By Glen MacDonald - Station Manager
This summer, the Pinocchio legend is retold, borrowing elements from theater and film. The creative team behind this endeavor are Wagner students, Dan Smith and Riley Bartolomeo, WCBG’s co-news director. Smith and Bartolomeo began their artistic partnership when Smith appeared on a broadcast of WCBG’s News Hour, hosted by Bartolomeo. With a shared love of the all things cinema and theater, the two set out to create entertainment for new audiences.
“I’m a storyteller by trade,” said Smith, “I’ve always enjoyed fairy tales, folklore, mythology- any kind of story that came from a place of urgency. I’m really drawn to classical stories, for the the fact that they’re part of that oral tradition of sharing information and communicating. Fairy tales are cautionary tales and Pinocchio is no exception.”
Smith identifies the larger thematic struggles of piece, including starvation, justice, and growing up. However, these elements also lend well to Smith’s other interest- theater.
“It is a series of parables of that are only strung together by a narrative of this one kid trying to become real,” said Smith. “I have always thought it would be fun to go to a room with these 35 chapters and explore them with an ensemble of college-aged artists. We are at this point in our life right now we’re trying to figure out who we are and what it means to be real.”
Smith and Bartolomeo hope to convey these experiences through theatrical techniques, as well as cinematic ones. Bartolomeo, a film major, hopes to add his skillset to their off-broadway production.
“I’m a big fan of the avant-garde genre,” said Bartolomeo. He cites artist Lori Anderson as the main inspiration for his mixed media approach. Fascinated by the idea of tapping into a new world, Bartolomeo hopes to engage with the audience on multiple levels.
“From day one, we wanted to fully integrate the media into the storytelling,” said Smith. “When we can no longer speak with the flesh and blood actors we then transcend into film and vice versa.”
It’s Pinocchio! is the first collaboration between Smith and Bartolomeo. Conscious of the nation’s heated political climate, the creative duo understands how to use art is a tool for social progress.
“I love artists that take risks,” said Bartolomeo. “Playing it safe is not great. During our time of Black Lives Matter, Times Up, and all of wonderful social movements going on, historians will look back at this time and ask, ‘what were you doing?’’
“Art is inherently political,” agreed Smith. “The violent thing about art is that you’re making a statement, which is violence in nature.”
Despite the heavy themes, Smith stresses their musical is a family piece.
“This play is for all of the dads who have dragged to a high production that their child was in,” laughs Smith. “At every juncture, at every turn, we are asking ourselves, how do we make this diet theater? How do we make this experience, with all of its theatrical and cinematic elements, accessible for a general audience? We are training non-theater goers to deal with a piece like this,” said Smith. “It’s also going to be familiar enough, American enough, for the audience to recognize what their watching. It’s going to be fun!”
The duo also enjoys the opportunity to direct. Smith, who aspires to continue directing theater in his post-grad life, is trying to have as much fun with the piece as he can.
“I don’t want this production to be full of itself,” said Smith. “I gave my company full permission to hit me if I every sound like I’m Jack O’Brien or another great stage director. I want to create something fun, hysterical, and just a little raunchy.”
For Bartolomeo, stepping into the theater realm is daunting task. Fortunately, he enjoys a challenge and benefits from their cast.
“Having many friends who are actors makes you a better director in any medium,” said Bartolomeo. “With every actor we have worked with, from the workshop phase to our current cast, just phenomenal people.”
Smith echoes Bartolomeo’s appreciation for their actors, particularly their diverse talents.
“This is my first time working with these actors and creating something from the ground up,” said Smith. “They’re so creative and so vocal and not afraid of bringing everything they go into the room. We got puppeteers, we got acrobats... they got skills I didn’t even know human could have!”
It’s Pinocchio! runs July 12-15 at Theater 54 (NYC 244 W54 St). Tickets go on sale May 10th. For more information, go on the It’s Pinocchio! Facebook page.