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A Struggling Artist in Rome

I was born in Florence, studied acting in New York and then moved to Rome in my early twenties. I got an apartment I couldn’t afford, right in the dead center of town, dropped my luggage there, consulted my list of the best cafes, hit the nearest one, downed a maritozzo at the speed of light and then asked myself: “Okay, what now?” 

I proceeded to watch as many plays and modern Italian movies as I could over the next few months, only to realize Rome wasn’t looking too good: “no Fellinis in sight”, I thought. At this point I was kind of desperate already. In a gorgeous central apartment, but kind of desperate nonetheless. “What to do? Should I stay or should I go? This can’t be all there is, can it? Where are all those true young Italian actors and directors I was convinced I would come across?” — I asked all this while sipping on Spritzes, which replaced water that summer.  

I ended up staying in Rome and not so long after someone informed me where most “true young Italian actors and directors” were supposedly spending their time: very much offstage and way too far from a movie set. Both  the theatre and cinema, I learned, are undergoing a sort of crisis here in Italy, at the moment, and all those great shows and movies from the ‘70s seem but a distant memory. Why? Low investments: “No money. And no money, no risks taken. No risks taken, no real good plays and movies”. That’s what a talent agent, one that I hunted down and cornered at a bar, reluctantly explained to me over wine that August. 

But I had made my mind up to stick around and I intended to do so no matter how dire and  discouraging the situation of the performing arts in Rome might have actually been. So, for starters,  I got another apartment, as to cut back on expenses. Just as beautiful and as central, but with no heating or AC whatsoever, that way it would be cheaper. Also, as every respectable actor will eventually, I found a job as a waiter. 

The next few months were difficult but, in hindsight, also kind of romantic: I would get up in the  morning, slip into a pair of tailor-made pants stolen from my father’s closet in Florence and a stained  t-shirt of mine (you’ve gotta mix it up), go to my favourite breakfast place, sit down, order “the  usual” and send out a thousand emails for auditions. On my way back home, I’d stop by the market and pick up fresh vegetables that I could start cooking for lunch as I practiced my acting. Evenings, then, I’d serve tables. Then go to bed. Then wake up and repeat. That agent might have been right in saying Italian theatre and cinema aren’t in good shape, but I was gonna be one of the ones who changed that. 

To become “one of the ones”, however, it’s always useful to find the other “ones” first. And so far I  hadn’t. As a matter of fact, the only true relationship I had developed as of yet was one with the city itself. With Rome. My only companion in my routines during my entire first year here. So much so  that I had even started talking to it: to its bricks, its stones, its columns, its churches, heck, even to  some of the potholes in the road. I would talk to them — which sounds insane, I know, but it kind  of isn’t when you think that all these pieces of inorganic matter (these exact same ones, not others in  their place) have seen, touched, heard Michelangelo as he passed by sometime around 500 years  ago, and then Bernini and Goethe, and Rilke and Eleonora Duse after them, and Pasolini and  Bertolucci and many others. And now they were witnessing me. So I grabbed the opportunity and  talked to them as one would to a sage friend who has seen it all. Because Rome has seen it all, it has  been a major part of it all, the history of art. 

But right before going completely crazy (as in cat-lady or guy-feeding-pigeons crazy) talking to stones, I did finally meet somebody interesting. A young actor. A “true young actor”. I mean, somebody chasing this dream for the right reasons: motives stemming mainly from a sort of  vocation and not merely from a need for attention. And he introduced me to his friend, a poet. A real poet in the flesh! Which, these days, is like meeting a unicorn or, I don’t know, Batman. Through him, then, I met a young woman with a hundred degrees in philosophy who was inseparable, like a Siamese twin, from another young woman who was also incredibly well versed in philosophy… and with all of them, and with many more young people that we met, we ended up forming some type of “gang”, a group where the professional struggles we are all facing do work as glue that  keeps us together. And this group of ours is part of a community made up of thousands, really, a community of “up and coming” young Italian artists. 

Tremendous effort to stay “up”. 

Tremendous effort to be “coming”. 

But for the ride we have each other, and we have Rome, where the performing arts and all the arts might have seen brighter times than this, sure, but they are far from dead. It takes much more than a lack of money to kill art, a much sharper knife to stop the beating of Rome’s heart. And we, these dedicated thousands inhabiting the city, are living proof of  that. 

So if you ever come by here and peek into these wonderful cafes and bars and restaurants, you just might catch us there. You’ll recognize us: we usually smoke a ton, and at least one of us is wearing  a black turtleneck. And if what Fran Lebowitz says: “You know what artists smoking and talking in bars and restaurants is called? It’s called the history of art” — if that is true, then that’s what you would be looking at, straight in the face: the history of Italian art.