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What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

New York City - Theatre

Frank J. Avella Talks to
Actor Carlotta Brentan

Opposite Photo: Carlotta Brentan
Photo Credit: Mark Wyville


Continuing

Continuing a series of interviews with working theatre actors, Carlotta Brentan is a multi-faceted, terrifically talented artist raised in Italy, France and the U.K.

Frank J. Avella: Did you always want to act?

Carlotta Brentan: I really did! I often get asked when I first decided to pursue this career, and I always answer that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to perform professionally. It did take me a few years to accept that this was going to be my path, but even when I was in denial about it and tried to trick myself into liking office work, I always knew deep down that I wanted to act.

Frank J. Avella: Do you have any writing and/or directing aspirations?

Carlotta Brentan: Absolutely! I want to do everything. I have a couple of plays half written in my head (don’t we all?) One day soon I’ll sit down and actually put hand to keyboard! Same goes for directing. I can’t wait to step over to the other side and be in charge of creating a production. I’m very hopeful that both of these things will come true soon: I am surrounded by so many talented colleagues who I trained with or who I’ve come to know since graduating, and I’m already plotting to get a few of us together and make something that’s ours.

Frank J. Avella: You grew up in Italy, then lived in Paris, then London. How did those places impact your attraction to a career the arts?

Carlotta Brentan: Each of these places has an incredibly rich and varied artistic scene: from going to the Opera in Paris to seeing experimental theatrical adaptations in Milan, to big productions on London’s West End, I always found myself surrounded by a wealth of culture and art, which was always highly valued by the people around me. This definitely inspired me and helped me accept the worth of a career dedicated to the arts! Of course, nowadays in places like Italy it’s almost impossible to pursue a career in the arts – which is why so many of us are over here – but the cultural acceptance of how important art is in society remains strong.


Carlotta Brentan
Photo Credit: Mark Wyville

Frank J. Avella: You came to NYC three years ago. Why New York? Had you ever visited the US before? Were you at all frightened?

Carlotta Brentan: In retrospect, it was always going to be New York for me. Ever since I was a kid I heard this myth of the wonders of New York, thanks to my parents who lived here as hippy newlyweds in the 70s and often talked about this time as one of the happiest in their lives. My sister was the first to follow in their footsteps, moving here a few years before me to train and work as a set designer. While she was here, I visited her constantly and fell in love with the city more and more, until I finally caved and left London for NYC. To be honest, I think I was too excited to really be frightened: it was such an amazing step for me that it blocked out any negatives. Sometimes it’s definitely hard to be so far away from my family, but three years on I am still totally in a New York honeymoon period!

Frank J. Avella: Training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts must have been quite an “intensive” experience…

Carlotta Brentan: You can say that again - I feel like I was in full-time therapy for two and a half years! Take that as you will, but I really loved my training there. It’s an old-school conservatory where you’re expected to commit 100% to your craft. You can’t miss a class, you can’t take it lightly: you are constantly held accountable to your choice to train as an actor. I thrive in that kind of disciplined environment. Plus, I loved that instead of focusing on one specific method of acting training, AADA presents you with a range of different approaches, which you can experiment with and eventually choose what best serves you as an artist. It was such a privilege to be able to just focus on developing and exploring myself as an artist while I was there – I kind of wish I could be in full-time training forever…


Carlotta Brentan
Photo Credit: Roman Itkin

Frank J. Avella: You’ve been involved in numerous projects since you’ve come to NYC. What have you enjoyed most and least about these experiences?

Carlotta Brentan: I feel very fortunate to have had some fantastic artistic experiences in my time here. Theatrically, I was involved with productions by Horizon Theater Rep, Mare Nostrum Elements and the World Wide Directors Lab, just to mention a few. What all of these companies have in common is an inspiring attitude to create new work in the city, and a belief in the importance of what they are doing artistically. This has been really stimulating and is part of what I love so much about New York. The frustrating parts of course are more to do with the behind-the-scenes logistics than with the artistic side of things: fundraising and finding affordable spaces to rehearse and perform.

Frank J. Avella: You are an integral part of YoungKIT. Can you tell us about the group?

Carlotta Brentan: Absolutely! We are part of Kairos Italy Theater, the first and foremost Italian theater company in New York. YoungKIT specifically is a company of seven actors, all born and bred in Italy, whose work within KIT has been dedicated to bringing to life classics of Italian literature that are seldom if ever performed in America. Our first two productions, both directed by KIT Artistic Director Laura Caparrotti, have been Machiavelli’s 16th century play The Mandrake Root followed by three novels from Boccaccio’s 14th century collection of stories, Decameron. It’s been amazing to see how strongly New York audiences react to these often forgotten masterpieces, and such an honor to be the ones to breathe new life into these pillars of our Italian heritage.

