• MFA in Physical Theatre: Circus!

    by  • June 16, 2016 • MFA in Physical Theatre Program • 0 Comments

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     Year One Complete: Congratulations MFA Cohort IV!

    After a 5-week residency at FLIC Circus School in Torino, Italy, Cohort IV has a well-deserved summer break before Year Two begins in August. Scroll down for the students’ perspective on their residency in Torino.

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    Circus and CHAMBOULE

    The first year of the MFA in Physical Theatre culminates in a substantial residency at FLIC Scuola di Circo in Torino, Italy. The training is extremely demanding, physically, mentally and emotionally! Each day the students take part in physical preparation and training, skills work in various circus disciplines (equilibrium, aerial, juggling, object manipulation, acrobatics, acrodance) and they learn how performance is created in the world of circus.

    The residency crescendos to an original performance mentored and directed by a FLIC artist/instructor. Cohort IV’s performance, CHAMBOULE, was presented for a huge public audience under a circus tent in Torino! We spoke with two members of Cohort IV, Erika Whatley and Ware Carlton-Ford, about their FLIC experience and asked them to look ahead to Year Two.

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    ERIKA: Describe a typical day of training at FLIC. What was the most challenging part?

    The schedule varied from week to week during our five week residency at FLIC, but for the first four weeks, we had a morning class that was two hours, usually circus or dance, then a 30 minute break followed by an hour and a half of acrobatics, an hour for lunch, and then two hours of another class: verticale, object manipulation, or creation work. At the end of the day we would end with stretching and I have never felt so many emotions while stretching before this residency.

    The most challenging part for me was going from circus to verticale class at the end of the day because most of the time my arms were too exhausted to hold me up. Other challenges that I faced were the fear that I wasn’t “good enough” or strong enough to do some of things asked of me, and the fact that I don’t speak Italian as well as I’d like. However, the professors were good at reminding us that we aren’t going to become circus performers in 5 weeks and were very understanding that we were all had different strengths and abilities.

    What was the inspiration for the cohort’s final performance?

    The concept for the final show was this idea of everything happening and yet absolutely nothing happens. In a very “Waiting for Godot” sort of way, we find ourselves in a chapiteau and a show happens. Francesco Sgrò directed us and Stevie Boyd assisted, guiding us to create acts that showcased our strengths from these past five weeks, all woven together in this sort of crazy whirlwind. The strongest lessons I learned in the creation process were taking responsibility and initiative for my own act and also the importance of the transitions, and I mean all the way from the second we begin to close one act, how does the end flow with the way we transition?

    The moment a person mounts or dismounts their equipment, or preps for a juggling act, no one wants to see the story stop. Everything continues and everything flows. This is a lesson that I am particularly excited to take into our next year. Overall, I am proud of what we created as an ensemble. Even my personal act was an ensemble piece because I needed three men to raise and lower the trapeze while I was on it, which took a lot of trust and we only had just enough time for only a few rehearsals. My act was on the dynamic trapeze, which is a trapeze that is on a swivel so that it spins. Working with Stevie, we found that I could use a song and my trapeze sequence to create a very dramatic, femme fatale character who wanted to be seen by the audience, but also had to work with these guys who were seated behind her, pulling the rope up and down. In the end, I was executing my sequence, sometimes spinning, singing, and taking into account the audience and my position to them at the same time. It was one of the most challenging pieces I’ve ever created and I came out of the experience proud of the product, and with a very strong respect for circus performers and the work that the students of FLIC do.

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    WARE: What specific discipline or apparatus did you chose to focus on at FLIC? What drew you to it?

    German Wheel. I did quite a lot of circus before coming to the ADA, so I came in knowing what I wanted to focus on. As for the why, all I can say is that I saw German wheel performed for the first time when I was about 10 years old and knew immediately I wanted to do it.

    Can you give a brief synopsis of the cohort’s final performance at FLIC? What was your role in its creation and in the performance?

    Our show was, basically, a clown show with circus acts inside. There was a lot of physical comedy and it sort of moved from one crazy (intentional) mess to another: someone gets “stuck” in their equipment at the end of their number and then there’s a scene where everyone has different crazy ideas about how to get them out, that kind of thing.

    Making the show was a really interesting process. As one of the students pointed out this week, it was the sort of the inverse of how we’re used to working. In our devising, we normally start with an idea or a theme or a prompt of some kind and create the action on stage from that. Here, because much of the movement on stage is set (the technique of the circus discipline), so you start from there and sort of put the theme or story on top of that.

    My role in all this was the narrator, which meant, in creation, that I spent a lot of time improvising monologues that we eventually curated, keeping the bits that worked. It’s a good example of the process, though, in the sense that our director would usually have me start by, literally, just describing what’s on the stage, and then eventually, something would grow out of that, whether an interaction with/between other characters, or a joke, or whatever. But it always came back to the idea of starting with the physical material of the number and then putting something on top of that.

    In the actual performance, the narrator was a very dry, deadpan character, so often my role was to interrupt the chaos in some way, to be a counterpoint to all of the craziness.

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    ERIKA: For the first time, the ADA is moving to annual enrollment for the MFA, so two cohorts will be in residence at the same time. What are you looking forward to most about Cohort V beginning their first year as you begin your second?

    I am probably most excited to have new ideas and perspectives and people to collaborate with! I look forward to meeting the new students and learning what they are passionate about. With new people comes new possibilities and I think all of MFA Cohort IV are looking forward to bringing new people in to share in the creative process.

    While we are here, we are building bonds for creation that we hope will last beyond the MFA after we graduate. Who knows who we will meet?

    I like the excitement of waiting for them to arrive and welcoming them to the city that has become our home in the past year. I want to take them to our favorite coffee shop and restaurant! I don’t know what they will be like, but I look forward to the opportunities that we will get to make together!

    WARE: How will you spend your time in the few weeks you have off before Year Two begins?

    I’m taking a few weeks in the States to visit family and friends, and then when I get back, I’ll be teaching theater to kids at an English language summer camp in Assisi. I’m eager to see everyone back home (it’s been basically a year since I’ve seen any of them) but also looking forward to deepening my experience of Italy in a new way.

    Interested in graduate level training in cutting edge physical theatre? There’s still time to apply for MFA in Physical Theatre Cohort V. Courses begin August 2016! Click here for more info.


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