(Photo by Dahlia Katz)
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Lorenzo Pagnotta has taught drama workshops to both seniors and youth in community centers throughout Montreal and Toronto. Projects include performing the title role in a comical adaptation of Hamlet which toured throughout southern Italy (Teatromania); playing a variety of characters in classroom settings as an actor simulator (Ryerson’s Interpersonal Skills Training Centre); and working as a production assistant on Like an Old Tale (Jumblies Theatre) and Obeah Opera (bcurrent Performing Arts / Theatre Archipelago). He has completed an MA in Italian Studies at McGill University, specializing in contemporary Italian theatre, and holds a BA in Drama and Italian Studies from the University of Alberta. (Source: My Entertainment World)
CHARPO: The balancing act between our ethnic heritage and sexuality is always a difficult one. First tell me about what it's like to be Queer in your community. Then, a little about your personal experience.
PAGNOTTA: To be honest, I don’t feel like I have ever been Queer in my ethnic community, which is part of the sentiment that this piece was created with and about. This is ironic because I have been studying Italian language and literature my whole life. I don’t think this is a negative reflection of the Italian-Canadian community’s attitudes, though I can, certainly, say that I have never been made to feel included as a Queer man. I, simply, have not had an entry point as I have always been an “academic” or a “theatre creator” and neither of those have seemed to be compatible endeavors for the types of activities that most Italian-Canadians engage in. And people don’t like to bring things up that make them uncomfortable (however wrong that may be) like who you sleep with and what it’s like to have a same sex partner. So you are left figuring it all out on your own. It has always been important for me to acknowledge that sometimes we project our own negative experiences and/or insecurities onto the environments we trod in. But knowing that does not seem to have offered me total relief (and freedom to say what I need to say at all costs). As an artist that combines Italian language, characters, and stories into my otherwise “Canadian” work, and now Queer focused work, it’s important that I feel safe and respected artistically within my cultural community? Is that possible? Initially I was terrified at having to deal with this question. Now it’s what I am excited to find out?
The narrator in Making Love whose story echoes my own is very articulate about his unique stance as an Italian-Canadian from western Canada.
CHARPO: How is this all reflected now in your work and, specifically, in Making Love With Espresso?
PAGNOTTA: I find I cater how I describe my work depending on who I talk with. Sometimes I feel guilty about it. Like when I picked up my promo from a computer store that doubles as a UPS counter. I was greeted by three burly men who were all quite friendly, and one even complimented my poster which was plastered over one of the boxes. But rather than offer the shopkeeper a postcard which discloses the details of the show I preferred to say “check it out in July” and summed up the show to be about “online dating.” Afterwards, I was hitting my head against a wall. But then I think I need to be responsible for my safety too. The other week, though, I ran into an Italian visual artist who is very lovely and was eager to help me promote my work. I bravely disclosed that if she or her family came to the show that, hopefully, they would be cool with Gay politics. She was like “Oh ya, of course.” I felt proud that time that I could speak out and not be afraid. Who we are and when and why is not black and white. It’s one of the many things that Making Love explores in a holistic way rather than coming to quick conclusions. I am proud of that! There is, often, too much quick judgment and decontextualized criticism in the Gay community. There is pressure to be “here and Queer” at all times, but one has to also feel safe. And the recent missing “ethnic” men case in the [Gay] village [in Toronto] brings renewed unsettled feelings…
The narrator in Making Love whose story echoes my own is very articulate about his unique stance as an Italian-Canadian from western Canada. He addresses the fact that people impose on you what is most familiar to them (e.g. I must be a great soccer player, with a loving family, that eats well, shops in Little Italy and, naturally, could never tolerate Gay people). But this is, of course, making several large generalizations. One of my favourite comical moments in the show is actually when I talk about how little time I have ever spent in one of these “iconic” Little Italys period.
In a more somber scene, I retell an experience in which I began to explore Gay groups and activities in Montreal only to find out that an organization of Gay Italians was quickly dissembled after members began receiving death threats. It totally bummed me out. You see sometimes our deepest feelings can be brought on by experiences lived out indirectly. It’s the reason why the burden of feeling the need to be macho comes from Italian literary characters in my piece I cite as “ancestors” and not from family members. My own “father” may have raised me strict but he is the biggest sweetheart really.
CHARPO: You have an impressive resumé - why take this plunge: solo work, Fringe...?
PAGNOTTA: I suppose it was just time: thoughts, ideas, experience bottled up inside and only seeing glimpses of light. It’s 2013 and we live in Canada, yet in this democratic land of freedom, there are still too many (young) people who feel like they don’t have a place they belong and too many of their supposed mentors who don’t want to deal with issues surrounding sexuality. It’s really absurd when you think about it. I am personally finding a lot of healing through this project, but I am also hoping that my unique perspective will foster new dialogues about culture, sexuality, and their intersections with internet technology (which acts as a through line in the piece that inspires me to tell my story) like dating apps.
PAGNOTTA: I would actually like to take it on tour and eventually showcase it in the motherland. Why? I am curious to see how it would resonate differently there. Contrary to popular belief (and despite a rampant conservatism in a religious country) Queer studies, activism, and discourse in the media appears fresher and, often, more fiery in Italy. Those who do speak up let it really be heard because they seem to have greater stakes in a patriarchal environment whose institutions are very much centred around the traditional family. I think some of the themes in Making Love would offer a new prospective on sexuality from a child of the diaspora since literature by Italians living in adopted countries is only recently being showcased in Italy; prior, a rich literary tradition and history had always “upstaged” the possibility of alternative writings to be witnessed. It would be a dream really to present this work there.