After developing her craft while growing up and living in Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, popular award-winning theatre & stage director Marina Montesanti (marinamontesanti.com) has now brought her talents to New York City!
With a few big groundbreaking productions in the works, Marina sat down with The Levity Ball to chat about her career, new musicals, being mentored by Peter Brook and her favorite NY hotspots…
- When did you first know you wanted to work in the theatre industry?
I fell in love with theatre at a very young age. By eleven, I knew I wanted to be a director and already had Uta Hagen’s book memorized. I was the silent kid, not because I was shy, but because I found such enjoyment in observing the world. The theatre has always been my sanctuary, so bringing my observations into a confined space where I could manipulate time, movement, and silence was simply the best playground. I don’t think that is something most kids do, but it was my case. Around the same time, my parents, Afonso and Heloisa Montesanti took me to London which exposed me to highly executed, thought-provoking productions. It led me to search for more books and ways to teach myself the history of theater. Also, life-changing contributors were my middle school theatre teachers, Jean Morris, and Kate Ulett, who saw my potential and helped me fuel the beginnings of what has brought me here. Professionally, New York was a big stepping stone in making this into a career, but it all came from that very determined 6th grader.
- Growing up in Brazil and Argentina, were there a lot of opportunities there for you to develop your craft?
I was exposed to many opportunities in dance, music, and theatre. The direct contact I had with South American narratives was one of the most precious gifts life gave me. I found theatre through the Brazilian Carnival and Theatre of the Oppressed. The bright colors, movement, and rhythms of Brazil became the roots of my voice. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, I found freedom in experiencing art in a second language which shaped my ways of perceiving characters, metaphors, and values.
- What about directing musicals interests you most?
All artistic mediums are involved in telling one story. It brings a variety of artists to a state of interdependence that proves the different can create something magical by joining forces. I was raised in communities that promoted the mixture of cultures, beliefs, and rhythms. So, to create a space where a group of strangers, performing or witnessing, gather in a dark room and open themselves to being moved by a tale, is what ignites my work. It is cathartic, cleansing and it has the power of awakening action from a place of empathy and compassion.
- You have been mentored by the great English theatre and film director Peter Brook. What lessons/tips did he give you that will always stick with you?
I was part of a selective group of directors that were mentored by Peter Brook. He has a very warm receptive energy and is quite funny. From the get-go, he told us to put away our pencils and not treat his teachings as a manual book. From then I knew that I was about to learn something special. We discussed his reinterpretation of international tales and investigated the relationship between the contemporary spectator and classical work in theater and opera. I was most influenced by his way of implementing universal body language into Shakespeare’s plays. Brook passed on to me the undefinable, a piece of wisdom that contains the essence of human nature. It awakened my directing approach.
- You now live in New York City. How was the move to a big city from places around where you lived previously?
I felt at home because the multitude of cultures that have shaped me are all here and simply a subway stop away. There is an unexplainable alignment that I feel in New York that powers my purpose, ambition, and work. I have found my “tribe” and to be able to contribute to its system and help its artists grow alongside my achievements is beyond gratifying.
- What are some of your favorite spots (hangout spots, restaurants, etc.) in New York that you love to go to?
I am always at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center Plaza, the energy there is calm and inspiring. I am frequently at a coffee shop in between work…my favorites are Margays, TAP NYC and Maison Kayser. In the summer I bike from Battery Park (around the Brookfield Place area) to PIER i CAFE on 70th street. Any hangout by the river is magical. My top restaurants are Vandals – there is graffiti art on every wall and a stunning bar underground, La Esquina – a hidden intimate Mexican restaurant, and NIX- which has the BEST vegan food anyone could ask for.
- What upcoming projects are you working on?
I am Directing on a play called Cucaracha or While She Sleeps by Jo Bilac, a genius Brazilian playwright whose work has been translated into English. Mayana Neiva (HBO/NBC International), who is a force of nature, brought this project to the USA and will be playing the character of MIRAGE. The team is planning on starting rehearsals late 2019. I am also in the developmental process of two new Musicals. One called EXI(S)T which I am creating alongside Nicole Sousa and Barbara Eliodorio. The other, AMERICANO: A Latinx Musical by Jesse Sanchez with Music by Jesse Sanchez and Jeff Chambers, and Dramaturgy and story consultant by Linnea Valdivia.
- Where do you see yourself as a director professionally in five years from now?
Continuing what I am doing, developing new musicals and plays that resuscitate one’s sense of dignity and are a conductor towards hope and the progressive cultural transformation of our time. I see myself creating more and more theatrical families that share a similar purpose.
- What would your advice be to others wanting to get into the entertainment/theatre industry?
Follow your own path. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I jumped in the business. I threw myself in the jungle, found the theatre’s that were doing work I love, knocked on doors, went on interviews, worked tirelessly and found people that valued and recommended my work. Also, I chose to get a degree in Dramatic Arts from The New School for Drama. Those were the right steps for me because I was listening to my own timing, needs, and artistic hunger. My biggest advice is: You already know what you are here to do. Move forward with intention and know that life is a process – it’s ok to take it step by step. We are all on different journeys.
- And final question: What do you personally want to be remembered for many, many years down the line when people look back at your work/self?
I want to be remembered as the Theatre Director that through empathy, within the density of contemporary culture, defended the dignity of those whose identity have been depersonalized in a mass of suppositions. I want to be remembered as the practitioner that used theatre to unite and was constantly creating and developing work to allow characters to be richly open about their multifaceted existence.