“There is a lot you can do with just a little.”Maria Müller, founding member of Et Alia Theater
An emerging theatre company in NYC, Et Alia Theater is composed of international womxn seeking to express and unite their culturally diverse backgrounds and feminist lenses through the performing arts. The company was founded by three alumni of the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute – Giorgia Valenti, Ana Moioli, and Isabella Uzcategui – together with fellow artist Maria Müller. Their desire to expand their horizons and engage with the worldwide storytelling scene led each to leave their country and become a global citizen. The group was born from its members’ shared belief in the power of theater to build connections that go beyond nationalities and labels, and their ambition to share new stories with NYC audiences.
In their most recent endeavor, Et Alia Theater staged a production of Running in Place by Hasnain Shaikh at Dixon Place. A true up-and-coming company, Et Alia and their latest project have already been featured in countless publications. Find interviews with the company in the Under the Covers Collective, The Brazilian Times, La Voce di New York, and more! You can even tune in to hear Maria Müller speak on Salon Radio’s International Women Artists’ Salon. We had the chance to sit down with the founding members of Et Alia ourselves to learn about their company, their process, and their recent show:
Q: What inspired you to start a theatre company?
MARIA: At first, we [only] wanted to put up a play. In our search for the “perfect” play, we sat down with each other and realized that we are all interested in different theatre styles, themes and topics. However, what united us was the fact that we were all from different countries and we had different backgrounds and experiences that we were trying to navigate while in the US. We decided not to limit ourselves to only one project. We wanted to talk about a lot of things and share many different stories that the New York audiences haven’t heard before. A theatre company was the perfect way to do that and to also give us a safe space where we could create and take risks.
Q: If you are all interested in different styles, themes, and topics, what led you to Running in Place? Why this play?
MARIA: Because it is a story that we can all relate to in one way or another, because we all felt what the characters are feeling at some point in our lives, because it is a raw representation of a human relationship – with all its beautiful and ugly moments, because it is important and relevant and because it reminds us to slow down a little bit and cherish each moment and every person while they’re still in our lives.
Q: It sounds like an intense play! Actors, can you speak at all about your character or your approach to this material?
GIORGIA: Yes! I absolutely adored playing Rebecca. She was perhaps the first character that I really felt growing on me through the rehearsal process. I have a sense that now I have her in my back pocket and I can bring out this amazing other person whenever I want! From day one of rehearsals, the safe space in the room helped me explore and dig deeper into everything I imagined Rebecca to be. I feel like I had a clear image of who she was from day one, especially knowing the playwright and having talked to him about how he had written Running in Place during a specific time of his life. He really saw himself in the character of Rebecca (initially written as a man). I think the language of the play and the relationship between [Rebecca] and Zoe was really helpful in terms of finding her flaws, her insecurities, her similarities to me, her differences from me, and her loving and soft playfulness.
ANA: It is quite hard to talk about my character without spoiling the show, because there is a very important condition that I can’t expose. In more general terms, it was definitely a challenge to build a character that was half a real person, half an idea. However, it was very easy for me to fall in love with [Zoe], as she is so beautifully committed to her goal of saving her beloved one, Rebecca, and is so smart in her tactics. It was so fulfilling to build this relationship with Giorgia, whom I am so comfortable with. I definitely engaged with all the self-confidence I have and channeled the teacher inside of me. “Don’t play the problem; you have the right answer and you know it”, Isa would tell me almost every rehearsal. It was a lot of fun to embody a character who fights so hard for what she believes in.
MARIA: Yes! I am playing Brea and Penelope and the Mother: three very different characters who affect Rebecca and Zoe’s relationship in various ways. It was a challenge for me to be able to switch between the three, especially when the scenes were back to back and especially because I had no costume change to signal the transition between the characters. I actually really liked Isa’s choice to not have a costume change, because it pushed me to differentiate between the three in the most truthful way possible. With all three, I had the same starting questions: Who is this person? What do they want in this play? How do they affect Zoe and Rebecca’s relationship?
