The Work Continues: Checking in with members of Cohort V
Amidst their very busy schedule, including Buffon, Directing, Clown and Dance (among others), Cohort V members Heidee Alsdorf and Sloane Teagle graciously took time to chat with us about the many exciting – and challenging – happenings this fall semester. Read on below to hear from Heidee and Sloane. In the second section, we speak with faculty members Ginevra Scaglia and William (Peppy) Biddy about their work with the MFA students.
Can you describe a typical session working with Buffon? Did it resemble any styles or techniques you’ve worked with in the MFA program? Will any aspects of Buffon continue to inform you work as you move forward?
Heidee: We studied Buffon under the direction of Fabio Mangolini. A typical session with him would last at least two hours with a thirty minute warm-up / tuning-in period followed by an hour and half long improvisation. The Buffon is a kind of societal reject, a character that is cast not aside but underneath the world of material goods, good manners, and goodness in general. The Buffon is sensitive in the way they are driven by the gut, the genitals, the flesh. They are tuned to ways of sensing, and therefore, ways of reacting that are often deemed “lower”. The most important aspect of the Buffon work for me was the necessary symbioticism of the group or tribe, as we called it. We had compared the experience of the Buffon to American Punks squatting in old abandoned houses. Because every Buffon was once rejected perhaps violently or shamefully from the world, every Buffon shares a deeply intimate experience of the need to fight for oneself to survive. This work suggested to me that when a creative ensemble is united in need (need to fight, need to express, need to unleash) the bond is super strong. Then you are a tribe.
Sloane: Each of us created our Buffon characters by combining two contrasting animals. After a short warm up with Fabio we would quickly find our animal combination again and would improvise in character for hours at a time. With these improv sessions, we created relationships within our “tribe” and built homes as our characters. I don’t think this work was anything like any of the other forms we have studied over the last year. I believe that I’ll carry a bit of the madness and freedom of Buffon with me in each new aspect of the program.
You recently remounted your clown performance in Castelfiorentino. How did the cohort approach the creation of the piece? How was Andre Casaca involved in that process?
Sloane: Our original clown piece was based on exercises we did during our 3 weeks with Andre. Remounting the show was challenging because we hadn’t lived in the clown world for almost a month and, in my opinion, it takes time to find the sincerity and fragility of a clown. While it was challenging to reconnect with the work during our rehearsal period, it was extremely rewarding to find the vulnerability and truth of my clown again and further develop my “Sloane Clown.” Andre was very helpful during our reboot of the show, often reminding us to look for the truth and live in the suspension of the clown.
Heidee: Before our clown show could ever materialize, it was necessary for us to find the truth of the clown. We spent three weeks playing games and dancing with André Casaca in our studio here in Arezzo. He told us that the most important thing for the clown is to live in his/her problem. A problem is solved only through the creation of another problem. In this way, the clown is super vulnerable and relatable. Our show was created through improvisations, mostly in groups of two or solos. We would work on our own while André divided his time between us, provoking us, guiding us. When we performed in Arezzo, the show was a series of episodes highlighting the inner lives of each of our clowns. When we performed in Castelfiorentino, we had spent all day on Saturday making connections, going deeper into the relationships between these clowns. In this way the performance in Castelfiorentino had a stronger dramatic tension and something more of a clear thru-line. André was involved in every moment along the way, providing urgency by creating problems for us even when we felt we had none.
You’ve been working with Giorgio Rossi in Dance. Can you describe a typical session? How does this class compare with others that you’ve had this semester?
Heidee: A typical session of Dance with Giorgio Rossi is about four hours. We spend the first hour warming up slowly through the articulations of body. Each joint is given time to “wake-up.” Giorgio’s work is based on measuring muscular tension and using only what is necessary to complete an action. Usually, our warm-up fluidly transitions into a long improvisation, about an hour and a half or so, focusing on a particular state of being or physical element. Last week we focused on elasticity between two different points of the body. In this improvisation, distance equals tension. Other days we might focus on collapsing, letting the body or a part of the body release entirely to the call of gravity, or we might work on suspension, breathing, the gaze, etc.. Following these improvisations, we typically work on some fine skill such as rhythm or coordination. As we get closer to the performance (Tuesday, 31 October), this part of our sessions has been dedicated to creation, learning and creating material for the show. Compared to other classes this semester, I would describe Giorgio’s work as particularly personal. Meaning, unlike Buffon or Clown where we would go toward some specific facet of the universal human psyche (exile from society / living in a problem), with Giorgio we scatter across the whole landscape of the self, our own self, researching exactly our own body through our own experience. In this way, the work can often become ephemeral and seemingly unfocused (indeed, we all have different bodies/selves to research, and the experience of that body can change daily) but we find through time that the body learns even when the brain is unconvinced.
Cohort IV just performed 14 Lines for the final time. We’re you able to see it? What was your impression? In what ways has Cohort IV impacted your MFA work and journey?
Sloane: I was truly moved by Cohort IV’s work in 14 Lines. It was amazing to see the growth in each individual member of the cohort and it was wonderful to witness the synchronicity within the ensemble. Having Cohort IV around to guide and mentor us through our first year was such a gift. It’s always important to have people that can relate to what you’re doing, offer advice, and collaborate with you in an artistic environment and Cohort IV has gone above and beyond to do all of those things.
