“I had never been pushed so hard or so deep than I was by Donato. He had a way of forcing the ugly, the real, the truthful out of me–even when I was terrified of being that vulnerable, he made me do it. I will always take that with me.” ~Tina Parziale
He worked as a floral designer in Yonkers, New York, a skill that served him well as it paid the tuition for a Bachelor of Science aerospace engineering degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He moved to the west coast and the skill helped him find a job at a floral shop in the Bay area of California. When a patron purchased a floral arrangement for an opening night performance at the Civic Arts Repertory in Walnut Creek, California, the young 26 year old designer asked if they needed help backstage. At that moment, the now acclaimed director and teacher Donato D’Albis took his first step to enter the world of theater and he never looked back.
At the Civic Arts Repertory, he rose in the ranks and duties, managing the crew, putting the carpentry skills his father had taught him to good use, and in a number of years became a production manager and then the resident director. He went back to undergraduate school at San Francisco State for directing and worked the Oregon Festival. D’Albis met a young woman named Jane while working in theater. While backstage at a performance he proposed to his beloved while a performer was proposing within the narrative of the story on stage. They are celebrating 29 years together this year.
“Donato has a finely tuned ability to pull honest emotions out of actors that they can translate into powerful performances on stage”- Sean Gilleylen
The desire to work with new playwrights was strong and the Yale Program for Artistic Director (MFA) was an exclusive entry into that world so D’albis applied. As one of only four chosen out of thousands of applicants interviewed for the program, D’Albis attended Yale. The opportunities presented at Yale were extraordinary. D’Albis worked on new pieces, works by emerging playwrights specializing in the concept of realism. “I was very realistic based,” says D’Albis. “I got to work with Athol Fugard and Suzanne Shephard. While Fugard was on stage acting and directing himself, I was taking notes and I’d give them to him later”.
“Donato has a profound sense of the arts. Never before have I worked with someone who picks up on so many tiny nuances about the characters he’s bringing to life. His particular and grand attention to detail is inspiring. Donato has shared his love, experience and passion for the arts with us and in turn has made us better actors because of it.” ~Taylor Crofton
Realistic works appealed to D’Albis; he’s a self-described movie and TV fanatic, especially of the old black and white tv shows. He enjoyed the use of language and the way the actors performed in classic programs like “The Life of Riley”. After Yale D’Albis returned to New York and directed shows at the West bank Café’s Downstairs Theatre Bar which was being run by Lewis Black. D’Albis describes it as a very nice restaurant with a theater in the basement that held about 100 people. He directed many shows for the Ensemble Studio Theater Company in New York City. He was on a bill on a night of one act plays with Frank Gilroy, David Mamet and Shel Silverstein. “It was a rare environment,” says D’Albis.
Throughout his career D’Albis has directed over 200 plays and has thrived in environments when those in the theatrical community collaborated and worked closely together. From the Walnut Creek Civic Arts Repertory to the Oregon Theater Festival to the theater community at Yale to the theaters in NYC, in all of these environments D’Albis saw those in the creative and theatrical communities working together to create their art.
“He has become a father figure for me-Someone who can yell at me, push me, make me laugh, make me cry, and I still love him at the end of the day. He’s tough, there’s no doubt about that, but he has made me a better artist and a better human. He has incredible vision and even if it seems like that vision is beyond what we are capable of, he refuses to sacrifice his vision and instead makes us do the ‘impossible.’-Kailee Donovan
In 2010 in Connecticut, D’Albis discussed theater with a young actor from Cheshire named Chet Ostroski. A young actors program in Cheshire had lost funding and a group of actors wanted to perform but needed guidance. D’Albis recommended Loose Ends, a play by Michael Weller. The young actors began practicing in each other’s backyards and hence, the Backyard Theater Ensemble was born.
Chet Ostroski remembers how D’Albis assisted at that point. “As the rehearsals went on and we got closer to curtain, he offered to come watch and consult on our work thus far. His expertise and the respect he commands were evident the moment he gave us his first directing note,”says Ostroski. “I watched as my friends and fellow actors, for the first time, became enamored and hung on his every word, as I had for so many years before. This was the beginning of the wonderful friendships he would soon create with all of us as he guided, fought and shared in the birth and growth of our little theater company.”
“Donato is a wonderful director who challenges his actors to become more than they ever thought they could be. While playing Georganne, in “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” he helped me come out of my acting shell and find the courage to hit all the emotional highs and lows that this character demanded. It is a pleasure working with Donato to bring his visions to life.”~Abygale Lund
The Backyard Theater Ensemble enjoyed the use of Post University’s theater space before finding a more permanent home at the Thomaston Opera House Black Box Arts Center. Under D’Albis’ direction and guidance the actors grew in maturity and skill and with it, so did their fan base. In 2014 the Backyard Theater Ensemble won (in a tied event) best in show for “Laundry and Bourbon” and D’Albis won best director at the CT Community Theater Association Festival. Later D’Albi directed “Crimes of the Heart” which sold out four nights during the run.
This year the group under D’Albis’ direciton will be performing “Laundry and Bourbon” one more time for the AACT festival, the competition between Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut. Backyard Theater Ensemble and the Warner Stage Company are representing Connecticut. This festival is 2/28/2014. The winner of this show will go on to the National competition in Michigan.
“Donato is so much more than a director to the company. He’s a teacher. And for me, he will always be my friend and mentor. My respect and love for him grow every day.”-Chet Ostroski
D’Albis is a teacher as much as a director and is a highly sought after creative writing consultant throughout Connectict. He has worked with over 30 school systems and his goal for the program has been to help students use their creative energy in schoolwork, especially writing, even when the course work they may usually face is dry and test-taking driven.
In all of his works, D’Albis helps others reach within the vast wellsprings of their own creative energies to surpass their own expectations and achieve artistic success. He is helping to shape the new American voice in the class room and on stage. As a teacher, director, mentor and friend, he is always Donato D’Albis.
Categories: Artist Profiles, Theater, Torrington Stories
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