How An International Rising Star Teaches Italian Through Entertainment. Exclusive Interview With Simona Rodano. [L’Idea Magazine 2019]

How an International Rising Star teaches Italian through entertainment. Exclusive interview with Simona Rodano.

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Actress, singer, dancer, teacher… Simona Rodano is an amazing performer who has found an unusual niche in the edutainment business by creating a production company aimed at teaching Italian to the American public-at-large through musicals. She did not stop there, though, since she writes her own material… and here is the birth of The Italian Fairy, so popular among the little children, Settemondi, and most recently the musical Sempreverde: Evergreen, which will be performed in the Borough of Queens, in the city of New York. Let’s discover some more about this wonderful entertainer…
L’Idea: As I understand, you come from a family of musicians and started early in your career…
Simona Rodano:  Indeed, I believe my mom’s family passed on her passion for music to me. My cousin Felice Reggio is a famous jazz musician. I started singing when I was 6 years old by performing at amateur singing contests, at school, at the Church or at birthday parties. I did my first gigs when I was 16 and became a professional singer at the age of 28.

L’Idea: However, you did not let the career get in the way of education… 
Simona Rodano: I have always loved both science and music since I was a little kid. For this reason, I was awarded a Bachelor’s degree in biology, yet I also studied music and have always sung. I also learned how to play the piano and guitar. After my graduation, I decided to come to the USA to start my Ph.D. at the Valhalla Medical Center, but I also was offered to work for the Italian National network RAI a few months after. “Science or music?” That was the question. I ended up choosing music; hence I came back to Italy to work at the RAI studios in Milan.

L’Idea: You worked for over ten years on the Italian National network RAI television in the popular variety show “Ci vediamo in TV.” Could you tell our readers a little bit about that experience?
Simona Rodano: Working on TV gave me the chance to grow both personally and professionally as an artist. It has been an experience that totally changed my life. “Ci vediamo in TV” (See you on TV) lasted ten years. It was broadcasted on weekdays and during the afternoon. I started as a backup vocalist and a few years later I became one of the lead singers of the show. Paolo Limiti, a great art director and TV host, gave me the opportunity to live my life while doing what I loved the most: to sing.

I worked every morning from Monday to Friday for seven years, with the same enthusiasm and joy which arose from having the opportunity of working with music at professional levels. I could sing with a live orchestra, I could study the most famous Italian songs from the 30s till today, every day. I could meet famous Italian singers and actors, such as Nino Manfredi, Johnny Dorelli, Jula De Palma, Milva, Massimo Ranieri, as well as international artists such as Gina Lollobrigida, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Woopy Goldberg. All of this had an enormous positive impact on my artistic life; moreover, it encouraged me to keep working in the music world.

Link to a performance in “Ci Vediamo in TV”

L’Idea: You performed in “Pinocchio, il grande musical” with the famous Italian band I Pooh.  Could you tell us how did this come about and how was it to work alongside such a famed pop band? What is the musical about?
Simona Rodano: I was first working on TV and then I started with the theatre. There is a huge difference between these two, they are two completely different worlds, yet what they have in common is the performance itself, whether it’s on the screen or on the stage. When I was told I was chosen to play the co-star role of Angela (Geppetto’s closest friend and later on, partner),  in the musical written by I Pooh, I just couldn’t believe it. Back then I was in Milan and I was still working on TV. Going from working on TV to performing on a real stage was like discovering a whole new world after ten years. I had new colleagues and I performed in so many theatres all over Italy and abroad. Moreover, working alongside The Pooh has been an incredible honor and a growing experience. Roby, Stefano, Dodi, and Red are great artists who shaped the world of Italian pop music. They have truly loved this musical they wrote, believing in all the performers who took part in and touching the lives of over five hundred thousand people who came to see the show. “Pinocchio Il Grande Musical” has been and will always be the number one Italian musical that resembles Broadway the most.

L’Idea: You also have performed in various theatrical productions…
Simona Rodano: Indeed, I have performed in other Italian theatrical productions, such as “The Sound of Music” (Tutti Insieme Appassionatamente) playing the role of Elsa Shroeder. In the USA, I have performed at the Queens Theatre in The Park ( New York) in all the schools and families productions I wrote:  “Pinocchio Pop” and “Italian, The Magical World of The Italian Fairy”, “SempreverdeEvergreen”, “Sette Mondi” and “Caccia Al Tesoro” for middle and high students. Once I went back to the USA, in 2006, I could grow professionally even more as I started to write songs and scripts of the bilingual shows we were performing. I finally came to know a part of me that had been hidden for a long time, as I was very busy with playing roles or singing songs that were produced by amazing masters, such as I Pooh. I have to say that they inspired me in the production of my own songs and shows.

L’Idea: Simona, many awards have been bestowed upon your person. What were they for? Which one was the most significant for you and why?
Simona Rodano: One of the most significant awards was the one conferred by the Association of Italian American Educators (AIAE) – Singing Sensation. Art and culture are two messengers of peace and unity among people. If there were more art and culture (rather than politics) we would live in a better world.

L’Idea: You are the creator of “La Fata Italiana/The Italian Fairy”. What is this program about?
Simona Rodano:  La Fata Italiana, The Italian Fairy is an educational and entertainment program (edu-tainment) that introduces kids and families to the beauty of Italian language and Italian culture with the final target of letting the audience fall in love with Italy and the Italian language. It is a learning-through music and movement program which combines music and dance with the theatre. From 2006, La Fata Italiana, The Italian Fairy has been performed for over 70,000 people.
Link to the Italian Fairy website

The Italian Fairy at the yearly Columbus Day Parade

L’Idea: You also toured with your one-woman show titled “Italiana.” What is this show about?
Simona Rodano:  Italiana is my personal story told through music at the theatre. I wrote myself some of the songs, such as “Radici e Ali” (Roots and Wings), while many others are songs that have had a strong influence on my life. This is a show that combines comedy, as there are some funny moments, with deep thoughts and deep feelings. “Italiana” is not only my story, yet it is also the story of all those people who, just like me, have crossed the ocean and have been traveling all over the world, without ever forgetting their roots.
Link to the official website of Simona Rodano

L’Idea: Incanto, a Queens-based production company specialized in bilingual (Italian/English) theatrical and TV shows for children and families, is your creation. When and why did you start to think of this concept? 
Simona Rodano: I have founded my company called Incanto Productions, Corp. in 2008, with the intent to create something that I could not find in NYC: theatre performances whose songs were specifically written with the idea of helping the audience know and fall in love with the Italian language and culture. Everything started after I co-produced and performed “Pinocchio Il Grande Musical” in New York in 2010.
Link to the official web site of Incanto Productions

L’IdeaThe first go-green multilanguage language and multicultural edu-musical “Sempreverde: Evergreen” one of your many creations, will re-open in New York City on March 31, April 1-2-3 2020 at the Queens Theatre in The Park, Queens. Could you tell us something about this wonderful musical for children and families?
Simona Rodano: I wrote “Sempreverde: Evergreen” Edu-musical in 2012. I wanted to create something that could combine the Italian language with a global issue, such as respect for the environment. I contacted some of my friends and colleagues from Turin (my hometown) who I have been working with for a long time and we started to write songs together. I was mainly working on the lyrics and the melody, while they were working on the arrangements. Subsequently, I came up with the story, characters, scenography, special effects as well as the costumes and objects that could be used within the choreography. “Sempreverde” has exceeded my expectations, I truly love it. I and my team are always working hard to improve it, with the dream that one day we will be able to perform it all over the world.

The story of this musical can truly teach you something, it makes you think and it can involve everybody. From the youngest to the oldest, this musical is made for everyone.
Trailer of “SEMPREVERDE: EVERGREEN

L’Idea: A message for our readers? 
Simona Rodano:  If you are not too far away from the Queens Theatre in NYC, come to see our performance at the theatre. Come to see “Sempreverde: Evergreen” Edu-musical! Make it a group meet-up, a family affair or a special bonding outing. You will leave refreshed and with a renewed love for Italy, its language and culture!

Link to the website to get more information and tickets for “SEMPREVERDE:EVERGREEN

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A Dancer’s Discovered Passion: Being A Successful TV Host. An Exclusive Interview With Ornella Fado. [L’Idea Magazine 2020]

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

The TV shows Brindiamo! and all its derivative programs have become synonymous with good food, emotions, success, and mostly Italian products in general. What has prompted such a response?  It’s a question that really does not need an answer if you spent time watching any of them since they are also synonymous with a brilliant, supercharged TV host: Ornella Fado. What follows is a candid conversation with this successful Italian entrepreneur. 