Heidee: Last week I was able to see Cohort IV’s final performance of “14 Lines” created while they were studying for the final module of the MFA program at Divaldo Continuo in the Czech Republic. For me the show presented love as a kind of sickness that can express itself through various symptoms in different people. The physical vocabulary of the show was poetic. Meaning, even literal gestures like taking off a lover’s clothes became symbolic. Covering the mouth of a sick person became about stopping the spread of germs, the spread of sickly love. I was really impressed with the performance. For me, the module in the Czech Republic was one of the biggest selling points of the MFA program. The bodies are so honest, the risks are real, and the stories are relatable not through identification of stock characters but by acknowledgement of real, universal human experiences. Like love.
As Cohort IV moves on to the writing of their theses … and beyond, what well-wishes or words of wisdom do you have for them?
Heidee: Something that I’ve been thinking about especially after seeing “14 Lines” is that it’s such a unique honor to be a part of this particular lineage of artists. With such disparate backgrounds and interests, it’s something really special to be able to come together and express something about who we are.
I would like to thank Cohort IV for their support. Your presence during our first year as Cohort V was extremely valuable in acclimating to the program and to Italy. You guide us. You inspire us. I wish you all the best in the next chapters of theses and lives, and I hope to see you all soon and frequently. Vi voglio bene!!!
Sloane: The best is yet to come, pals!!! You all are such an amazing group of artists and I’m excited to see what good things come to you in the future! Buona fortuna!
MFA Faculty Perspectives
MFA in Physical Theatre faculty members, Ginevra Scaglia and William (Peppy) Biddy, took a few moments with us to discuss their ongoing work with students in the MFA program.
Ginevra, how did you learn about the Accademia dell’Arte and what course do you teach for the MFA in Physical Theatre?
Some years ago when I was teaching Physical Theatre in Torino a student of mine told me about the Accademia dell’Arte as one of the most ecxellent places in Europe where Physical Theatre is thought. I teach the pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq in the MFA program.
How do you hope your work with the MFA students impacts their other work in the program and also their professional work afterwards?
Ginevra: The pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq is based on a dynamic representation of the world through the body, using the body as a source of game. Theatre is a game: imitation, transposition and reinvention of the world. Using a sensitive and available body we will observe the laws of Theatre and we will transpose what we observe in life: spaces, rhythms and situations. It’s a process that requires observation and curiosity in front of the mystery of life in movement. All this journey would provide students with a solid foundation: to converge refining of the movement studies in relation to space and time with the sensibility and imagination of students, giving them a base of strong physical work for their future work and within their studies.
Can you tell us a little about your professional and training background? How does that inform the work you do with the students?
Ginevra: I trained as an actress in Paris, at the Jacques Lecoq school, I was lucky that I worked with him directly and that I had the opportunity to deepen the Lecoq pedagogy some years later by assisting some of the teachers of the pedagogic team in Paris. I also deepened a research about movement and physical training by forming myself in Sensitive Dance, co-created by Claude Coldy and two french Osteopaths J. Louis Dupuy and Mare Guyon. A discipline that brings together dance, work in nature and techniques of listening which are useful for developing presence and quality within the movement for actors, dancers and performers.
In your opinion, what is a strength of the MFA in Physical Theatre program?
Ginevra: It is the fact to offer a wide range of approaches to Physical Theatre in Europe with a team of teachers at a high level in a very stimulating environment.
What experience, knowledge or skills do you hope the students take away from your course?
Ginevra: My goal is to bring scholars from the level of students to the level of artists. At the end of the work they should have developed the capacity to observe the reality and to have matured a personal view on life with a strong and personal point of view. Artists with an urgency to express themselves and a clarity on which style and form is the most useful to express their work.
Peppy, you’ve been working with the MFA students since Cohort I. What’s it like observing from afar and then swooping in to work with the students for a 1-2 week period before departing again?
The best part about this scenario is seeing the growth in each student from one year to the next. It’s a little like time-lapse photography. The increased skill of each student is very apparent from one year to the next. The flip side is that my time there is never long enough.
What goals do you have for your class? Would you approach your work the same if you were teaching in a more “traditional” graduate program in acting? Would this course even be offered?
Peppy: Our entire program is designed around the idea of the “actor-creator”, and to me this includes the need to develop the “outside eye” of a director. The goals are to give the students tools with which he/she can translate an abstract idea into the concrete visual aspects of a performance. Theatre is a collaborative art, and I believe every theatre artist should be as much of a total, holistic artist as can be. I think actors in traditional programs would benefit from this training, but the inclusion of such training is the choice of individual program director.
Are there any consistent challenges the students experience from cohort to cohort? How about consistent breakthroughs or positive takeaways?
Peppy: I find that many students have never thought about the responsibilities of a director or “creator” (writer) and are challenged by the scope of the decisions required. Each student is at their own “place” in the training sequence, so there are always breakthroughs, but they are rarely the same for any two students.
What’s your theatrical background and how does it inform the course you teach for the MFA program?
Peppy: I have a BFA in Theatre and an MFA in Directing. My graduate training was through a joint program between Trinity University and Dallas Theatre Center, and therefore we were immersed in on-going professional productions for our two-year training process. It was at DTC where I was introduced to Paul Baker’s Elements of Form, upon which I base my approach to Directing and Directing training.
In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit for students who participate in a graduate program that’s resident in Europe for 2+ years? When you were considering graduate training as a young professional would you have considered a program like this?
Peppy: Travel in and of itself is an education. The immersion into other cultures while training as a theatre artist is as valuable as having two degrees! I would have loved to experienced this type of offering as a younger person, but there were no such programs that I know of then. I am just as grateful to be involved at this point in my career.
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