In anticipation of the first semester of their 2.5 year MFA, Cohort V participated in a series of orientation activities, including a week-long Italian intensive with Giangiacomo Colli. We checked in with Faith Sullivan, Zev Hurwich, and Sloane Teagle about their adjustment process:
When did you arrive? What was your journey like getting there?
I arrived in Arezzo on August 25th! The trip was surprisingly easy. I was on the same flight as Brandonn, a fellow member of Cohort V, and that made the experience way more pleasant. We met up with another member of our cohort, Zev, in Rome and rode the train to Arezzo together. It was really nice to meet up with them before we made it to Arezzo. It was a unique bonding situation and put my travel worries at ease.
What part of the city do you live in? What’s your apartment like? How does your living situation now compare to the U.S.?
I live in Quartiere di Porta Sant’Andrea with Faith and Lindsey. We’re in a temporary apartment while our permanent one is being renovated. The apartment we’re in now is really beautiful and quite large. All of the furniture is vintage and the apartment itself has a lot of character. The biggest differences from my living situation in the U.S. is not having a dryer! It’s not a huge deal, but it does force us to have a strict wash schedule.
What’s the most surprising difference between Arezzo and where you moved from? The most surprising similarity?
I’m from Houston, which is a big city that’s spread out and populous. I can go days without randomly running into people I know from home, but Arezzo is so small that I run into people that I’ve met outside of ADA almost everyday and they seem genuinely concerned about how I’m doing and how I’m enjoying the city. It is so refreshing to be in a city with a decent population and a supportive community. I also wasn’t expecting Arezzo to be as lively as it is! It’s similar to Houston because it seems like there is always something to do here whether it be going to a joust or going to one of the outdoor markets.
Was “Welcome Day” helpful to kicking off your journey in the MFA in Physical Theatre? How so?
It was helpful, mostly just to be able to spend time with faculty and the other members in my cohort, and to see some of the spaces that we’d be working in for the first time was really exciting because I could really see myself having class and working there. I was mostly just that much more excited to get classes started, and I know some of my fellow cohort members felt the same way.
What activities and events did the day consist of? Had you met any of the other members of Cohort V before then? How about faculty and staff?
We started the day with an academic orientation, and that’s where we met a lot of the faculty for the first time. The other members of Cohort V and I had already met a few times since we arrived, so it was nice to have already gotten to spend some time with them. We went on a historical tour of the city with Scott, and then a practical tour of the city with Silvia! We also had a picnic in the park with the cohort and some faculty, which was a really nice way to get to know some of the faculty a little better. Later on we went to a welcome dinner, and it was such a lovely night! We met Giangiacomo for the first time then, and some of us played some music and just hung out with everyone!
Did you learn any new and interesting things about Arezzo or any of the Accademia spaces you’ll be working in over the next several months?
Scott gave us a ton of information about Arezzo historically, none of which I knew before! We also went to all of the academic buildings that we would have classes in.
What was the focus of the Italian language intensive?
The focus of the intensive was being able to understand, and speak well enough to perform common and basic functions in Arezzo. Though it was also a chance for us to bond as a class in an actual classroom setting. We got to learn a lot more about how each of us learn, and started finding ways to support each other. Which has certainly been as, if not more, important as being able to go to the grocery store.
Did you have experience with Italian language prior to your arrival? If so, at what level? Is there a range of Italian language experience across Cohort V?
I majored in Italian in college, so while I’m certainly not fluent in speaking, I’m pretty proficient. So while I’m not good as our resident Italian citizen Margherita, I got a head start. Besides that we definitely have a range. Whether it’s loved ones who spoke the language, or students who took the study abroad program at the villa, or people brand new to the program.
How has it benefitted your first few weeks in Arezzo?
It was a good chance to brush up on some stuff I hadn’t looked at in a while, and learn some practical words I had never learned in an college setting.
After almost three months of summer vacation, Cohort IV is back for more! As they kick off their second year of graduate study, we asked Erika Whatley, Ware Carlton-Ford, and Justine Hince to let us know how year one has informed their goals and expectations for year two, and to fill us in on the Welcome Cabaret they organized:
With some down time over the summer, were you able to reflect on the previous year and make any new discoveries?
Good question; I would say both yes and no. I went back to the States for a few weeks to visit friends and family and had promised to do some workshops with my previous theater communities based on what I’ve learned in my first year here. That was a great opportunity to reflect on which exercises had left the biggest impact on me, what I took away from them, and what I wanted to bring back to my theater friends from my experience here. That was a really great thing, to reflect on the whole year and look at which parts of my experience and my study had the biggest impact. I also taught theater at some summer camps for Italian kids, and that was a different perspective on the same ideas: working with the kids to deepen a connection to the (English) text by focusing on the body, movement, and most of all, the games – playing spontaneously as a way to enrich the meaning of the words. That was a good chance to cut to the core of what I had learned this year and again, essentialize what had meant the most to me.
All that said, apart from those explicit moments throughout the summer, I tried to really take some time off, and not even think too much about school or study. For me, it’s an important part of the learning process to have time away. I’m able to come back to school now really fresh and ready to take on something new. I’ve definitely done some processing in that time, but not consciously. For me, the summer was a great time to renew and refill the fuel tank for another challenging semester so that I can show up to class ready, energetic, and even missing the work a little. I never want to show up just because I’m supposed to or whatever – I want to be excited and balance is an important part of that.