L’Idea: For many years, you performed and worked as a soloist, soubrette and actress in many RAI TV programs in Italy, such as “Fantastico 6”, “Un Altro Varietà,`” “Cinema che Follia,” “Sentimental,” and in theater productions such as “Rinaldo In Campo,” “Aggiungi Un Posto A Tavola,” and “A Chorus Line.” Would you tell our readers about that period of your life? Who was the performer with whom you worked that impressed you the most?
Ornella Fado: My career started at a very young age even before I moved from Calabria to Rome. When I was 17 years old, the Etoilè of the Opera in Rome, Ms. Diana Ferrara invited me to take part of her Dance Company for a National tour; as soon as the tour ended, I won a full scholarship at the CID of Renato Greco offered by the Regione Lazio and even before the scholarship ended I auditioned for Fantastico 6 and Franco Miseria chose me to be one of the five Italian dancers with Lorella Cuccarini.Soon after Fantastico, I worked in two new Rai productions with Mr. Antonello Falqui in Un Altro Varietà first and Cinema Che follia.
Shortly after, I had the honor and pleasure to work at Teatro Sistina under the direction of Pietro Garinei, with one of my favorite artist, Massimo Ranieri, and after two amazing years in Rinaldo in campo (where I have been both principal and lead actress) I had the pleasure to be in one iconic commedia musicale with the talented Johnny Dorelli in Aggiungi un posto a Tavola.
So, in a very short time, I was able to work with some of the finest directors, choreographers, artists, and dancers in Italy and I was also able to explore different roles and eventually choose my true passion, which is hosting.
It has been a privilege to work with so many wonderful artists and I learned from every single one, but I do have a person that I always admired and maybe now more than ever, Massimo Ranieri. I had the pleasure to see and interview Massimo recently and that man is one of the most energetic, talented, focused, professional man I ever met; his charm and his capability to entertain an audience is everything you need to be called a true artist.

L’Idea: You were also a model/actress for print and commercial ads. Can you tell us more about that?
Ornella Fado: It was natural to be involved in different aspects of show business; my agent used to send me to audition for commercials and print jobs and it was fun to add that experience in my curriculum.

L’Idea: Around twenty years ago, you created two dance programs called, “Danza e Musica”, and “Jazz On Broadway.” What were they about?
Ornella Fado: Those Dance programs were created to fill a need; I was looking for a dance program or a language program for my daughter and I could not find anything interesting, so I decided to create Danza e Musica to teach Italian to children through songs and movement.
Kids on Broadway was designed for children in show business; again, I was looking for dance classes for my daughter who was a professional model and actress at that time and I could not find professional classes for young children, so one day, while Carolina was filming a commercial for Benetton, I had the idea to hire this hip hop choreographer for some professional classes for all those young professional models and actors and then I hired a tap dancer and a voice coach teacher and the program was very popular among those professional kids.

 

Ornella Fado Fall Photo Shoot at Union Square New York, NY

L’Idea: You are the hostess, creator, and producer of a TV show called “Brindiamo! – A Toast to the Finest Italian Restaurants.” Could you tell our readers what made you think of producing such a program, after your long experience with dancing and singing, and what is the program about?
Ornella Fado: As I said, I always liked to explore and challenge myself, Brindiamo! was born for many good reasons. First of all, I wanted to create a TV show that would talk about successful Italians in America. There are many wonderful TV shows in America but none are focused on Italian culture or Italian food; even better, none welcomes Italian personalities in their shows, so Brindiamo! is the only American show hosted by an Italian hostess that welcomes Italian artists visiting New York. In addition, I wanted to showcase the finest and most authentic restaurants in America, showcase the traditional recipes and share the story behind a recipe or a product.

L’Idea: “Brindiamo on the Sea” was another TV series of yours. What was the goal of this series?
Ornella Fado: I loved my mini-series Brindiamo! On the Sea. The idea was to discover fine Italian restaurants every time we disembark. The series was filmed on MSC Cruise and it was the first show of its kind.

L’Idea: Brindiamo! International Cuisine” and “Brindiamo! In My Kitchen” were two other mini-series of yours, also based on the original concept of Brindiamo!, I guess. Could you tell us what was different about them?
Ornella Fado: Well, as the title suggested, Brindiamo! In my kitchen was filmed in a studio that was supposed to be “my kitchen” and I had many chefs cooking for me and my special VIP guests.
Brindiamo! International Cuisine instead was a mini-series where I and my Italian chef were visiting a NOT Italian restaurant and we were cooking and creating some interesting fusion recipes.

L’Idea: You also produced a mini-series titled “A Taste of Brindiamo!” featured in New York City yellow cabs. It sounds like a very innovative idea. Could you explain how it worked?
Ornella Fado: Yes, that was a very interesting project; when the first monitors appeared on the New York taxis, my channel was invited to produce mini-series to showcase in the yellow cab, and my show was chosen to be featured in all the yellow cabs in New York City.

Marcello’s restaurant

L’Idea: You are very active in charity work and scholarships, aren’t you?
Ornella Fado: I feel that each event should have some charity aspect, so when I can, I try to add that charity spirit to my event. And Yes, I created the Brindiamo! Scholarship with a wonderful cooking school in Italy called IFSE. Imagine that one of our recipients became the winner of “Master chef” in Brazil.

L’Idea: What was the purpose of your recent trip to Italy?
Ornella Fado: Visiting my country is always so special. In July 2019 I was filming a show from the region of Apulia.
In December 2019, instead, I was guest at the hold at the prestigious La Pergola restaurant in Rome, as Ambassador Eccellenze Italiane USA, and then I filmed a new episode of Brindiamo! from the 2 Michelin stars restaurant Il Pagliaccio. I also was hosting a press conference at the Parliament in Rome, and last but not least I was a guest of the RAI-produced TV show L’Italia Con Voi.

Ornella Fado in Milano

L’Idea: Should we be expecting any other projects from you shortly?
Ornella Fado: You Bet! About 6 months ago I become the Brand Believer of a great Italian Jewelry line called DOP and soon I will develop my line. Also, this 2020 Brindiamo! celebrates 15 years of Brindiamo! So, stay tuned for more exciting news.

L’Idea: A message for our readers?
Ornella Fado: Because your magazine is called “ L’IDEA” and ideas often are dreams, I wish your dreams come true, and let’s give life to all your ideas.
Brindiamo!

 PHOTO CREDITS: Stephen Shadrach, Sergio Fama, Francesca Zavattieri, Simone Caprifogli

 Ornella Fado’s Website

Ornella Fado’s blog

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An Italian Hip Hop Star Discovers USA. An Exclusive Interview Of Morgan Brutti. [L’Idea Magazine 2019]

An Italian Hip Hop Star discovers USA. An exclusive interview of Morgan Brutti.

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

A star of Hip Hop dance in Italy, Morgan Brutti, has moved recently to the United States, obtaining resounding success. We had the opportunity to interview her…

L’Idea: Morgan, at what age did you start dancing?
Morgan Brutti: I started dancing at the age of 5 and it was love at the first step, I still remember my first day of dancing because I was the youngest in the whole school! My mom always tells me that it was me who asked her to sign up for dance lessons because I wanted to become a professional ballerina when I grew up! In those years there was the television program ‘’Non è la Rai ’’, where a group of teenage girls challenged each other with dance, singing and acting; it was very popular and I never missed an episode, so much as I was fascinated by it, dreaming of becoming a professional entertainer just like them! I dreamed of the entertainment world!

L’Idea: So, you started with Classical Dance and then moved to Hip Hop. What made you choose that style? With whom did you study? 
Morgan Brutti: I started dancing classical ballet and modern-jazz before moving to hip hop at the age of 12. It really was love at first sight, so much so that my predisposition and ability out of the ordinary, as the teachers defined me, allowed me already at the age of 14 to perform with professional teachers and dancers in major events in my city. I decided to dedicate myself totally, abandoning classical dance, because when I performed on hip hop music I felt myself, free to express who I was without rules to follow. With classical dance it was not possible to do so, as I consider it a discipline based on the coordinated body control technique where it teaches discipline and elegance, unlike hip hop which is an extremely dynamic, rhythmic street dance, a means of social expression characterized by greater expressive freedom where every type of energy is transformed into a creative outlet.

