Federica Borlenghi: “Make time for yourself”

I dream of starting a movement in which art therapy would be instituted or offered in youth educational programs as well as after school programs. I wish that there was a way of making this happen in an accessible and efficient way. We often learn to suppress and hide our feelings from a very young […]

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I dream of starting a movement in which art therapy would be instituted or offered in youth educational programs as well as after school programs. I wish that there was a way of making this happen in an accessible and efficient way. We often learn to suppress and hide our feelings from a very young age and let memory and time take care of the most difficult ones. As a result, these often manifest later on in our lives in forms of anxiety, depression, toxic and even disruptive behavior. How incredible and how much easier would it be if we were given the chance to receive an education from earlier on on how to deal, process and heal traumas through artistic processes! Mental health it’s so important. What better way of starting to take care of it through creativity?

As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Federica Borlenghi. Federica is an Italian Writer, Director and Creative Producer based in Brooklyn, New York.
She is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of HERE WE GO, Site-Specific Production Company.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me, it is my pleasure! Sure thing. Let’s see… I’d say that it happened thanks to a survival instinct. Since I was a child, I have always felt tremendously lonely. I guess that that’s why I devoted myself to the arts since a very young age. I tried filling that void by practicing various sports, playing music, painting, writing, photography. However, none of these activities never really fulfilled that inadequacy, until I discovered theater. Every time I enter a rehearsal room, that torment disappears.

I started as a performer and eventually became more and more inclined and passionate about directing and producing. I adore the collaborative and community-based aspect of theater, it’s so inspiring! Working in this industry has been helping me so much on a personal level too. Theater pushes me to dedicate time to taking care of myself as much as I am committed to taking care of a team. It also motivates me to nourish focusing on the process rather than the outcome, which was a life changing switch of perspective to me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

A few years back, my computer suddenly crashed and abandoned me in an extremely crucial moment. I had a few important deadlines coming up and — of course — did not backed the memory up in a very long time. I remember storming into the closest apple store to get the first available appointment. After doing so and getting a two hour wait, I upsettingly sat outside, furious. I had spent the past hours commiserating myself and getting desperate about how unfortunate the timing of it all was. Then, a homeless man kindly asked me permission to sit next on the chair right by mine to enjoy the sun. We eventually started talking. First about the weather, then about where we where from. He knew I was European, he said he could tell by my accent. And what I expected to be a bizarre, small talk conversation, turned out to be one of the most meaningful ones I had in my life. His name was Dough. He told me about his life. About how he used to be a chef and live with his beautiful wife, who unfortunately passed away. After losing her, he told me of how he decided to transfer all his money to his only child to go to college and burnt his house. He then started wandering in the street, and kept wandering til that day. Throughout our conversation, I was amazed by how attentively he was paying attention to my words, my reactions, my comments. Sometimes he would get incredibly distracted and would start a new conversation while we were in the middle of a new one, or he would disregard a question of mine by asking one himself. After a few times, I brought it up to him and asked if something was on his mind. It was then, that I found out that Dough was actually deaf. After over an hour and a half. For that entire time, he was reading my lips! He lost his hearing way back and got used to doing so to communicate like that with people. I was amazed by this man! Even though life wasn’t kind to him at all… there he was the kindest, wisest and deepest man I have ever met.

His positivity were — and still are — so moving and inspiring to me. The fact that he was able to take life with such lightness and such optimism gave me such perspective. Suddenly, all of my tantrums seemed so irrelevant, so superfluous. I wanted to approach life like Dough. Careless of circumstances. Light hearted, no matter what. Grateful, no matter what. Open, no matter what. Every time stress and doubts take over, I remind myself of that conversation and instantly find motivation and re-align myself with a positive mindset and attitude.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Right after graduating from college, I got a summer internship at one of my favorite theaters in Brooklyn. The theater was dark for the summer, but there were still a lot of organizational work to do in the theater and several summer events to prepare for. I was so determined to make a good impression, that I would impulsively volunteer to take on any task, even if I often didn’t know where I was supposed to even start from. Well, let me tell you, I do not advice following that impulse, especially when doing carpentering work! After a few embarrassing and borderline dangerous incidents, I eventually got comfortable asking for guidance. This unequivocally taught me how important it is to be humble and honest about your knowledge. By doing so, I immediately gained a much more trustworthy relationship not just with the company, but within myself too!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been curating a virtual initiative through HERE WE GO, a Site Specific Production Company of which I am its Founder and Co-Artistic Director. I was inspired by an idea that a fellow Rising Sun Performance Company Member had. After discussing it with my company, we decided to develop and adapt it to our mission, and we decided to launch our very first online show at the beginning of May: the 24h Zoom Fest. The initiative consisted in a typical 24h Theater festival, in which selected artists are given an exact day to create 10 minutes pieces. We decided to add a twist to it by prompting artists to conceive pieces that are specifically set to be performed on the platform that we were going to use to present the pieces on: Zoom. Incorporating the medium into the narrative ended up being excitingly innovative and helped us and the participants make sense out of making live theater in isolation.The live-stream had such great responses from both the audience and participants that we decided to turn it into a monthly programming that will be happening at the beginning of every month!

