Bianca Bulgarelli is a junior Musical Theater and History major from Los Angeles, California. We sat down in a coffee shop to discuss her recent study abroad trip!
L: Where did you go?
I studied in Italy. I went to Rome for 4 days and then we took a train to Arezzo. We took a two day trip to Florence and I also took a day trip through Luca and Pisa. I went from May 13th through June 2nd of the Summer of 2018.
L: Describe your program/ who you went through
I went with the musical theater program and we took the musical theater history class, which is required for my degree. There was one faculty member and a group of less than twenty students and we just studied over there pretty much. In addition to that class, we went to museums and learned nothing to do with musical theater, and it was a great excuse to just study in a beautiful place.
We did study and watch some relevant musicals. We watched A Light in the Piazza, which is set in Florence. A lot of the musical is in Italian and we were quizzed on that. Our quiz for the musical A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum we took in the Forum.
We really got to experience the night life [in Rome] and in Arezzo, we got to experience the smaller city life, and see a lot families, a lot of children, and a lot of dogs. I swear, everyone has their child our and their dog out on a Thursday at 10pm. Night time was socializing time. So many young people would go out and just eat and drink with each other. Eleven and midnight were early there. Food and drink is a way to come together and bond. I feel that that is so valuable in a culture.
Here we drink to get drunk. There you drink for taste and for socializing. I’ve been reading a lot about the loneliness epidemic in this country. For some odd reason we want to be incoherent with friends and drunk with friends and not remember things. It seems as if we don’t value our time spent with friends because of that; we either need our phones or alcohol and we don’t connect with each other. We are constantly trying to distract ourselves, but we already have connections that we could just strengthen.
L: Do you think that’s an American thing?
I haven’t been to a lot of places. I have been to Japan (my cousins are half Japanese) and my Dad is from Costa Rica, so I have experience with those cultures. After travelling to Italy and also experiencing their lifestyle, I honestly think it is. I can’t say for the rest of the world, but in Costa Rica the way they socialize and touch each other — you know how they talk about how no one has personal space there, its’s true: my grandmother did not want me to close my door when I was there. My aunt moved back in with my grandparents and that wasn’t weird it was normal, it was family. But here in America, it would be like “Oh. You’re not an independent lonely adult? What’s wrong with you?”
In Italy, I thought that social media was a generational thing, but I really think now that it’s a North American problem. Here you could walk into a room and everyone is on their phone. But there, I never experienced that. When people talk to each other, they were very expressive and very engaged with whoever they were talking to.
In Japan, I went to a public bath from traditional Japanese culture. Women aren’t timid about their bodies in a women only bath house. In our culture, I feel like there is a stigma around our bodies, platonic physical touch, and connection. Our culture is very sterile. We want to be sterile and fascinating.
L: What art did you interact with during you time in Italy?
We went to the Academia, the Uffizi, the Vatican, the Medici palace, and more, but I can’t remember their names. Actually what’s super interesting right now is I am taking Renaissance Art in Italy for my Western Civ. So all these paintings we are studying now, I saw in person. I remember spending a lot of time looking at the progression of the enthroned Madonna with the Christ child and the transition from Byzantine style (Cimabue) to more Realism and Naturalism (Giotto). And after seeing all of this, I get to come back to Norman and actually make connections that will actually stay in my brain. It makes the class so much more interesting to say that I saw that, I stood in front of that and took it in in real time. It really makes things stick and makes me so grateful for my textbook, knowing that it’s real life and not just a textbook. The guides we had were amazing and I’m so glad I paid attention because now I actually get to write papers on it. There are frescoes that I saw, even in Arezzo, that are in my textbook.
Artists were so valued. They were such a big part of life. With the Medici family and the Strozzi family (which was actually even more influential but no one talks about them), they were the only reason that a lot of this art is around.
We also took commedia classes, which is an Italian drama style with masks and center around archetypes and old comedy. They were taught by a student of commedia who was from the United States. We had groups that developed our own commedia scenes and characters. We rehearsed for a showcase that we put on in the community of Arezzo in a small theater there. It was kinda outside our comfort zones. The physical body is emphasized, and we explored how it is used to build character. Our teacher took us through these exercises and then we went through different archetypes in commedia and then used improv to create and then perfect scenes. If you imagine a really good acting class that was what it was. It was goofy. Commedia is very sex joke oriented, a lot of dirty jokes because it was for the common people and common people weren’t posh. They didn’t care about class so it was just to entertain people and make them laugh. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do as an actor, to just let go. You don’t have any lines, you just have to come up with something. That was hard for me, but it was cool.
