Works by Women

Supporting creative work by women

Interview: Deanna Pacelli

On Monday, Works by Women published an interview with Mari Brown of Word on the Street Productions.  Today, we ask her creative partner Deanna Pacelli about the upcoming trip to New Orleans to present the documentary theatre piece 23 Feet in 12 Minutes.  Last summer at the New York International Fringe Festival, Deanna wowed audiences and critics with her performance as eight very different New Orleanians dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Deanna talks to Works by Women about the inspiration for 23 Feet in 12 Minutes, how she gets into character and what’s next for her.

1) What inspired you to create 23 FEET IN 12 MINUTES?
My Husband and I went down to help with the rebuilding effort about 5 years ago. While I was down there I was so taken by the spirit of New Orleans and the resilience of its residents, I knew a creative seed had been planted. New Orleans is a rare piece of authentic American culture. In the days when most towns are comprised of strip malls and condos, I felt the need to help honor and preserve it. That is why I create documentary theatre. It takes a snapshot of a person in a time and place.

2) How do you prepare to play the eight real life people in 23 FEET IN 12 MINUTES?
It starts with our interview process. Mari asks most of the questions and I watch and take physical notes on the interviewee.

I want to play them with as much integrity as I can so I study them and borrow their gestures both physical and vocal. It also gives me an idea what might be going on mentally and emotionally while they are speaking. The body can tell you a lot! It’s a way of reading in between the lines. Then I listen to their audio tapes and study my notes before each performance as a refresher.

3) What are you most excited about in taking the show to New Orleans?
It is of the utmost importance to Mari and me to have our interviewees see their stories. Both to get their “stamp of approval” and to hold a mirror up to them. To show them the beauty we saw in them that motivated us to use their stories. I love performing knowing that people are watching themselves. It raises the stakes and makes us accountable.

4) Where would you like to see the show go next?
I would love to tour with it to major cities. It is a historical piece so it will never be irrelevant.

5) What’s next on the horizon for you?
My family is moving to Chicago from New York City. Then Mari and I go straight to The Cape Cod Theatre Project in July to further develop the script of 23 Feet in 12 Minutes.

6) What do you think is the greatest challenge facing female theater artists?
Money, age and time.

7) What gives you hope for women in American theater?
I see women creating new and powerful work every year. Not just waiting for an opportunity. As a new parent, I get especially inspired by women who are mothers and out there finding ways to create their work. It is not easy but when you are an artist, it is necessary.

23 Feet in 12 Minutes will perform at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church (1313 Esplanade Ave.) in New Orleans May 18 – 21, 2011, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm.  Tickets are only $5 at Brown Paper Tickets.

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