DARIEN — From a young age, theater and the arts have interested Maria Pizzarello, Darien Arts Center’s new theater program director.
Pizzarello, a 36-year-old Stamford resident, first got involved in the arts when, at 8 years old, her mother enrolled her in a children’s theater program in New York City where she was raised. She said she was immediately drawn to theater.
“I think it was the connection you make to your fellow performers and the whole ensemble,” she said. “The working together to create was something, even from the young age of 8, I felt and understood. Perhaps not so clearly, but the feeling was there.”
She became involved with the Darien Arts Center through Open Arts Alliance, a nonprofit professional theater company that specializes in arts education.
For the fall, Pizzarello already has a lot planned at the center, including a program called Audition Workout for Darien high school students starting Sept. 26.
Students can be exposed to a variety of performance styles in high school, she said, from singing to classical monologue and contemporary. Pizzarello hopes the workshop will help diversify their skills.
“This workout is going to give them the tools necessary to put on whatever performance they want to,” she said. “It’s going to give them the confidence to be themselves in that space.”
Pizzarello also has a two-hour playwriting class for adults on Thursday nights, starting Sept. 20. The class is for people who have experience in writing, or others with ideas but unsure where to start.
“Hopefully everyone gets a nice glass of wine together afterward and build a nice community through creativity,” Pizzarello said.
For middle school students, there will be a 10-week workshop called Middle School Theater Makers, starting Sept. 11. The program will take place Tuesday afternoons and will have students designing and creating their own play.
Pizzarello describes theater as a collaborative art. The story, the element of design and even what characters wear help inform the audience.
“It’s not all about the actors,” she said. “You’re actually combining a lot of the art forms.”
Set design, whether music is in a story or not, can all be an important parts of the theater, she said. In addition to acting, Pizzarello has written and directed plays.
“I found that in the arts you end up wearing many hats,” she said. “I would consider myself an actor. However directing, teaching and writing makes me a better actor.”
As an actor who has written plays, Pizzarello said she can communicate better with a playwright, and understanding the process of storytelling also complements her acting ability.
When working on a play, she draws on the connection with her scene partner for more powerful storytelling.
“That’s the great thing about theater is its automatic friends,” she said. “I truly believe you’re only as good as your scene partner.”
In addition to the multiple hats she wears in theater, Pizzarello has spent time teaching arts to the youth.
Several programs she has worked with in the past include the Theatre Development Fund, Theatre For A New Audience and Periwinkle Theatre for Youth.
“Something that fed me creatively was working with young people in theater,” Pizzarello said. “That was also how I got to test out those other muscles — directing, playwriting.”
The arts can be a teaching tool because it teaches empathy, she said.
“There are many lessons you can get from the arts,” Pizzarello said.
Pizzarello said she came to Darien while exploring the Fairfield County arts scene.
“Fairfield County is known so much for its athletics and its beautiful parks,” she said. “But when you actually go and look for the arts, there is so much happening.”
She said she wants the Darien Arts Center to be a location for the community to use its creative muscles.
“I’m hoping the Darien Arts Center becomes a community destination, not just for people who want to make a career in the arts,” she said. “This should be a place for people to come experience great art. Everyone has a creative muscle.”