2018 Summer Intensives: An Accademia dell’Arte Newsletter
It is an exciting time here at the Accademia dell’Arte! The Villa is full of young artists soaking up every ounce of knowledge from visiting faculty and from the other students in the cohort. Summer Intensive Programs at the ADA are an opportunity for the students in the Summer Dance Intensive and Summer Physical Theatre Intensive to explore and experiment with self-generated work. Students in both programs work with masters in various areas of theatre and dance to make collaborative creations, and to learn about the processes and approaches behind them. In addition to the practical work, each faculty member leads a discussion for the entire student body on their philosophy and approach to self-generated art. These discussions have been a particular highlight and have provided an opportunity for the joining of both programs in the spirit of discovery, reflection and curiosity.
As we recently crossed the midway point of the programs, we invite you to keep reading below for student and faculty perspectives on the dynamic work thus far in the 2018 Summer Intensive Programs.
– Dory Sibley, Director of Short-term Programs
Insights and Discoveries from the Faculty
During the first two weeks of the 2018 Summer Intensive Programs, we had visiting faculty from several different countries teaching and mentoring students. We sat down with each faculty person to learn more about their work with the students and their perspective on making art.
In the Physical Theatre Intensive, one group of students worked with Leigh Fondakowski in The Devising Grid and the other group with Roberto Andrioli in Commedia dell’Arte.
Leigh, what’s something that has surprised you about working with the students, thus far?
LEIGH: I’m quite surprised by how open they are. They really walked into this experience, sort of, open to the experience. A lot of times when you’re meeting new people and they’re meeting each other it takes a while to warm them up and get them to feel comfortable with each other, and this group in particular is like an immediate ensemble. Really open and in the exercises they’re just all in. So they’re becoming friends you can see, like at lunch, they’re becoming friends, but in the studio they’re becoming an ensemble. They’re supporting each other artistically in ways that you would think they had known each other for a long long time. Today the work just went to such a deep level, and I think that’s because they’re really committed to going to such a deep level, they’re not here to mess around. Their energy says “We want to work, we want to learn, whatever you tell us to do we’re gonna do it because we want to do good work.” So that has surprised me because a lot of times with young people, it just takes more to get them there.
Roberto, is there a main point of focus or concept that you hope the students take away from the Commedia dell’Arte course?
ROBERTO: I want them to know that they can really trust the potential of their body. It’s just a matter of continuing to study and train and experiment in different approaches. If you follow certain elements and techniques you can get results with your body and your energy. You already have the potential to have power on the stage. Of course it’s a matter of training to manage different rhythms different energy. I think they can easily bring this work into any kind of performing arts, even ones that seem far from commedia because this work teaches acting technique. Mask work opens up a lot of spaces in your body work and acting. I hope they understand this because commedia is a quite specific kind of theatre, but if you understand this you can really transfer what you learn to any kind of experience in performing arts. You can use it in the creation of characters, it can become part of your background experience to then offer in other theatrical and artistic settings.
In the Summer Dance Intensive, students participate in a new, week-long workshop for each of the program’s four weeks. In the first week, dance students worked with Wagner Moreira and Helena Fernandino in C.O.R.E (Creating Opportunities for Research and Exploration) followed by a week with Dragana Alfirevic, Dejan Srhoj and Rok Vevar from NOMAD Dance Company in Collaborative Dance: dissolving the barriers between dancer – instructor and dancer – choreographer.
Wagner and Helena, in what ways do you hope to challenge the students?
HELENA: We work with them on the theme “Sorry, I’m not myself today”. The idea is to be something or someone that’s not what they are used to being and to do what they are not used to doing. The aim is to discover what else they can be and what else they can do. What they are not today might be part of them next week, and then they can start the process again to search for new things and to see what they can do differently or in another way.