Morgan Brutti

During my dance career, in Italy, I was lucky enough to have all professional teachers in the field (to name a few: Rita Pavanello, Enzo Forleo, Olivia Lucchini, Luca Pulega, Michael Fields) who made me grow artistically, giving me some excellent bases to improve myself even more at a professional level. Despite my regular studies in my city, Verona, I also continued to follow masterclasses and refresher courses around Italy, studying with Italian and international choreographers from all over the world.

L’IdeaIn 2004 you joined the dancing group Nu Era, with which you won various awards. Could you talk about that experience?
Morgan Brutti: In 2004, at the age of 17, I joined a major national dance company initially called ”Teen Company,” as we were a group of teenagers, and then moved to the name “NuEra” a few years later. With them I got a lot of satisfaction in the field, obtaining excellent results at the Italian competitive level. We went on the podium a couple of times in the ‘Hip Hop Festival Valpolicella’ dance competition, the capital of the national Hip Hop, which is one of the most long-lived and important events in the sector of international interest in terms of number of participants and quality of the competition, judged by an international jury considered one of the biggest hip hop dance events in Italy.

La crew Nu Era, winner of the prestigious contest Dream On Dance Show 2008

We also won the podium three times in a row at the prestigious dance contest ” Dream On Dance Show” open to all schools/companies of the Italian national territory that intend to launch, through dance and creativity, a strong and clear message of prevention against the use of drugs and alcohol abuse. It was all done by a team of dance and entertainment professionals including Veronica Lewis, director of the London Contemporary Dance School in London, Alphonse Poulin, director of the Juilliard Dance Drama Music School in New York, and Rosalina Subel Kassel, director of Telma Yalin Tel Aviv Dance School. There have undoubtedly been years of intense study and training that have transformed commitment and dedication into reality in a pure state! An unforgettable chapter of my life!

L’Idea: And then you won many more awards with the groups Play Funk and Dangerous Hdemy. Can you tell us more about that?
Morgan Brutti: Sure! When I got to be a member of this other dance crew called ” Play Funk,” two years had already passed, and I had been competing with the other team with which I had already partly acquired considerable experience at a competitive and artistic level, so when I started to participate in further competitions with this latest crew, I already felt much more confident with myself and much more competitive in wanting to gain the podium with them. As the years passed and I acquired more experience I also became more “hungry” of wanting to win the podium!!

The crew Play Funk in a show at the Hip Hop Festival in 2007

We spent hours in the rehearsal room training, and as far as I was concerned, when we participated in national competitions, my goal was no longer to compare myself with other dance groups but to give my best to get on the podium. With them, I had the honor of winning the Italian Montecatini Terme Fid 8Uisp Championship. We also won the Coppa Italia races three times in Bologna, Parma and Marina di Carrara in 2006 and always with them I was on the podium for the Hip Hop Valpolicella Festival in 2007. In short, it has been an increasingly important climb. The ”Dangerous Hdemy ” team arrived a few years later, following numerous changes that had occurred within the various teams, and I must say that this was one of the experiences that enriched me the most and that made it even more clear what my path as a performer would be. Hip hop as is known today has many nuances and is contaminated by various styles of dance and I, before moving on to this team, came from another branch for which I had the opportunity to study with Michael Fields and Ricky Benetazzo, choreographers and established professionals in Italy; it has certainly opened my horizons and enriched me artistically. It was hard to work with them, to go from one style of dance to which I was accustomed to the other was not easy, but I must say that I have also obtained a great personal satisfaction from it so much as to have won, after only seven months of training, the national competition “Nogarole Dance.” I can’t help but be satisfied with everything I got!

L’Idea: Though you belonged to various dancing groups, you also had at the same time a solo career…. 
Morgan Brutti: Yes, in those years I can really say that I was completely immersed in the dance world, performing not only as part of a company but also as a soloist. Despite my young age and the fears of a singular challenge that, we know, take over in moments of tension and agitation, I still managed to win the podium three times in the Coppa Italia races, breaking down barriers and limits that unintentionally trigger in certain situations. All this helped me but above all taught me to never stop and believe in my potential. I also represented the well-known brand Kit Kat Chocolate as a dancer and, besides, participated individually in national events and shows. It was clearly a qualitative leap that led me later on to obtain great results in the field.

L’Idea: You also performed in musicals…
Morgan Brutti: Exactly so! In 2005 I discovered the world of musicals and it was a multidisciplinary path aimed, just for those like me who wanted to pursue their own artistic career in the world of arts and entertainment, at enabling one to respond to the different needs of the Show Business.

La dancing group Arts Studio Musical at the Italian national contest Musical Day

One of the reasons for which I started to embrace the world of the Musical was my passion for singing, one of my dreams since I was a child, and so, united by my desire to confront myself with new challenges in new fields, I threw myself headlong in this experience with the desire to learn and train me as a versatile and complete performer. After less than two years, in 2007, I became the protagonist of the famous musical ”Chicago,” directed by my teacher Enzo Forleo, a well-known national professional and in 2008 our company ”Arts Studio Musical” won third place by performing on a piece of the famous movie ”Hairspray” at the National competition ”Musical Day,” an important showcase on the Italian level for emerging talents dedicated to the world of Musicals, with the precious collaboration of important entertainment professionals of the field. It has been and remains one of the most important and interesting artistic experiences in that I was fortunate enough to enrich my expressive abilities in the broadest way and developed and perfected my individual skills. It certainly left me with invaluable artistic baggage! 

Morgan Brutti and her crew Street Clown, winners of the 2007 Hip Hop Riccione contest

L’Idea: You are a Busy bee, Morgan. I see that you were also teaching dance in those years. What did you gain from that experience?
Morgan Brutti:
From 2004 to 2011, at the age of 17, I started teaching dance in various schools in my city, and for all these years I have tried to convey all my passion and love for this work to all my students. Having some guys to manage was not easy, but not impossible either, because I had the ability, despite my young age, to excite them, motivate them and to get very fruitful results, so much so that the ” Street Clown ” team, created by me, won the judges’ special prize for choreography at the Riccione Hip Hop National Competition in 2007. This professional opportunity gave me a strong sense of duty towards young students during their precious growth phase and it was truly a great satisfaction on a personal level.

Morgan Brutti. Photo Credit Brian Thomas

L’Idea: In 2011, you came to New York for the first time and stayed a year. Could you tell our readers more about that?
Morgan Brutti: The United States, as far as my artistic career is concerned, has always been my dream; the job opportunities have always been greater than in Italy and so in 2011 I decided to leave Italy and expand my knowledge in the United States and this permanence, in the fascinating city of NYC, allowed me to study with world-famous choreographers and dancers. It was certainly a very difficult year for me, I really missed my family and I felt like I was catapulted into a whole new world, but what gave me the strength to not give up was the awareness and determination to realize my dreams. I’ll never forget it!

L’Idea: After a brief return to Italy, you came back to New York. What happened then?
Morgan Brutti: In 2014, I managed to get the artistic visa recognized only to artists of real talent and so I moved back to the Big Apple, giving life to all effects to my dream and my career. My path was then all on the rise as I had the opportunity to work for HBO Latino, Yandel, Good Morning America, Pepsi Cola, Joy Villa, and The Cake Boss, to name a few.

Morgan Brutti as part of the live program HBO Latino in NYC

But one of my greatest accomplishments is having had the opportunity to work with the biggest Bollywood stars like Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan on a tour of the United States and Canada. Having the opportunity to take part in a tour as a professional dancer is certainly the dream of many!

L’Idea: Wow, that’s an impressive career you had until now! I am sure the readers will be impressed too. This year, even though you were doing great in New York, you moved to Los Angeles. What made you do that?
Morgan Brutti: This year, after several years spent in NYC, I decided to move to LA to have better job opportunities in my sector. New York has undoubtedly given me so much, but Los Angeles has always been my goal at a business level. The dancers who you see the most in music videos, commercials or television programs all come from here, the city of angels, unlike the Big Apple, which is more focused on the world of the Broadway musical. This is certainly the right city for those like me who want to continue to do this kind of profession.

