Italian Origins

Italian Origins

A blog post by Greg

It seems odd this week to write a blog which is supposed to be about the places we have visited for our travel adventure videos by writing a post about a place which Felicity and I have visited, but in the days before we had decided to make travel videos into a career for ourselves. Despite it falling outside of the travels we have had for our videos, however, today’s blog post will feature Italy, and two very special visits over there made a little over a decade apart – my first trip to Italy in 2007, and my first trip to the country with Felicity made in 2018.

Let me take you back to May 2007. Tech savvy folk were awaiting the release of a newly announced gadget called an ‘iPhone’. A new television show called ‘Big Bang Theory’ had just been commissioned in America. The third Shrek film had its premiere. All this, however, was completely missed by a 21 year old Greg embarking on his first international tour in Italy.

I had previously toured in one ultra low budget pantomime in the winter of 2005, and I had spent a week in the winter of 2006 performing in Lapland. The experience in Lapland had been amazing, the experience with the pantomime decidedly less so. So I’m sure I should have felt nervous when, having applied for a job with a company named ‘Action Theatre in English’, and met the company director Rupert once for an audition in London, that I then found myself in May 2007 arriving in a country where I did not speak the language and was picked up at the airport by a man I had met once, and driven off to his house in the middle of nowhere where the two of us would be living and rehearsing for the next week, and then heading off on tour together around the country.

What is odd to me in a lot of ways is that I have no memories at all of being nervous. From our first emails, and particularly in the first audition, Rupert and I got on, and although I was initially only going out there for five weeks, the conversation and artistic discussions we had in my first week in Italy would be the basis of us working together as I toured Italy on and off for over a decade until my last tour with the company in 2018 (and when I say last tour, who knows! At the moment we can’t commit, between our travels and my shows and Felicity’s fossil tours in the UK, to months of touring in Italy, and they need to have longer tours – but who knows if we’ll be able to tour there again sometime!).

A 21 year old Greg on tour in ‘Here Comes The Train’.

Over the course of that ten years a lot changed with the company and touring for me. The company grew from having just Rupert and I touring every day in a five week season, to me touring almost constantly from mid-October through to mid-June most years, and multiple groups of actors on the road at the same time.

For me, personally, it changed from touring mostly with Rupert, to touring mostly with Rupert and one other actor, to, from October 2008, touring almost exclusively with one man shows. This solo touring was, I thought, the perfect way to tour… until I met Felicity.

Over the course of the decade that I toured with Action Theatre I had the opportunity to see a lot of the north of Italy, learn the language, and also experience more than a few of the difficulties and joys of travelling life.

For example, arriving in Venice for a show only to realise that you have to carry your entire set through the city (with, on that occasion, the assistance of a pregnant teacher and a nun!) trying to wind down narrow streets full of people with large, heavy set pieces without toppling into a canal. On the flip side, the following day one of the parents from the school arrived in a boat to take me back, and I got to experience standing on the bow of a small boat cruising through the canals of Venice and up the Grand Canal – quite an experience which would probably have cost a fair amount to arrange as a tourist!

There was also the time when the steering wheel of the car I was driving suddenly stopped working halfway across a roundabout, and I was lucky that the roads were clear and the exit was right ahead when it went so that I had space to stop the car safely. This left me stuck, and with no way to return to base that night, and unfortunately the only hotel available was a luxury hotel nearby.

I came to learn that there was always a solution to a problem on the road, and, in the words of Douglas Adams:

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

Nothing made this truer than 2013, when because of a major change in the way taxes worked in Italy, I had to reduce the number of weeks I would be touring quite drastically at the last minute. This meant that I suddenly found myself with a lack of work, and took a job at the ‘Isle of Wight Pearl’ shop on the Isle of Wight – where I met the ‘girl next door’ named Felicity… and that was definitely where I needed to be.

I had originally decided to stop touring in Italy at the end of 2016 – my own show commitments were too many for a long tour over there, but then in January 2018 I managed to negotiate a short tour in Italy for a month… with the agreement that Felicity would come along with me to assist on the tour.

Italy, therefore, became both the first country where I toured abroad, and the first country that Felicity and I toured together – and I was very keen to see how she would take to it. We didn’t select our own route or hotels (on the main), so it would be a case of staying in the places that the company had arranged for us (which I was not worried about, as the team at Action Theatre had usually been very good at finding accommodation, and they even went so far as to try to arrange the tour in such a way that our weekends were spent in some of the scenic parts of Italy, such as Lake Garda and Venice).

There is one moment from that tour which will stand out in my mind forever, the moment that I knew that we could travel and tour together (we had started booking our honeymoon in Mexico at this point) and that Felicity would also be able to cope with whatever was thrown at us.

It happened just outside of Cremona, when we were looking for our hotel for a couple of nights. We drove up and down the autostrada trying to find a turnoff which the sat-nav said was there.

Felicity spotted the turning – although it was questionable whether one could really have defined it as a road. We pulled off the autostrada, and started to approach the town in the middle of nowhere. As we looked out the windows of the car, the town looked a little dishevelled, but as we drove into the town it looked abandoned, and like the set of an apocalypse or monster movie.

Houses were collapsed or grown over, shutters and windows were broken. A side road once paved had grown over to the extent that the road had disappeared. Our hotel was somewhere in this.

I looked at Felicity, wondering whether she was going to say that we had to leave immediately, or whether she was prepared to carry on and find out what the hotel itself was like. Then she spoke.

“Can we leave the town…” she said. “And come back in again so that we can film it?”

It was in that moment that I knew we would be fine on tour together. That we would cope with anything that got thrown at us on the road. It spurred us on to create Curios Aquatica (see Felicity’s blog on that here) and was the moment that I could cling to when we were planning everything in our Mexico adventure (which was to become ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’, which you can watch the video for here).

If you would like to see our arrival in the town, watch that here:

It is also why, although the current world situation makes travel more difficult right now, we know that we will be back up and running with more travel adventure videos as soon as it is safe!

Visiting Venice Carnival together in 2018.

For now, thank you for reading, and please take very good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

 

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