In addition to that, a play that I have been developing as a director and producer was officially selected to be part of the inaugural Denver Fringe Festival and will be virtually premiering later in June. Directing online has definitively been challenging, but it’s also been keeping me motivated and artistically active. It’s also a very inspiring piece! It’s a semi-autobiographical one woman show written by my dear friend and collaborator Taylor Cozort, intriguingly titled “the odds are are good but the goods are odd”. It’s an important and powerful story about a post op bariatric journey. You can find more details about it and on how to tune in to the live stream on the Denver Frindge Festival’s website.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

The most interesting people I have interacted with were people like Dough. Strangers that were passengers of my life for the length of a subway stop, a song at a party, a train or plane ride. All those people that profanely took up only a fraction of my life but still managed to impact enormously by genuinely and spontaneously sharing their stories with me. I remember that before deciding to move to the US, I was incredibly torn. I was too scared of making such a big decision and kept going back and forward. Then, I happened to be on vacation in Greece with my family in the summer. On one evening, I was sitting on a beach, listening to music with some friends. I eventually started a casual conversation with a stranger, must have been a friend of a friend, and we both ended up starting to open up about our lives. In within the span of a few minutes, I remember feeling so inspired that I suddenly knew what I wanted to do. To this day, I still have know knowledge nor memory of who this person was and how the conversation exactly went, but I vividly remember the feeling that it left me with.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Make time for yourself. It can be so easy to fall into over-achieving and overwhelming schedules. Always make sure to save some time for your self. Cultivate non-working related habits and relationships, take yourself out on artistic dates and make sure to make time for laziness too! I literally have to schedule time for activities like this and impose myself to respect them. It is mind blowing to me that we are able to push ourselves to such extremes and fill up our schedules until we have water to our necks and no air left to breathe. When I started socially isolating, I initially felt an odd sense of relief: it was finally going to have unlimited time available to do whatever I wanted. As soon as a week went by, my workaholic nature took over and I started freaking out. How is it possible that we push ourselves to such limits? One thing that has been helping me a lot is to have a day of the week and at least one evening in which I try not to schedule anything at all. Building this habit has allowed me to treat down time as a reward and form of taking care of myself without constantly risking of burning out.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

