For this months interview on the Creative Process, I turn to one of my dearest and oldest friends, Pat Fenda.
Patty and I go back to a time when we were young, gorgeous women devoted to creating art for the stage through dance, mime, singing, design, and acting. We could do it all with such fearlessness it is astounding to recall the discipline and drive we had for this work that we loved. Age can jade the artist to the time and effort it can take to create something great, but to the young artist, ignorant and inexperienced, it is an exhilarating passion.
When Patty speaks about touring with the USO in her interview, I helped choreograph a naughty dance number for her and Stewart to Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls.” Of course, the troops loved it, as much as they did the belly dancing costumes I beaded that looked fabulous on her curvaceous body. We performed, danced, laughed and partied together, supporting one another through the loss of parents, husbands, and friends. Ours is a lifetime of friendship and love.
Now we speak of this “new” creative phase of our lives, discussing how we will continue creating art for the love of creating that takes us deeper into just being in the perfect moment.
How would you describe yourself as an artist? Has it changed over time and where are you now in your creative process?
I have been a performing artist for over 40 years on big and small stages, community centers, parking lots and street corners. I have done it all, and it was FUN! In 1984, I founded Strictly Entertainment, Inc. a talent agency which at one point had 3 employees. I have been solo for the past 8 years, and it keeps me very busy during the season.
As I head into my “third act,” I found I was craving a new challenge, one filled with creative inspiration. Then in 2016 on a visit to the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts, I was introduced to pastel painting at a workshop called “Drawing Closer to Nature.” In that workshop I had found my new creative passion, painting with pastels! Time stops when I am working on an original painting, I just love being wholly absorbed in the creative process.
Now as I retire from performing, I tell people, “I am trading my horizontal stage for a vertical one.”
How did you become a performing artist?
I received an undergrad degree in Physical Education from Ohio University, the gal who was teaching dance to the Phys. Ed majors left to have a baby, and I was chosen to replace her. I had been actively performing with the dance club, so after two years of teaching, I realized I loved to perform. I received my masters from FSU where one of my professors was a professional mime. I was added to the Mad Mountain Mime Troupe as their token female for several years.
I taught a for the Magic Mountain Mime School in Tallahassee for two summers before taking it to Tampa. I started a dance and mime company with a few friends, called Whose Move that was very successful creating shows in and around the Tampa University museum. Then I met a young filmmaker, Stewart Lippe who was making a film on a Canadian mime and asked if he could join my class to gain a better understanding of what mime involved. I asked what he could do for me, and he said he would be able to teach juggling to my students.
That meeting started a 5-year personal relationship and a 42-year professional one. Together, we created an act called the Franzini Family Circus that has traveled the world. We performed for the USO visiting Air Force bases in the Philippines, Germany, and Australia. We toured Korea when it was so cold they issued us Arctic Parkas upon our arrival. A few years later we were on the same bill with Penn and Teller at the Sarasota Renaissance Fair. We performed in the streets in Washington DC, Quebec, and Montreal.
After 5 years of touring, I missed my friends and wanted to build a home in Tampa. I took a job as a featured belly dancer at Busch Gardens. I had learned belly dance for our USO tour from Stewart’s sister who was an International Belly Dancer. I learned a lot performing every day but realized I could not work at an amusement park forever. Out of the Busch Gardens break room, I started my talent agency which I have run for 32 years and am now actively offering for sale.
What do you love about being on stage, in front of an audience?
Making people happy & seeing them laugh! Stewart and I are still working together 40 years later, teaching science concepts to K-5th graders with our Science Circus show, and the kids love it! There is a moment in the show when Stewart throws a “bowling ball” into the audience & the kids jump up and scatter. In reality, he has switched the bowling ball for a rubber ball, and the reaction of the audience never fails to make me laugh out loud! We also had a performing dog, Rosie who was the hit of the show when she climbed a ladder to a 5-foot perch that Stewart then balanced on his chin to end the show. The kids would go wild!
Did you grow up in an artistic family?
NO Way! Although, my mother did pass on a love seeing musicals and theater. My sister and my twin brother both were teachers in public schools. My Mom worked in school offices, and my father was a carpenter. I grew up in a very white middle-class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Funny thing, I still miss Ohio.
Your creativity seems to include acting, circus performance, now pastel painting, as well as, gardening, renovating old houses, interior, and costume design.
I made a lot of the costumes for the Franzini Family and my own performing, so fashion has always been a love. I have hosted an annual costume party every year on the 1st Saturday in January with a unique theme just so I can create an awesome costume for myself! Last year it was a garden party, and the costumes were terrific. For 2019 I am inspired by the “Heavenly Bodies” show that I saw this summer at the MET Museum in NYC.
My father was a carpenter and took me to a zillion model homes. I guess I was following in his footsteps as I renovated 3 houses over the past 20 years. Gardening is the slowest of the “performing” arts, but I love to see my bromeliads bloom throughout the year. I garden weekly to keep back the rascal weeds.
How do you share your art with others?
I still perform with the Franzini Family, also each Christmas as Mrs. Claus. This is the best gig ever!! Kids just love Santa and they are so adorable!
Also annually at our local Oscar awards celebration as “Roan Jivers – “when you can’t afford Joan you get Roan!”
I have shown my paintings in several local art shows and have my sights on winning an award within the next 3 years. I always plan my August road trip around finding a fantastic art workshop.
What intrigues you the most about the creative process?
The challenges it presents to my ego. There is a point in creating a new painting where I think it is the ugliest work, and will never get where I want it to be BUT my wonderful summer teacher told me never to give up! You have to believe in yourself to paint and be happy. This in turn has taught me to be more cooperative with my partner over the years, a good thing!
Looking back would you have lived your life differently?
NO, I have made a wonderful life and created a thriving business. I might have wished to be a better self-promoter………I was always more interested in doing an excellent job than getting new clients. And I would have gotten an accountant sooner! Now I look forward to many happy years following my bliss by doing the creative things I love.
What would you say today to your younger self?
Believe in yourself more!
What would you say to young artists coming up in the world?
Work hard and trust your own abilities! “Act boldly, and unforeseen forces will come to your aid!”