Senior Sophia Marie DiPaola, writer, playwright, poet, musician and actor, exudes self confidence and focus. Her words tumble over each other as she passionately describes her life and goals, including writing and performing social justice themed plays around the world.
DiPaola was one of the first two theater majors Mills accepted in the Fall of 2014 since the theater program was dissolved in 2003.
Currently Dipaola is working on her senior thesis project: a play about mental illness, which she suffers from, that will be performed early in December.
Could you talk about how your passion for theater began?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Both of my parents worked in the [film] industry my whole life; my dad worked for Francis Ford Coppola and did special effects, and my mom was a theater major at UCLA.
When did you become interested in theater?
Literally since I was 8 years old I knew that I wanted to be in theater. I found an essay from when I was in second grade that asked me what my life goals were and I said that I wanted to be an actor and if that didn’t work, I wanted to be a screenwriter or playwright.
When did you begin acting?
I think my first theater class was in middle school. I joined the drama department and I played the Mad Hatter in “Alice In Wonderland” and Prince John in “Robinhood.” I liked playing male roles because in Middle School, I felt like there weren’t many female empowered roles.
You went to public school. How was that with your focus on art?
The art in public school is interesting because you have to just grasp what you can and make what you can of the experience. High school was different because I was in show choir, which is like glee club, and we were national champions – we toured the whole nation. That actually had more effect on my theater than the drama department because that was singing, acting and dancing at one time. I was also the stage manager, so a lot of my technical background comes from that.
What is your thesis about?
I struggle with mental illness — depression, panic anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder. My play is about that. I interviewed 30 people about their experiences with mental illness, and the play is really an exposé of their voices and experiences. I didn’t want to write just about mine.
What do you do in your life that inspires you?
I am inspired by so many things in life; however, what comes to mind is being of service, meeting people who have struggled and are stronger because of it, heartache, hardship and trauma, being still in nature, witnessing mind blowing art, whether it’s theater or music or paintings, the values and love of my family and my grandfather (beatnik poet Stuart Perkoff).
What is it about theater that you feel is different from other art forms?
I feel that theater is a raw human experience and it has such incredible potential to affect people on a deeper level. For other art forms, the message and emotion is interpreted through the art piece. Theater is interactive, interpersonal and in some cases, when done right, it directly embodies the message and emotion. It’s happening in real time. People can get lost in the world and truly feel like they are a part of the show. This in turn moves them and hopefully plants a seed of thought within. I truly believe theater is a healing tool we can use to speak our truths and raise awareness because of all this and so much more.
What other kinds of art do you do? How does it inform the theater work?
Besides theater, I am a writer/poet, singer, musician, dancer and film maker and all the art I express is integrated into my theater work. Each creative experience I develop or have expands my overall vision for theater I create. I always have to be doing something creative in order to feel stable. Also, there are times when I do art for art’s sake, not to inform my theater work or help me reach my vision but to express myself.