L: How would you describe art in relation to the culture of Italy, or the artistic culture itself?
I think that art is embedded in their culture. I don’t think you can separate it out. What I’m learning in my class is that this idea dates all the way back to the 1300s, when artists started becoming valued and commissioned by churches. A lot of the work was didactic for the church so the only way the people who couldn’t read knew what was going on was through the artists. They needed these artists. I think from then on, they still just value art so much and art is everywhere in the city. Even with the architecture. Everything was planned and thought out. We go into the artists’ ideas and motivations behind why they did what they didn’t and its really intention. Those are things that people are looking at every day and honestly all the buildings are just works of art. Art is just in the air.
Whereas here, there’s an extra effort that needs to be made to make something artistic and it’s a little bit less important. Function is prized more over artistry. Function and efficiency.
L: How would you say that the artistic culture affects the people in their daily lives?
I don’t think they are as aware of how beautiful everything is. But even in the way people dress — I think art in their society has influence fashion, not just in Milan fashion week, but just everyday people wanting to express yourself through clothes. I feel like in the United States, unless you’re in LA or New York, you aren’t going to see as much self-expression through clothes– or just people being like “I don’t care I’m just going to wear this because it’s cool, not because it’s the trendiest thing.” I didn’t see one trend there. There was a lot of individuality and that’s probably influenced by the art they see around them all the time.
L: How would you describe the US culture in relation to art/ the artistic culture itself?
Here it is kinda separated. Either you’re rich enough to be part of the art culture and experience art and have taste of you’re not and then it’s not cool to want to go to museums. I’ve been to a lot of museums because my mom loves it, and I hated it as a kid, but now I’ve grown to love it. I feel like art is like “Here is a museum, That’s where you can find art.”
We’re a new country. In antiquity, people didn’t seem to be as invested in that. There are gems here and there, but in Italy it was overwhelming with the amount of detail and embellishment in every single building. I think, when this culture was founded, we just weren’t concerned with that at all. To my understanding artists were never valued like they were in Italy, not even for the church. Puritans didn’t value art at all, I think they actually hated art and dancing. That’s where our country grew up from. So it’s not surprising that we don’t value it enough. There’s a small community of people that are art lovers, but they are usually more wealthy. I like modern art and I like contemporary art, but I don’t think they compare to the historical values that some of these masterpieces have and the significance of the artists behind them. They are so important. They have very different roots from us.
How would say that affects how we live our day to day lives?
As I said before, we value function and efficiency over everything else. If you look at the way we live, we want to be the most productive versions of ourselves but I don’t think we need to be the most efficient versions to be great humans. We are more concerned about productivity than happiness. There’s a certain kind of shame that we pride ourselves on when we’re not 100% productive and that’s part of our culture. I don’t know if art… Art is something that you have to just stand and take in. You need time to just view it and not do anything. We don’t like just resting and looking at something. We get bored or our attention spans aren’t long enough, that’s why we have social media. Our country is just not that old and we don’t come from the same roots.
L: What do you do as an artist here and how would you say your experiences have affected you here and now?
I am a musical theater and history major. A lot of what I do is performance based. I am singing and dancing every day, constantly trying to improve technique but also my artistry and remembering that I have something to say through these skills. Going to Italy fueled more of the history major in me, the intellectual, the art lover, and the traveler in me. It fueled me as an individual rather than me as a performer which was very much needed because here it’s 24/7 nonstop perform perform perform. It was nice to just be a person taking in the world. It reminded me of how much more there is beyond musical theater. This is a bubble and we get so focused and we are so hard on ourselves if we mess up one. This year , I am way less hard on myself and I think it’s because of this trip. I realize that I am just a human who wants to travel and see the world and experience art and joy. I don’t want to be a musical theater robot. I do care about my career and my work, but there’s so much more to life. I love learning about art, how art relates to things that have happened in history. I am going to go to New York city, and even if I don’t perform, I know that I want to be there, which is really comforting. I know, no matter what, I’m going to go to the right place, at least. I can write, I can do other things. I don’t have to put all my value on how casting directors see me because I know there’s so much more to my brain. The trip reminded me of that and I think that was the biggest take away.