WAGNER: The challenge is to lose the control and to figure out after that how to get the control back. Then they can figure out how to be themselves. Sometimes we get lost in having to know who or what we are, but I can learn the opposite, how to not be myself. I give my body I give my soul and my blood for the art, but I know that I am not myself. I’m stepping out of control and understanding a consciousness about who I am. We challenge them to train and then to forget the training.
Dragana, Dejan, and Rok, in your discussion you talked about 3 principles that you abide by in your company, NOMAD Dance, the principle of balance, principle of open space, and the principle of invitation. How do these principles influence your work in a program like this?
DRAGANA: Since the beginning of NOMAD. They’re already well integrated into what we do, so we don’t even have to think about them or rationally integrate them or remind ourselves. The Principle of balance is a very general principle where we take care that there is a certain balance between regional, international and local, the production side and artistic side. It can be a balance between many different aspects. In the workshop this week I think we manage to keep the balance of attention, somehow among the group. There were no parts of the group were certain people dropping out, but somehow really taking care of this division of attention. That everybody is somehow present equally.
ROK: Perhaps something that was present all the time in the workshop, and the most overt of the principles is the principle of open space.We did everything in accordance with how things developed and all the time we were open for things that we couldn’t have planned in advance.
DEJAN: The principle of invitation, in the workshop, I would say that the basic starting point is that the people are invited into the proposals, but the way they do them or execute them or approach them or relate to them is very individual. There is no one possible answer or one aesthetic. Also at any moment you have a chance to observe or step out and not force something from yourself that’s not there.
Student to Student Interviews
To get a true insider’s perspective on what it’s like living, training, studying and performing together for four weeks, we invited a few students from both intensives to interview each other.
Physical Theatre Intensive students Matthew Middleton (Furman University), who took Commedia dell’Arte and Sofia Sanchez (Cornish College of the Arts) who took The Devising Grid talk about the work they experienced in the first half of the program.
Then, Dance Intensive students Heather McKeown (Muhlenberg College) and Madeleine Vouros (Dickinson College) have a conversation about the first two workshops in the Summer Dance Intensive.
MATT: Can you tell me a little bit what the Devising intensive was about?
SOFIA: It was the process of learning how to utilize moment work, which is a technique for writing shows created by Tectonic Theatre Company, in New York. Moment work is really fabulous, it’s a process focused on writing with single theatrical elements: light, sound, costumes, etc. We did mostly moment work with Leigh and then with Dory we worked on Fitzmaurice and chakra work: tremors understanding our own physical body maps, understanding how to connect with our chakras and align them. Then we took these two concepts and we tried to put them together and allow them to influence each other so that we were working on devising a piece with the moment work techniques around the ideas of our chakras and physical maps. It was really cool. They talked about how those two things had never met before and so getting to be one of the first groups to ever get to do that was really interesting. We ran into some bumps absolutely, but we definitely had some breakthrough moments. It was a fantastic intensive.
MATT: What was it like working with Leigh and Dory?
SOFIA: It was incredible, they were both phenomenal. They’re both powerhouses in general, and to put them together was amazing. First of all, they loved each other which just made the environment impeccably inviting. It was so comfortable and people could go through any emotions they felt like they needed to go through in front of the entire cohort because we had these two very powerful women who set up an environment that encouraged that. They were both very supportive and yet still challenged us to push our boundaries and where we were comfortable. Both of them have a great grasp of the techniques they’re working with. I never felt like they were lost at sea ever, but I also never felt like they weren’t growing from watching us. I felt like it was this great mentor/mentee relationship with both of them and then getting to witness them learning form each other’s techniques was really beautiful to witness. Watching them blow each others’ minds and then in turn blow our minds, it was fabulous. What about the Commedia intensive?