Morgan Brutti. Photo Credit Jarrett Ares

L’Idea: What other projects are you working on?
Morgan Brutti: One of the projects I’m working on is to attend a music academy to focus on singing, which has always been one of my dreams since I was a child. Despite my dancing career, I would also like to pursue a singing career and combine these two professions with one another like many artists of today. Music has always accompanied me and it is still the background of my life. I believe it applies to everyone… music makes you happy, makes you feel good but above all gives us strength, it’s life and I would like to convey all these emotions through this art form. It will be an uphill road, I know, but as the saying goes, those who set goals must have the courage to reach them!

Morgan Brutti while on a tour of the United States with DA BANG The Tour Reloaded

L’Idea: What do you think you are going to be at, in your life, ten years from now?
Morgan Brutti: In 10 years I think and I believe I will have achieved and arrived where I have always wanted, struggling and making many sacrifices to reach the goal I set for myself. Everything I do for me is not a burden; in fact, the important thing in life for me is to complete what I start.

L’Idea: Any messages for our readers?
Morgan Brutti: Being an artist is a propensity of the soul and the greatest satisfaction is when what you do is recognized and appreciated. That said, I invite everyone to never give up and fight for their dreams!

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William John Castello And The Mastery Of Portraits’ Creation. An Exclusive Interview With The Artist.

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

His portraits are not just beautiful images, but they capture the soul of the character represented and they are alive, something that only a few artists can claim for their art production. William John Castello has been drawing and painting portraits all his life and it shows. The artist kindly met with me and spoke about his art and his life… 

L’Idea: William, at what age did start having the ‘call’ to be an artist?
William John Castello: As a child I had a condition know as chronic bronchitis that threatened my life. Between the medications and my vulnerability to infections, I spent most of my childhood indoors. I had precious little exposure to others beyond my immediate family. To fill the many hours, I would take typewriter paper and try to reproduce the faces on the covers of LOOK, LIFE and TIME magazines. I became quite good at in time and, by the time I was free of the bronchitis, the skills I had developed became my signature characteristic when I found myself among my peers in grammar school. I was the “artist”. My first public exhibition was in the local Brooklyn Public Library. They displayed a dozen of my portraits with full name credit and story. The exhibit lasted a full six months at the librarian’s insistence and led the way to local public recognition of my abilities. The nuns from my grammar school, St. Jerome’s in Flatbush, Brooklyn, encouraged and displayed my work for years to follow. Fate turned a life-threatening illness into a life-long path.

Andrea Bocelli

L’Idea: So, you started early and follow your passion all through college, earning a B.F.A. in Fine Arts from St. John’s University. What happened after that? 
William John Castello: I had to fight for my undergraduate experience. Born of two second and third-generation Italian-American parents, their desire for me to succeed was the driving force behind their demand for excellence in my academic endeavors. My good grades were the result of my parents’ efforts and constant insistence. They wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer like so many of my cousins and my sister had. I volunteered in a city hospital for two summers during high school and gained nothing but revulsion of the medical professions. Law was tacitly interesting but resulted in putting me to sleep. I wanted to be an artist. My dad said, “The word ‘artist’ is usually preceded by the word ‘starving’.” I pleaded with him to send me to art school. He would under one condition; that if I had not found a lucrative job as an artist in the first six months, I would repay him for my tuition.
And so, following a wonderful three-and-a-half-year education in the fine arts by the European instructors in St. John’s, I obtained an internship in the art department of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report on PBS. After six-months, I graduated with a position as a graphic journalist at the Associated Press. I never had to pay my father back.
For the next 35 years, I produced graphics, stories, information packets, multi-media presentations and more from the newsroom in the world headquarters of the Associated Press in New York City. All that time, I remained a fine artist when off duty. My time at the AP proved to be worth the education of a thousand universities. The window to the world was opened to me every day and I had to learn and interact. Never easy, not without many sacrifices and yet, the best view of all humanity that anyone may ever have.

Portrait of Garibaldi and Meucci in exhibit at the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum

When I saw retirement coming I obtained a master’s degree in global diplomacy from Norwich University to prepare for a second career, possibly in international affairs, which dominated my attention in my journalistic career.

Cesare Pavese

L’Idea: Now you teach Professional Journalism at your alma mater. Why Journalism and not Art? 
William John Castello: Upon retirement, my St. John’s alumni association informed the university that there was a journalist on the loose. I was contacted and offered a job as an adjunct professor on the spot. When I had a second to comprehend such a career move the marriage was made. They needed a journalist and I am one. As far as the fine arts, art history etc. I was advised to obtain yet one more master’s degree and then reinvent myself again as a permanent professor of whatever I wished.

Connie Francis

L’Idea: I noticed that you mostly draw portraits. What is the reason for this choice?
William John Castello: I have a love of the human face. When I was a lonely child, the television set was my constant companion. With the sound on or off, there was always the faces of familiar people. They looked in on me with the luster of black and white. They provided entertainment, humor, drama, and thrills. The faces in the magazines were compelling. I learned to know (or imagine) their thoughts through their expressions. My portraits became my people, my friends and the path to having others recognize me in time. The human face is magical, expressive. It never lies.
I produce moments of emotion and thought rather than the image of flesh and bone. My portraits are encapsulations of a moment in time, a distinctive flash of thought or emotion, a signature characteristic of a distant life. I try to capture the energy of a person in each rendering.

L’Idea: Do you use only the pencil or also other media in creating your works?
William John Castello: I have experimented with almost every artistic medium available, from watercolor to cast bronze. I’ve produced many oil and acrylic paintings, sculpted wood, stone and clay and worked metal. My love of portraiture determined my favorite medium, a simple pad and something to draw with. My most recent set of over two hundred portraits on tan paper in pencil and graphite began with my desire to study the works of Da Vinci and attempt to recreate the look of line on colored paper.

L’Idea: One of your recent major works is “Journey to Fiddler’s Green.” Could you talk a bit about that?
William John Castello: Upon retirement, I realized that I had not produced a canvas in many years due to time and space constraints. For the prior twenty-five years, I have shared much of my life with friends associated with the Ancient Order of Hibernians which is composed of the sons and daughters of Ireland. I was folded in as an associate member (having no blood or claim from Ireland) and as their artist. The twining of these two paradigms resulted in my search for a great project to produce on canvas.
Staten Island was the gateway to the new world during the potato famine in Ireland. Thousands of Irish men and women were forced onto “coffin ships” by their English overlords and sent across the Atlantic to fend for themselves. Upon reaching New York, many had died in transit. Many more had contracted a disease in the unkind confinement of these hellish ships. When they disembarked, the dead were anonymously buried in mass graves and the sickened arrivals were quarantined in hospital/death-houses on the Staten Island shore. Thousands died yet their final resting place remained a mystery until a local high school student researched historical documents and found the mass grave, located on the eighteenth hole of a local golf course.
Upon the revelation, the Hibernians contracted me to create a commemorative piece of art, and so, “Journey to Fiddler’s Green” was created: (below)

L’Idea: You had recently a show at the Garibaldi Meucci Museum. What was the theme of the exhibit? Will something else develop from this particular experience? 
William John Castello: The year-long exhibit at the GMM is known as the Sons and Daughters of Italy which combines portraits with biographies written by Marianna Randazzo and regional clothing made by local seamstresses and organized by Mary Ann Prince. Originally the exhibit was organized to celebrate the 100thanniversary of Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America Foundation’s ownership of the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum.

From the left: Mayanne Prince, Marianna Biazzo Randazzo, William John Castello and Tiziano Thomas Dossena.

We, the contributors, took the opportunity to bring awareness to the world-changing contributions made by those of Italian descent. We brought to light artists and film stars, scientists and philosophers, poets and astronauts, all coming from one of the twenty regions of Italy.

William John Castello with Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Currently Marianna Randazzo and myself are composing a book, which we hope will facilitate the children, grandchildren and the descendants of all Italians to gain a proud and rich identity. Too often Italy is associated with gangsters or movie stars, ancient artists or corrupt politicians. This problem gives credence to cruel stereotypes and misconceptions. We strive to expand the ranks of those associated with the country, bring awareness to its brilliant and hard-working people and bring understanding about the true Italy to the world.

L’Idea: Do you have any special projects in mind for the future? Any particular shows, maybe? 
William John Castello: We wish to create a series of books specializing in the Italian contribution to specific professions and to create similar books dealing with other ethnic groups. I will continue to find new inspirations and projects and explore new topics to inspire new creations.

