Niskayuna native celebrates her mentors at SLOC workshop
NISKAYUNA – Actress Gabriella Pizzolo, 20, of Niskayuna, is no stranger to being in the spotlight in both television and film, as well as on the local stages of Craig Elementary School and at Schenectady Light Opera Company (SLOC).
On Thursday, Jan. 11, and Sunday, Jan. 14, Pizzolo offered several masterclasses to youth participants at SLOC that were involved in the organizations’ theater productions of both “Matilda” and “Tarzan,” as well as spoke with the cast members of SLOC’s soon-to-be March production of “Fun Home.”
Pizzolo was involved in several youth productions at the community theater prior to making her Broadway debut in “Matilda” in 2013 and later went for three understudy roles in another Broadway production, “Fun Home,” at 12 years old. She has also had roles in “Stranger Things” and “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.”
“I saw so many talented young people on Thursday, as well as an incredible cast on Sunday.” Pizzolo said after the conclusion of the workshop. “Seeing one of the theaters that helped me discover so many of my passions performing a show that is so close to my heart was more than special. I was over the moon to be back with the people and place that I love.”
Prior to her meeting with staff and the young actors, Pizzolo reflected on her theater and television career. She said was excited to return to her hometown theater where she first discovered her love of theater.
“I feel grateful to get to be back with the people who really helped it happen because it definitely would have never been just me,” Pizzolo said. “I don’t think I’d even have found out about working professionally, had it not been for the people who suggested it to me at an early age, so I have a lot of really great feelings about being back there.”
Pizzolo and her family moved to Niskayuna when she began Kindergarten. During her time at Craig Elementary School, her elementary school music teachers took note of her strong interest in music and performing at a young age and suggested that she should start doing the stuff that seemed to make her happy, and she adhered to their advice.
One of Pizzolo’s first theatrical performances at SLOC at 8 years old was performing in “Les Miserables.” As a young girl, she loved the music and decided to audition for a given role.
Since taking part in “Les Mis,” Pizzolo auditioned for almost everything that SLOC put on for a few seasons and was in many shows. She would audition for shows that sometimes didn’t have a kid role and occasionally, the production crew would find a way to place her in the production.
“I really found a good kind of home and center for my theatrical education just because it was a lot of the same people, those same few years that I was there, and it was really fun,” Pizzolo said. “And I think that they just saw that I was really intrigued and interested in learning all that I could. I’m really happy that they had noticed that because a few years after that, I was recommended by some of the Schenectady Light Opera people to go down and audition for ‘Matilda: The Musical.’”
Auditioning for “Matilda: The Musical”
For a whole year, the then 10-year-old actress went to New York City to audition for a part in “Matilda: The Musical” and the auditioning process was long. While going down to the city, she was also continuing her work at SLOC while she was doing callbacks and waiting to hear back from the Broadway production.
“It was just a really exciting time because everyone at SLOC was so interested in supporting me through that entire process, and it was really great because they had a lot of great insight on how to navigate all that because I had never done that before and neither had my family,” she said.
The role that she auditioned for at the time was for a larger role and the production crew had in mind that they weren’t going to pick just one kid to play it at a time.
“So they had hundreds and hundreds of little girls all there to try and audition and play the role, and it was honestly a really long process in the sense that it took almost a whole year of callbacks and being called back in for dance auditions, meet and greets usually once a week and they really took a long time to single it down,” Pizzolo recalled. “Iit was good because they took the time to really get to know the kids that they would end up working with. And so after that entire year, I felt like I had already grown so close to the girls that I ended up playing the role alongside them for that entire year-long process together beforehand.”
Remembering how the audition process went for “Matilda: The Musical” was nostalgic to Pizzolo.
“Remembering back how I navigated it, I got a lot of help from a lot of the people that were there, and it really was something that I didn’t think that I would end up getting,” she said. “It kind of really made all of their mentorship that much more special when I ended up being able to do it. It was really exciting for me.”
High School Acting and College Career
After taking part in both “Matilda: The Musical” and “Fun House,” Pizzolo also continued acting in the Niskayuna middle and high school theater productions. In her senior year in 2020, she became a head stage manager for a show that she and her classmates created on their own without the supervision of adults.
Pizzolo was able to do a lot of different things as a student in the Niskayuna School District when it came to performance and stage management and for the pandemic production, Pizzolo made sure that the actors, creatives and crew members were safe during the process.
Pizzolo is currently in college in Manhattan, where she is double majoring in both psychology and music composition. In the world of theater and TV production.
She is currently sound designing a show at her college and says it is technologically focused. She uses a keyboard and has been recording a lot in studios with her voice but never with sound until now.
In her industry, she ends up taking jobs in new positions that she has never done before, as well as finding new ways to do things in what she has always done and enjoyed in her career.
Pizzolo is proud of the work that she has accomplished in her career so far.
“A lot of my pride comes from one, giving back to the community and two, I really love getting to visit all the people that the work I’ve done has affected – getting to go to meet and greets and press events, comic cons, and visiting and traveling around meeting really important people who are so loving and caring about the things that I have helped and been a part of creating,” she said.
“Stranger Things” and “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”
In the television industry, Pizzolo played a role in the Netflix television series, “Stranger Things.” The television show, set in the 1980’s, focuses on the residents living in a fictional town called Hawkins, Indiana, which is plagued by an alternate dimension known as the Upside Down. The show, which is filmed in Georgia, N.M., and even in Lithuania for a few scenes, is currently filming its fifth and final season.
Pizzolo said that she was on the television set maybe 5% of the time the film crew was working and helping to make everything happen behind the scenes.
“I think we’re all so grateful and excited to finally see where everything ends up,” Pizzolo said. “But there is always the sadness of letting go of specific characters that you become and grow alongside so much, even for fans and especially the people playing the characters.”
In 2022, Pizzolo had the chance to work on another TV series, “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin,” at the Armory in downtown Schenectady where it was filming. She said that filming in Schenectady was incredible to her.
While filming, she was able to see the extras that were in the show, people that she grew up with, and it was fun seeing them on set and hearing their stories. Filming the show in Schenectady felt like a huge community that had never left and is always a part of something new, she said.
“I love that Schenectady is becoming such a landmark for film and TV,” Pizzolo said. “I think that it’s definitely time because the Capital Region is gorgeous and absolutely worth the location. … Schenectady and the rest of the Capital Region have a lot of captivating things about it, and qualities that filmmakers and TV show runners are just starting to notice, and I really hope that they look even more into it because I think that it’s a beautiful place that deserves to be captured and showcased.”
Reflections of Giving Back to SLOC
Since Pizzolo left Niskayuna for college, she has had many opportunities to learn a lot of things and mix the new skills with the work that she has done for many years in her field, plus with the education that she has received in college. She wanted to return to SLOC to help younger people discover what they love and was able to share her experiences with them, just like her mentors at SLOC did for her, she said.
“I feel so grateful for what my community has done for me already.” she said. “Only being 20 years old and I cannot thank them enough, but this is a way to try to, at least. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay them back, but I really am honored that they think of me for events like this where I do get to give back in little ways.”
This story was featured on page 5 of the February 7, 2024 issue of The Spot518.