Grabbing a Non-Virtual Coffee with Professor Rosa Filardi

JCU Professor Filardi meets with Giulia Leo on her first in-person interview for The Matthew.

Community Spotlight

By Giulia Leo / Matthew staff

Professor Rosa Filardi teaches Italian and Theater at John Cabot University. She was a theater actress and worked in radio drama series for RAI, as well as in dubbing companies. She authored many works including the theatrical trilogy Volo Verticale Scarti-Alba Liquida. Prof. Filardi is also a Dance Movement Therapist and created the course  Community Inclusion through Art and Movement and the Dancing Body workshop at John Cabot.

For the first time ever, I had the pleasure of grabbing a non-virtual drink with my interviewee. I met Professor Filardi at Bar Settimiano, in front of a cup of American coffee. And so, our little chat began…

Before you became a professor, you gained experience as a theater actress, and worked in radio drama series and dubbing companies. When and why did you decide to go into teaching?

My first approach to theater was in my early twenties, or even earlier. From Milan, where I grew up, I went to the University of Bologna to study cinema and theater. I met my first acting teacher there and, after a while, with other students, we created a theatre group. Later, this group became a duo. We would perform the pieces that we wrote together. We always started by exploring our feelings, desires, emotional experiences, and thoughts originating from within us. We felt things in our bodies first, words came later. At the time, a great revolution in many fields was growing: the mind and body were no longer seen as separate. A new conception of the organic human being was about to be born, and, therefore, of the “organic actor,” as the Polish theater director Jerzy Grotoswki called it. Dance and theater became closer, and they influenced each other. An illuminating example of this type of approach in those years is the incredible work of German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. I grew up with this vision and this is what I carry in my way of teaching theater today too.

I got into teaching while I continued acting. When I started at John Cabot, I proposed a numbers of different theater courses, connected with writing too. For example, the first theater course I taught (in Italian, co-taught with a literature professor) was titled “The reader, The writer, The actor.” It was an amazing course: students were inspired by the readings to write their own pieces and to perform as well.

How did your experience in the world of theater and acting shape your approach to teaching? 

My approach to teaching theater was influenced, as I said, by my background in acting, directing, writing, and, of course, by my practical and theoretical studies. I have a degree in Theater, and a postgraduate certificate in Dance Movement Therapy, and this has brought something new to my approach to theater. For example, my main goals now include: creating awareness of the unity between mind and body, developing a sense of belonging to a group, encouraging students to take responsibility for themselves and their work as part of a team, and fostering respect for diversity and the different abilities and possibilities of each person. I try to create an inclusive and relaxing atmosphere that allows students to work on all these aspects in order to grow as actors, artists, and above all, human beings. 

You are also a Dance Movement Therapist, and I read that you would like to focus on more projects that concern the connection between the body and writing. Would you ever think of teaching a class about that at JCU? Perhaps, one that’s part of a Psychology or Creative Writing degree?

I already created the course  Community Inclusion through Art and Movement for JCU and, before COVID 19, I proposed the Dancing Body, a weekly workshop open to the entire JCU community, that focuses on the connection between the body and the mind. We used tools from art therapy and writing therapy too. I hope we can do this again, after the COVID emergency is behind us.

I am also thinking of proposing something more related to Creative Writing, for example, a course that has as its main goal the exploration between the body and writing.

Speaking of classes, you are now teaching Introduction to Theatrical Performance at JCU, a class that was not taught at JCU during the COVID pandemic. Why did you decide to bring it back? How has the class changed after COVID? 

It was not only my decision: together with my department chair we decided to bring it back because students are requesting this kind of course. I always had big groups, but this semester after COVID-19, the group was smaller, but there were still 16 students. Two students followed the whole course online, which was quite a new challenge for me, but I found ways to include them in the class. It turned out to be an incredible experience for me and for the whole group, I believe.  

So yes, Covid has changed my teaching in some ways, but not fundamentally, because my rules are: flexibility, adaptability, and working with the resources I have every semester. Each group is different every time, of course, and this is always exciting, because you do not know what is going to come from the new group. It opens my mind and can bring innovative ideas, creative resources, and opportunities for me to grow as a teacher. 

How do you think studying Theatre can change someone for the better? What changes have you noticed in the students who are taking or have taken a class with you and in yourself as you were teaching the class? 

Studying theater can change you a lot! I strongly believe in the pedagogical, formative, and therapeutic value of theater, dance, writing, and art in general. This is the reason why, especially in recent years, I have focused more on this aspect than on the performative one. However, sharing your work with an audience or a reader is always exciting and rewarding.  

I push my students to offer themselves in an honest, authentic way as actors, whether they are dealing with a partner, a group, or with the audience during the performance. 

As Japanese actor and theater director Yoshi Oida said in his book The Invisible Actor, the actor must disappear. It is the character that must be seen. Obviously then everyone works on the role in a different way, bringing into it their own person, their own experience. And this is what makes each performance, each role played by different actors, a unique and original piece. This is what I am trying to achieve teaching Drama at JCU. Each semester there is a new, unexpected experience that brings a special light into my life. I would say it brings something extraordinary into the ordinary. 

This time, I did not have to hit the red button on my screen to end the call after saying goodbye to Prof. Filardi. I greeted her and thanked her for her time, got my laptop and walked home, a rush of adrenaline in my veins after my first ever in-person interview. 

Related event: Gimme Shelter, a performance presented by Prof. Filardi and her Drama 101 students this week.