Creating culture

NYU Florence brings creativity to life

Alexandra Lawrence
June 12, 2008

Have you ever longed to spend warm summer nights lounging in the garden of a world-renowned Tuscan villa overlooking the city of Florence? Have you dreamed of enjoying jazz under the stars in an Oltrarno piazza? Or watching Shakespeare in a Renaissance cloister? How about spending a month among some of the world's best talent in music, theatre, literature and social thought?

The Season at New York University's Villa La Pietra allows you to do all of this and more. Now in its fourth year, this exciting cultural program brings together artists and public intellectuals from different disciplines to create and present new works-all against the backdrop of the city of Florence. The star of the show is the Villa La Pietra gardens, nestled on the picturesque via Bolognese, just 10 minutes from the center of town.


One step inside and visitors are greeted with stunning panoramas that fuse with Roman statues and carefully tended flora to create a truly magnificent space. Designed by the Acton family in the early twentieth century, the Renaissance revival garden was considered a natural extension of the house-an outdoor living room, a place for the family to gather with friends for discussion, events and enjoyment.


It was with this idea in mind that NYU conceived of the Season, a rich summer program that combines drama, music, film and writing. Artists and intellectuals from NYU-graduate students and renowned scholars alike-gather for a month of collaboration and inspiration in Florence to create new works. Prominent artists, writers and directors like E.L. Doctorow, Furio Cerutti, Amos Poe and Nanni Moretti team up with top-level graduate students to discuss, improvise, write and create.


The success of the innovative project is exemplified in the Season's 2007 production of The Tempest. This extraordinary production grew out of an intensive three-week workshop last summer, when three professional actors (all veterans of the NYU Tisch School's graduate program), a director and other members of the creative team convened at Villa La Pietra. The troupe revised Shakespeare's play into a sort of primordial Commedia dell'arte, with the three actors playing all 11 parts. Originally intended for a single night's performance in the Limonaia, the production proved so exciting that the troupe decided to perform a special reprise in New York's legendary Angel Orensanz Foundation, the city's oldest synagogue. Now returning to Florence, the original troupe will perform in the cloister of the church of Santo Spirito before flying back to New York for a two-week run at New York City's Classic Stage Company.


This is the kind of collaboration and creativity that the program sparks each year. Touching on wide-ranging themes from climate control to jazz to Shakespeare, the Season brings together the brightest contemporary minds to discuss, collaborate, create and produce. Yet the most exciting aspect of the Season is that the public can participate in the creative process. ‘We see the program as a way for the villa to interact with its surroundings and with the people of Florence. We are essentially opening the villa's "living room" to the public', said Ellyn Toscano, director of Villa La Pietra & Global Initiatives, New York University. ‘It is a rare and exciting opportunity for residents and visitors to Florence to take part in the shaping of contemporary culture'.


Given the intimate nature of many of the venues, reservations are required and can be made by emailing [email protected] or calling 055/5007210.


Friday, June 13 • Starting at 19:30

Music Theater: The Classics on Broadway, a celebration of the beautiful words and music from the golden age of American musical theater, from Kismet to West Side Story, this musical evening will showcase the voices of young singers from NYU Steinhardt School's Program in Vocal Performance and visiting artists from across the United States and Ireland.


Saturday, June 14 • Starting at 19:00

Romeo and Juliet. A three-person cast of professional actors from NYU Tisch School's graduate program takes on this classic tragedy with great physical passion and violent sword play accompanied by music a cappella depicting ancient Verona. The tempo is quick and the changing characters quicker as the world's most famous doomed lovers are played out in this new adaptation of the classic story.


Sunday, 15 June • Starting at 16:30

Three short plays by Don De Lillo, Brian Tucker and Jon Robin Baitz will be performed by three companies of actors, followed by a conversation among writers Lawrence Weschler, Rebecca Solnit and Sue Halpern; writer and activist Bill McKibben; and political philosopher Furio Cerutti. The evening will conclude with cocktails with the writers and actors.


Monday, June 16 • Starting at 18:00

One short play by Lisa Kron, followed by readings by essayists Lawrence Weschler, Rebecca Solnit and Bill McKibben.


Thursday, June 19 • Starting at 18:00

Tarell McCraney, playwright in residence, will host a debut performance of his new work and of other renowned playwrights with three companies of actors in residence.


Wednesday, June 18 • Starting at 18:00

Talk by E.L. Doctorow and readings of new work with Lawrence Weschler and Sue Halpern.


Friday, June 20 • Starting at 19:000

New works followed by an evening of jazz improvisation featuring twelve musicians participating in NYU Steinhardt's Summer Jazz Intensive. Three jazz quartets from around the world will come together to fine tune their craft as creative improvisers. Leading the Summer Jazz Intensive are world-renowned jazz musicians and NYU Jazz Studies faculty members saxophonist George Garzone, pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and NYU Jazz Studies director Dave Schroeder.


Thursday, June 26 • Starting at 20:30

The Tempest. The original troupe from the Season will perform its innovative take on Shakespeare's play in the cloister of the church of Santo Spirito. Directed by Tisch veteran Jim Calder.


Friday, June 27 • Starting at 19:00

Empire II by Amos Poe at Piazza Santo Spirito. An experimental, underground documentary film about New York City shot entirely from the director's window and balcony. Poe began filming on November 1, 2005, the day he moved in, and ended exactly a year later on October 31, 2006. He then compressed the one year of continuous film without editing out a frame into a three-hour film. The result: a year of New York in three hours. The piazza's cafés and trattorie will participate in the event.


Saturday, June 28 • Starting at 19:00

Big band jazz concert with the Combo Nuvo and strings. Drawing on jazz, blues, classical and world music, Combo Nuvo, the NYU Jazz Studies artists-in-residence ensemble, will join forces with an Italian string section to create new sounds. Members of the group have performed with such artists as Miles Davis, Natalie Cole, Teo Macero, Ravi Shankar, Dave Douglas and Yo-Yo Ma. The NYU Jazz Orchestra, directed by Rich Shemaria, is at the forefront of modern big band music in New York City.


Thursday and Friday, July 10 and 11

Fiesole Film Festival. Nanni Moretti, recipient of the Fiesole Film Festival award, will hold a seminar with a limited number of students and Season guests at Villa La Pietra, during which the Sindacato Nazionale Critici Cinematografici Italiani will present a volume of the complete works of Nanni Moretti. For more information, please visit

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