I met Lou many years ago, at the height of when The Brothers Grinn were making a name for ourselves. Lou was already a well known and well loved storyteller, and our paths crossed on the circuit a number of times. Always gracious, always friendly, it felt like I had known him for years.
One memory I have: we were sharing performing space, different times of course, at a festival in Croton-On-The-Hudson. I remember getting my Grinns in order (we wore costumes, and changing was always a hassle in outdoor venues). I got to watch an entire set of Lou’s while the others were getting ready, and in all honesty, I was as mesmerized with his performance as the children. When a performer has the audience in his hands…man, there is nothing better. Lou had the audience then, and even over the years when I’ve run into him, he ALWAYS has the audience with him.
So…it is my pleasure: Mr. Lou Del Bianco:
Can you tell the readers about yourself?
First, I want to thank you, Stu, for asking me to do this interview and also for the wonderful work you are doing as an arts-in-education advocate. Not to mention your blog and the fact that you use it as a forum to celebrate other artists! Now, here we go.
- I was born in Port Chester, NY- a working class village 40 min. north of Manhattan. Being the only son in a family of six girls, I was a serious introvert who had to develop my own identity. My sister bought me a tape recorder and in the privacy of wherever I could find it, I created a world of characters, some of whom I still draw inspiration from today. Of course, I would NEVER share these recording with anyone but myself. Fast forward to 10 grade at Port Chester High School and I summon the courage to audition for the school play. I’m hooked. All that artistic expression has been liberated. It was then that I knew that I wanted to be performer. After attending Fordham University, I attended Herbert Berghof Studios and pursued a career in musical theater. After five years, I started working with children in an after school program and fell in love with young audiences. As an artist in residence in the Port Chester Schools, I was able to create educational one man shows ranging from Hans Christian Andersen to Abraham Lincoln. I have also released six cds that cover a variety of subjects like multi culturalism, childhood memories and character education. Five of these releases are parent’s choice winners I’ve taught theater and storytelling in a variety places for people of all ages. My latest venture is a one man show about my grandfather, Luigi Del Bianco, who was the chief carver on Mount Rushmore. My web site www.findlou.com
Why storytelling? What drew you to make this your life?
After attending Fordham University, I went to acting school. I decided to try my hand at musical theater and pounded the pavement for 5 years. This resulted in some work and some connections, but I always ran into the same problem. My physical look, ethnicity, vocal range and talent rarely came together for most parts. The rejection was far outweighing the acceptance. It was at this time that my wife Camille was running after school programs for children. Camille was, is, and always will be my muse and artistic mentor. She asked me to give it a shot. One of the requirements for working in the program was to come up with a story each week. While I was preparing my first story, it occurred to me that I could act out the characters and use the acting techniques of conflict and intention to bring the story to life. The response from the kids was magical. I realized that I didn’t have to audition anymore and try to fit myself in to someone else’s character. I could use my own unique talents and physical type to create my own characters. And since there are so many ways to tell a story, I had found my own way.
I saw your amazing show “In the Shadow of the Mountain.” Can you tell us about this, and your process in it’s creation?
- Thank you, Stu. I appreciated it when you came to the show.
- My grandfather, Luigi Del Bianco, was the chief carver on Mount Rushmore and never got any credit. Most publications don’t even mention his name. After years of research in the Library of Congress, my Uncle Caesar and I were able to prove that Luigi was not only important to the work but vital. The designer, Gutzon Borglum, would have to stop all work on the heads when my grandfather quit. I mean, my grandfather was the only trained artist besides Borglum on the whole project. So you can imagine how valuable he was! All of these revelations inspired my uncle and I to try to give him the credit he deserves. After my uncle passed away in 2009, I decided to create a web site (www.luigimountrushmore.com) and a one man show. I focused on the Library of Congress documents and the 1 year when Luigi bought his family out to South Dakota to live while he carved. The show is one part lecture, one part storytelling and one part theater with authentic photos that really bring everything to life. I also get a chance to “create a character”: my grandfather. That in itself was a very powerful experience.
