I met Don C. for lunch one afternoon because he is an American lawyer here in Rome and I asked him to. I had found him online weeks earlier while reading an online magazine for expats in Rome in which he has a column.  Somehow he has managed to forge a legal career and practice here since the 1980s and I wanted to know all about it. He was kind enough to meet me at Meid in Napols (funny  name) for a pizza one afternoon and let me pick his brain.

The most surprising thing to come out of that lunch was his suggestion that I get involved in the English Theater of Rome.  It had nothing to do with the law, but he was involved and thought I would like it. They were already rehearsing a production of The Great Gatsby, but maybe I could audition for their next play. Too bad this one had been cast already.

Don was kind enough to email the director, Gaby Ford, and tell her that I would be emailing her. She and I then exchanged an email in which she told me that if I wanted to show up and be a party girl and dance the fox-trot, with no lines or anything, to show up that day at 5:00. At first I thought I had to decline; I had a class in my MBA program after all, but I changed my mind, wrote my professor, and showed up at 5:00 in Trastevere.

Trastevere is a funky neighborhood in Rome, across (Tras) the river (Tevere) from downtown. It’s full of winding, curvy roads and alleys that invite you to get lost, boho-chic shops, and superb restaurants and bars. It’s also home to John Cabot University, an American-accredited four-year college where you can actually get a Bachelor’s degree and not just do a semester abroad. The lovely building has an even lovelier rooftop terrace overlooking the Trastevere rooftops and the Gianicolo hill.  Overlooking you, meanwhile, is the giant statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi on horseback that sits atop that hill.

Part of the set.


This is why we didn’t need much set decoration. The party scenes on the terrace were surrounded by … this.

The rehearsals would be there, as would much of the action in the play. When I arrived, I thought I must be in the wrong place, because everyone I saw looked like students. I would later find out that these were some of the talented actors and actresses in the play, and one of them would become a good friend of mine in a short amount of time. I think I was expecting a group of much older people.

Nope, it was the right place after all. I met the director, who was a cool lady who has been in Rome forever and who knows everyone here. She’s acted and directed here for about 25 years and filmed several commercials with Roma soccer star, Francesco Totti. She’s humble, but she’s definitely a VIP. She asked the guy who I had just met, Domenico, with the long hair, to teach me to fox trot. They had apparently already all learned.

Here’s a secret – I’m a good dancer.  I took ballet/tap/jazz lessons for about 7 years as a child and played drums for about 5 years as a teenager, which I can only assume taught me about rhythm. Most of my dancing occurs in dark clubs, not ballrooms, but I was not concerned about learning the fox trot, quickly, with a bunch of strangers. In fact, I learned it in just a few minutes, thanks of course to my very good teacher, Domenico, an American who speaks better Italian than anyone I’ve ever met.

I met a whole bunch of folks that first day, and I was afraid people would be suspicious of my presence, given that I was handed a role in the play on a silver platter without having to audition. So I frequently mentioned that I had no lines and was just a background dancer. It turned out that no one cared.  Everyone was just perfectly nice.

Man oh man, were there a lot of rehearsals. I can see way; it was a complicated feat that Gaby wanted to pull off. The action in the play moved from rooftop terrace, to small classrooms, to an auditorium, and back again. And there were two plays going on contemporaneously due to space constrictions.  Gaby procured great 1920s costumes, which really helped me get into the critical role of Party Girl Number 1.

The 1920s style costume. Without which I simply wouldn’t have been able to get the critical character of Party Girl Number 1. Photo by Nadya Cazan (Gatsby’s very own Daisy).

Gaby complimented me multiple times on my dancing, which was awfully kind of her, and she generously assigned me a few lines to say.  Then, we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed.  We all got to know each other and everyone was really grand.

Performances ran for three weekends in a row, Friday through Sunday, with some days cranking out two performances. Sometimes it rained, and the show went on…under umbrellas. A castmember from Texas who has somehow worked as a chef in Rome for 40 years despite the Italian culinary superiority complex, cooked all of us a huge pot of pasta every night. We sang backstage and told off-color jokes. Jahan said the most diabolically vulgar things while we were shimmying through our scenes to make me belly-laugh (which worked well for roaring 20’s party scenes). It was so fun.

Backstage. This picture should be studied by photography students on how to capture four different personalities in one shot.  (Photo courtesy Wendy Alexander.)

Despite my small role, several of my friends came to see me perform, on their own initiative, which completely flattered me and I deeply appreciated it. Thank you, Francesco, Francesca, Rachel, Toni, Shawn, Kris, and Giulia!

After the last performance, Gaby took us all – like 30 people – out for dinner at a great place in Trastevere, telling us to order whatever we wanted. We joked and hugged and took pictures and some of us drank too much. It was major good times.

I think when I signed on, I thought it was going to be great networking. It seems funny now, but I think I thought there would be all these UN people moonlighting as actors in the English Theater, and that one of them would immediately appoint me General Counsel to the World Food Programme or something. That wasn’t quite the case, but … sorry for the cheesiness… it was better than networking, it was real friendships! My dance partner, Jahan, and I created more inside jokes in a month than I have with many of my other friends. Two of the other gals from the play and I are going on a road trip to Naples together next week for pizza and silliness. I’m getting together with a bunch of them this evening. Several of them are on their way to becoming very successful, real actors, and none of them will have a louder cheerleader than I.

It’s easy to complain about living in Italy when you’re American. The little things that are so wonderful here – coffee and pastry at the bar on any (every) corner, the authentically funny Italian sense of humor, the views – don’t inspire blog posts. They inspire quick snapshots on Facebook or Twitter. But THIS. THIS is why I came to Rome and endeavored to start my own practice here. To be able to participate in theater, on top of working of course, which I haven’t done since I was a teenager, and to do it on a Roman rooftop terrace with views of impossibly charming Trastevere, making friends and DANCING…. It’s just what I had in mind months ago (was it only months?) sitting in traffic on I-635 on my way home from work, day after day.  I could not have envisioned anything more fun.

This is a little video made by Luke Mullinger, who played Jay Gatsby himself, as a promo for the show. You can see my silly self dancing in the floppy hat and/or long braid throughout.

Stefania Indelicato
Antonio Pauletta
Noah McGuire (singer and musical prodigy)

More coming soon…