There is a great conflict with each of them. Brea (Zoe’s friend) is in love with Zoe and dislikes Rebecca because she has what Brea wants so badly. At the same time, she can’t really show her antipathy towards Rebecca in front of Zoe, because Zoe loves her so much. Penelope (Rebecca’s sister) is trying to be the father the two of them never had. She is conflicted because she wants Rebecca to get over losing Zoe, but at the same time she wants to be a good sister and offer Rebecca the support she needs in this process. We only see the Mother’s character in the flashbacks of the relationship, where she makes it pretty clear that she doesn’t like Zoe. After their father left the family, the Mother became overprotective with Penelope and Rebecca and has had a hard time accepting their partners since then. It was funny to me to go from being in love with Zoe and disliking Rebecca, to loving Rebecca and wanting to be there for her, to loving Rebecca so much that I disliked Zoe. I had a really great time navigating all of that.
Q: Isabella, what has been your experience directing this piece? How does it differ from other projects you’ve directed?
ISABELLA: The best thing about directing Running in Place has been the collaboration with these incredible artists. It was a different play than anything I’ve done because it is a ghost story, a memory play, and I wanted to play with the dreamy qualities of it. It is also a love story that is very profound and beautifully written. From the beginning, the play was completely embodied by the ladies who took the roles. It was the first time that I was focusing as a director on the intimacy, the unsaid qualities, the details of characters – that was a new way of approaching the directorial process and it was exciting!
Q: So, do you all have a vision for the company moving forward? What other projects do you hope to take on?
MARIA: Absolutely! We want to continue making work and expanding and taking on projects that inspire us and that are relevant. We are interested in work that company members have written, but also new plays and projects generated by people who have seen our work and who want to be part of it. Until the end of the year, we want to organize a reading. At the beginning of next year, we will hopefully do more runs of Running in Place and a full-on production of a new play.
GIORGIA: Yes, we are actually booked at Casa Italiana on the 8th of December for a staged reading of Maria’s new play. We would love to use this event as an opportunity to meet a lot of new artists that have shown interest in our work and who could collaborate with us in the future! Hopefully in January we will have collected enough funds to put up a new full production.
Q: Today’s industry is all about creating your own work and raising your own funds. Can you give any advice to other artists looking to put up their own projects or start their own companies?
GIORGIA: Do it! It’s the best thing. It’s extremely self-fulfilling and driving. I think my best advice would be to find people who you love, share an artistic vision with, and who have different skills from you. Find someone who can’t wait to direct, who adores tech designing etc. Because they will have so much to teach you and will help you with designated tasks that you are not capable of doing. Also, be patient. Sometimes working with friends can be frustrating – but breathe in and remind yourself that you love them for the artists they are. In terms of money: ask for money for Christmas (that’s what I am doing). Host events that will be interesting, not just for you and for your purpose of making money but that can give something to the people you invite. Social media is also an amazing tool! Also, always have a story to tell!
MARIA: My advice would be to surround yourselves with people who inspire you! I cannot stress that enough. Watching my collaborators work is a true force and has helped me develop some of the best projects I’ve been a part of. People who believe in you and understand your vision are crucial in the arts. Another thing would be: there is a lot you can do with just a little. We did not raise any money for our first production! We had the space at Dixon Place for free because we applied for it. Our costumes were taken from our own wardrobes and our props were small investments we made [ourselves]. That is not to say we are not looking to raise money in the future! But we didn’t need it to start. There are a lot of great ways to raise money: fundraising websites, events, etc. You just have to have a strong vision and know how to pitch it!
ANA: Your friends are your most valuable connections. Use them. Don’t only have eyes for the people who are “ahead” of you; gather the people who are on the same boat as you and rise up together. New York is the right city for it. Dixon Place and The Tank are great venues to apply for without having to spend money. Get your journal and transform it into play! Or a screenplay! Reach out to your friends and tell the world what your heart has to say.
