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Photo credit Moonrider Productions // Arts Club Theatre

Made in Italy explores the immigrant experience through solo performance

By Vama Saini, October 24 2023—

In the one-person performance titled Made in Italy, playwright and performer Farren Timoteo delves into a semi-autobiographical narrative that explores the Italian immigrant experience in 1970s Alberta. Set in Jasper, the play delves into the challenges faced by a young Italian immigrant and his father, unravelling generational differences, the influence of pop culture and the significance of family traditions.

Timoteo shared insights into the inspiration behind the play and the elements that contribute to its depth and resonance.

“The foundation of Made in Italy was laid during my early days experimenting with stand-up comedy, where I drew from personal family experiences to make people laugh. When I later went to theatre school, I again found myself looking at my personal experiences for material, but this time in a more theatrical setting,” said Timoteo. “These eventually merged with my desire to be a playwright, which led to the creation of Made in Italy. 

The show explores the immigrant experience, showcasing the struggles of Salvatore, a father who immigrated to Canada to pursue a better life, and his son Francesco, who grapples with being an outcast in a community that views their Italian heritage as “otherworldly and alien.” The juxtaposition of their journeys highlights the theme of control — seeking it, finding it and ultimately not having it.

“For me, that was something the two characters had in common — an older Italian man who is trying to take control of his life by leaving his homeland, and the young protagonist who is trying desperately to assimilate, or be invisible, trying to control the unpleasant situation of alienation,” said Farren. 

Through exploring themes of control and identity, the play delves into Francesco’s struggle to find his place in a new land while holding onto his Italian heritage. Timoteo emphasized the universal nature of this struggle, resonating with many immigrants and individuals caught between cultures.

“For Franceso, it’s like you’re not Italian anymore, and you’re not Canadian yet,” said Farren. “I think that was a very difficult thing for him to explore. Most immigrants feel this way. It’s hard not to wish that you could go back and tell this young man that as weird as you think you are, millions are experiencing the same thing.” 

Timoteo emphasizes the role of pop culture, especially icons like Rocky Balboa and John Travolta, in influencing the characters’ narratives. Watching Rocky’s journey from fighter to respect, proudly embracing his Italian heritage, resonated deeply with Francesco.

“The truth is, he tried to fit in, and it didn’t work. He tried being invisible, and it didn’t work. Then, suddenly, a pop culture icon emerged and inspired him to become something more, and it worked,” Farren explained. “It was the emergence of this character that wasn’t exactly the embodiment of Italian tradition, but he wasn’t exactly American either. Whoever Rocky was, he was proud, and that was a big deal for Italian immigrants at that time and continues to be.”

At the core of the narrative lies the theme of family, exemplified through the significance of family meals and traditions. Timoteo reminisces about the cherished family dinners in his childhood, diffused with Italian cultural richness and love for food, a central facet of the Italian way of life.  

“In our home, massive family dinners were the heart of our traditions. We had a special dining room reserved for these occasions — it was treated like a church. My grandmother, the heart of these gatherings, prepared from the morning until evening, making every meal a magnet that brought us all back together. It was at this table that I truly understood what it meant to be Italian. It was only when time passed and traditions faded that I realized the powerful heritage I had been a part of,” said Farren. 

“For me, creating this show was about evoking and recreating traditions. We drifted from these traditions in our productivity-focused modern culture, neglecting the time to enjoy a meal with family,” said Farren. 

Presenting the story as a solo performance posed unique challenges and opportunities. Timoteo drew from various performance styles to create a dynamic experience for the audience. 

“When I fully committed to this endeavour, I studied various solo performances to learn and derive inspiration. Solo theatre, stand-up comedy and solo pop star acts all had something to offer,” Farren said. “They each presented unique styles and approaches. Combining elements from these forms, I aimed to infuse truth and humour, share engaging stories and maintain an entertaining and dynamic energy in my show.”

Timoteo expressed his desire to bring hope to the audience and foster connections through laughter. He acknowledged the potential for the audience to relate to their own immigrant experiences and family dynamics, making the theatrical experience deeply personal and thought-provoking.

“We’ve been performing Made in Italy for seven years across the country. I’ve witnessed people connecting deeply with their immigrant or outcast experiences throughout the shows. There’s also potential for viewers to undergo emotional journeys in reevaluating their relationships with their parents,” Farren said. “I don’t try to force these experiences. It’s bigger than just me or the show. Artistic experiences allow the audience to find their place and tell their stories simultaneously. The potential of the show goes beyond the impact I believed it would have.” 

Made in Italy is showing until Nov. 11. For tickets, visit the Theatre Calgary website.

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