Frank J. Avella: Having been involved in the development of my play, Vatican Falls, which confronts the Catholic sex abuse scandal, would you say you seek out controversial work?

Carlotta Brentan: That’s an interesting point; I never thought that I was actively seeking out controversial work, but now that you mention it, it’s true that I find myself strongly attracted to very topical and contemporary plays that address current issues, which are often controversial. Vatican Falls is, of course, an example of this, as is the work I was lucky enough to do with Neil LaBute back in December, on a workshop and reading of his new play One Day Like This. He is of course known for being rather controversial – and this new piece was no exception!

Frank J. Avella: If you had to select one medium (film, theatre, television) to work in, what would it be?

Carlotta Brentan: Theater, absolutely, without a moment’s hesitation; it’s my first and greatest love, and it’s also where I personally find my most honest artistic expression as an actor. I love everything about working on a play, from the excitement of auditioning to the discoveries of the rehearsal process, and of course the thrill of live performance. I even love memorizing lines, and the geek in me especially adores doing enormous amounts of text analysis and work on the background stories and emotional intricacies of my characters. Even as an audience member, despite watching more than my fair share of television and movies, I am never as alive and emotionally engaged as when I’m watching a play.

Frank J. Avella: What do you love most about New York City?

Carlotta Brentan: It’s impossible to pick a single thing! I love how everyone’s energy is all about ‘anything can happen.’ I love how opportunities are everywhere, and how things can change in the blink of an eye. I love its dozens of tiny theaters, and all of the diverse art that is created there non-stop. I love what it feels like to say that I live in New York City. On a more practical level, I love its restaurants, bars and I especially love “$1 oysters” Happy Hours.

Frank J. Avella: How do you the meet the challenges of being a female actor in NYC?

Carlotta Brentan: That’s a good question; it’s true that women face some of the same challenges in the acting world that they do in many other professions: less opportunities, less role models, more competition. Anyone who has ever auditioned for anything, ever, can tell you how frustrating it is when you walk into the waiting room for a project that is casting 1 female role and 4 male roles, and you are surrounded by four times as many female actresses as males. However, I actually find that female artists are absolutely making up for this and doing their own thing with increasing frequency, as actresses, directors and playwrights. Plus, I am lucky enough to have as my mentor an indomitable, truly unstoppable woman: Kairos Italy Theater’s Artistic Director, Laura Caparrotti. She is a force to be reckoned with and very much inspires me every day to believe without a shadow of a doubt that we can do anything we want.

Frank J. Avella: Who are your heroes?

Carlotta Brentan: This is going to sound indescribably corny, but can I say my parents? They are both absolute heroes. They both worked so hard all their lives and achieved immense professional success in their different careers. They raised my siblings and I to understand the importance of discipline and hard work, while simultaneously making sure we knew we could do anything we wanted with our lives. Although I’m sure that acting isn’t the career they ideally envisioned for me, they have never been anything short of 100% supportive of my artistic undertakings. They also managed to raise us in such a close-knit way that my friends nicknamed us the “Mulino Bianco” family, when we were growing up. (“Mulino Bianco” is an Italian brand of biscuits and cookies that always uses picture-perfect happy families in their advertisements...)

Frank J. Avella: If you could work with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose and why

Carlotta Brentan: Laurence Olivier. Probably clichéd, but his Hamlet is the very first performance I remember watching as a teenager and thinking, this man is an amazing artist. I want to do what he’s doing.

Frank J. Avella: What projects are you currently involved in?

Carlotta Brentan: I’m so proud to say that my latest show with YoungKIT, Boccacio’s Decameron, will shortly be going on tour to the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C. Later in the year, we are also aiming to bring it and our first show, The Mandrake Root, back for a full New York run. I’m also working with you on your play Vatican Falls and, of course, hustling every single day with auditions, workshops, internships, voiceover and stage management gigs & co!

Finally, I’m also stepping back into my producer shoes for the second edition of In Scena! Italian Festival NY, which is coming back to all five New York City boroughs in June 2014. Our first edition last year, during which I also performed, was a fantastic success, with wonderful artists brought over on tour from Italy and ecstatic and loyal audiences wherever we went. The festival is going to be even bigger and better this year – we are really tapping into what New Yorkers love about Italian culture, while also showing them new aspects of it that they didn’t know about.

Frank J. Avella: Where do you see yourself, ideally, ten years from now?

Carlotta Brentan: I want to be working as an actress, and also as a director, and a producer, and surrounded by people who I love, and who inspire me to believe in myself and keep going further every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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