Sleep, sleep, sleep. I used to over schedule my days with rehearsals, meetings, classes and gatherings and then spend as much time as possible up at night working and absorbing content. I functioned on a “I’ll sleep when I am dead” lifestyle and cared way too much about quantity rather than quality. Looking back at it, I don’t even know how! Now that I have a way healthier approach, I don’t even know how I managed to train my body to push through exhaustion so much. Once I made that switch, a whole new world opened up. It was so beneficial on so many levels! Work wise, mentally, physically… it definitively enriched the quality of my relationships too.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Talent is not enough. Being an artist is so much more than making art and be creative. Being an artist is commitment. And a lot of work! On one side, living in a city in which there is such a concentration of artists is extremely exciting. On the other hand, it can be truly overwhelming.I had to come to terms with the fact that most of the people in this city were as passionate and dedicated than I was and oftentimes way more talented than me. Despite the initial discouragement, this became an enormous source of motivation for me and it pushed me to keep myself humbled, motivated and inspired. I realized that commitment to my craft and my process was crucial for me to grow and improve as an artist. I worked with so many artists that relied way too much on their talents. At the beginning, they used to be the most requested and the most admired ones. However, the ones who persisted and devoted their time to improve their practice ended up being the most surprising and revelatory artists — and also the ones who I ended up hiring and wanting by my side over and over again.
  2. Change is opportunity. I used to immediately panic in sight of obstacles and when forced to have to make a change that didn’t align with my plans. I truly wish that I was thought to be less precious and to have an open mind way earlier on in my career. I feel that this should be the number one lesson for any artist, especially theater makers. At the end of the day, the biggest part of my job as a producer and a director is problem solving! I remember that a few years ago, I was self producing and directing one of my first Off Off Broadway productions. Four weeks before the show, one of the lead actors unexpectedly dropped out. I wasted so much time panicking and commiserating myself before I could clear my mind and find a solution. I was only then able to push myself to be extremely adaptable and learnt how to make the best out of the limited time that I had. The flexibility that I gained from this experience has allowed me til this day to approach obstacles as doors rather than dead end streets.
  3. Creating Safe Spaces is not a joke. When I started directing, I was very unexperienced. I started off as a performer and went off of what I thought directing was supposed to be. I used to be obsessed with the idea of having actors deliver incredibly realistic experiences. I therefore approached rehearsals with the intention of establishing real emotional connections between scene partners. Although my intentions weren’t coming from a malicious place, I have to admit that I definitively inadequately pushed boundaries numerous times. It was only after I took a couple workshops on intimacy direction that I realized how troubling my approach was on so many levels. I found myself realizing that if an actor is in actual emotional pain on stage, or legitimately scared, how can that even be considered as acting? That’s real. I recently watched one of the Hollywood Reporter’s Roundtables. In one of those interviews, Penny Jenkins could’ve not explained this better: “As a director, I am not here to bring trauma into people’s lives. I’m here to work with what’s there already”. Shifting perspective and receiving additional intimacy training was incredibly illuminating and it definitively changed me as a director. I now prioritize facilitating the development of healthy relationships between scene partners by exclusively base them on undeniable trust. I find fundamental to find triggers in the text and establish accessible and safe emotional relationships to words instead of pushing actors to access personal traumas and work off of those.
  4. Other artists’ work is as important as your own. I cannot stress this enough! Networking and supporting your colleagues’ work is as important as putting out there your own. I am aware that habitually going to the theater can be extremely inaccessible in NYC. However, there are so many organizations and companies that constantly find ways to make their shows accessible. It is so important to stay inspired and informed on the types of shows and stories that are being told at the moment as well as on who are the people behind them. You have to be familiar with the industry your are in to understand how to navigate it. Additionally, supporting other’s work it’s definitively the best way of expanding your army of collaborators and probably the best method of widening your audience since artists would probably be way more inclined to replicate the gesture.
  5. Make time. Being a multidisciplinary artist can be extremely hectic and chaotic, especially when living in NYC. I remember being in college and constantly complaining about how I could finding the time to do everything. I brought it up in a class and one of the best professors I have ever had, William Cusick, told me that I was never going to find the time. Instead, I had to make it. It might sound very simple, but shifting approach by using this mentality made a huge difference in my life. It is so true that your focus determines your reality!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote must be one that my mother told me pretty recently: Celebrate your creativity.” I am often excessively hard on myself for not being constantly active and motivated, especially in the current unprecedented times. I always put myself under the pressure and the expectation of having to keep being productive and I rarely give myself the time to simply celebrate my creativity. By that, I mean doing activities for the pure sake of creating, without any specific purpose or goal. Since then, I have been trying to trace back the journey of my creativity and found joy in all those little things that I have always loved doing: coloring books, painting with my hands, making an instrument out of a fork, writing without forcing myself to and without making any plans. It has been so therapeutic and refreshing!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have always received a tremendous support by my parents. They have always encouraged me to follow my instincts and thought me to always be true to myself. I also have to mention my Godparents. They gave me the opportunity of following my dreams and helped me apply to College and eventually move to New York City. Before they even brought it up, I have always thought of it as an unreachable possibility. My English was decent yet broken, I didn’t know anything about the educational system in the US and I didn’t know absolutely anyone in the City. However, the unlimited trust and faith that they put in me, was all I needed to find the courage and the motivation to make that change in my life and pursue my dreams. They thought me how being ambitious is as important as being humble and kind. Moving to another Country comes with great sacrifices. However, it is thanks to their immense generosity as well as my parent’s unlimited support that I have always been able to push through difficulties and stay grounded. I am forever grateful to the four of them. They’ve been such inspiring models, I always look up to them and cherish their advice and opinions more than anybody else’s.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I dream of starting a movement in which art therapy would be instituted or offered in youth educational programs as well as after school programs. I wish that there was a way of making this happen in an accessible and efficient way. We often learn to suppress and hide our feelings from a very young age and let memory and time take care of the most difficult ones. As a result, these often manifest later on in our lives in forms of anxiety, depression, toxic and even disruptive behavior. How incredible and how much easier would it be if we were given the chance to receive an education from earlier on on how to deal, process and heal traumas through artistic processes! Mental health it’s so important. What better way of starting to take care of it through creativity?

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would absolutely adore to have lunch with Marina Abramovic. She has always been a great source of inspiration personally and artistically. Her story as well as her approach to art has always moved me. I always look up to the combination of passion and discipline that she has always exhibited and I always challenge myself to seek for a deeper understanding in everything I do thanks to her example. I would love to hear more about her process and her take on a multitude of topics that I often find myself reflecting on on a daily basis.

How can our readers follow you online? IG and website


Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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