L’Idea: Who is the artist that inspired you the most and why?
William John Castello: My mentor, Claude Ponsot was a student of Ferdinand Léger, a co-founder of Cubism and close friend of Pablo Picasso.  Ponsot taught painting at St. John’s and selected me as one of his students to carry on the tradition. I chose not to.
My greatest inspiration, however, is Vincent Van Gogh. I see only pure brilliance in what many consider his insanity. His mind translated reality and emotion together to produce their most complex and beautiful expression. He spoke with color and texture. He gave emotion to each stroke. His troubled mind was the confluence of all of man’s experiences. His hand translated vast complexity into recognizable form.
Van Gogh’s work embodies the meaning of each of my portraits. They are depictions of the human emotions and experiences in blazing colors and imbued with deep meanings. Our images can be interpreted as actual people or objects and yet they are abstract depictions of the human experience.

John Bergin

L’Idea: If you could meet and talk to any historical character, dead or alive today, who would he or she be? About what would you like to talk with him, or her?
William John Castello: I have always wanted to understand the mind of Da Vinci. His curiosity, observations, creations, and vision fascinate me. He never assumed to know what he had not proven to himself. He invented, wrote, sculpted and drew, in addition to his painting. His words found their way to the most powerful people of his time. His mind was the most precious driver of man’s artistic and technical evolution and I would love to know him.

L’Idea: How much did being of Italian descent influence you in the Arts and in your private life? 
William John Castello: I was distant from my heritage as a child. My grandparents attempted to provide some instruction, but they had limited contact with me. My curiosity about my origin eventually led me to discover Italy and its pivotal role in history.
I grew up in a predominantly Irish German neighborhood in Brooklyn. I was subjected to derision for my heritage and kept it from the spotlight for much of my youth. I was upon meeting my future wife Maria and her family, that I began to understand my heritage and adapt it to my life. The rest is history.

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Regions of Italy seen through portraits, costumes and biographies at the Garibaldi Meucci Museum!

 By Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Great innovative exhibit at the Garibaldi Meucci Museum thanks to artist William John Castello, writer Marianna Biazzo Randazzo, and OSDIA Trustee Maryanne Prince. This exhibit is the fourth installation in a series of six highlighting the regions, traditional dress, and people of Italy. Mr. Castello provided the portraits of some of the famous people from each region of Italy and Mrs. Randazzo wrote their biographies. Regional costumes were contributed thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Prince, who had the original idea of making them and obtained the goal though the generous participation of OSDIA and other sources, and the willingness of seamstresses who created the dresses just from images.

The exhibit is exciting and it’s offering a view of Italy as a puzzle of regions who amalgamated into a country but still retained their characteristics. To know how many important people each region has offered to the world certainly is rewarding and makes us all very proud. The beautifully compiled biographies are an excellent complement to the wonderful drawings by Mr. Castello.

It’s an exhibit not to miss!

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“Renaissance Man And Impresario” An Exclusive Interview With Roberto Ragone [L’Idea Magazine 2019]

“Renaissance Man and impresario” an exclusive interview with Roberto RagoneInterview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

You may have seen him at the movies, or at a play, or on the Internet, or maybe in the news while giving fiery words about the life of Vito Marcantonio. Regardless, you probably had the chance to see him or hear him, since he is continuously present in the entertainment life of New York, in one manner or another. Now you’ll have the chance to hear directly from him, a true Renaissance Man, and also an impresario, about his goals, his dreams and some of his achievements, since we were able to meet for an interview.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Roberto, you are a versatile individual, with experience in government and non-profit, besides acting, writing, and you also find time to be an impresario and a producer. How do you find time for everything?
Roberto Ragone: The way I make time is to schedule myself by streamlining and being organic about the work I do, trying to incorporate as many as skills and interests at the same time in each project. So, for example, I focus on advancing primarily my own scripts, getting them developed into a play or film, and including character I could portray. This multi-tasking, in its totality, comprises and constitutes who I am as an impresario.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: How do you manage to balance out the creative aspect of your life with the business one?
Roberto Ragone: The creative aspect of my life as actor, writer, and producer is becoming more of my business side, meaning I am making it an entrepreneurial enterprise from which I can earn a living. My goal is to live out my passion within my means and find ways of having a quality of life.  I want to be an artist who is self-aware about the need to treat my work in the arts like a business while minimizing my compromises, and avoiding – where I can – any work that I don’t really want to do.  I also do not want to be involved in projects that do not advance me since I have plenty of clips and credits on my resume. I might do something for free if someone is in a real bind, and I can cultivate a relationship with that person and/or there is a passion project I really believe in.  However,  I also assume that for those types of projects, I will not have to jump through hoops, meaning I will be given the role without an audition, and I can minimize my opportunity costs while doing work that has artistic integrity and is not superficially formulaic. The other factor is whether the project is giving me a principal role with “reel-worthy” scenes (more likely a lead role than a supporting role) and not a background role. I will also participate in scenarios where the producers can generate money that funds a larger project that has more financial feasibility.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What exactly is your consultant activity about?
Roberto Ragone:  I continue to welcome consulting work. I do strategic planning and marketing. Some of the strategic planning comes in the form of brainstorming with clients and then formatting and structuring the documentation into a strategic or marketing plan, or whatever the scope of work. I may help to implement the respective plan through, for example, stakeholder outreach, social media marketing, email marketing, or event planning and implementation.
So my consulting work and production work are entrepreneurial and creative in that they use left brain and right brain skills from my prior career (in public policy, politics, and nonprofits) and from my artistic work.
However, I would prefer to focus my consulting work on writing. I don’t think many people are effective and clear writers when it comes to logic and analysis, and this can spill over to people who see themselves as creative writers (e.g. playwrights, novelists), particularly in the United States. They don’t necessarily know how to organize and articulate their thoughts linearly or methodically in the context of the piece being written. I imagine some people attribute their lack of structure or arc as stylistic, intended to prompt the audience to think. But more likely than not, it is an excuse or alibi for their poor writing or editing.
In fact, many people in this day and age do not even know how to spell and use punctuation properly. That includes even neglecting to end a complete sentence with the right punctuation and then capitalizing the first letter of the next sentence. This becomes a bit of a “negative reinforcement” motivation to forge my own path in my career, including with my own scripts.
I feel like I can help people through my “left-brain” skills, writing strategic and marketing plans but also “script doctoring” to find logic gaps in scripts or posing questions about character and plot development that a writer may need to answer to make sure the script is moving in the direction they want to go. People can lose track of the arc of their own story in the same way that people can lose track of their own premise and conclusion in a thesis even after multiple proofreads.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You were a member of the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company. Could you tell us more about thatexperience?
Roberto Ragone: A friend of mine, Chiara Montalto, not only encouraged my acting and writing, but also introduced me to the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company. That company, founded by Ronnie Marmo, started in Los Angle and also has a chapter in New York City co-founded by Chiara.
Every week, the company would break up into smaller groups or pairs. Two or three actors would team up as team partners to prepare a scene to perform in the following class for feedback from their actor classmates observing from the audience.  This is part of what’s called the Monday Night “gym.” In “gym,” the actors would “workshop” scenes, improvise, and perform cold reads, as well as write, develop, and direct material brought in by members. The actors “exercise” to keep their skills sharp for much less than the cost of a class.
My participation was brief but it acclimated me to work with a new group of actors, moving beyond whom I had worked with in the past. I was also cast in a staged reading produced by the theatre company.
By the way, I think Chiara’s one-woman show, A Brooklyn Love Story: Emergency Used Candles, about her special connection to her grandfather would be of interest to L’Idea Magazine. Chiara’s play was produced Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane and in Los Angeles at Theatre 68. It’s currently in development as a feature film.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What about your other theatrical experiences as an actor? Which ones you feel are the mostmemorable? 
Roberto Ragone:  My performance of Felix in The Odd Couple was my first foray into performing a full script in a long time. It helped advance the comedic elements of my acting.
I later played the role of a crime-thriller author who fancied himself as a detective in the play, The Tangled SkirtAlthough written in 2012, and not set for a particular time period by the playwright, the language and repartee between the male and female character – the only two characters in the play – had a very 1940s film noir dynamic.  Besides overcoming the challenge of learning a lot of dialogue, including three monologues, working off only one other character (unlike in The Odd Couple),  and solidifying the habit of memorizing lines, the Humphrey Bogart-esque language helped immerse me further into the 1930s and 1940s to prepare me further for the role of Congressman Vito Marcantonio.

