J. Avella Talks to
Actor Carlotta Brentan
Photo Credit: Mark Wyville
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.
J. Avella: Did you always want to act?
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.
J. Avella: Do you have any writing and/or
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
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?
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
Photo Credit: Mark Wyville
J. Avella: You came to NYC three years ago.
Why New York? Had you ever visited the US before?
Were you at all frightened?
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
J. Avella: Training at the American Academy
of Dramatic Arts must have been quite an “intensive”
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…
Photo Credit: Roman Itkin
J. Avella: You’ve been involved in
numerous projects since you’ve come to NYC.
What have you enjoyed most and least about these
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.
J. Avella: You are an integral part of YoungKIT.
Can you tell us about the group?
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.
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?
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!
J. Avella: If you had to select one medium
(film, theatre, television) to work in, what would
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.
J. Avella: What do you love most about New
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”
J. Avella: How do you the meet the challenges
of being a female actor in NYC?
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
J. Avella: Who are your heroes?
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...)
J. Avella: If you could work with anyone,
living or dead, who would you choose and why
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
J. Avella: What projects are you currently
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.
J. Avella: Where do you see yourself, ideally,
ten years from now?
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.