How do you feel better prepared going into Year 2 compared to starting the MFA in Physical Theatre one year ago?
Well, for one thing, I feel like last year, there was a lot more to cope with – the paperwork, adjusting to Italian life, getting settled in and all that. In the second year, I feel much more able to focus on the work because I’ve got a good sense of my life here now. More importantly, though, I think the first year – and the mentoring aspect in particular – really helped me identify strengths and weaknesses as both a student and performer, so I know where to concentrate in a way that I didn’t last year. I’ve also made a lot of progress on singing, especially part singing, working with Kevin, Mariana, and especially Saso. Plus, all the devising work we did last year really strengthened my ability to generate work quickly and analyze the success of ideas. I feel much better prepared to work quickly, and curate the material I generate to be as effective as possible.
Do you feel better prepared going into Year 2 compared to starting the MFA in Physical Theatre one year ago? How so?
I definitely felt more prepared coming into Year 2. Actually, probably about a week before classes started I was itching to start already! The first year really gets you into gear mentally and physically. I feel like all of the different techniques thrown our way help us to determine our own unique aesthetic and style while still being able to successfully collaborate as an ensemble. Our residency at FLIC in Torino was a huge turning point, not only for myself but for the group as a whole. The amount of support I felt from the group throughout the 5 weeks, the personal achievements I had, and witnessing the ways in which we all handled moments of strength and of weakness brought us so much closer together. I think that feeling of being part of a group is really what geared me up for starting this new year and seeing where we will go.
How has Cohort IV welcomed Cohort V to Arezzo?
We’ve had a great time meeting Cohort V! Many of them arrived on the same day, which just happened to be the day of the prova generale for the joust. So, we got a big group together and went to the joust rehearsal together and then spent time in Sant’Agostino afterwards. We also planned a welcome cabaret for them and the new undergrads. The cabaret was a great experience because it got all of us in Cohort IV back into the practice of devising again but also gave Cohort V an idea of the type of work they will get to do while they’re here.
With the down time over the summer were you able to reflect and make any new discoveries about the past year?
One of the main reasons I was drawn to this program was the idea of the artist as creator. I admit that I was initially very intimidated by this because I wasn’t sure what that would entail exactly. This summer, I found myself itching to create and be active after such an intense physical and stimulating year. I continued working on my Italian so that not only could I communicate better with people in town but also perform more in Italian throughout this next year. Also, I knew it was important for me, personally, to maintain a level of fitness over the summer so as not to lose what I worked so hard for throughout the year. One thing I realized was that I didn’t give myself much liberty to go out and experience Arezzo much while in school so I took advantage of the down time in summer to do just that. Now, I don’t feel like just a student here, but more part of the community.
What was the occasion for the first Cabaret of the semester? Who was involved and in what capacities?
The occasion for this cabaret was to welcome the new undergraduates and MFA Cohort V. It was the first time a cabaret had been organized alongside the traditional welcome dinner and it was a wonderful way to share with the new students the types of work we had been exposed to. At the end of our FLIC semester, I volunteered to work as a sort of organizer/stage manager of this cabaret and almost all of Cohort IV was involved. While Will Dameron and Chris Truini, our technical coordinators at the ADA, were also involved, members of the cohort also stepped up to help with costumes, set changes, light hang and focus, and organizing the space for the cabaret. It was a really great experience in that everyone performing was also involved with taking care of some aspect of the performance.
Was there a prompt or a theme to serve as a starting point? What was the process like creating the pieces?
There was no prompt, but we did decide to look back at some pieces to revisit. This cabaret was an excellent opportunity to show pieces that had not been shared before, like the “Table” piece that opened our cabaret. It was originally created at FLIC, but we didn’t end up using it. This piece ended up being an excellent way to start our cabaret off. In creating the other pieces, we had one brain storming meeting with everyone who was in town about three weeks before and that ended up being a jumping off point for some people. Each piece had it’s own development, and there was quite a variety of work represented. We used the “Jellyfish Dance” from a past cabaret, a class exercise from last year as a transition, and Ware showed his audition piece. For the new work, there was dance with live music, a dance clown piece, a juggling duet, duet with chairs, and Commedia. About a week before the cabaret, we all met to share what we had created so far and gave feedback to one another as well. It was really great to see the pieces grow after that rehearsal and into our final performance.
With a year of physical theatre training now under your belt, what’s the biggest change you notice in collaborating and creating original work?
There have been big changes that I’ve noticed in both collaboration and the creation process. In collaborating together, we are becoming so aware of each cohort member’s styles in their creation and it’s really nice to see ideas being built upon in a constructive way. The balance of the cohort is also changing, people are speaking up more with their ideas and constructive criticism who may not have spoken as much last year and it’s refreshing to hear more of each individual’s viewpoint.
In creating original work, we are much more aware that we have a responsibility to the full cabaret to be responsible for the pieces that we’ve committed to. By being prepared, we are able to put the cabaret and other past shows together in only a short period of time (just days!). When we have each little building block prepared, we find ourselves able to compromise and work together to make sure that we are capable of change if we know our piece well enough to adapt to any little change. I think that ability to adapt and willingness to try is what has made me much stronger in creating original work.