“This community needs expression,” says Kathleen Saporito (fka Mazzola). “They don’t want to leave here to find it.” So the actor/director/writer is jelling plans to start a theater repertory company, meanwhile teaching adults’ and children’s acting classes locally and seeking independent financing for her newest screenplay.
“I lived here a few months before I realized it’s short of a theater — of a repertory company,” says Saporito.
There’s room for her vision and that of Charles Marowitz and his Malibu Stage Co., she feels. “I love the classics and traditional theater,” she says, “but I’m really looking for new talent.” She is actively seeking producers, writers, directors and actors to build a repertory company. Submissions are open through September. She hopes to select company members by mid-November, commence rehearsals in January and open the productions beginning in March.
“I don’t want it to be experimental or avant-garde because I want people to understand it. But I want it to be new,” she says. “I want to keep it simple, not in its concept but in its presentation.”
Having directed in all techniques, she says, the most exciting theater comes from that which makes the actor vulnerable and unedited.
“I’ve studied a great deal and taken from the masters,” she says, having studied acting on a full scholarship at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, as well as the Meisner method in New York. “And I try to get the actors to be ‘in the moment.’ I don’t take that lightly because the hardest thing for an actor to do is be in the moment.” To Saporito, that oft-used theater phrase means “being open, having your instrument open, and responsive, and reacting to what you see and feel.”
It does not always happen. “A lot of people are lazy,” she says. “Or maybe it’s frightening to be that close to the moment. The homework is different from being in the work. I don’t want to see the entire theater process. I want to see you on the stage.”
One of her screenplays, “an 18th century baroque musical fantasy comedy drama,” is currently in the hands of a potential producer. She plans a staged reading in September, which Francis Ford Coppola and Garry Marshall may attend. “They know enough about my work to come see it,” she says.
Saporito undertook directorial internships in television with Stephen Cannell Productions, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. “I didn’t want to do TV because the pacing was too quick,” she says. “You really have to be a master technician — although I am one — and I wanted to get into the work. The authors I work with always tell me they didn’t know their characters were that deep.”
She teaches acting classes at the Malibu Community Center on Point Dume, for children ages 8 and up (see sidebar) and adults. “With the children,” she says, “I inspire them to use their imaginations. One of the mothers said they never get to think like this. They’re inundated with computers. Imagination is a lost art.” No sooner does she drive into the community center’s parking lot than a child is running towards Saporito’s car to hug her through the open car window.
Saporito feels her success is close by. “I’m just ready for it,” she says. “I’m embracing my art, my expression. I want to encourage the same in other artists.”
The Young and the Rested
Ten girls gather on the stage of the Point Dume Elementary School for their weekly acting class with Kathleen Saporito. She starts them on a relaxation exercise, and they lie on their pillows or rolled-up sweatshirts. She asks them to imagine themselves in a safe, beautiful place. She starts describing an island. “Don’t look at me,” she says gently to the few who want to maintain eye contact. She asks them to imagine the most beautiful color blue.
Their active little bodies begin to quiet, when a newcomer arrives. All rise to check him out, a very handsome, very young male addition to the class.
Saporito quietly continues: “You can do anything you want on this island. I want you to imagine who you are on this island.”
So begins the rudimentary, and essential, basis of good acting — learning how to prepare a character. But for the children, it’s a chance to exercise both logic and imagination.
“Tell me who you are,” urges Saporito. “Do you want to tell me about your family? What do you do on the island? What do you eat?” She begins to ask thought-provoking questions, as good as those of an attorney on cross-examination. One child eats steamed vegetables on the island. “OK, do they have steamers there?” she asks. “Is it a modern island?” One child eats watermelons. “OK, how do you open the watermelon?” “We crack it open,” the actor says. “Great, Sweetie!” Saporito responds.
The actors sing “Happy Birthday” under imagined circumstances. “Sing it to someone you love,” she coaxes. “Were you embarrassed? What were you embarrassed about? How would you sing it to someone very weak in the hospital?” The actor can’t quite decide. “We have to decide,” says Saporito delicately. “We make choices.”
Next, the students catch a ball, at first real, then imagined. “Remember how it feels on your hands.”
Finally, the class breaks into groups for improvisation. One takes place in a cave. “I’m claustrophobic,” says an actor. Saporito is quickly delighted. “Can you use that?” she asks.