Seeing and making: Researching the arts in Italy


PINO DI BUDUO (right) and ALEXIS JARRETT (left) during an exercise in interactive theater photo provided by ALEXIS JARRETT

Juniors Alexis Jarrett and Beverly Morabito had the extraordinary opportunity to take their own craft to Italy this summer alongside Kyle Gillette, associate professor of theater and director of theater.

The theater company Teatro Potlach calls the small city of Fara Sabina home. Since the 1970s, they have been honing and perfecting site-specific theater and gaining notoriety for their performances of “Invisible Cities,” a loose adaptation of Italo Calvino’s novel of the same name. The story consists of many cities described in short vignettes, while the theater piece transforms a city through short performances.

“”˜Invisible Cities’ is in the style of a reverse parade. The spectator goes through a course where they come upon the actors and performers. The performance is different each time it is executed,” Jarrett said.

In 2015, Trinity hosted members of Teatro Potlach and wove a performance of “Invisible Cities” into the many nooks and crannies of the Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center. Dozens of students, faculty and staff contributed to the endeavor with monologues, music, elaborate sets and costumes.

Walking through the course at Trinity, the audience could experience dozens of miniature scenes. In one room an actress welcomed the audience into her dressing room for an interview. Around the corner someone was singing. The next room might have held dancers. Down the stairwell the audience may have seen a fierce duel between fencers or found a loud workshop full of seamstresses.

An actress may have been dangling from the rigging on the mainstage, while another gave a monologue from her seat at the back of the theater. Backstage was full of welders and carpenters shouting over power tools as a frazzled physics professor gave a lecture. Every story was different, but you walked away with the sense of having encountered a busy metropolis. The performance on campus was totally unique and will never be repeated exactly at it was seen here, honoring the tradition of the show’s concept.

Two years later, “Invisible Cities” still touches the work of the Trinity community. Kyle Gillette is working on a book inspired by Teatro Potlach’s history, Calvino’s novel, the memories of the actors and the traveling performances. Beverly Morabito, an art major, will be providing illustrations for the book. Morabito was also able to launch her own project: a children’s story based on the production’s original source material that studies the concept of community.

“My book mirrors the structure of the “˜Invisible Cities’ novel in that it is a small collection of stories and poems, not one continued storyline. Throughout these stories I explore what it means for something to be a city,” Morabito said. She explained how the impact of the entire “Invisible Cities” project is a factor in both of the forthcoming books.

“I spent a lot of time in the theater library going through the archives of past performances. I also spent a lot of time wandering through the city and sketching,” Morabito said.

While in Italy, the whole team observed theater workshops, dug through the company archives, interviewed residents and Potlach members and also dwelled on personal memories of past travels.

“Invisible Cities” encompasses a novel, a theater piece, a history and a community.

“Some of these things may appear in one or both of the books, but more than anything, they serve as inspiration for the creation of words and images that go beyond historical facts and photographs,” Morabito said. “The purpose of site-specific theater is to make the space in which a performance takes place as much of a participant as a lead actor.”

Alexis Jarrett, a theatre major, created a project that picks up on this and shines a light on the details of the production itself.

“It was actually really special because this site where they had this “˜Invisible Cities’ is where they had the very first “˜Invisible Cities,'” Jarrett said. “Finding out how this worked in a practical sense was the focus of my research. In the productions they use enormous cloth, lighting and projections in an outdoor setting. I followed and documented the technical team as they set up and took down the production.”

Jarrett is in the process of producing a film on her research.

“I am making a documentary titled “˜Many Visions of Theater’ that will focus on the construction of an “˜Invisible Cities’ performance, as well as site-specific theater in general,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett has never tackled a film project before, but she’s not letting that stop her. Authenticity of experience is driving this project.    

“I really like making things. It was easier for me to record and video what was happening and also be a part of it. I feel like I couldn’t really capture that in writing,” Jarrett said.

Moving forward, Jarrett sees a bright future in filmmaking.

“It’s kind of my base. It’s what I’m building. It’s my little Frankenstein’s monster,” Jarrett said.

Both Morabito and Jarrett will continue working on their research this fall.