In this series, we meet and speak with those involved in the making of PlayCo’s upcoming production of Stefano Massini’s Intractable Woman. Valeria Orani created and serves as director to the agency Umanism, whose initiative the Italian Playwrights Project, in association with Frank Hentschker and the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, introduced Massini’s play to PlayCo. Before moving to the United States in 2014, Orani supported a variety of artistic projects and theatrical institutions in Italy. Her main priority is the promotion and distribution of Italian culture in American society. We chat here about the gifts Italian theater offers us.
You’ve had a wide-ranging theater career. Can you tell us a little bit about your theater background?
I became passionate about all things theatre since my teenage years. I was initially fascinated by what happened onstage, and then I became more and more interested in all the work that goes on backstage. Theatre production turned into a job when I was twenty years old, and since then, I was in charge of management, having to first focus on all organizational aspects, and then on production. After spending several years in the mainstream theatre business, in the early 2000 years, I started to turn to experimental theatre and contemporary drama. I wanted to bring in my experience to support a sector which is underfunded and faces many hurdles. Unfortunately, this situation is currently shared with more commercial productions. It is a hard time, which has worsened for the last ten years or so, due to diverse causes. Italian theatre, as well as European theatre, is often supported via public funds and public tenders which are less and less each year. Local policies have an impact on the choices which theatres make during their programming phase, and so does the new legislation pertaining to the distribution of public money, the algorithms, etc.
Tell us about your transition to New York from Italy, and your founding of Umanism in 2015.
Time had come for me to have a shakeup and learn new ways to operate and create new strategies to raise funds differently from what I had done previously. I could have never been able to set up my own independent company in Europe. New York is a tough place – which I could easily describe as ‘fierce’, although if you use what you have directly experienced, you really learn how to do your job. Umanism was set up in 2015 and puts together two aspects of my job: planning projects on the bases of funds (including philanthropy) and the good quality agency services that I offer to cultural and creative businesses.
Your mission statement is to promote contemporary Italian culture in New York City’s theater scene. Why is that important?
The planning part of my job is about theatre. Immediately after its setup, Umanism has worked side by side with Martin E. Segal Theatre Center of the Graduate Center of CUNY to develop a project whose objective has been the promotion of contemporary drama. Frank Hentschker and I develop the Italian Playwrights Project which has now come to its second edition and which includes a two-year period in which parts of the work of Italian playwrights are presented and read to the audience, then translated completely into English and finally published. We have created a “Special Edition” during which we focus on one Italian author, who is known to the audience and already translated into English.
How did you come into contact with Stefano Massini, playwright of The Play Company’s upcoming production, Intractable Woman?
I have known Massini professionally for quite some time and I think highly of him. I am particularly interested in his work and find his writing quite special. I think he is an interesting author because he deals with his topics using the descriptive style of a journalist albeit following a refined and poetic style. We felt he was the right person to invite to our first “special edition” of the project, in the autumn of 2016. It was fantastic to have met him in person and I’d say that good ideas may sometimes open doors to bigger opportunities. I am very happy to see that Massini’s Intractable Woman is performed onstage in New York, produced by The Play Company. One of the compelling desires for someone like me who has worked on the Italian Playwrights Project is exactly to be able to create links and the right environment in which producers and authors are able to meet each other and work together to transfer an original Italian work and make it universal and ready to be enjoyed by a global audience and become somehow eternal.
News outlets have noted parallels between the U.S. and Italy, especially in terms of current politics. Whether or not that’s true, what do you think Italian playwrights can tell us about contemporary issues that no one else can?
Creative writing often becomes a sounding board for the deepest reflections on culture and society. This trend is commonly found in Italian contemporary drama, which often reflects and describes the social loss of ethical values and respectfulness to one another, environment and life in general. We have had many examples of dramas with stories which are based on real events reported in the press. I cannot say if this is good or bad. I am not sure that theatre can help turn things around, in a fast-paced, interconnected world with no borders … unless it is able to describe and give with words, like Massini does, the gift of eternity.
Intractable Woman begins previews tomorrow and opens September 23 in the second-floor theater of 122 Community Center (122CC). For more information, please visit: http://playco.org/events/intractable-women-a-theatrical-memo-on-anna-politkovskaya/