By Arianna Lopez / News Reporter || Edited by Ileni Reale
ROME — The Performing Arts Company, led by Student Services for JCU students, made a return this fall with theater director Douglas Dean— after five years of inactivity.
Resuming the company’s activities was a collaborative effort from Student Services staff and from students who had been demanding it for a while, said Federica Bocco, the Student Activities Coordinator at JCU who is supervising the company this year.
The company started activities in 2011 and stopped in 2017 due to a low demand from students.
“I have participated in many other student clubs and activities, but I wished for an opportunity to engage with performing arts at the university for years,” said Luca Beccato, senior JCU student majoring in Business Administration.
A student-led Theater Club has been active at JCU in the past, but after the pandemic students haven’t come forward to resume its activities yet, according to Student Services.
The Performing Arts Company works on a JCU-dispensed budget and meets every Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. for two hours in the Aula Magna at Guarini Campus. Around 20 students participated this fall.
British theater director Douglas Dean was hired to direct the company this year. After living and working in London, Dean moved to Rome in 2003, where he has directed several Shakespearean productions, collaborated with English Theatre of Rome, and teaches at the Marymount International School. Dean has starred in a number of films and TV shows such as “Medici” “Devils,” and the BBC/HBO series “Rome,” as well as appearing in popular Italian TV shows.
“The acting industry and teaching face to face was quiet during the pandemic,” said Dean. “I was very happy when they offered me a job that meant I was going to be back in a classroom and physically leading a drama group. That’s what really excites me.”
This fall, the company prepared the show, “An Evening with Shakespeare,” and performed it at Le Maschere Theater in Trastevere on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22. Entry was free, and the audience could reserve a spot through a booking link distributed online by Student Services.
The group decided to perform a compilation of scenes from different Shakespeare’s plays— Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At the beginning of the semester, the rehearsals were focused on team building workshops and exercises to gain confidence on the stage, but the sessions switched to rehearsals as the group started to prepare for the show.
“I trained as a Shakespearean actor, so Shakespeare is kind of my thing,” Dean said. “The company’s aim is not to put together a professional theater company to rival the Royal Shakespeare Company, but to give students an opportunity to explore their creative side.”
Due to COVID-19 regulations and restrictions, Student Services had waited to resume the company until this fall considering the recent student demand.
“Knowing that the company restarted nonetheless the pandemic makes me happy,” said Giovanni Raguso, a JCU alumnus who speaks of the company as one of his fondest memories.
“It really was a wonderful experience. It helped me put myself out there, getting involved with the community, and working on skills I had never thought of before,” Raguso said.
Ella Stillion Southard, a first-year student majoring in Humanistic Studies, said that the experience of the pandemic reminded her how much she loves and appreciates theater, since it’s also an opportunity to connect with other students.
“We kind of knew that lots of students would be interested in a musical,” said Dean. “But we also felt that in this first semester we didn’t want to gamble, because we were still a little bit unsure about where the COVID-19 was going to be at the time I took the job.”
In a recent student survey conducted by Syracuse University, 85 percent of respondents said it had been difficult to feel involved in extracurricular activities during the pandemic.
Rosa Filardi, lecturer in Theater and Italian at JCU and registered dance-movement therapist, says the pedagogical and therapeutic value of performing arts is evidenced by scientific studies in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and sociology.
“Theater makes us more aware of our body-mind connection and of our existence,” said Filardi. “It gives people a space to reconnect with themselves and their emotions.”
Ilenia Reale, a Senior student majoring in Communications, said that joining the company has been the best choice she could have possibly made. The rehearsals became a “happy place” for her, where she could let go of anxiety.
Next semester, the Performing Arts Company plans to stage a musical, COVID-19 permitting.
“I am dying to be in the musical!” said Reale. “Musical theater has always been my focus, and I have missed it so much.”
The auditions for the Spring 2023 musical will be in January. More information to follow.
Did You Know
- Italian actor and theater director Paolo Panaro said performing on a stage still manages to attract young people because it has something that the television, the cinema and other media will never have.
“Theater is an ancient experience. It is like an oil painting for a painter or ink for a writer. It is poetry. It is a parallel reality to the social media world of today [translated].”
- According to the American Alliance for Theatre & Education (AATE), students who take part in performing arts had greater rates of school attendance, better SAT scores, better communication skills, and better reading comprehension.
- Registered Practitioner Psychologist, Irina Roncaglia, and expert in dance performance psychology said that the final performance that is typical of performing arts courses, offers the prospect of a deadline and a shared goal for participants to work towards, thereby training students to lessen anxiety connected to unpredictability and the unknown.
- Sociological studies show that team members develop strong personal bonds through performing arts.