Any way you slice it – the official indicator that Italian-Canadians are fully integrated into Canada’s fabric, or the natural progression of a vast community that has valued education, social harmony and hard work – Italian surnames are being pronounced on nearly every local TV station and radio dial, and this month’s cover features two shining examples.
For Panoram Italia readers, the names Sabrina Marandola and Laura Casella should ring a few bells. Both young women have been lending their writing talents to the magazine since its inception as a quarterly in 2006. And they have quite a bit more in common. They are second generation Italian-Canadians, raised in Montreal’s East End, who studied Journalism at Concordia University by way of Dawson College. While both still pen the odd article when time permits, they now feature as steady fixtures of Montreal’s broadcast media.
Sabrina Marandola divides her schedule between CBC TV and radio as a news reporter and weather presenter. She began work for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 2008 following stints at the Suburban, Ciao Montreal, and 940AM under the tutelage of Dennis Trudeau. Her journey kicked off at age nine during an elementary school public speaking competition. “It was the first time in my life that I had ever done an oral presentation – I did it on dinosaurs. I had to repeat my oral in front of the whole school, 700 people, and I won 1st place – I even beat the 6th graders! That’s when I thought, ‘If everyone’s so nervous doing this and I’m not...maybe there’s something there?’”
While the 31-year-old certainly paid her dues as producer of the 940AM morning show, starting work at 4am daily, her profession eventually developed its share of perks. She met one of her idols, legendary actor and film director Roberto Benigni, at the 2009 Just for Laughs Festival. “So the press conference begins, Benigni is being Benigni: gesticulating, larger than life, oozing with energy and enthusiasm – the whole room is in stitches. He talks for about two minutes and then he just stops dead. He points to me, and says ‘Regardez la beauté Québecoise!’ And I’m just thinking, ‘Oh my God, Roberto Benigni thinks I’m beautiful! My life is amazing!’ From that point on, if ever I’m having a bad day, all I have to do is think of that moment.”
For Laura Casella, rising through the ranks meant getting her feet wet with the overnight shift at CJAD radio. The 27-year-old from St-Leonard got her first break as producer of the Tommy Schnurmacher Show in 2009. “When a full-time position as Tommy’s producer opened up, I jumped on it,” she says. “The experience I gained working with him was invaluable; I would definitely say he’s been my biggest mentor so far.”
Like Marandola, Casella’s passion for being in front of the camera developed early on. “In Grade 5, I had to do this skit and I made up this character – Peggy White – and I performed it in class and in front of my family: ‘I’m Peggy White, and this is the Peggy White Show!’ (laughs). My cousins still talk about it.” She cites Oprah Winfrey as her main inspiration; she’d love to have her own talk show one day.
Casella’s current position as morning reporter for CJAD and freelancer for CTV Montreal thrusts her on to the scene of breaking news events, for a first glimpse of murder investigations, early morning fire bombings and seven-car pile-ups. Her most memorable assignment was covering the student protest in Trois-Rivières earlier this year, when she received the effects of tear gas during a live report. “I couldn’t even get my words out, live on CTV news,” she explains. “All of a sudden I’m crying and can’t finish my report. In the moment I was devastated because I felt so unprofessional, as though my TV career was over...but everyone was really supportive and made me understand that it was all part of live reporting.”
Certainly, the unpredictability of the business is something that drives both women. As Marandola puts it: “Interviewing Monsieur et Madame tout le monde, crafting my story and making a connection with the audience,” is something she lives for. Whereas prior generations would have seen an Italian family name as an obstacle, she and Casella view it as an asset. “It’s all about using it to your advantage,” says Marandola. “My Italian heritage helped me work for the Suburban’s East-End edition, Ciao Montreal, and Panoram; knowing three languages opened so many doors for me.”
Looking ahead, both women echo the same sentiment. “I don’t see myself moving to another market,” says Marandola. “To me, Montreal is home; it’s who I am through and through. The rich diversity of all the cultural communities is what I grew up in; it’s what I know and it’s what I am. It’s just a place that plays to my strengths because I play to its strengths.”