ISABELLA: Be respectful, kind, and have an openness to every opportunity that comes your way. Also: go get the no! Always ask for what you want and need, and someday soon you will get many yes-es!
Stay up-to-date with all of Et Alia’s projects on their website!
Meet the Company
Ana Moioli was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She entered the world of acting at a young age, and studied at Casa de Teatro, the Celia Helena Theater School, and the Moscow Art Theatre before coming to New York University. At NYU Tisch, Ana trained at The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, The Experimental Theatre Wing, and Stonestreet Studios. In her three and a half years in NYC, Ana has performed in several Off-Off Broadway productions and independent films. With her number-one-collaborator and fellow Brazilian Guilherme Pedra, Ana has shot several films that have been well received by festivals. Her experience and training has proven that her interests go beyond acting, and she finds herself now as a multidisciplinary artist. Most recently, Ana wrote a play called For The Time Being, which she will act in at the NYWinterfest Festival in January. She has been directing for film, including the self-written short Bridge and Jennifer Whitehead’s It’s Fate. She has found the most important lesson to be that nothing is more rewarding than working with people you love, and that anything is achievable when you’re friends with the right people. For Ana, co-founding Et Alia with some of her dearest collaborators has been a dream-come-true.
Maria Müller started acting at the age of 6. Since then, she has done numerous plays in Romania, her home country. When she moved to the US to pursue acting at NYU, Maria continued her work in the theatre and entered the world of film, both in Romania and the US. At NYU, she trained at Playwrights Horizons Theatre School, Stonestreet Studios, and in the Stanislavsky & Brecht program in Berlin. Since graduating in May, Maria has taken her career in her own hands. She wrote a film called Where Are You From Again, in which she plays the lead, and opened Et Alia with her fellow artists and collaborators. Her other recent credits include Staying Afloat, written and directed by Elizabeth Katz, and Smoking – a short film written and directed by Victor Cioaba that was accepted to the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner in 2017. She starred in Smoking alongside Maria Dragus, a well-known European actress. In the theatre, she starred in Brecht’s Antigone, directed by Brian Eckert. Maria considers herself an actor, a writer, and a producer and strives to make important and relevant work. Her main goal is to never stop moving.She wants to surround myself with artists who she can learn from and who inspire her to go deeper in her work.
Isabella Uzcategui was born in Caracas, Venezuela and was raised in several countries throughout Latin America. She came to the United State to study at NYU and currently lives in New York City. At NYU, she attended the Tisch School of the Arts were she trained at The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, The Classical Studio, and The Experimental Theater Wing. Currently, she is a company member of Theater Mitu. Her work encompasses many artistic practices: particularly as an actor, director, writer and filmmaker. This past year, Isabella made her first short film Mujer, wrote her first theatrical piece Veinticinco, interned for Bryce Dallas Howard, and performed with Theater Mitu in two pieces – one which toured to the MESS Festival in Sarajevo. In founding Et Alia, she is thrilled to be experimenting with theater and the possibilities it gives to frame communities and push the artistic form.
Giorgia Valenti first approach art through dance as a young child in Italy. Soon after discovering her passion for movement, Giorgia moved to Banaglore, India with her family at the age of 10. In Banaglore, she continued to pursue dance and later made her cinematic debut in Teenage, a local Sandalwood movie, at the side of the youngest director in the world: Kishan Shrikant. With more avenues of artistic expression yet to pursue, Giorgia began modeling at the age of 14 and soon began her acting training at The Bangalore School of Speech and Drama. Upon graduation, she moved to New York to study at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Before finding her way to The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, Giorgia studied at Meisner, the Experimental Theatre Wing, and the Commedia dell’Arte program in Florence. Through her studies, she has learned the invaluable lessons of finding courage and taking risks. She seeks to pursue her passion for storytelling through a multitude of forms. Ever inspired by movement and dance, she longs to help the audience feel they are not alone and to explore the complex relationship between home and identity.