MATT: Basically with our whole class and instructor, Roberto, he walked us through Commedia. We didn’t even get into the stock characters until the end of the first week. That was really surprising for me because I thought we’d get in and he’d say here are the masks and the characters and lets go, but the way he taught the class was very calculated, yet relaxed. It was never rushed, so a lot of the beginning work was just focused on exploration. When we were first introduced to the masks we were given no context. We just looked at them. We would hold the mask in our hand and look at it and ask “what is this one thinking”. Then we played how we thought the mask should play just based on it’s look. Then we got into how to use the mask in it’s greatest potential in that sense and then once we actually got into characters Roberto showed us how each character walked or spoke and there was a lot of language introduced to us about how certain characters move or are. For instance, some characters move in a more staccato manner or more legato, or more abrupt or stiff. We learned a lot about movement. We played games with the characters, for instance with il dottore, we basically had a talk show interview with the character. Then the class eventually flipped and we focused on just creating our scenes. So did you know about this whole devising process before doing this intensive?
SOFIA: So, in the syllabus it recommended the book Moment Work written by the Tectonic Company. I read that prior to coming. I had devised a piece before with a group of twelve other students and we devised an hour and half show, but we used different techniques, so I was used to devising and the creation of original work, but I wasn’t used to the moment work process, and for Fitzmaurice work, I had done other voice work at my home school, which slightly goes into the chakras, but not as specific, and yoga work at my home school so there was a little understanding, but getting go deep into a specific technique was wonderful. Especially learning how to tie that to my voice. So I had some understanding of some of the concepts in both techniques, but I had never done specifically either of them. What was your knowledge and experience with Commedia before coming here?
MATT: Very small. I knew there were characters and I’d heard some names, I think I knew Pantalone, but that’s basically it. At my university, they teach a course on period styles of theatre and one of the things they teach is commedia, so I’ve gotten the chance to watch them perform. I had very little knowledge of it. But the only reason I decided I want to try it was because I was looking at interships in Cirque du Soleil and there was a cool page that’s all about jobs you can have and under the clowing page there was a requirement for commedia dell’arte, and so that’s really what brought me here. Also it’s Italy.. But yeah it was really cool to get into what commedia really was. I don’t know if I’ll be doing commedia again, but there are things that i’m taking from it, like where the characters movement and speech comes from, the concept of suspense in your movement. These are things that even if I don’t do commedia I have those things to use, which I’ve really enjoyed. What was the process of devising the show that we all saw last week?
SOFIA: We began with moment work the very first day. We started making moments, and how you make a moment is you go with an object, or light, or whatever you’re working with and you say “I begin” and then something happens and then you say “I end” and that’s the moment. We would do this with different elements and then we would name them all and write all the moments down for the day and go through and discuss what we liked about the moment, very analytically, not “It made me feel this way”, but like “I like the way the light bounced off of the red shoes”, and so we broke down each moment for the first week we just generated moment after moment. After that we had these huge lists of moments on these sheets of paper hanging on the wall. Then we made the devising grid which is this grid of past present and future and we began to sort the moments into these categories depending on how they resonated in our chakras. Then we sorted the moments into chakras where the moment made us feel connected in our bodies.We would utilize tremors to figure out where the moment falls in our chakras and then into past present or future. Then it was our job to create character arcs. So we picked the moments that resonated the most for us and for the group. Then each person had to make an arc out of the moments that they were in. Then we tweaked them so that the arcs could be better understood by an audience and work for us. We just started trying different moments in sequences and then editing, puzzle piecing everything together. Leigh had the idea of doing it on a map because she didn’t want to give up being able to utilize the entirety of the villa. In the end we knew it was a running workshop of what we’ve made, and we’re just going to do it.They really encouraged us that it wasn’t a perfect product it wasn’t finished but we’re letting it go. How was it having Roberto as a mentor?
MATT: He was fantastic. He’s such a friendly guy. That was something we got immediately from him. He just wants to have fun, so it was such a joy to come to class. Day one one of the things he said was “If you see an opportunity for a joke, take it”. I think the reason he said that is because he played a joke on someone in the bathroom on the first day and scared her with a mask when she came out. Every now and then he would just burst into some character and just start monologues or interact with other people. It’s so amusing, but he never wastes time. At first I thought maybe that was going to take up a lot of our time and I was worried we were going to waste time, but he never did. Everyone would focus on him and how his speech would progress as he was going, and once he finished he would say “so this is something you can work with” and we would have the chance to play with a new discovery. He also had a really good feeling of how tired we all were, which was so appreciated. There would be times when we were all just dead and we would try to push through and he would cater to that in the class. He was just wonderful. He’s definitely an instructor that I knew immediately that I was going to love him.
