Just a little over a year ago I was introduced to Maria Riboli when she directed Panic at the Riverside Motel, written by John Pastore. When Full Spectrum Theatre Company's Suzie Cho (Artistic Director) and Ashley Ford (Associate Artistic Director) reached out to me about doing a new interview with Maria about directing the David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winning play the Rabbit Hole, I treaded into the darkness to get the inside scoop on this production which will be presented from October 7-24 at The Davenport Theatre in NYC (354 West 45th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
"Becca" and "Howie Corbett" have everything a family could want, until a life-shattering accident turns their world upside down and leaves the couple drifting perilously apart. Rabbit Hole charts their bittersweet search for comfort in the darkest of places and for a path that will lead them back into the light of day.
Full Spectrum Theatre Company is committed to diversity on stage. By presenting every day American characters with an integrated cast, we believe our audiences will not only see people of color, they will also see characters who are easily relatable through the common experiences of family dynamics, friendships, and growing pains. The full spectrum of racial and ethnic diversity also encompasses the full spectrum of the human experience, and it is through these experiences that we are united.
1. This October you are directing David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole at Full Spectrum Theatre Company. What made you want to direct this show? I love this play, I had read it in the past and it struck a chord with me. It felt so real and raw and I’ve always been very interested in telling "relationship" stories, from family dynamics, to romantic connections. I’m interested in the human bond and this play was just the perfect material for me to bring to life and tell a story from a real point of view. I always want the audience to feel like they are watching through a window. I’m a very cinematic director, even when I do theater. For me it’s important to recreate a reality, to be sure that everyone in the audience will walk away connecting to someone on stage, recognizing themselves.
2. What is about Full Spectrum Theatre Company that made you want to be part of their season? I was so honored that they asked me to direct this production for them. I’ve known Suzie Cho, the Artistic Director, for over 17 years now and when she told me about her company I was blown away. Suzie together with Ashley Ford, the Associate Artistic Director, are truly revolutionizing the theater as we know it. Their mission is to bring diversity on stage with racially integrated casting, they "believe audiences will not only see people of color, they will also see characters who are easily relatable through the common experiences of family dynamics, friendships, and growing pains." I find all this extremely inspiring. We live in a very powerful moment where new barriers are coming down and I strongly believe Full Spectrum is bringing a very important (and very needed) voice to the theater world. I’m truly honored that they asked me to direct Rabbit Hole. Suzie Cho and Ashley Ford are a force to be reckoned with and it’s inspiring to be walking next to them right now.
3. What excites you the most about working with this cast? Their commitment and their hard work are inspiring to me. From the first day of rehearsal I just couldn’t get enough of them! I love being with them, working and creating. They are all extremely talented actors who are bringing to life characters who are deep and touching. Suzie Cho (Becca) has created such a beautiful character, with so much dignity, her "Becca" is colored with so many different layers, very moving and so powerful. She makes me laugh out loud and cry all at the same time, in every rehearsal. Ashley Ford (Izzy) has a beautiful energy, she’s so vibrant and real and has found a sarcastic side of "Izzy" that I adore. She has worked so hard and went so deep creating her character and I catch myself smiling with pride while I watch her on stage! Amar Srivastava (Howie) has been just a pure joy to work with. He’s such a hard working actor! His performance is heartfelt, there’s a sweetness that he brings that is very touching. His relationship with "Becca" (Suzie Cho) is beautiful to watch. Rebecca Smith (Nat) has such a strong presence on stage, she captivates me. You can’t take your eyes off of her. She’s so committed and true to her character. I love her sense of humor and sensitivity both on stage and off! Justin Hsu (Jason) is heartwarming. He’s been working so hard on all the details and to see it all come together is pure joy for me. He has a deep understanding of his character and the layers he created are very touching. They all inspire me and I couldn’t be more proud of this fantastic cast!
4. Rabbit Hole is about finding comfort in the darkest of places or figuring out how to get back to the light of day. When has there been time in your life where the darkness surrounded you more than the light? How did you find your way back? There have been a few times where I found myself in a dark spot, and every time I reacted differently. That’s also something I’m interested in showing with this play, the fact that we all react in a different way, and that’s ok! There’s no "right" way. We are all trying the best we can, with what we have.
