Posted by: Noni | December 22, 2009

Better Late Than Never, Roma… here I come!

In the spring of 1994 a pilot for a new TV series aired on Rogers’s channel 4 in Vancouver. I had co-produced and was starring in the ensemble sitcom alongside a team of hopeful thespians. Needless to say “Ales and Lager” never got picked up despite our passionate efforts and meager following… But, the lessons learned proved invaluable and it opened a door to an entire world. It was the beginning of a whole new journey.
When people ask how I became a filmmaker it’s hard to give a direct answer… mostly because I didn’t take a direct route. I started as an extra, got upgraded to stand-in, became a host reporter for a live to air TV show then started to write and produce. I just couldn’t sit back and watch the crew and cast, I had to be part of everything. Since then I have let the Universe guide me on my career path. The road has been bumpy and full of twists and turns, but I have discovered many treasures and seen beautiful places along the way.
So in spring of 1994, Tracy Lively who was a co-star on Ales and Lager asked me to write a letter of recommendation for her so she could apply to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California. I wrote the letter without hesitation and a few weeks later Tracy proudly announced that she had been accepted into the summer program for international students. I was excited for her and asked for details about the program and what she hoped to achieve by attending. After she explained it all to me, I decided that I should attend as well.
According to her, there was an audition process, then application and finally fee for registration…apparently it was way too late to try and get in. After all AADA was a prestigious institution. I didn’t doubt that, but I figured, what did I have to lose? I explained that since she was accepted I felt confident that I would also pass the audition and that if I showed up with fee in hand they were bound to have an opening. Money talks! Tracy was not convinced by my rationale and did her best to smack me back to reality, but I was determined to find something to occupy my summer and my ambition. I told her that I would drive her to California and worst case scenario would have a nice vacation at the beach and drive back home.
I was newly separated and my children had just gone to live with their father. I had moved to the city to be closer to my studio but they wanted to continue at their high school in the suburbs with all their friends. I felt lost not having them to care for and my apartment seemed so empty and meaningless after years of living in a family home. Getting away for the summer was a good idea as it would help me to define my career and hone my skills for moving into working as a director and producer. I realized that the more I knew about vocal training, movement and stage combat the better equipped I would be as a director.

Mine wasn't quite as posh as this... but I traveled many miles in it!

There wasn’t much time to prepare so I loaded up my 1974 Chevy camper van and we hit the road. I had to prepare two monologues on route and the trip took longer than expected since Tracy could not (or would not) drive the over sized vehicle. I hoped that the van would serve as both transport and accommodations since it was equipped with a full size bed and cooking facilities. I was hoping to find a nice camp site or big driveway on someone’s property where I could plug in and park for summer. All I really needed was bathroom facilities. Or at least I thought so.
We arrived very early on the morning of the orientation and class assignments. I had been driving for 2 days with no sleep and had learned my required monologues along the way. I was clearly exhausted but the adrenaline had kicked in and I was running on that and excitement. I went into the main office and announced my intentions to enroll. Luckily they took me seriously, (I mentioned that had driven non-stop from Canada to make it in time) and I was granted an audience with the Dean.
I briefly explained my reasons for crashing last minute and told him that I have prepared the required materials and was ready to show him my abilities. He asked me a few questions and I felt myself getting punchy… like someone who was drunk and silly… only in my case it was delirious from lack of sleep. I did a dramatic and a comedic piece back to back and sat back waiting to hear his opinion. He was silent and finally said that I needed to work on my regionalism. Duh, I had no idea what that was… He meant that I gave myself up as Canadian on a few pronunciations but was very good and would be appropriately placed. That meant I was in? Yes, I was in!
Next was a series of announcements in the auditorium explaining the classes and expectations etc. I was running on fumes at this point and concerned about finding a place to stay since there were no camp sites or caravan parks in the vicinity. We were directed to a local hotel that gave students a good rate and were told to meet in the courtyard after announcements and that there were others who were seeking and offering accommodation and we could meet and collaborate.
That’s where I met Deborah. Somehow I seemed surrounded by teenagers that were looking for mommies and I was NOT into serving that function. I met eyes with a girl who looked as panic stricken as I was and we nodded at each other in a moment of clear understanding. In the end we decided that the two of us would be joined by 2 others and the 4 of us rent a place for the 2 month term. I made a lot of friends that summer and will remember many of them, but Deborah is the kind of person you could never forget!
Being an excessive personality with overachiever mentality I had to sign up for the maximum number of electives. I chose fencing, musical theater, improvisation, and auditioning for camera. That on top of the regular course load was ludicrous as I was soon to discover. Just gathering all the required equipment and materials took most of the weekend but our priority was to find accommodation. In the end we rented a one bedroom apartment which we furnished from the contents of my camper van… foam mattresses and lawn chairs, plastic dishes and a cast iron fry pan. The other 3 girls shared the bedroom and I staked out the living room. It was just like Melrose Place, a “U” shaped building, and we were on ground floor with swimming pool right outside our door. We even had a BBQ and shopped for groceries at Trader Joe’s which was conveniently located right next door
The summer rolled by and I was grateful to Deborah for helping me through my musical theater class. Being left handed and dyslexic I found choreography to be impossible and she seemed to have memorized all the moves even though she wasn’t in my class. We spent weekends at the beach running lines and researching our roles and made trips into Hollywood to dance at clubs and hunt for stars. Each of us dreaming of being the next one discovered. Deborah like me was interested in directing. She was mature for her age and serious about her classes. The other girls were there for fun and used their charms to get ahead more than heads.
Since most of the students didn’t have cars, my van soon became the transport for the group. We built a following of regulars and by end of summer were well known by most of the students. I was glad to head home at end of summer, but knew I would miss my new friends and was certain that I would keep in touch with Deborah.
Over the years we exchanged birthday and holiday greetings and Deborah made the trip across the Atlantic to visit me in California several times. We celebrated the coming of the millennium together and shared dreams and hopes for love and career. Even though we lived on separate continents we shared a common goal. We both loved and wanted to make movies. That is the one thing that I have been passionate about for years. I live to make movies. Deborah worked on a few with me plus some shorts and infomercials… but I dream of the day we can make a feature film together in her homeland Italy.
A dream for 15 years...

Finally on the way to my Roman Holiday!

So the other night I was sitting in my shared apartment (temporary housing in the UAE) and feeling very melancholy about being away from family for so long and especially during the holidays… I didn’t think very long or very hard, I went online typed in “Cheap Tickets to Rome” and before I knew it, I had booked a flight to spend Christmas with her. After 15 years of idle promises… I am finally going to visit Deborah in Rome! Bellisimo!

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