SOFIA: So do you believe that it’s helped you grow as a theatre artist?
MATT: For sure, yeah. I mean I’m always thinking about what it is that I want to create, and I still don’t really know. But my favorite theatrical art form is cirque du soleil, but I don’t know if that’s what I want to do. Working with commedia has been cool because it’s shown me something with characters and how I can use them. For instance, i don’t really think i’m going to be an actor but it’s really good for me as a possible director to see these characters and how they work and how to use these tools.
SOFIA: What was the process like with your group, coming up with your piece?
MATT: So, we split up into three groups of seven and we basically met with our group to come up with a plot and how each of the characters had a role in the plot and what the conflict is. Then we would just improv inside what we had decided on. At first it was rough. One of the things that was hardest was that there were so many people in the class, and having a seven person commedia scene was really hard. Doing improv with a lot of people was hard. We would present what we had and then Roberto would give us some notes and some ideas and helped do a storyboard for each group. He talked through helping us make things more interesting and what we could do to “keep the ball in the air”. One thing he had us to was each tell the story of the plot from our character’s perspective, which was for the purpose of helping our plots and scenes but he took advantage of the opportunity to also help us with our characters, which was really cool. So once we did that we worked on our scenes and he told us to keep in mind when the plot is more important for certain characters. It was all about figuring out how to trade focus to keep the momentum going and not let it just sit, which was a challenge.
SOFIA: Did you choose your own characters, or did Roberto assign characters?
MATT: We chose our own characters. We did this right from the get go. We chose our characters and then built the plot around the characters that we had in our group. That was an interesting process because it took away stress from having to fit characters into a plot. We have the characters, just put them in.
SOFIA: I think the improv really shined in the final performance. Getting to watch you all come out as neutral and then play with the elements and then eventually go into character and go into plots. It was a really wonderful development to watch. So my question is would you say that the class was structured in a similar way that the performance was shown?
MATT: Yes actually very much so. We started with the concept of neutrality and finding a state that you can mold yourself from. In the show we started walking around the space without purpose just as as neutral possible. He explains there are the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. And you’re not anyone of those, you’re none of them but somehow all of them. You have to keep that in mind, what’s your relationship to each of these.
HEATHER: How do the first two intensives compare or contrast?
MADDIE: So, I think that in the first intensive there was exploration, but it was more of a structured exploration, so I had some guidance to figure out where I wanted to discover and what areas I felt were necessary, whereas I felt for the second intensive it was very open, so for me personally it was more of a personal discovery whereas I felt like the first one was a group discovery.
HEATHER: Yeah, I completely agree with that and I think having the first one with Wagner and Helena I think was a nice transition because there was technique in the morning, but then we also had time for ourselves and time to re-discover our creativity, but it wasn’t throwing in your face “you’re on your own”. I think the second week was nice because there was all the freedom to explore on our own, but it was also very integrated with the group of people. It was all contact improv or group strategies and exercises. I feel like it was a nice mix. Did you feel like you enjoyed one more than the other?
MADDIE: Umm, I don’t know if I can really pick one, but I really did like working with Wagner and Helena. I also think I really enjoyed having the technique too, I felt like I knew more about what their work was, which I felt made me connect to them.
HEATHER: Yeah, I feel like I liked both of them for very different reasons. I think the first week i really connected personally with them and they were very open and approachable and easy to talk to, so that was a nice calm environment. I think the second week we still had that openness and open dialogue but I think i more appreciated the creative aspect of that one and finding my own creative voice.
