.
Nardi, “trained” in the technique of commedia dell’arte (where actor and/or writer incorporates the ‘what is’ of the authentic present – the theme of Letter Two), could not possibly ignore the controversy. If the essence of the craft (commedia) epitomizes being in the “authentic present” the actor cannot ignore it – at any stage. Thecontroversy had to be incorporated… at every stage.
The process also confirmed that there is no real distinction between a reading, a rehearsal or a performance at a fundamental craft level. Engaging an audience, a listener, another, is, at its core, theatrically one and the same, whether that exchange occurs around a kitchen table or in an amphitheatre. The tools are fundamentally the same; fitting it to size is the singular difference.
From November 6, 2006 to December 4 2006 Two Letters was presented in sets of two consecutive evenings in seven venues: U of T Scarborough; Annex Theatre; National Film Board Screening Room; Canadian Film Centre; Robert Gill Theatre, Columbus Centre; Grano Ristorante.
The fall ’06 edition of Two Letters was produced thanks (mainly) to the in-kind contributions by many (including Columbus Centre, Grano Ristorante, Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto, University of Toronto, and the Factory Theatre), a handful of cash donations, a $5,000 donation by TLN (including on-going coverage and promotion), and a creative team that used its own money to cover production costs (this, unfortunately, is not a first in Canada and, unfortunately, it won’t be the last).
Two Letters owes much to the following people who were indispensable to the process: Anna Migliarisi, Lisa Pierce, Howie Wiseman, Nick Mancuso, Martin Stiglio, Carlo Coen, Agi Gallus, Fernando Curcione, Damiano Pietropaolo, Jean-Stéphane Roy, Wayne Mckinnon, Rocco Galati, Amina Sherazee, Claude Guilmain, Louise Naubert, Janne Mortil, Francis Ellington Nardi… and many others who participated in the Pre-readings.
And last, but certainly not least, Dennis O’Connor, who sat through more than 60 readings – more than anyone! A special thanks to him for being a huge moral and critical support Two Letters could not have done without.
Then came “…And Counting!” (Letter Three)