Born in New York, but with Italian blood flowing through her veins, originally from Francavilla Angitola in Calabria, Lucia Grillo is a fireball of energy within a witty, creative mind. She’s an actress, screenwriter, an award winning director (her shorts “A pena do pana” and “Ad Ipponion” won some festivals), a producer and excellent TV host. She loves her work and her origins, to the point that hearing her talking about her land makes you want to go visit it. Today we are in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an African-American neighborhood in the heart of Brooklyn with the brown-stones and here you can still breathe the old New York… though less and less, as Lucia tells us, having lived here just like myself.
Lucia, first I’d like to ask you if you feel more Italian or American?
Both and neither. I was born here, I feel like a New Yorker. I grew up in the street, as a punk rocker, but I also studied at university so I’m educated. I didn’t grow up so much as an Italian, but as a “calabrese”. It’s different. Calabria is alive in me, I have it in my heart, in my thought, wherever I go. I’ve been going back to visit since I was a kid. But I must admit when I was living in Italy for some time, I missed America. Italy seemed too provincial. When you come from New York, the center of capitalism, you move at a different pace. So I think of myself as a calabro-New Yorker (laughing).
What do you miss about Italy when you’re in New York?
My grandma! (laughing) On a serious note, New York doesn’t have the same history Italy does.
What kind of artistic education have you had here in NYC?
I did my first theater performance when I was 6 years old. Seriously speaking, I started acting school at the Lee Strassberg Theater Institute of New York when I was 15. A few years later I was admitted to the NYU Graduate acting program and after graduation I got a degree in Italian literature at the Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò.
Lucia what is the Calandra Institute and what’s the mission of Italics?
The Calandra Institute is part of the Queens College of CUNY (City University of New York), specialized in research on the Italian American culture. Among their main activities there is a sector that studies the demographics of Italian Americans as well as one where Italian American authors do readings of their books. There are conventions, we’ve had a big one on the Mafia, and one on the Guidos (working-class urban Italian Americans). Basically, we study the various aspects of the exodus of Italians to America. Within the Calandra I produce the TV show ITALICS, that’s been aired for about thirty years, focusing on the Italian American culture. We interview scholars on how Italian Americans are portrayed by the media. It’s a monthly show that can also be viewed online on www.cuny.tv
Who’s your audience?
It ranges. CUNY TV is a channel of the State of New York, so we don’t have the demographics. Though we do know that the audience ranges widely, from Italian Americans to Americans themselves. Our sections aren’t limited to the Italian culture. We’ve recently had a piece on LGBT rights and a piece on vegan cuisine. Our program ranks among the top most watched shows on CUNY TV.
What’s the best feature about your work for Italics?
There are two: the social side, because I have the opportunity to come in contact with other people, which I love doing. And I can always learn something new, in the fields of science, cooking, art and so on.
An actor hands down! Not to boast, but acting may be the most precious art yet, we’re creating human beings, we’re making life! It is the quintessence of the human being. An actor must be able to represent the various conditions of mankind, inspire, even! Always receiving emotions and transmitting them to others.
What does it take to be successful here in New York?
Calabria’s stubbornness sure helps! (laughing)
How do you, Italian Americans, see Italy?
With nostalgia, sometimes, with contempt other times. I always try to be objective, not to judge, because I have a strong bond with traditions. So I’d rather wonder about the meaning of being American, what is the American culture, other than Rock & Roll! I really don’t have an answer. Even the new generations of Italian Americans are going back to Italy to find their identity, which they can’t seem to find here, why is that? It’s because there is no identity here!
How has New York changed in the past 20 years?
I must say that unfortunately, especially from Mayor Giuliani on, New York has become too disney-like, to hipster, I can’t really grasp its identity anymore. We’re in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a hard-working people’s neighborhood, people who work relentlessly to make ends meet. It’s always been a pretty poor area. In the past few years many families have lost their homes because they failed to pay the mortgage, the State has allowed rich white businessmen to pay off the debt, so they could renovate and sell for three times the amount to richest, white Europeans. All this is changing the city, causing it to lose its tradition and its very essence. This policy of sky-rocketing prices on everything is making it merely impossible for people to live here, causing them to move out of the city, as the rich buy more and more. This transformation moves at a faster pace with each passing year.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a project, a movie that takes place between Calabria and New York. I’ve been working on it for some time. I’d also like to make a TV series here in New York, a typically American comedy show, I’ll keep you posted on it…
Check out the new 2016 promo of Italics.
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