AIR Teaching Artist Gemma Soldati (she/her) shares about her favorite AIR memory, how working with teens has impacted her creative practice, and being silly.
What is your background in the arts?
I was in a play in kindergarten in Dover and I remember my dad came to see it. He was like, “Woah, you’re really good.” When I was a kid I didn’t know there was such a thing as what I’m doing now. I wanted to be an actress because that’s all there was. Now that I’m older most of my experience has been in comedy, even though at some point maybe I’ll do stuff that’s not funny. I do a lot of physical comedy like clown, improv, performance art, and experimental theater.
What drew you to comedy?
I’m a baby in my family. I think being the youngest… you’re coming in on a scene where everyone’s already established. Pretty much everyone in my family is very funny and I think humor became the way that I was able to get a word in. That if I could make people laugh then they would listen to me. I always loved to laugh, so I really looked up to funny people.
What inspires your art?
I’m inspired by a lot of different things. Definitely my own life, things that have happened to me in my life, and parts of who I am. I also think I’m inspired by other art forms. Music is very inspiring to me and visual art will also be very inspiring. In some ways I think of my art as the way dreams work. You go to sleep and everything synthesizes in your brain into an image that you’re experiencing. I think about my shows where it’s a bunch of feelings and thoughts and ideas I’ve had and they become synthesized into an hour long experience.
How did you get involved with AIR?
I moved home from LA in 2019 and I was looking for something to do. I had been teaching out there for adults. My brother was on the board of AIR and he was like, “oh this would be a perfect fit for you.” The first thing I did was after I had made my show Sleepyhead. The theater I was working with NHTP connected me with AIR so that we could show my show to the teens and have a workshop. That went really well and was super fun! From there I taught a program with caitlin little and that was a blast. And then I taught a comedy class and I loved it. I’ll be doing Class Clown Class in April, which I’m very excited about.
Have you taught outside of AIR?
I used to teach in LA for a school called the Idiot Workshop that was sort of a blend of clown, improv, and performance art for adults. Also Prescott Park where I did a youth program which was really fun. Kids still play games, so it’s not as far of a reach to get them to engage in play as it is with adults. Sometimes it’s more fun than adults because they’re not hemming and hawing about having to be silly.
Do you have a favorite AIR memory?
Yes absolutely! During Funny Camp it was very clear that all the teens had very different skill sets and choices and styles. I wanted them to be able to express themselves freely, so I said, “Let’s do an open mic!” And they were like, “Okay!” Some of them asked me before, “Is it okay if I do this?” or “Is it okay if I do that?” I said, “Do whatever you want!” And one of these teens got up and sang. I got goosebumps. It was one of those moments where I felt that I was witnessing this teen sort of realize something- maybe they already knew this- but to put it out there in front of everyone and to see how we responded. It was very moving to be able to give that teen an opportunity to express that part of themself in a safe environment, but also to realize that they may have something inside of them that they can continue to share. Imagine if no one had ever asked that teen to sing. The world would miss out on that!
There were a lot of teens who came up to me at the end that were like, “Gemma, I want to be a stand-up comedian. Do you think that I could do that? Do you think I could be?” And I was like, “Absolutely! There’s absolutely no reason that you can’t do that.”
What advice would you give teens?
My advice is:
- Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do anything.
- The concept of competition is inherently anti-creative. The most important thing is figuring out who you are!
- Have fun!
How has working at AIR impacted your own creative practice?
I think AIR has been a really good experience for me to understand how every individual’s unique situation, whether it’s psychological or socioeconomic, is impacting how they come to work as a student. It’s also made me think of how a lot of my shows are very interactive and it takes a lot of sensitivity to be good with an audience. You’re going to ask a lot of your audience, but you also don’t want to put too much on them and alienate them. It’s a delicate balance. That doesn’t mean they can’t play or they can’t be engaged with, but it’s about how you find the right way to engage with those people so that they can come on board.
Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
When I came home and Emmett told me about Arts In Reach I was a little bit jealous because I couldn’t go to Arts In Reach when I was a kid. This would have fundamentally changed my understanding of everything. This isn’t very common, where whatever the teens need you’re going to support them. I don’t know anywhere else that’s like that.
There’s certain teens where I’m sure they don’t even know about what’s out there. All this work they’ve been doing with AIR and all the things they’ve learned about themselves is a really valid thing to explore. If any teen needed help I would be more than willing to support that. Like that teen that sang? Berklee, hello!