Supporting creative work by women
Lucy Di Rosa is an accomplished producer, whose latest show — the powerful Useless by Saviana Stanescu — begins performances in New York on August 14th at the IRT Theater. She is formerly the Executive Director of The Private Theatre, where she acted as lead producer on the company’s 2012 production of Playing with Fire: Based on the Play by August Strindberg, as well as its 2013 reading series. She also holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.
Lucy spoke with Works By Women about how she discovered Useless, the play’s development, and the films of Luchino Visconti.
WBW: What attracted you to Useless?
LUCY DI ROSA: I first experienced Useless when I attended a reading of it at Ensemble Studio Theatre in the winter of 2013. I thought it was engaging and unusual, and I thought a lot afterwards about the theme of human trafficking as well as about the interplay between day-to-day reality and dreams. Those elements of the play stayed with me. I also have to say that I thought the actors, Ana Grosse, Andy Phelan, and Steven Rishard, were fantastic, and I should point out that the same actors who were in that reading are part of this production. I was approached to produce the play last fall, but the timing didn’t work out. When I was approached again a few months ago, I was excited to get involved.
WBW: What should audiences know about this production?
LDR: The audience should know that what they are seeing is a culmination of three years of work, and that many of the artists involved, including director José Zayas and actor/co-producer Ana Grosse, have worked with the playwright, Saviana Stanescu, through various incarnations. Theatre is always collaborative, of course, but this production team has particular synergies that make the show remarkable for a production of its size. I am in awe of how all of the technical elements, Susan Zeeman Rogers’ set design, Ryan O’Gara’s lighting, David M. Lawson’s sound, and Lisa Renee Jordan’s costumes, all support Saviana and José’s distinct vision.
WBW: You have a Ph.D. with a dissertation on the use of literature in the work of filmmaker Luchino Visconti. Tell me about this. How fascinating.
LDR: Italian cinema captured my imagination when I was an undergraduate at the university of Toronto, and I also grew up speaking Italian and seeing Italian films at home (I was born in Italy). My main focus in undergrad was literature (I have a combined specialist BA in English and Italian), but I studied a fair bit of film and theatre. I continued to learn more about the history of Italian film as I went through my MA in Italian. I also had a professor, Manuela Gieri, who later would be my dissertation supervisor, who was an expert in film. Her enthusiasm about the subject matter was infectious. I had found the performing arts interesting for a long time, and the fact that a performance piece is almost always a “translation,” from one text to another, was endlessly fascinating to me. Put all of that together with the fact that Visconti almost always used literary pieces as the basis of his films, and I eventually decided to make that the focus of my Ph.D. dissertation.
WBW: Why theater? How did you first become in involved in it? What still excites you about the medium?
LDR: When I was in graduate school, I worked on a couple of student productions with some professor colleagues. The productions were quite a challenge because they were in Italian and the students were just learning the language. I really enjoyed the process of putting all the pieces of a theatrical production together, and got a kick out the fact that this group of students had a huge following in the Italian community. I worked mainly backstage, doing everything from language coaching to stage management. For one production, I got to come onstage and give a final speech to the audience, sort of the way Puck does at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No student actors were available. I was terrified, but the speech was really effective and the play was quite emotional. There were nights when the audience gave a standing ovation at the end; I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy that.
WBW: What’s kind of plays and productions excite you?
LDR: I enjoy plays and production that explore conventions for engaging the audience that are different than the usual. By “usual” I mean, those where the audience sits primly in the dark and watches a performance on a proscenium, and the fourth wall is never broken. I also enjoy plays that explore subject matter in unexpected ways. For example, Useless is, among other things, a play about human trafficking, which is a pervasive and horrific crime that goes on all over the world. It is slavery, and tens of millions of people are affected by it. A play about this topic could be quite strident, or judgmental, or political. Useless is not that. It is very human and compassionate. Overall, what I’m saying is that I enjoy plays that expand and challenge the definition of what “theatre” is.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
LDR: I know there’s a lot of discussion about how women are under-represented in theatre, both artistically and on the business side, particularly in senior or more visible positions and roles. The same is true for other large demographics; African Americans and Asian Americans come to mind. But to me, there is a bigger question that we need to ask, which is, what are the challenges for American culture today? Because, when it comes down to it, I think the biggest challenge is that there ARE many brilliant voices who are articulating themselves and exerting themselves out there, women, men, black, white, Latino, Asian, and others, but that we are pigeonholing EACH OTHER. It is our challenge to remember that America’s brilliance and strength lies in its diversity, and that we all need to find room for each other and to give each other opportunities, no matter who we are. And I think those in positions of influence can help by embracing the idea that the more diverse your group is, the more diverse the stories you tell, the more people you can reach.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
LDR: I find great hope in the women and men I know who are strong and brilliant and who find ways to work together, to collaborate, and to produce great things. And, if you permit me to do one final plug for Useless, I think that the team who worked on this production exemplifies that.
Useless plays August 14 – 24, 2014 at the IRT Theater. For more information and tickets, click here.