A Rendezvous with Ms Mia Zanette: Experience Director at Journey Lab


Two miles up hill, we stop.

“We’re here.”

Before us is a sprawling cityscape bathed in golden sun light. A spectacular view, the kind that catches you by surprise, suspending belief for a moment. These seconds will make it all feel new again. Give it another and your breath will catch up with you. For many reasons more, Ms Mia Zanette has the same effect — and unarguably more so. One could paint her in pastels and charcoal, trying to capture that thing that draws you to her. Another moment, a realisation is discovered: despite the trek up, she is still stunning. Judge this book by it’s cover, but within the pages she will defy “breath-taking.” In this rendezvous, we simply hope to smell the pages.

The bench with the perfect view sits empty, as if waiting for us. Would you rather be deaf or blind? Probably the worst, and equally difficult question especially given the view. However, her answer poignantly reflects her character:

“Deaf. Yes, no music. Yes, that would suck, but with all that I’ve listened to I could still hear it. Sometimes I catch myself hearing music, humming something, or running an album in my head — sans radio. The point is: I think a lot, so I could keep some noise going in my head.”

One should not be led to believe that music is not crucial to Ms Zanette, she prepared a playlist that underscored this entire meeting. In fact, she always comes to the table prepared. Cracking open a stark blue journal (like that of a blue footed booby), her notes come in two forms of handwriting. One that is framed by the guide lines on the page, and the other that races a mile a minute to catch up with her thoughts.

Ms Zanette is multi-faceted. Not only is she capable of anything, she carries a range of experiences. From someone’s aunt attemping to exorcise her to living in France with strangers at sixteen.

Fight Club for Theatre

Ms Zanette once had a three month acting exercise, whose rules were equivalent to Fight Club. This is the first and likely only time she is breaking the rules. (For those who were involved, she no longer lives at the same address so please leave well enough alone.) It started with inventing a character biography, not even requiring that your choice be human. She handed in ten-plus pages on Rebecca, which was never seen again. However, what was written had to be memorized.

A voice boomed throughout the windowless studio telling the group to lie down, meditate and wake as their characters. Upon waking, instruction announced you were in a room filled with strangers and you can not speak.

The goal: Exit the room, with permission from the ‘room-handler.
“It was a blood bath.”

Absolute chaos erupted in the room. A dozen complex characters struggled to co-exist. As a group, they had to come together without verbal agreement. The only way to earn abilities within the room was to please the “room-handler” (their professor). In exploration of the rules, one character hummed for a moment and awaited severe punishment. It did not come. Through mutual hums, they managed to earn the ability to speak, by coordinating the word “talk” with their bodies — albeit it took almost a month.

Once granted, it took this world to an entirely new level reminiscent of what it must have been like for Prometheus to discover fire. By the end of the third month, they managed to please their professor allowing all to exit. “We took the longest out of any group who had ever done this.” Before exiting, each of them was asked what they learned. Ms Zanette found that everyone can be malleable. At the start of this exercise it felt hopeless. Everytime there was an agreement, it was lost. “It was a slow process of trust. After trust, you can change minds.” Mia says with a roll of the eyes and a smirk. “You couldn’t leave anyone behind, and because we took so long people we’re getting Stockholm Syndrome.” Her professor accepted the answer with two words: Now go.

Advice

1. IN ART — While attending university, Ms Zanette learned a valuable piece of advice with lifelong applications.

Go before you’re ready, take risks, take nothing personal.

2. IN LIFE — Direct from Charlize Theron.

Come from your core. Shoulders down. Neck long. Think murder. And walk.

“That’s how I live my life.”

Note: These are interchangeable.

Inspirations

Dreams. With a journal and sketchbook by her bed, she is even surprised by what the twilight comes up with. “If you put this in the article, people will think I’m the most disturbed person.” Ms Zanette has had a recurring nightmare waiting for her some nights. To spare you the graphics, it involves a floating third person perspective (like a camera), a McDonald’s playground and carnage via another little boy. Even she wakes up questioning her own sanity. Rather than stay on the scene that frames this dream, she is taken by the vivid colour of the plastics and even the smell of heavily sanitised tunnels.

Others. Whether in discussion with her, or eavesdropping, the majority of her dialogue in her work is overheard. She happens to be in all the right places at the right time. “The point is it’s all around you, just listen.”

David Lynch “Images” for visual inspiration, Evidence notebook for jotting down “found” quotes and dialogues in public, pencil bags to house my tools, Surface Pro for all my tech-based work, the Polaroid pictures taken from a road trip all over the South, my dream journal, a letter John Keats sent to Fanny (his lover) as he remains my favorite poet, the owl represents my affinity for Halloween (I keep some decorations up all year long), the clock is a reminder of time in motion and the urgency to produce work, *the skull ‘icarus’ subject to her monologues and the mug is for endless cups of coffee.