A scene from Bromance-a-Roni

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Who is the actor or actress who you worked with that impressed you the most?
Roberto Ragone:  First, I need to acknowledge, Art Bernal, who, after playing Oscar to my Felix in The Odd Couple, put his money where his mouth is as a doer (unlike the “I’m Gonna’ Society” or the “I Should ah’ Society”).  He began a production company so he can build a directorial track record, and has chosen several plays where he cast me as the lead. (We have joked about being the “Scorsese/De Niro of theatre”.) Art Bernal selected, produced, and directed The Tangled Skirt, and cast the actress, Katie Holden, who portrayed the female role. Her memorization and performance as an actress stick out for me, along with our alignment in our brainstorming, line delivery, and stage “blocking”, which was fostered by Art Bernal’s approach/methodology. Katie and I played our roles in a way that fostered a nostalgia almost called upon by the story, and I look forward to working with her again.
The actor who has stuck out is George Papadimatos, not only for his energetic and powerful acting, but because of the chemistry audiences note when we perform opposite each other in productions of my scripts, George instinctively understood the nuances of the cadences I wanted him to use in delivering key lines.
Our aligned acting with Art’s directing bore fruit.  Art directed me and George in my one act-comedy, Bromance-A-Roni, to full houses at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. We won the festival award for Best Production.

Vito Marcantonio

George also played former Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia opposite to my Congressman Vito Marcantonio in a film short I wrote – entitled, The Final Covenant of Vito Marcantonio –  based on a scene from a full-length script, which I also wrote (entitled Vito’s Last Penance: The Vindication of Vito Marcantonio.)  I had performed a theatrical version of that scene as a one-act play, and then Art suggested I make it into a film short.  Art put together the production team and co-directed. When George and I performed the crescendo to the scene (of the LaGuardia/Marcantonio argument), the dynamic was so dramatically intense, that when the main director yelled “cut,” the crew broke out in spontaneous applause.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: As a writer, you had quite a few successful plays, monologues, and comedies. You won the “Best Production” award at the Midtown International Theatre Festival with the comedy Bromance-A-Roni. Could talk a bit of that comedy?
Roberto Ragone:  Bromance-A-Roni is loosely based on two comedic and lesson-learning incidents with the same set of friends.  The male friend in real life, Mike Fiorito, is one of many Italian-American friends who received a college education, but remained ethnic and down-to-earth rather than elitist and pretentious. (In fact, Mike is a successfully published author  whom L’Idea may want to cover.) Too often when white ethnics are portrayed as both ethnic and educated, they are either Irish, Polish, or Jewish. Italian Americans are portrayed as though operating under some kind of Manichean dichotomy. They are either hyper-ethnic and/or “under-educated” and “under-articulate” or,  if they are articulate with an Italian last name, their ethnicity is marginalized to irrelevance. Otherwise, if they are ethnic and educated, it is a mask disguising wrongdoing.
My writing attempts to turn those notions on their head with a paradigm shift portraying articulate and insightful Italian Americans who discuss substantive topics in a comedic or ironic way while maintaining the cadences and delivery of the “old-school front stoop.” This is my value proposition, and audiences have told me they like the natural authenticity and intimacy of my characters.  By coincidence, this also aligns with how I portray LaGuardia and Marcantonio and some of their contemporaries in my scripts about the Vito Marcantonio saga.
It certainly helped that Art Bernal and George Papadimatos were involved with Bromance-A-Roni. It seems that during the Midtown International Theatre Festival, the festival publicist reveled at selling the logline and promotional pitch of my play: a modern combination of Abbott and Costello, the Odd Couple, and Italian-American Woody Allen, with a touch of Bugs Bunny.

Vito Marcantopnio

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You seem to be fascinated with Vito Marcantonio. What triggered your interest originally? Could you tell us the difference between The Purgatory Trial of Vito Marcantonio and the monologues? 
Roberto Ragone:  I experienced a series of coincidences between 1986 and 1992 where Vito Marcantonio kept recurring in my life. The first time was when learning about him in an African-American history class in how he fought against the poll tax and lynchings. Then in the summer of 1986, I was accompanying a high school friend’s mother, who was Caribbean American, through East Harlem and she stopped, cited a building, and wondered whether that was where Vito Marcantonio used to have his office. I said, “You know of Vito Marcantonio?”  Her reply was: “Yes, and he helped my family.”  Then two years later I came across Maria Laurino’s article in Village Voice critiquing how Governor Mario Cuomo failed to meet the standard of Italian-American progressivism set by Vito Marcantonio and his two mentors, Fiorello LaGuardia and Leonard Covello.
Then that fall of 1988, I was at a meeting of the FIERI organization, founded and led by John Calvelli.  John would become one of the most illustrious, articulate, and visionary leaders of the Italian-American community (as well as the environmental and cultural community, spearheading One Percent for Culture and elephant preservation campaigns, as Executive Vice President of the Wildlife Conservation Society), worthy of future focus by L’Idea.  John announced at a FIERI meeting, that September 1988, that he heard Al Pacino might play Vito Marcantonio in a movie. I bet almost everyone in the room was excited by the prospect of a new Al Pacino project without knowing who Vito Marcantonio was.  (That film was never produced.)

Finally, in 1992, I was invited by an Italian-American college friend, Stephen Cancian, to his wedding. (I did not anticipate Steve or anyone else in California to invite me to a wedding other than a high school friend married the prior year. I asked my mother to read the invitation carefully over the phone to me, and when she pronounced Steve’s name in Italian, I was pleasantly surprised.) The night before the wedding, the guys went out and, since we were all political junkies, we began to discuss current events and leadership. Steve then said when he comes back from his honeymoon, he is going to mail me a book about an Italian American leader with a unique management style who would talk to people directly for a few minutes before referring them to staff to deal with the details. I asked the name of this personage, expecting to hear the name of a business leader.  When he said, “Vito Marcantonio,” I said, “You too? I can’t believe how this name keeps coming back up in my life.” When he returned from his honeymoon, he, unlike many people in this world, followed through on his promise, and sent me Dr. Gerald Meyer’s book – Vito Marcantonio: Radical Political (1902-1954).
In 1996 after 10 years of coincidences of Vito Marcantonio reappearing in my life,  I met Dr. Meyer. We set out to organize the largest event ever on the late Congressman – a multi-media event organized two years later with FIERI, the NYU Circolo Italiano, the National Italian American Foundation, and the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute, attracting over 400 people at the student center of New York University, where Marcantonio had gone to law school and had founded a university-level Circolo Italiano.
Then came Dr. Meyer’s definitive observation: “We can’t let this event occur in isolation. This needs to be part of a larger campaign to educate the public about Marcantonio with a multi-disciplinary approach.”
Of all the goals that Dr. Meyer enumerated off the top of his head, the artistic-related goals resonated the most with me; I choose to concentrate on achieving these objectives: a feature film, a full-length play, and a documentary. These would then include dramatizations and a one-man show.

Roberto Ragone in The Shadows of Life

Some of the aims of our prospective campaign were being achieved along the way, such as walking tours of historic landmarks of Italian Harlem and El Barrio – where Marcantonio lived his entire life and succeeded his political mentor as Congressman after he helped elect LaGuardia Mayor of New York City in 1933.
Then, in 2011, that list of goals became part of the Mission Statement written as the Preamble to the Constitution of the newly-founded Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) –  a cultural-historical community based organization that brings together people, from a wide variety of backgrounds, dedicated to disseminating and sharing knowledge of the life and work of Vito Marcantonio and his mentors, Fiorello La Guardia and Dr. Leonard Covello. The VMF has striven to correct the historical record, which most often has ignored or misrepresented Marcantonio’s unceasing work on behalf of those left out of the American Dream  The VMF applauds his courageous fight for a more authentically democratic country and offering a valuable important frame of reference for coalition-building. To date, the VMF has fulfilled its mission by: organizing book presentations; book circles; screenings of documentaries; and walking tours. In addition, the VMF has co-produced plays, as well as organized commemorations and awards dinners.
Dr. Meyer and I would be voted in as Co-Chairs, Maria Lisella – who also leads the Italian American Writers Association – would be voted in Vice Chair of the VMF, and Adam Meyer as Secretary/Treasurer.
Other goals would be steadily accomplished, including the naming in 2017 of the northeast corner of the intersection of East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, “The Vito Marcantonio Lucky Corner,” thanks to New York City Council Speaker and Councilwoman of East Harlem, Melissa Mark-Viverito. There is a photo of a bird perched on the sign during the ceremony, which many of us concluded was harboring the soul and spirit of Marcantonio to witness the event.
One year after that, the Vito Marcantonio Forum was being invited to participate in a Conference in Picerno, Italy – the town where Marcantonio’s family originates in the province of Potenza in the region of Basilicata.

