Saturday, January 18, 2014



One of my students from Portland, Oregon came to me before his audition in John Patrick Shanley's "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea."  This young actor needed a Bronx accent, and not just any Bronx accent, but a 1960's Zerega Avenue accent.  So he came to me.  I am from Zerega.  From the sixties.  This wasn't the first time this happened to me.  Actors had imitated me lots before.   One won a prize in Kentucky - being me.  My accent's on the endangered species list.  I like watching old Cagney movies and listening to that way the New York voice used to be portrayed, "Hell Doll, what's it to ya, seeeee?"   The vowel twirls in my father's speech -- you don't hear that anymore on the streets, the 'earl' in 'oil' -- is gone.  It got educated out of our speech.  I don't mind teaching the Bronx accent, or having actors mimic me, but I do mind when it rings untrue.  I hear it even in celebrated actors.  Nobody says "neighborhood" right anymore, right in the Bronx voice way. What went first?  The neighborhoods or the way to say it.  Actors may drop their voice, get the guttural tone, let the first syllable swallow back in their throat, but the midwestern 'or' always rears its ugly head in the middle of the word.  As if we bastardized that syllable too much for others to bear.
/NAY-bah-huhd/  left when the butchers retired and the boutiques took their places.  The middle syllable suffers from youth watching Mr. Rogers too much.

I think I know what I sound like.  I know what my friends sounded like.  All those tough girls sitting up in the tree.  DiMella, Spota, Cardascia, Colosimo, all of them.  To my softball buddies!  To how we used to tawlk!  To our Bronx Italian paesans!  Our lost tongues!  To our high school janitor Enrico Caruso!  To our uncensored selves for better or worse!  To 'playing' Italian American!  To 'playing' Bronx!  To teaching Bronx accents!  To being born into a sexy creamy culture!  Madonn!  So few ever know what I'm talking about.  To being imitated!  To imitations of imitations!  To making a career of authenticity!  To playing Italian American and to sell tickets to the show.  Come one Come all.  Hear the accent that's been captured in film and television.  Come see the real people first hand, who have been imitated for your entertainment pleasure.  Say neighborhood.  Say water.  Come learn how to sound authentic.  I'll give you a private lesson in authenticity but you better hit your syllables right.  Bronx phonics for sale.

copyright Annie Lanzillotto 2014


After my heroic student from Portland, Oregon got  a drive thru the Bronx with me at the wheel, speed narrating the 60's and 70's, the fires, the gangs, the empty lots, the new "SoBro", race, ethnic enclaves, NAY-ba-huhds, from the West Bronx to Orchard Beach, from Soundview to City Island, horses and green paths, boats, and a pilgrimage up and down Zerega Ave where he wanted to walk, and get his picture taken with the street sign.…   he recited some text from "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" - he didn't understand why Danny expressed the sentiment of -- to get home, I know I'm gonna get in 20 fights along the way -- the feeling of having to battle everything in life.  This was harder than a Bronx Phonix lesson.  This was years of metabolizing attitudes.  This was growing up with Bronx rough housing fighting abuse the world bashing against you.  This felt impossible to explain or translate or transmit to this open Oregon soul at home in the world, in the woods, in his body.  I grew up always ready for a fight.  Even looking in the mirror, I say "What!  Whaddyoulookin at?"  This may be hardest to explain to white people of the middle classes who ascribe to conciliation and 'non-violent communication.'  This is alien to my Bronx Italian upbringing.  I fight.  I am loud.  I yell.  I shake it out.  I take lessons from my dog; let the anger rise up and down my spine, then shake it off.  Bark and shake.  Regather myself.  Walk it off.  I was brought up by a PTSD father who was paranoid.  I was taught to not smile at strangers in the street, to not say hello, to not leave myself vulnerable to outsiders, strangers, even 'family.'  Family could be the worst offenders.  Fights were daily.  I grew up in a culture of violence.  I was trained from the earliest age that the world is hostile, that people say "hello" when they want something.  This upbringing is a lot to transmit to a young loving actor.  In a session anyway.  I guess that's the director's job.  It might be fun for me to try to do that.  To teach Bronx Phonix and Bronx Attitude.  We fight over nothing.  Nothing at all.  Most fights, it is impossible to remember how it started or why or how it escalated, how everyone ended up getting involved and blowing up.  The fight is already in the rooms we live in.  All it takes is two or more of us to enter the room and the fight inhabits us.  And outside the house, as early as little kids, if someone, anyone looked at us, we'd yell, "Take a picture it lasts longer!"  In other words, don't look at me.  I am writing this to you, reader, as if all this is a foreign concept, as if you didn't grow up like me, and don't have a context for it.  I am the daughter of a traumatized Marine and his battered wife.  Violence and the values of war were imbued in me, as was the concept of 'enemy' and 'sacrifice' and 'duty.'   I think that's enough for now.  Meditate on a five year old Bronx girl, yelling across the street, "Take a picture - it lasts longer!"  And try to understand what that constant hostility is like...
Tony Chiappelone (RIP) reading the last book of his life,
my memoir "L is for Lion"
 L: Grandma Anna Cianciotta Lanzillotto, and Grandpa Carmine Lanzillotto, their wedding photo, and later, perhaps their anniversary or a wedding.  I remember them dancing, with her thumb in his fist.  They were from Bitetto, Bari.  Italia.
Review of my book in "Fra Noi" by Fred Gardaphè

My high school softball team.  Roosevelt Indians.
Top: Veronica.  Top Right: in hat and shorts, Me.
Top Left: Diane Ricci.  Below her: Maryann Solecito.
Center in the tree: Susie Strassberg
Bottom from Left: Angela DiMella, Sandy, Joan Spota, _____, Whitney in glasses,
_________.  c1981
My dog Cherub who teaches me how to shake off anger.
I found out his name by watching him run in the park.
His ears flapped like Cherub wings on his stout barrel body.

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