My name is Marsha De Salvatore and I come from Cincinnati, Ohio by Calabrese parents. This combo has fueled my comedy career with many funny family stories told in a direct, punchy American way. I live in Rome and have been for almost 20 years.
I love music, art, fashion, cinema and exploring my amazing adopted country of Italy. The one thing I love the most is connecting with people and making them laugh, which I do in both teaching and doing comedy. I bring eternal laughs to the Eternal City while correcting the present perfect.
Tell us a bit about your backstory. How did you first get started teaching English in Rome?
I got my start teaching English as a second language in Seattle, Washington in the late ’90s because I knew I wanted to live in Italy. It seemed like an easy job to find and it sounded fun. This was after working many years in fashion. I was the visuals merchandiser for The Gap, which involved working with mannequins, not people. I was excited to be working with real people.
I moved to Italy in ’99 and studied Italian and picked up some teaching jobs. I loved my students and knowing I was shaping the way they spoke English. From there I moved to Rome and have been here since 2001. I’ve worked in several English schools, companies, and privately at home.
What do you do now for work?
I teach English by day and do comedy by night.
I also started the only English stand up show in Rome 11 years ago.
I also started the only English stand-up show in Rome 11 years ago. Since then I’ve written two one-woman shows, that are done in both Italian and English. I travel around Italy performing these in schools, theaters, corporate gigs, university, and private events.
That sounds fascinating! I knew that you founded and run. But I didn’t know that you also travel around Italy performing comedy. Can you tell us more about that?
I have two one-woman shows. One is ‘Marsha’s so-called life’ and it speaks about my life as an Italo-Americana living in Rome, with crazy Calabrese parents and my life as an expat in Rome with it’s daily life and romantic status.
The second, DM55 is a bit more serious. It’s a dramatic comedy about my life experience with a blood disease which requires regular blood transfusions. I speak about my journey in embracing my illness, being open about it and motivating people to donate blood.
I do both these shows in English and Italian. DM55 gets a lot of attention and requests because it’s inspiring and informative.
This is the most satisfying and rewarding project I’ve ever done. I love that I’ve brought English comedy to Rome.
This is the most satisfying and rewarding project I’ve ever done. I love that I’ve brought English comedy to Rome. Not only to the large expat community living here, who are craving English comedy. BUT I also have a large Italian following.
When I started there was NO stand up in Italy. Now it has exploded and there are stand up shows in Italian all over the country.
I had wanted to try stand up all my life. So the way to do it was to start a show in Rome. I found a pub, some interested performers, and the audience came!
11 years, 100’s of shows later, RCC is the start of English stand up in Italy.
I have a group of expat performers and some Italians who perform in English and with an audience that grows every month. We are every last Friday of the month currently at a Hawiian themed bar in the Piramide area.
I am speechless with how you followed something you were passionate about. You made a path where none had existed before, and you started a trend, all in your adopted country. WOW! Just, WOW! This is something that a lot of people may dream about, but never do. So, what would you say to all the dreamers out there?
Now with covid, we’re on hold til we find outdoor space or this virus GOES AWAY.
If there is something you are passionate about, YOU are in TOTAL control. Like my friend said to me 10 some years ago.. .if you wanna do stand up, then create it.
It is sooo hard to be fearless and make things happen because we want to succeed or feel like we don’t have the resources to do it. BUT we do!
It seems like stand-up comedy is your first love and your biggest passion. How do you see the connection between that and teaching?
It is sooo hard to be fearless and make things happen because we want to succeed or feel like we don’t have the resources to do it. BUT we do! We have to believe in ourselves and as my Calabrese father says, ‘go get em tiger’.
Laughter creates a safe environment. People are relaxed, having fun and connecting. So like a comedy show in the classroom, I find that when I can create a place where students can have fun while learning, they don’t focus on their insecurities of speaking another language and they let go. This way, they show how much more they know and speak.
I’ve also done comedy workshops where I have taught IMPROV. These exercises are ideal in learning a new language because the first step is letting go of control and being present.
I’ve also done comedy workshops where I have taught IMPROV. These exercises are ideal in learning a new language because the first step is letting go of control and being present. When speaking, if we’re too in our heads, thinking of saying things correctly, using the right grammar or not messing up the pronunciation, we won’t speak.
You make such good points here. I don’t consider myself a very funny person, but I’m a fan of comedy. I wish more teachers would make language learning more fun. I can also imagine that your style of teaching is also a great motivator for your students.
The tools of improv, which I use in stand up and teaching, are foundational in both places… if not in our everyday lives.
Some people are funnier than others BUT being funny is just being real and honest. When someone tries to be funny, it doesn’t work. BUT when you are just being you, you would be surprised how funny you are. It’s all about simplicity. It could be a gesture, a facial expression, a comment or some people tell great stories and jokes.
I also saw in your website that you are involved in “comedy therapy”. Do you want to talk about that work?
Being honest, is being funny. We must be honest to be good teachers.
My illness has taught me so much in my life. It gave me my comedy, my strength, and my perseverance in life. BUT the most important gift is how laughing and the techniques of comedy can help us in day to day life. As a child growing up in hospitals and being poked and prodded, my father coming in and making me laugh took me out of the situation and allowed me to have fun.
Years later when I started my work in comedy, I took an IMROV class which changed my life.
It was here that I learned that we all must do IMPROV in life, especially those with illnesses, disabilities and strong life challenges.
It was here that I learned that we all must do IMPROV in life, especially those with illnesses, disabilities and strong life challenges. The principles of IMPROV can help us go through life in a better way.
Oh, those definitely sound like great rules to live life by! If someone were looking to make a living teaching English in Rome, what advice would you give them?
The 5 basic steps are:
The north is much better for work and they are also more organized and better paid than in Rome. BUT if Rome is where your heart is… I have to be honest, it’s not easy as it was before.
You must be legal to work and live here.
You must have a teaching certificate.
In the beginning, you have to be willing to move around the city for lessons, so invest in a scooter or bicycle.
International schools are the best paid and offer contracts but are harder to come by.
Small schools, like where I work at Wall Street English, are fun places to work.
Small schools, like where I work at Wall Street English, are fun places to work. You have colleagues to chat with and share lessons or stories. Schools often have fun student events.
You make some good points about what it’s like when you first start teaching in a school. In A lot of teacher who I’ve talked to say that it’s not easy making things work while living in Rome. If someone is thinking of moving to Rome, what would you tell them to expect? In my chat with Carol Markino, she also said that they first sent her all around the city for jobs.
I’ve worked many years in companies, and it can be lonely because it’s only you and students. I prefer to work in a school for the interaction with other employees and school events.
Be open and don’t compare to home, be patient and be a go-getter.
Things don’t always go smoothly in Italy, so it’s important to be open to unexpected problems (like getting a document from an office and having to go back 6 times to 5 different places for a stamp). These things do NOT happen at home but remember you aren’t HOME.
It will take time to get things rolling so keep patient and grounded that things will happen.
It will take time to get things rolling so keep patient and grounded that things will happen. Networking and meeting people are great ways to learn about opportunities. So you must be motivated and be a go-getter.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about yourself?
Living in Italy is not easy but not impossible. You have to be a go-getter and never take no as an answer. Always push forward.
Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?
Email: marshadesalvatore [ at ] yahoo [ dot ] com
Thank you so much Marsha! I’ve really enjoyed this conversation with you!