The Spring 2017 semester at the ADA is well underway. In fact, we are already nearing it’s conclusion! Both MFA cohorts are hard at work: Cohort V is preparing for their Commedia showing, which will run for two days at the Teatro Virginian in Arezzo, while Cohort IV is putting the finishing touches on their Grad Labs, which begin performances on April 18th as part of the Grad Lab Festival. Read on for more details!
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We asked MFA Cohort V members, Faith Sullivan and Zev Hurwich to give us a run-down of their second semester, what they’re working on, how they’re feeling, and what they’re looking forward to for the summer and beyond.
Faith: I definitely feel that our group works together more cohesively than we did our first semester together. We know and understand each other better. Personally I feel that I’m stronger and bolder than last semester, which has made the semester a lot more fun so far. I also feel more at home here and after having been home for break, I appreciate the beauty of Arezzo even more.
We are working towards Commedia as well as circus school at the end of the semester, so I’m a lot more driven and excited!
One of my personal goals is to continue improving my strength, endurance, and flexibility for circus school at the end of the semester. I would really love to be able to do a split before we leave for Torino! Artistically, I’m trying to focus a lot on the creation of meaningful work and exploring impulses and inspirations in and out of class.
We’re taking stage combat this semester with Taylor Hohman and I’m super excited about it! It’s something that a lot of us have always wanted to try. We get do rapier and dagger work as well as unarmed combat and it’s great because it’s pretty different from everything we’ve done so far. It’s very challenging and technical, but we still get a lot of room to play and explore.
Zev: There are times, and it actually happened today, where I’ll be walking through the renaissance villa of our classes and it hits me that my professional career thus far has culminated in getting a Master’s Degree in physical theatre in Tuscany. That is not a thing normal human beings do. I am told. It’s easy for all of this to become normal, the beauty of Arezzo, the weeks of seemingly endless work, the daily stream of silly noises our cohort makes (for class and for fun). But it’s a dream. This school asks us to dream, and then it asks us to turn those into reality.
We have a rather wide variety of classes, but in all of them, in some way or another, we’re asked to imagine. Imagine your body suspended in the air by silks, your back arching into a graceful half-moon and your bodyweight supported by a few wraps around your ankles. Now do it. Imagine yourself the servant of a cruel master, with limited means, and bottomless hunger trying to find your way out of a maze of hijinks. Now do it. Imagine your voice working with eight others trying to discover and improvise new harmonies as you sing the blues. Now do it.
That’s what life is like here. That’s what we’re being asked to do every minute of every day. The work is exhilarating and exhausting. The technical skills we learn of dance, acrobatics, commedia dell’arte, voice, stage combat, and all the others are delightful as well as extremely useful. However, the most useful lesson I’ve learned is the one I was just talking about. The skill of imagining a goal, setting the bar higher than you think you can possibly go, and clearing it, which is most important. After I graduate I may not need to know how to sing renaissance madrigals. But I know that no matter where life takes me, there will be challenges which will seem insurmountable. The Accademia dell’Arte has taught me that if I take a moment, take a breath, trust in myself, and trust in the people who love me I can do it.
Can you tell us a bit about the Grad Labs?
The Grad Labs are a fundamental topic of the pedagogy developed in our Masters program. It is the moment of the realization of the personal project of each student: how the student is able to mix the contents learned and experienced during the previous work. And it is the moment to experiment, too. The Grad Labs are the seed of the future professional work, sometimes could be considered as the beginning of a professional production. As faculty, we tutor the students, following their work, their rehearsal time, with suggestions, ideas, trying to help them to clarify their project and to develop their capacity to create. It is a very strong and interesting experience: after two years of collective creation in devising or directed experiences, we ask to the students to improve their own style, their own poetry, their own way to see and to do theatre. And the results are just enthusiastic. This year we have eleven projects for fourteen students. An unbelievable number of performances. Personally, I am very happy to see how the students are participating in different projects. Even students of Cohort V are involved. We asked the students to create a “short form” of no more than half an hour and the proposals are really artistically very interesting. Of course, as a faculty, we are deeply interested in the process, but for the students the real challenge will be to present their own performance to a real audience. For the performances, we will have a festival all week in different theatrical spaces (sometimes not normally considered as theatrical, but the will become so) all across the town. It will be amazing.
How has it been having two cohorts at the same time?
It was a challenge, as we thought, with wonderful results. The students of the previous cohort could transmit their enthusiasm and experience to the following cohort. Some students of Cohort V collaborate in the Grad Labs of Cohort VI, being involved in the creation process, a wonderful way to develop skills that will be useful for Cohort V next year. On the other hand, students of Cohort IV are helping Cohort V with conditioning sessions. This idea, to create an artistic and theatrical community is not a utopia, but a wonderful reality. The “contamination” process we wished for was completely realized and we are sure it will continue in the future years.
We asked MFA Cohort IV members Elyse Brown and Tristan Schaffer-Goldman about their experience working on Grad Labs:
Elyse – Project Title: Tangled in [k]nots | Cast: Brittany Roa and Elyse Brown
Tangled in [k]nots is a fusion of theatre and circus arts to depict the internal struggles of a woman learning to live with mental illness. In this piece we also explore the shifting relationship between the diagnosed person and the caregiver, who is also on a parallel journey of acceptance and letting go.
Brittany and I worked together extensively during the circus residency at the Flic School in Turin, Italy. We discovered in rehearsals that we both have an affinity for abstract movement exploration. In choosing a theme for our performance we wanted to explore mental illness and bring this complex subject out into the open. We believe the use of aerial silks in our performance would create an outwardly expressive and relatable experience for the audience.
We started with a theme, and from there we have pieced together original and selected text and music to create these characters who are in relation to each other. Adding the circus element into our show offers a new level of metaphor and physical expression at our disposal. This is my first experience as actor, director, and writer for a theatre piece. It is exhausting, frustrating, and incredibly rewarding at the same time. It is appropriate that these final performances are entitled gradLABS; we undergo experiments in rehearsals each day as we put forth ideas, succeed, fail, and constantly reflect and analyze to create an original story.
Tristan – Project Title: Hamlet* | Cast: Sean Henderson and Emily Childers
I believe that the grad lab process, besides being a great opportunity to directly apply everything we have learned in the MFA program, is also a rare opportunity to experiment with new ideas and take big risks (since the shows are free and school-related). As I am also using the grad lab as a facet of my eventual thesis on the manipulation of anticipation in theater, my focus is equally on playing with the dynamics of theatrical conventions as on entertaining the audience. Without going into detail, I can say that my piece “Hamlet*” is the kind of show that could easily crash and burn, but since it’s ultimately an experiment, failure is as useful to me as “success.”
Devising this project has been a lot of fun for me, because I’ve gotten to indulge every strange thought, image, or impulse I have ever wished to put on stage. Fortunately, my two other cast members/collaborators Sean Henderson and Emily Childers have been extremely open and embraced the wild and weird atmosphere I have proposed. Throughout rehearsals and improvisations, ideas have shifted and transformed, some have had to be cut altogether, but ultimately out of illogical chaos emerged something more profound than I ever intended.
I know that the professional world isn’t as forgiving as academia, but the grad lab does a great job of straddling the two spheres. As a professional, this experience has done well to prepare me for the responsibilities of directing/producing my own work beyond this program. As a student, this experience has given me the time, space, and resources to explore my artistic desires and learn from my mistakes without too dire of consequences.