MADDIE: I did like having the opportunity to find that as well, but I also did like in the first week because we were switching between different things being taught I was able to take one of the things and bring it into the next section of what we were doing.
HEATHER: Right, yeah. I feel like the second week everything merged into each other, but there wasn’t as specific sections of the intensive. There were benefits to both approaches.
MADDIE: Do you have a favorite thing that we did with Wagner and Helena?
HEATHER: I don’t know if this is my favorite thing, but I really appreciated all of the floorwork in the technique that we did because it really helped me understand how to more efficiently move through the floor and from the floor, so that was really helpful, but favorite thing…I really liked dancing outside.
HEATHER: Just because I like that environment.
MADDIE: I really liked the site-specific work. That was something I always wanted to do, but never had the chance to do.
HEATHER: Yeah, I’ve danced outside..
HEATHER: And I’ve danced in random places, but not with the intent of creating something or showing something, so that was cool. It was a new experience, I think for most of us.
MADDIE: What about with NOMAD? Was there a specific thing?
HEATHER: Well, the whole jumping thing.
MADDIE: Jumping, yeah I was going to say that!
HEATHER: It was just so fun because we all couldn’t stop laughing every time we were doing it, but it was cool because we incorporated that and we just kept going through it.
MADDIE: It’s also definitely a different approach to jumping then I’m used to.
HEATHER: Yeah! Also the first day with them and the contact improv we did from feeling the textures around the room and the environment and then moving to people and feeling contact with skin and then what happens and discovering new ways to listen to your partner, I feel like a lot of times I tend to facilitate and take control of the situation, but that was a completely new approach because I was letting whatever happened happen.
MADDIE: It’s interesting you say that because I feel at times like I’m the person who’s more passive and I’m not an assertive person inside and outside of dance, so yeah it was definitely interesting to play with that.
After two weeks of living on a hill in Tuscany, we asked Physical Theatre Intensive student, Gabriela Gowdie and Dance Intensive student, Rosemary Ronca (Hendrix College) to share what life at the ADA is like during the Summer Intensive Programs.
How does the intensity of the program so far compare to the training that you’re used to at your school in the US?
GABBY: Typically classes in the states aren’t quite so long, so we cram in one day what you would learn in one week at home. You feel your growth exponentially everyday. What I love about Roberto, aside from his expertise as a performer, is his knowledge as an Italian and as a historian. We really get to learn where these characters came from, both geographically and culturally. It makes them feel like real people.
ROSIE: So far it’s been a lot less technique based and more about finding your relationship with yourself and others in groups and the floor and really focusing how you can use the space around you to aid in your movement. At Hendrix it’s a lot more technique to get it right, but here it’s a lot more of exploring what you can do in your own body.
It’s been a really good experience so far. Both sets of teachers have brought in unique perspectives that I’ve never been exposed to.I think it’s helping me be a better dancer because I’m learning how to relate to other body shapes.
What has been your favorite part of about living at the ADA?
GABBY: The land. This is the first place that I’ve ever studied where I feel a connection to nature. I feel inspired by nature I incorporate it into my work. I don’t have to separate myself from the world. It’s part of the play.
ROSIE: My favorite part has been meeting people in both programs because there are some amazing people that I never would have met before and I think it’s really amazing to see how relationships blossom with people I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.
Now that you’re more than 1 week into the program, do you feel that you were prepared coming into it? What advice would you give to students who want to participate in next summer’s intensives?
GABBY: Bring a water bottle. And tons of deodorant. Yeah I feel like I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that it was going to be a lot of work all the time, but I also knew that I could do that and I’m supported by the people here. Other than that pack light, have fun, travel. Be open to putting yourself in awkward situations. The people here are very welcoming and engaging and sometimes all you have to do is say hi.
ROSIE: I think I was fairly prepared. I did a lot of research about Italian culture before I came and also I came in with a very open mind to to just experience what I experience and let whatever happens happen. I would say just be excited to come and experience and make art here.