You do a number of one man shows, as well as traditional storytelling. What drew you to Abe Lincoln and Hans Christian Andersen?
- When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for the movie: “Hans Christian Andersen” to come on TV. I was in love with the way Danny Kaye portrayed Hans. I also loved to sing and adored of all of those wonderful Frank Loesser songs. I decided (to myself, of course) that I would one day BE Hans Christian Andersen. When my wife and I were trying to figure out what my first one man show would be, Camille remembered when I told her about my love for Danny Kaye and asked, “Why don’t you do that as a show?” Camille wrote the script, her sister Donna provided the accompaniment and I played Hans and got to sing those songs and introduce them to a whole new generation of kids. And 29 years later, I still am doing it!
- Now onto Abe. Another movie I loved as a kid was “Abe Lincoln in Illinois”. I really related to Raymond Massey’s portrayal and felt a kinship with the tall, lanky and shy Abe Lincoln. Years later, between 2002-2009, I lost 4 very close family members, one right after the other. At that time I was performing a show about my childhood and it was getting more and more difficult to do that. I needed desperately to go in a different direction and create a show that was not so personal. One night TCM was showing “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” and I thought, “Ah ha!” Thus started my path to combining history with my storytelling.
What has been, to you, your greatest artistic success?
- There are two.
When I was running an after school program in the late 80s, a boy told me about how intimated he was of his father. I then improvised a story of an experience I had with my dad, and the flood gates opened. From that one moment, I was able to write 50 songs and stories from my childhood about everything from the first day of school, a crush on a girl to an obsession with gum. We all have stuff from our childhood we have to work out, and I was fortunate enough to do it artistically, and I didn’t have pay a therapist! Most of the artists in my life really know how to express their humanity. As result, they inspire others. I’m very proud of my personal mythology and feel blessed when I get an email from a child who tells me they were profoundly affected by one of my stories. I am also thrilled that after 23 years as a professional storyteller, I am able to use my talents and abilities to tell my grandfather’s story. It’s good karma, I tell ya!
- On July 3rd, I had the honor and privilege of performing my one man show at Mount Rushmore. I brought my grandfather to life in the very studio where he and designer Gutzon Borglum spent many hours developing the plan to execute the carving. It was nothing short of a dream come true.
What is next for Lou Del Bianco?
- Most of my focus is on my grandfather’s story. I wrote a screenplay last year and have been shopping it around. Anyone out there have any movie contacts? My wife Camille and I just finished the first draft of an illustrated book based on the screenplay and we’re very excited about it. I am also in talks with Mount Rushmore about a permanent Luigi Del Bianco exhibit devoted to his great contributions to an iconic sculpture. I’m very confident it will happen!
- My goal is for everyone to know that my grandfather was an Italian Immigrant who helped carve our nations’ greatest memorial. I also want Americans to have a different image in their minds when they think of the contribution of Italians in this country. It’s a lofty goal but I’m certainly going to try. Take that, Jersey Shore!
If you could have a summit with world leaders, and they HAD to answer your questions, what two or three questions would you want answered most?
- •I feel like a finalist in the Miss America Pageant! This is a tough one. I’m probably going to be accused of being a conspiracy theorist, but the main questions I would ask are these: Do the people really have a say in the choices our governments make? Are we all just at the mercy of the globalist power base that makes and breaks presidents, economies and societies as a whole? Ouch!
Is there anything else you’d like to let us know? Future gigs? Records/other publishing?
- Same as question # 6
This was a pleasure, and I wish Lou all the success he so richly deserves.
I hope you are enjoying these interviews. I will be reaching out to other storytellers/performers in the coming months. Most will be local greater NYC artists, but that does not hinder where I can go.
Do you have a Storyteller/performing artist you love? Tell me about him/her, contact info and such, and let’s see where the universe takes us.
Comments are always welcome, to me &/or to Lou. Thanks.