Marcantonio street naming

For me, ever since the time I and Dr. Meyer were planning the large 1998 event at New York University – there was a sense of “if you build it, they will come” – a quote from the film, Field of Dreams, a title symbolically important to the efforts of the VMF.
Now the Vito Marcantonio Forum and the work of its members have become transnational. Matera, a city in the region of Basilicata, Italy had been chosen as the European City of culture for 2019. The Matera Foundation had provided an opportunity for local towns in Basilicata to apply for funds to host cultural events.
The local government of Picerno, led by Mayor Giovanni Lettieri, and the Deputy Mayor, Giusy Marisco had obtained funding to organize a three-day conference that would include academic and artistic presentations about the life and times of Vito Marcantonio, related themes in Italian culture and history, and the Congressman’s continued relevance to the United States and Italy today.
Funding included bringing in two members of the Vito Marcantonio Forum to participate. The VMF selected Gary Bono as one of the representatives, who had begun to actively participate in advising the organization and serving informally in administrative roles on top of his participation in the People’s World and in running a company that republishes renowned books related to the political Left.
The VMF selected me as the other representative, as a VMF founder member and co-chair, who had begun to focus my own career on acting, writing, and producing, and had been making  Vito Marcantonio my magnum opus project. I had recently performed my one-man show to a sold-out crowd (with requests to perform in other cities) a couple of months before the plans were finalized with the municipality of Picerno for me and Gary Bono to attend the Conference.
My dramatizations typically consist of my reenacting particular speeches or remarks by Vito Marcantonio (with some tweaking).  My one-man show consists of a performance piece I wrote where I portray Vito Marcantonio making a case as to why he does not belong in Purgatory – thus, the title, The Purgatory Trial of Vito Marcantonio.  The setting of the trial is at the Lucky Corner (East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan).

Roberto Ragone, Co-Chairman of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, speaks during Sunday’s fourth annual commemoration of the group’s namesake. (Photo courtesy: The Independent)

The full-length play and cinematic production are entitled Vito’s Last Penance: The Vindication of Vito Marcantonio. There is also a film short, as mentioned, in post-production of the most workshopped scene (performed also as a one-act play, and protected in the copyright of the full script) where Marcantonio must persuade his semi-retired and semi-reluctant mentor, Fiorello LaGuardia, to stick his neck out and endorse him for Congress in a nation becoming more reactionary under President Truman; and where we learn LaGuardia’s stake as an opposition leader against the Establishment could be jeopardized if he supports Marcantonio. This piece is entitled, The Final Covenant of Vito Marcantonio.
Notice these titles have religious connotations partly because Marcantanio’s death, as in the death of Sacco and Vanzetti, can be evocative of The Passion (of Jesus). This is particularly notable with respect to Marcantonio because he is the only Catholic politician in American history who has been denied a Catholic burial.
I am particularly proud of how the people of color in my life have taken up the cause of advancing the story of Vito Marcantonio. I recall the late Morgan Powell, an African American member of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, who, in 2014, reached out to a Latino gentleman who hosted a show on cable about getting us on the program at the last minute to discuss our (at the time) upcoming commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the death of Vito Marcantonio.

Vito Marcantonio Forum with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito at Woodlawn Cemetery

Art Bernal, who is Mexican American and who co-produced and co-directed, “The Final Covenant” short, brought together an experienced and enthusiastic production team consisting of Karen Torres, producer of Puerto Rican heritage; Justin Bennett, the main director, who is African American; Xavier Campo, director of photography, who is Columbian; Juan Fullada, sound technician originally from Peru; and the makeup artist – who transformed me into Marcantonio and George Papadimatos into LaGuardia – Serica Bell, who is Caribbean American. George is Greek American and Brytanie Holbrook – who portrays LaGuardia’s second wife, Marie, whom he dated and married after his first wife passed away from illness – is Finnish and British descent.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Do you plan to bring The Purgatory Trial of Vito Marcantonio on the road?
Roberto Ragone:  As I was planning the performance of the one-man show in New York City, and as result of my initiating an inquiry or being approached by those who would not be able to make the Manhattan performance, the question was posed: “when are you going to bring it over to x, y, or z city.  Some people would suggest a venue and/or offer to produce the show either because they were willing to take the initiative or step up after Art and I explained our financial and logistical constraints, like room and board.
Those areas of interest added up to Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Troy, New York, and parts of Florida.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also played lead roles in some movies and I am sure our readers would like to find out more about that… Which movies were? 
Roberto Ragone If you don’t mind, I would be pleased to include the link to a brief film demo reel – https:://youtu.be/PhZ-bDBR2k4 –  which was edited by the great documentary filmmaker, Anton Evangelista, whose credits include Umberto E, a moving documentary about his father – with a title evoking the classic Italian film, Umberto D – along with a documentary about the great poet and author, Daniela Gioseffa, and most recently, Il Signor Jackson, about the life of Edward Jackson, the prominent  African American educator of the Italian language and culture.  I hope L’Idea takes an interest in Anton’s work and Edward Jackson’s contributions.
My Casting Networks resume has the most comprehensive gathering of my credits, clips, bio, skills, and projects: http://www.castingnetworks.com/RobertoRagone

Roberto Ragone as Vito Marcantonio

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: How did that experience compare with the theatrical one? Any other movie in preparation, yet?
Roberto Ragone:  The theatrical experience helps sort out which actors take the responsibility of memorizing their lines and following directions. If you can do theatre,  then film becomes easier. However, the theatrical experience calls for a projection of yourself to an audience whereas cinema requires a subtlety for the camera.
I am trying to raise money for different projects where I play a lead role. In one film, I am an undercover investigator trying to destroy a child trafficking ring. The film also attempts to raise awareness about this international issue. In another project,  a mystery horror film – entitled, Where Evil Lurks, written and directed by Stephen Corr,  I  play a detective investigating the link between a cult to a murder. And of course, in the case of Vito Marcantonio, I am hoping that a “road show” of the one-man show will generate interest in the production of the 105-page version of the full-length play Off Broadway.   (There is a larger version of the script for theatre and adaptable for an epic film or mini-series.)