Personally, through my darkest times, I’ve learned that the only way out of that pain was to go through it. I knew that I had to feel it and walk right in it, it was going to be the only way for me to come out of it. As they say "If you’re going through hell…keep going." The pain never goes away, but as "Nat" in Rabbit Hole says, "It changes." And if you are brave enough to face it, you will come out the other side a stronger person.
5. In addition to directing, you are also an actress. What do you get from directing that you do not get from acting? Directing is such a complete experience for me. I love being able to create every single aspect of a story. I love being involved in all details. After I read a script I usually know if I want to direct it or act in it. If I "see" the whole picture I know I need to direct it, if I feel the emotional connection with a character I know I need to be in it. And sometimes it’s both, like with my latest short film Locked in You that I directed, produced and starred in. It truly was a tour de force, but I loved every moment of it. And it’s exciting right now to see it hitting the festival circuits out there.
6. What do you like about working in theatre over working in film? I’m a rehearse-aholic (just ask the cast hehehe). I love being in the rehearsal room for hours creating. I keep getting inspired, I keep finding new things. I also love the feel of a live audience, there’s nothing like it. And that magic that you have in the few seconds the house lights go down and the chit chatting of the audience dies out and you know you’re about to step into a parallel universe for a few hours…there’s something magical in the theater.
8. What have you learned about yourself from directing/acting? Everything. Truly. Some characters showed me sides of myself I had forgotten. They taught me new things, they showed me things about myself I didn’t know. I’m in a moment in my life where I can honestly say I know who I am and what I want. I stand strong in the person I am. I think it’s important. As actors we are a collage of so many different lives. If you don’t know who you are, you get lost in this business.
From directing I’ve learned that I’m truly a perfectionist, and that is ok to be one! I make sure everything is as perfect as it can be. Right now for Rabbit Hole we have so many props and every single one has a meaning. I want the actors to walk on stage and find themselves at home. If they look at their library, the books on the shelves have to make sense, there can’t just be "any books." This excites me. To be able to create this world.
9. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I wish I could have a healing power. Every time I see pain I wish I could take it away…then again flying and being able to transform into anything I want would be pretty cool too ;)…and let’s not even get me started on the outfit I’d wear ;)
10. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? I have to say the only thing I drink is Jack and Coke so maybe I could rename that "Jack & Mary" (also because my cat’s name is Jack) hehehe…but if I would have to create a brand new one, I think I would like something tropical, some rum, pineapple, coconut, a splash of lime, a pinch of sexiness, a sprinkle of magic and a whole lot of love…and it would be called "Straight till morning."
Maria Riboli has been active in the acting world since the age of 6; First as an actress then jumping into the director seat as well. She directed, acted and produced numerous plays both in Europe and in the United States.
In 2007 she directed, produced and acted in BAAAHHH!!! The play was accepted at the FringeNYC, then the run continued at the Payan Theater and in 2008 she was able to bring it to London at the historic Pleasance Theater. In November 2012 she once again produced, directed and starred in Want & Need, an acclaimed love story from a guy point of view. The show had a sold out run in the heart of NYC (StageII Theater). Maria followed that success with another sold out run. She directed Family of Strangers by John Pastore, in March 2013. During the same time, Maria also directed the webseries Catch-30. In June 2013 Maria directed the video portion of the Off-Broadway show Tesla directed by Sanja Bestic. January 2014, Maria directed an Off-Broadway dark comedy, Panic at the Riverside Motel written by John Pastore, once again a sold out run. In December 2014 she once again directed, produced and starred in the short film Locked in You (www.lockedinyou.com) that is now hitting the festival circuits all around the world. In April 2015 she directed and produced the short film Meet me Here (www.meetmeherethemovie.com) by Kirsten Russell, now in post-production. 2015 is going to be a busy year for her, with two more short films to direct and produce.
Maria is also an acting coach, a voice over artist and the spokesperson for the world-renowned beauty brand Borghese.