Patrizia Acerra is the founding artistic director of Premiere Theatre & Performance (PTAP, formerly the International Theatre of Chicago), a Chicago-based company dedicated to presenting director-driven performances of new works. In collaboration with several cultural institutions, foreign consulates, and theater companies in Chicago, PTAP also hosts the International Voices Project, presenting concert readings of new works from around the world in English translations. Patrizia recently shared her thoughts on international exchange, translations, and creative collaborations with CAR Theater Researcher John Carnwath.
I created Premiere Theatre & Performance (formerly the International Theatre of Chicago) to premiere director-driven new work and original performance. I have always had a strong interest in international work, and in particular, the intercultural exchange of ideas through performance. In 2000, I moved to Italy and worked with the English Theatre of Rome. I brought them the play Picture This, which I had directed at Bailiwick a year or so earlier. I commissioned a translation into Italian, and we published it with the Roman government. The English Theatre of Rome then ran two productions, both of which I directed, in rep: the play in Englishand the play in Italian.
The diversity of the audience intrigued me, and the conversation that existed between the audiences of each production—many of whom had seen both productions—was vibrant and provocative. I was so proud to have premiered a play in Italy that had recently been seen in Chicago. I felt this had, in a small way, connected these two great cities. The play was a bridge between cultures and communities.
Playwrights are the voices of a culture, and we can access and better relate to other cultures by listening to these voices. What are these writers interested in? What is the conversation they are trying to have within their own communities? These kinds of questions led me to devise, along with Brian La Duca, the International Voices
Project (IVP). I wanted to find a way to explore international plays, primarily new international work, in unconventional urban settings, so that the focus stays on the word, the voice. I wanted to collaborate with institutions that already had a mission to support the work of these artists. Years earlier, I had had the opportunity to work with the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (the Italian cultural institute) and the Goethe Institute, so it was natural for me to seek out these partners increating IVP.
In addition, I wanted to create opportunities for Chicago producers to hear and experience more international work, thereby creating opportunities for these plays to be produced. While I think the Chicago community does an unparalleled job of producing new American work, I would love to see more international work on our stages. Chicago is an international city, it has always been, so producing more international work would seem to be a natural result. But I also know how challenging it is to explore international work, particularly dealing with translation: it is exceedingly time-consuming and requires a unique kind of stamina. My hope is that, by showcasing some of the most exciting work being presented on stages around the world, Chicago producers might explore it for their stages. Embracing international work brings Chicago into a global conversation and makes Chicago’s own voice resonate in a powerful way.
But the big question with IVP was: Is there an audience for this? And if so, what does it look like? How do we find them? That was the challenge in our first season last year.
Sometimes you just have to create and trust your creation. Do your marketing as best as you are able, and then brace for the unknown. What we hadn’t envisioned turned out to be the most powerful element of the Project. At last year's French event, I listened in as the representative from the Swiss consulate shared her reflections on the Canadian play with representatives from the Japan Information Center. In what other place might this occur? At this year's opening night, I saw consuls general from two of our collaborating consulates sharing information about their respective plays. What better way is there to celebrate performance, and to do so in a setting that encourages dialogue and respect for the art form?
Last year we presented five pieces; this year we are presenting eight. This year we are collaborating with fourteen consular and cultural institutions, four theatre companies, eight directors and playwrights, 45 actors, two resident dramaturgs, and the IVP staff of ten. It has challenged me personally to hone my communication and leadership skills, and to continue to define, in precise and engaging ways, the mission of the International Voices Project. That mission has to radiate through all of the little details, all of the threads that make up the whole of IVP.
I’ve been exceedingly fortunate to have a great set of advisers, an extraordinary Associate Producer (Jen Reinhardt), and an amazing staff. They help me see the possible when I am mired in the minutiae. Also, my partners at places like Instituto Cervantes and Alliance Francaise have helped me to envision phase two ofIVP, and it is an exciting journey ahead.
One big thing I’ve learned is that I have to spark a passion in collaborators, and then rely on them when the going gets tough. I’ve also learned that each of my partners—staff, cultural partners, consulates—may have a different idea of what IVP is about, but that these many visions can serve a larger goal, so it is important to foster individual ideas under a common cause.
Patrizia Acerra is a Chicago-based stage director, devisor, and producer. She is the founding Artistic Director of Premiere Theatre & Performance, and creator of the International Voices Project. She is the former Managing Director of Bailiwick Repertory and the Oak Park Festival Theatre. Patrizia holds degrees in Theology, Communications, and Directing. In addition, she is the founder of P L Acerra Consultants, which specializes in nonprofit consulting. She is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. Locally, she has directed for and collaborated with Silk Road Theatre Project, Clock Productions, Moving Dock Theatre Company, Vitalist Theatre, Rasaka Theatre and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.
Posted June 2011.