Photo © Andy Hollingworth
Ilaria Passeri has excellent hair and tells even better stories. Having worked her entire life in strange and often hard-to-explain jobs, raised by a Scottish mother with a sporadically-appearing angry Italian father who she is sure is a secret psychopath, her stories are witty, intelligent and always surprising. Nailing the sights, sounds and even the smells of growing up as part of the brand-new Millennial generation, Ilaria's work toes the line between a reminiscence of the inane and a hilarious recreation of the sublime.
Ilaria's monthly storytelling night Just Stories takes place at Gullivers in Manchester's Northern Quarter and welcomes wordsmiths of all types - comedic, musical, poetic and literary.
Read on to hear more about Ilaria - from her own... Mouth? Fingertips?
Ilaria's work in five words:
Her mum describes her work as "like chocolate with chilli: sweet with a hint of 'what the fuck?'"
Your work is slightly different to a lot of the spoken word scene - you tell stories, rather than delivering poetry. Why did you choose this medium?
I have a background in acting and I’ve always loved writing and creating work. Storytelling feels like a real blend of the acting and poetry world - it is something we all do everyday without even realising it. I’m fascinated with taking something so natural to us all and turning it into a disciplined piece of work that is still accessible but encapsulates my skills and training.
Give us a whistle-stop tour of Ilaria's life.
I was born in an Italian village called Rocca di Papa, to parents that now hate each other. My Mum is Scottish, my (now-errant) father is Italian. A very feisty combination - my younger sister seems to have inherited most of the sassiness though.
We moved to England and lived in a few villages down south. We quickly became the skint hippies - our house was in the middle of the posh end and the ‘other’ end. We were friends with both of them and I had a foot in each camp. This was the start of me straddling different lives and always feeling in the middle.
I joined the Brownies but would still hang out with the naughty kids. I was a bit of an enigma really. I ended up going to college to do drama and musical theatre (despite not being able to sing or dance. I actually just used to mime the words to the songs. The teacher asked me to; that’s how bad I was). I then went on to study Acting at university.
I spent many years as Mandy the Crime-Solving Monkey, an Aperol Spritz girl, a Bar Crawl Babe- this job involved me wearing a skin-tight Bavarian wench outfit and taking stags to the pub. I was an elf at the Manchester Arndale Grotto; I handed out cough sweets at the train station. I worked in a call centre for 3 days. I was also part of a few sketch comedy groups and got to perform at some great festivals. I was in plays, adverts, feature films and had a ball but didn’t feel like I’d found my 'home'.
I started writing short stories and they were featured in Huffington Post UK. I decided to turn the stories into a full-length show and I now work with a fabulous producer called Michael Jacob. We took the show Lady Ilaria’s Drawers to Camden Fringe. I now work as a family storyteller for theatres, art centres, woodland areas and libraries. I’m so proud that I’ve turned this into a job.
Which is your favourite story from your collection and why?
The Dead Pets story has to be my favourite. It really captures so much of my childhood! My funny Scottish Mum, my fiesty little sister and my errant Italian father. A bloke came up to me after a gig and said "there aren't enough stories about Scottish women snapping cats in half."
He then told me a story about him accidentally killing twelve hamsters. We all have dead pet trauma, it seems.
You have performed for pretty much your entire life. Where do you think that bug came from?
I've always been a strange mixture of very outgoing and occasionally painfully introverted, so performing is something natural to me but also something that overwhelms me, albeit in an exciting way.
I’m best when I'm performing my own stuff but it took me years to find that out. During my training I ended up performing in things like Romeo and Juliet, Grease and The Crucible; it just didn’t suit me. I knew I wanted to perform, though.
I was part of a few sketch comedy groups; I really enjoyed it but it still wasn't quite right. I did improv comedy, clowning, comedy acting; I loved them all but it wasn't until I started making my own work that I really thought "yes! This is it!"
I've always been half a show off and half shy, so the title of writer-performer suits me really well. I come from an arty family and have always been surrounded by creatives, so that's bound to have rubbed off. Our house was filled with half-finished clay bowls, paint bottles and tie dye. These days I’m usually in the corner of a library or under a tree with my puppets and a rubber chicken.
I bloody love this job.
Do you have any influences when it comes to storytelling?
I'm a very big fan of James Acaster and I love the way he weaves a show together. David Sedaris is a big inspiration as well; I feel an infinity with his work. We have both been elves at Christmas grottos - that job destroys you, then ultimately makes you stronger. It also kind of ruins Christmas, as you can't ever forget the things you've seen.
Other influences include The League of Gentlemen, Daisy May Cooper, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Karl Pilkington, the people I spent time with at clown school in Spain and the women I met at Weight Watchers.
Are there any stories you just can't bring yourself to tell?
There's one involving a stranger's house, a jar of ashes with Bing Crosby's face on, fake Burberry bed sheets and a cordless hoover.
It must remain a secret.
What advice do you have for any budding storytellers out there?
Just write! Don't think anything is too daft or silly to write about it. Stuff that you think is mundane - if it's written authentically, it can still have heart, be funny and be engaging.
Write, write and rewrite. Then rewrite again. It shouldn't be easy; it's important and full passion is needed to make work that makes you feel proud. Read different styles of writing. Most importantly, just get something on paper, every moment that you can.
Are there any storytelling nights that you would recommend people visit if they want to see more artists like you?
Verbose, Heard Storytelling, Long Story Short, Natural Born Storytellers, Punk in Drublic and Blue Balloon Theatre’s events.
I’m also setting up my own storytelling night in Manchester - look out for it on my Instagram and Twitter!
Tales of a Confused Life is dropping in September