Cecilia Gragnani talks about bringing DIARY OF AN EXPAT to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I trained in Italy as an actress and singer while getting a degree in Modern Literature. I’ve always been very curious and interested in traveling, I lived one year in Paris and used to spend many summers abroad. London has always been a point of reference for theatre so I auditioned to train in a London drama school and moved here in 2008. I think that having a varied background in different styles and schools of thoughts (in Italy I studied Grotowski and clowning, as well as jazz music) has helped me to be very open as a performer.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Diary of an Expat is a solo show that tells the comic story of the clash between a European migrant and London – a place where more and more young people come to searching for a more fulfilling future.
It’s based on real testimonies and my personal experience. With Katharina (Reinthaller), my director, we try and shed a light on what it feels like to move to a new country, what’s the relationship between your country of origin and the one you choose, the emotional weight of becoming a citizen of another country, especially in a moment when after Brexit you don’t feel welcomed.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
It’s been a long and slow development. I started researching and writing the show, then Brexit happened and sort of gave an urgency to it all. We had to tell this story, to bring people together and show the love and hard work that most of us have put into this country that we have chosen as our home.
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
I’ve only been a visitor until now and it can be quite overwhelming given the amount of offer there is. I would say to go with your instincts and see what attracts you even if you’re not really sure what the show is about. Images and posters will be a great clue. And be nice to performers who flyer, please. Oh, most importantly, for a memorable experience you have to come to Underbelly Cowgate to see my show…
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I was on tour with a show in Italy, we went to the most amazing theatres and I was playing a chanteuse inspired by Marlene Dietrich. I had a beautiful red dress with gloves, high heels, and there was a very dramatic moment where I sing “Youkali”, a beautiful Kurt Weil song. For that song the director wanted me to sit on a specific spot of the raised stage. We were in Mantova that has a gorgeous teatro all’italiana, just stunning, a full house (832 people). Our tech guys put a long strip of tape on one of the sides of the stage to cover an empty bit that didn’t look good. That strip was exactly where I sat to sing my song and, at the end of it, when I got up with beautiful atmospheric lights, great music, the tape decided to stick to my dress so I carried it with me while crossing the stage towards the piano. I only realised when the audience started laughing, a moment in the show when you really shouldn’t laugh. Like a pro, I carried on pretending nothing had happened and once I reached the piano I elegantly (that’s what I like to think) took it off my dress.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
There’s many, in different areas. If we talk about theatre I love Emma Rice’s work, the freedom and joy that her shows exude.
I also love the new season of the Young Vic, I think it will be very interesting. I love spaces like the Bush and BAC, to name just a few. I love actresses like Kathryn Hunter and Maria Cassi (a fantastic Italian performer that hopefully will come to London son), writers like Dennis Kelly, Peter Brook is and always will be a big reference. There’s many many people whose work inspires me constantly.
Usually what attracts me to these artists is their freedom and honestly and playfulness in their shows.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I like to do crosswords because it keeps me alert and ready. I read that Anna Magnani used to do it so I’m more than happy to copy her at least in the preparation. I also try and do a warm up and take a few moments to myself, mostly to focus and remember to have fun.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
There’s a lot of great solo shows with women at the Fringe this year, I can’t wait to see them all, many of them will be at Underbelly Cowgate. I’m also a fan of Kill the Beast so I can’t wait to see their new show, I can’t wait to see Ginzilla, what a voice… I’d love to see Elevyn Mok, a comedian I really like, friends’ shows as well. I’ve also read that there’s a few interesting projects about Brexit, I’m looking forward to those too.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
It’s funny, short, there’s some nice little surprises and it deals with something that is affecting us deeply. Not only in the UK but in many places in the world now immigration has become a curse and immigrants – whether they’re refugees or economic migrants – are blamed as the problem in many societies. We need to be curious and try to understand what their lives are like, why we can’t just make them responsible for every evil and connect with them rather than push them away.
Diary of an Expat
Underbelly Cowgate (Belly Laugh), 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX
Thursday 2nd – Sunday 26th August 2018 (not 13th), 13:00
Twitter: @paper_smokers, @thececiliag, @KReinthaller, @followthecow, #diaryofanexpat