Susan Bertoia is a force of a nature. She is energetic, enthusiastic and very passionate about her work as a theatre artist. Susan is also the artistic director of the Vancouver theatre production company BellaLuna.
“My life is incredibly busy. I struggle to find time to do everything; there are not enough hours in the day. I have three young children whom I love to spend time with. I am in awe of women who can put their careers on hold and be a mother full-time. I feel insane at times!” says Susan and laughs.
Susan has been in the theatre industry for 20 years, and she won a Jessie Richardson Award in 2011 for outstanding performance by an actress in the lead role as Maria in the play “Mambo Italiano.”
“I was thrilled to win a Jessie. There were so many talented actresses in my category. I had planned what to say if I would win, but as soon as I got on stage I drew a blank. I was pretty excited and maybe a bit nervous, so I decided to just thank my husband, children and parents, and gracefully get off the stage as quickly as possible” says Susan and shakes her head.
“Winning a Jessie Award was such an honour and privilege, but it did not change my life in any way. I still have to audition for roles.” Susan’s life revolves around theatre, and BellaLuna Productions emerged in 1998. “We were getting repeated requests from the Italian community to put on various plays, so we decided to form a production company. The core members are long-time friends Stefano Giulianett, Marco Soriano and Aaron Freschi.” BellaLuna’s biggest production so far was Futuristi, a theatrical celebration of Futurism – the influential avant-garde art movement in Italy of the early 1900s. The play performed at UBC in 2007 and 2008.
“As much as I love theatre, it is important to find a healthy balance in life. I used to be very passionate about work, but now family is just as important to me,” smiles Susan as she proudly shows me pictures of her beautiful children. “My daughter asked me today where I was going, and when I told her that I would be interviewed she looked at me with big eyes and said “Mom, you’re famous now!” Susan laughs heartily. “Famous! She is so sweet and funny. I am just a struggling theatre artist constantly looking for the next project ” says Susan humbly.
Susan is very down to earth, and has a very realistic outlook on life and her work. “I always wanted to work in theatre, ever since I was a small child. No one else in my family works in theatre, but we are a creative family. My parents are proud of me and have always been very supportive” says Susan. The Bertoia family moved to Canada from Friuli, Italy, in the 1960s; Susan’s parents spoke Friulan to their children. “I used to think Friulan was a dialect, but it is actually a language. I will speak some Friulan in BellaLuna’s next project; the play Fresco.”
“I feel very grateful to the Italian community, including the Italian Culture Centre, who have always been so supportive of my work. It is very important to have my Italian heritage to draw upon for authenticity when acting in Fresco,” says Susan. The Italian Culture Centre received a government grant and commissioned BellaLuna to produce a play about Vancouver Italians during World War II. Lucia Frangione wrote the play in collaboration with the BellaLuna Ensemble.
Canada’s federal government invoked the War Measures Act in June 1940 after Italian Fascist Prime Minister Benito Mussolini joined forces with Nazi Germany, which meant that Italy was at war with Canada. The act led to the internment of 44 Italian Canadian men in Vancouver. They were taken to camps in Alberta and Ontario.
“Fresco showcases this time of confusion and fear through the eyes of Rosina, a Vancouver girl living in present day. Rosina, who carries a secret of her own, starts researching the history of her family and discovers that her grandfather was one of the people detained. We were very careful to take a professional approach to the project, and to show in a human way how these events affected people and communities in general, not only Italians,” explains Susan.
“A lot of sweat, blood and tears have gone into this massive production. I am working as a theatre project manager, artistic director, producer, creator and actor. BellaLuna has done a lot of research regarding the social and political aspects of these events. It has been a very exciting project, and we are very curious to see what kind of receptionFresco will receive when it premiers in Vancouver in late March. We hope to take Fresco on tour around BC next year,” says Susan.
Fresco will be performed at the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby March 21 to 24 and at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre in Vancouver March 28 to 31.
Carina Clark is a freelance writer in Vancouver. She worked as a reporter in Scandinavia before moving to Canada. She works at Emily Carr University and writes regularly for the Vancouver Observer. Her personal blog is at http://howcivilized.wordpress.com/