A Little Spoleto Magic

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gregg Mozgala

ONE OF THE WAYS that Spoleto will be observing what would be the 100th birthday of Gian Carlo Menotti, the festival’s founder, is by presenting one of his operas, The Medium, at the Dock Street Theatre. First performed in 1946, it is the story of a phony psychic who claims to contact the dead children of unsuspecting parents desperate to be close to their dearly departed. Mme Flora’s daughter and mute adopted son help her pull off the shenanigans until she herself is touched by the great unknown around the neck, which causes her to unravel and ultimately commit a horrendous act—not to ruin the ending for those of you who might go.

I was recently one of several much more talented faculty members in theatre, music, and art who led the Spoleto class for the College of Charleston Maymester to 120 somewhat interested students. The class was an introduction to the arts through the Festival and began 30 years ago when then professor and composer in residence, David Maves, began the class as a way to share his experience of the Festival and a way for Spoleto to form a relationship with the College of Charleston that it continues to have today as many venues on campus are used for performers during the 2 week festival. One of his early assignments was to crash a post-performance party and interview an artist, singer, or dancer which resulted in some pretty juicy stuff.

So part of my in-class job was to interview a few performers for the students to learn about the real life stories and talent that they were learning about. One such performer was actor Gregg Mozgala who was appearing as Toby, the mute street urchin in the The Medium. As I researched Mr. Mozgala, an extraordinary story began to unfold.

For 31 years, Gregg has had Cerebral Palsy. The actor worked with various companies and received some acclaim even as Shakespeare’s Romeo, but it wasn’t until he met the choreographer Tamar Rogoff who wanted to train him as a dancer and create a work especially for him. After grueling months of work which tried to re-direct the brains communication to the body and change body parts that had never been receptive to change, change began to happen.  Doctors had said Mozgala would be in a wheel chair by the time he was 40; now he had new hope that he could control his fate. So then came his performance based on Nijinsky’s Faun and called “Diagnosis of a Faun” (click to learn more).

So back to The Medium, which I attended in dress rehearsal, where Gregg does an excellent job and takes his actor-turned-dancer self into a mute character in an opera to an even deeper place that responds with such vulnerability and intelligence that you can’t help but conceive of the story without him. The production as a whole is hauntingly intriguing and beautiful to listen to. I  recommend it to both novice and seasoned opera goers. LET THE FESTIVAL BEGIN!


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It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
~ Johann Goethe