Acclaimed Italian theater director Paulo Landi has spent three semesters as a visiting professor at the University of Richmond, instructing theater classes and staging productions. During his latest visit this spring, Landi took on a new challenge: teaching conversational Italian. Drawing from his background in the theater and in journalism, he developed unique instructional methods for his classes.

As a director, most of Landi’s work is completely staged in Russia. In 2004 he received the State Award, Russia’s most prestigious theater honor. He’s also a television documentary producer and his pieces routinely air on Italy’s national broadcast channels.

And while the work he produces for each discipline is extremely different, he says he draws inspiration for his theater productions from his experiences as a journalist.

 “Journalism is about curiosity. You can’t be a journalist without being curious. You’re uncovering what people think and feel, and capturing what’s going on in the world,” Landi said.

“I put all of this information and emotion into my theater. Theater isn’t just creativity—it’s truth.”

Landi first came to Richmond in the spring of 2002 when he staged a production of the comedy “Venetian Twins” alongside an old friend, Richmond theater professor Walter Schoen. The two met in 1999 in Milwaukee where Landi was staging his first American production. When opportunity arose years later, Schoen jumped on the chance to bring Landi to campus.

Schoen says that over the years he’s seen theater students thrive under Landi’s instruction.

“I think students recognize that he has a great grasp of the material he teaches,” Schoen said. “He is a working professional and the students appreciate his experience. He makes a great effort to see that they engage with the material, not just memorize facts. He is very creative and he helps students unleash their creativity.”

This spring, Landi had the opportunity to apply his creativity to another genre. In addition to teaching a theater course, Commedia dell’Arte, he taught two courses in the Department of Modern Literatures and Cultures, Italian Cinema and Italian Conversation.

For the cinema class, he felt it was important for students to understand Italian culture in order to fully grasp the meaning of the films.

“I mixed cinema history with Italian history,” Landi said. “I think many students picture Italy as this country full of beautiful ruins and happy pizza-eating people, which unfortunately is not the case. Understanding our history helps them appreciate the films.”

Landi said he was particularly apprehensive about teaching conversational Italian. He felt it was most important that students become comfortable speaking, and that then the grammar and vocabulary would come more naturally. He achieved this by using a technique routinely employed in theater courses.

“We used improvisation techniques to make people start talking,” he said. “I did make them work on their grammar too, and there were some mistakes, but it got them talking.”

Now back in Italy, Landi says leaving was bittersweet. While he’ll certainly be busy this summer anchoring an Italian television program, traveling to South Africa to film the World Cup, and staging a new play in Russia, he says he’ll miss Richmond.

“After three semesters it feels like home here. This trip was different—teaching three classes was challenging. But I enjoyed it.”