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Are you working on any new project at this time? … Maybe a book, maybe another play?
Roberto Ragone: My projects seem happily endless based on the scripts I am writing. I feel fortunate that I do not have mental blocks. I don’t suffer from the problem of procrastination in terms of writing.  Ironically, when I delay writing, the story and dialogue keep building up in my head to the point where I have to write them down, or I become less productive in other areas or even weighed down.  One particular example of such a challenge was when I was in the middle of the rehearsals and preparing for the performance of Bromance-A-Roni during the Midtown International Theatre Festival in 2017: a new comedy was emerging in my head that would also serve as a tribute to Jimmy Durante. I have since edited several drafts of that play.
Ultimately, I don’t need to be part of a writing pool to get ideas or sort out logic gaps.  I ask people who are personal or professional peers about whether the logic for a particular moment is clear versus whether more spoon-feeding is necessary.  I might ask whether it is better to say a sentence a particular way versus another sentence structure, or which character should be designated to deliver a particular line of punchline.  The challenge is making the time to edit these scripts and complete them for a production given the other things I need to do as an actor to advance my career and earn income.
I would also like to see some of my “left-brain” essays published that critique current events and analyze them in the context of historical figures, including political and cultural figures and forces in an interdisciplinary manner.  For example, I have drafted an essay about Vito Marcantonio that I am trying to get published that also speaks to current affairs.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Roberto, did your Italian roots influence you as an artist? And as a man?
Roberto Ragone:  There are a few factors in my Italian roots that drew me towards my Italian heritage and the artistic expression of that heritage through the arts as an outlet – for someone like myself who feels closely connected to and contemplates that heritage.
My high school sophomore social studies teacher, Judith Katz, enthusiastically and energetically taught me about what one might describe as the three Rs of the Italian heritage: Rome, Renaissance and Risorgimento. This instructed me to look beyond the three Fs of Italian culture that Americans typically appreciate: food, fashion, and fine arts.
On top of that, my father was the typical hardworking Italian immigrant earning money to advance his family.  My father seems to be the archetype of the lively, vivacious, animated, charming, entertaining, and joyful “Napoletano,” since he is from Salerno, which is in the same region as Naples. Once, when I saw him watch Luciano Pavarotti sing on TV, I seemed to be looking at the face of a man saying to himself, “that could have been  me.” It turns out my father sang, performed in theater, and even danced. There were stories about friends in his paese (Teggiano) – in an agricultural area – taking turns hosting gatherings at their homes, playing vinyl records on the record player.  And the young men would walk up to the young woman, and ask them to dance.  After the dance was over, the young men would walk up to their peer (my future would-be father), who was the authority and the expert, and say in Italian, “Uuayy!  Arsenio, com’ agiu’ fatto?  Agiu” fatto bene?” (“Arsenio, how did I do?  Did I do okay?”)
This information would help me make an “informed choice” in determining that it would be the right thing to leave the world of politics, public policy, and nonprofits  and commit myself to acting, writing, and producing. I had always imagined comedic or dramatic dialogues and how the lines would be delivered, and even occasionally how to direct a scene. I had even found myself critiquing acting performance, a script, or a director’s choice as far back as my youth. I would also sometimes imagine myself hosting, emceeing, or moderating discussions on stage.
I prefer to be in a situation where I offer a unique value proposition that can have a positive, constructive, and even transcendent impact, rather than be one among many, serving a role where I’m easily interchangeable with someone else.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Any message for our readers?
Roberto Ragone:   I would want to make an appeal not only to the 17 million people who identify themselves as having Italian heritage, but also Italophiles. In fact, I also make an appeal to people to learn their ancestry through services that teach how to reconstruct your past in order for them to discover if they have any Italian heritage.  If one has Italian heritage, I would suggest taking advantage of the “Italian blood” proviso in Italian law guaranteeing you citizenship.  This might be a modern version of how Europeans used to contemplate (and maybe still do in their collective unconscious) how they were all once part of the Roman Empire.  Throw in the fact that Italians perhaps experienced the second largest Diaspora after the Jewish people, and you’ve got a Pan-Italia that can create a new Pax-Romana.
A connection to Italy through a visit to Italy is like a baptism that helps one begin to transcend the American social construct of being white.  You began to appreciate a nation that has a rich cultural history and offers frames of reference and models, in the law, engineering, design, and other aesthetics as well as the culinary arts and sartorial splendor of clothing. fabric and swatches. (A recent survey found that people identified Italy as the most “beautiful” country in the world.)
However, through my appeal (and any “baptismal visitation” to Italy), I hope interest in Italian history can prompt interest in Italian-American history and how that history in the form of phenomena can serve as public policy case studies offering insights on how to address contemporary problems in leadership (through LaGuardia and Marcantonio), education (through Dr. Leonard Covello and Dr. Maria Montessouri), law enforcement (through  NYPD  Lt. Joseph Petrosino); customer-oriented banking and finance (through A.P Giannini); equitable capitalism (through Pareto principals of economics), and public health (through the Roseto Effect).
While there is an understandable request for sensitivity and “safe space” in American society, it is ironic that people, including the people who advocate for sensitivity and space, don’t seem to grant these prerogatives to Italian Americans, and others who appreciate Italian culture and history. In fact, there seems to be no problem with the notion of non-Italian Americans depicting or approving the depiction of the Italian-American experience as one where all the bad guys are of Italian heritage and all the good guys are non-Italian American.   This irony is enhanced by the fact that Italian-Americans served in higher proportions than any other ethnic group against the Axis Powers.  Italy protected a higher proportion of its Jewish population (85 percent) against the Holocaust than almost all other European nation.  While the death of 15 percent of the Italian Jewish population underscores the tragedy of the Nazi genocide, it reflects the heroism of the Italians to rescue, hide, and save it’s Jewish population from extinction.  It is my understanding that a study showed that if you were to ask Jewish Europeans in many parts of your Europe, “what are you,” –  meaning what is your heritage – they would say, “Jewish.”  However, in Italy, they would say they are “Italian.”
There also seems to be no problem with selectively determining who is a good guy and who is a villain in history.  And this is not done through facts and truths but through fraudulent and fabricated propaganda.  So someone like a Christopher Columbus, who did not mistreat people of color who were minding their own business or whom he befriended, has been demonized as a poster child for evil. Meanwhile, latter-day leaders who should have known better,  but instead perpetrated, permitted or perpetuated, violence against people of color, unprovoked by people of color, get to remain lionized heroes, including Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.  And while Alexander Hamilton has been underappreciated compared to Thomas Jefferson, he has perhaps been more exonerated that he should be. In fact, it is ironic that there are people out there who couldn’t pass a test about basic American history (or get a lot of questions wrong), who couldn’t tell you the significance of July 4, 1776, and/or don’t know what happened in American history over the past 20 years – much less over the past 50 years – that may have adversely affected their lives. But some of these same people think they are suddenly experts about 1492.

Roberto Ragone

In contrast, America’s Founding Fathers were introspective about the significance of the ancient Roman Republic and the need for representational government.  The Founding Fathers knew that Rome was a blueprint, not just for buildings the same architectural style in Washington DC, but for “form[ing] a more perfect union,”  as written in the Preamble of the Constitution. In fact, prior to the Constitution, in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the words, “all men are created equal” came to Thomas Jefferson from his friend, the Italian humanist, Filippo Mazzei.  Thus, Jefferson’s “Italo-filialism”  extended beyond naming his home Monticello.  Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers were not sufficiently introspective to apply these notions to African Americans and  Native Americans.  One can argue that the Romans were more enlightened in their time, and Columbus in his time.
Because of the contributions of Italians and Italian Americans towards shaping among the best aspects of the United States of America, they are more worthy of respect.  At the same time, Italians, Italian Americans and Italophiles need to become more introspective of themselves as transcendent bridge builders between cultures.  In contemplating the Pan-Italia and new Pax-Romana I mentioned earlier, I always imagined myself giving a speech identifying a modern Medieval “philistinism,” and then urging change by exhorting people of Italian descent with the following: “Let us be able to claim now what can be claimed around 500 years ago – that a Renaissance has descended across this continent…and it began…with the Italians…thank you very much!”

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Tiziano Thomas Dossena wins the 2019 OSIA Literary Award

  • Our Editorial Director wins the 2019 OSIA LITERARY AWARD!

On June 1st, 2019, in front of the statewide delegates and dignitaries of the New York State Grand Lodge of the Order of the Sons and Daughters of Italy in America,  President Robert Ferrito presented the Editorial Director of L’Idea Magazine Tiziano Thomas Dossena with the prestigious 2019 OSIA Literary Award “for his contribution to the Italian American Experience in America.”  The author also received a citation from New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

From the left, OSIA NY STATE President Robert Ferrito, Tiziano Thomas Dossena, Literary Award co-Chair Geraldine Iannello Graham.

Dossena, who is the Recording Secretary of Tuckahoe’s OSIA Giuseppe Garibaldi Lodge 2583, is the author of “Caro Fantozzi,” published by Scriptum Press in December 2008, “Doña Flor, An Opera by Niccolò van Westerhout,” published by Idea Publications in April 2010, “Sunny Days and Sleepless Nights,” published by Idea Press in December 2016 and of the upcoming three books “The Dance of Color,” “The Rebirth of an Opera,” andNew York City’s Italian Imprint, the Statues and Monuments of and by Italians in the Big Apple.”

His works have appeared in over 100 magazines and anthologies in Italy, France, Greece, Canada, Switzerland, and the United States. Dossena is the founder and Editor in Chief of two magazines, OperaMyLove and OperaAmorMio, and has been the Editorial Director of L’Idea Magazine since 1990.

NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Tiziano Thomas Dossena

In 2011, Tiziano Thomas Dossena was honored for both literary work and community service work at the New York State Assembly by New York State Assemblyman, Joseph Saladino. In 2012, the author received the International PREMIO GLOBO TRICOLORE award “for the outstanding efforts at keeping the Italian Image known in the world through his literary works”. In 2014, he was asked to read poems at the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony in Yonkers.

The whole staff of L’Idea magazine congratulates him for having earned such an important award and wishes him further accolades and honors.

 Please click here to view the award’s presentation.

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