Integral to Crafting Work:

  1. Coffee.
  2. Quiet
  3. A place with a view.
  4. Fresh air.
  5. Driving. (sans traffic)
  6. Alcohol. She isn’t exactly one of those Hemingway types, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Rather, a shot of some brown stuff leads to ideas which can be elaborated post-bacchanal.
  7. Curiosity + Timing — Explorer mode.

Resistant to laptops, she finds things feel less permeant and influential if they are handwritten and when words fail, she sketches. However, all final work is done in her bedroom with her laptop, notes surrounding her.

Origins and Beyond

Combing a map, you will not be able to find where Ms Mia Zanette hails. You will see a large expanse of land, whose population is outnumbered by the surrounding cattle, and because cows do not receive post — residents of Plainfield must use the nearest town’s address.

“I am a hick.”

Stars aligned and Ms Zanette found herself living, and studying, abroad in France with a pretty rich family. At sixteen, she was alone with a new, temporary family where all of her resources were foreign. Lack of help on the Paris metro defines survival rates for girls her age. While Mia speaks French fluently, she could not understand why her host family would, for instance, set out breakfast the night before: bowls, spoon, cereal and milk. “Wait, you’re going to leave that out?” When she’d get the nod, as if milk could last the night, she woke every morning to consuming dry cereal in distrust.

“France taught me how to drink. I was with a fourteen year old party animal who was more experienced than me, probably even till now; which is a terrifying thought.”
Secrets on skin.

Journey Lab

By now, ‘Palabras de Papel / Nelson Poblete’ started playing, the song that has been stuck in her head. One day she promises to look up the lyrics, but isn’t in a rush. Not knowing the translation doesn’t mean she hasn’t derived meaning. In fact, she wishes she could listen to English songs the same way.

“The song is prettier without you [the singer].”

While performing in a project with Ms Gillian Holmes, the two got to talking. “That led to a phone call from Victor and he asked if I would like to be involved, to which I said yes about a hundred times.”

Ms Zanette is the Enrichment Director + Project Manager at Journey Lab. Our Enrichment program is our do-good mission, where we team up with educational programs and communities to cultivate creativity in students and youth. We want to ensure that our program of activity is always accessible to all audiences. While that program is being built, she is an invaluable collaborator and helps build productions at Journey Lab, and managing them.

‘CRUSH’ + Question Marks

Reflecting on one of her greatest experiences, a co-collaboration with Liz Lehman: CRUSH, left her realising she could actually do this and be happy in life. “It was so much work. We took on a challenge. Not for a grade, or to please anyone, but to produce theatre. We were in it for the whole process. We made a baby. All the people on the project worked so hard and it all paid off. We sold out every night.”

Left in disbelief, satisfied and validated — she pushed on to new territories.


Ms Zanette’s shared apartment in college was certainly haunted. From creaking doors to sudden night terrors passed around the household introducing a terrifying nightly visitor described with loose-skin and seen perched in dark bedroom ceiling corners, the four friends soon became wary of their unwanted fifth roommate. One night, Ms Zanette awoke to find her sketchpad on her bed, detailing her perspective of her bedroom: the dresser in the corner, the mirror, end of the bed, even the ruffles (drawn in her own hand) but crawling onto the edge of the bed was a creature with his mouth agape.

“The ‘worst’ experience was hard to consider because the moments I think of are bad, but probably not the worst.”

‘Happy Days’ at BAM with Fiona Shaw…

completely changed Ms Zanette’s view on theatre. Coming from a town that hardly had productions, the closest was Broadway theater. “Everything was this bigger than life, gallant world.” It was the first production where she saw a difference, and a form of theatre she felt viscerally drawn to. “It went beyond entertainment.”

The performance was a one woman show, where Ms Shaw was buried with dirt while monologuing for two hours.

Ms Zanette says it was so simple in form, but afterwards she wasn’t the same.

— AFTER DARK —

A carnival erupted behind us, over the hill. It seems magic and opportunity follow Ms Zanette where ever she goes. Craving zeppoles, we dove into the horde. She stuffed her journal in her bag and her energy shifted as we shook our bags of fried dough pillowed in powdered sugar.

“Do you never get that feeling that you peaked in middle school?”

Unable to retain a little laugher, she went on to describe her predicament. State-wide winner in multiple arenas, president of the Leo Club, had an entire school assembly about her, student ambassador, class president, “most likely to succeed;” she was the star. Politics, law, medicine — the world was her oyster. She takes a bite and giggles, creating a cloud of saccharine. “Nope. Theatre.” Honestly, the form needs her. This is undoubtably her calling. And who knows where we would be without her.

Certainly not here.


Grey Papers: Rendezvous are exposé interviews focusing on the artists and collaborators who make the gears turn at Journey Lab. Visit us at journeylab.org.

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