Under the Tuscan Sun: July at the ADA
The Accademia’s previously-titled Summer Arts Program has been rethought, restructured and renamed to Accademia Summer Program: Learning Tuscany. We sat down with Hendrix College students Ellie Black, Christian Watkins, and Geneva Hill:
What’s been your favorite thing so far about the Learning Tuscany program?
ELLIE: I’ve adored Dr. Hardin’s Tuscan Treasures class, in which we study Italian food, culture, and gardens. Dr. Hardin encourages us to go out and experience Tuscany as real citizens of Italy – we’ve studied and eaten wild hog, gone to the farmer’s market on a Wednesday morning, and had wine tastings in class.
CHRISTIAN: My favorite thing about the Learning Tuscany program is the professors’ and workers’ ability to engage all the students by making them feel welcomed in all possible ways. Everyone here is genuinely happy to be here and to help the students in any and every way possible.
GENEVA: My favorite thing about the Learning Tuscany program has definitely been all of the experiential learning we get to do outside of the classroom. From making homemade pasta with Nadia, to learning broken Italian in town, to wine tastings on the top of a hill, I feel that the program really does live up to its name. Additionally, the classes I took were based in having experiences rather than grades, which I feel really contributed to my learning.
What’s surprised you about living in Tuscany?
ELLIE: Before arriving, I hadn’t thought much about it, but Arezzo is much bigger and livelier than I anticipated it might be. I guess I subconsciously expected the whole place to be a quiet countryside situation, but there are so many things to do in town on any given day or night, like getting a drink at Aurora. Really the most surprising thing was the Sephora. I did not expect to see a Sephora.
CHRISTIAN: How beautiful the landscape is. Without a shadow of a doubt this is one of the most beautiful places on earth, everywhere I look there is amazing art that America simply cannot offer.
GENEVA: I think the most surprising part about living in Tuscany was how quickly I became accustomed to living like an Italian. Initially, I was expecting a huge culture shock, but surprisingly, that shock never came. Even though Arezzo and Arkansas are two vastly different places, I really started to feel at home here from the day I arrived.
What inspired you to study abroad?
ELLIE: This is my first time leaving the United States! I’ve always wanted to come to Italy, and when I discovered that Hendrix College had a month-long summer program in Tuscany, I was sold. It didn’t hurt that many of my close friends have attended the program and recommended it to me as a life-changing experience (which they were right about).
CHRISTIAN: I love to travel, and specifically as a Pre Med major, the option to study art for possibly the last time in my collegiate career in Tuscany is more than i ever could have wished for.
GENEVA: Ever since my older sister studied abroad for a semester in college, I’ve always known I wanted to study abroad. Unfortunately, however, I learned this year that I wouldn’t be able to complete my major if I took a full semester abroad, so I began to look into summer programs. I knew some friends who had done the ADA summer program the year prior, and after hearing their stories, I knew it was the place I wanted to be this summer.
What do you think you will you take home with you from this experience?
ELLIE: Having finally been out of the United States on my own, I feel more independent and comfortable in my own skin than ever. Before I left, I was terrified of being in another country, and planned to stay in Arezzo, close to the Accademia so that I wouldn’t get lost; now, I get on trains to nearby cities every weekend. I’ve discovered a love and a capacity for travel that I never realized I could have.
CHRISTIAN: I will take back the memories and the confidence to pursue art. I got to learn how to paint landscapes and how to enjoy it.
GENEVA: Even though I only spent 6 weeks in Arezzo, I definitely can see how much I’ve grown into myself as a person over such a short span of time. I really feel that this experience has made me much more confident in myself and my abilities, as well as more independent in how I go about my life. I hope to come home to Arkansas with a new appreciation for international travel, Italian culture, and good boxed wine.
Collaborative Arts Lab: an ADA Alumni Fellowship
When did you first study at the ADA? What’s it been like being back compared to the last time you were here?
AWESTA: I first studied at ADA in the Spring of 2012 as an undergrad in the Physical Theatre Program. It’s been amazing to be back and feels sort of like a bizarre time capsule. The first time was about being a sponge and absorbing everything the professors were teaching us. This time, due to the nature of our fellowship, everything is in our own control and we get to put into practice what we’ve separately learned as professional and more mature artists.
JAKE: I studied Physical Theatre at the ADA in Spring of 2012 — one of the most influential periods in my life. Earlier this month I hiked down San Fabiano for the first time in five years; when I rounded the driveway and caught sight of those familiar Villa walls, I immediately teared up. Being here for a second time feels like coming home — but in the way that, after growing up, you can never entirely “come home” again. Everything is familiar, and at the same time, not exactly as I remember it. It feels good to be back as an adult and a professional, more confident in myself and my ability to exist in the world. It’s surreal and wonderful.
What’s been the focus of your work and training here?
AWESTA: Each fellow might answer this differently, but I think it’s fair to say that one focus of our time here has been to find a cohesive way to create something together, while embracing the different training and backgrounds everyone comes from. We all came in with a passion for physical and original theatre so we are certainly staying within that realm.
JAKE: We were brought back to Villa Godiola with an invitation both generous and vague: we were to experiment, collaboratively, within the realm of devised physical theater. Unsurprisingly, that idea meant different things to each of the six of us. Our first couple weeks were devoted to getting to know one another (as people and as artists), skill-sharing, play, experiments, failure, floundering, and wrestling over what exactly it was we wished to achieve during our time here. Eventually we agreed that enough potential material had bubbled to the surface that we wished to pursue in a more focused way. Every day we are creating our own structure, in an attempt to synthesize our experimentation (structurally, formally, procedurally) into a shared performance of some kind. No promises 🙂
How do you hope to apply the work you’ve been doing during the residency when you return home?
AWESTA: I think this experience has given me a refined sense of what it means to truly collaborate with people without running away from differences or difficulties. Through the challenges I’ve also been able to define for myself ways of working that I find most rewarding. In that sense, it’s given me an increased drive to be confident in my choices as an artistic collaborator, while remaining flexible and open-minded.
JAKE: Our work here has been challenging. How often are you put in a situation with five other artists of varying backgrounds, training, interests, priorities, and tastes, and asked to experiment, with no stated goals, methods, focus, or expectations? You can start from anywhere, yes, but you have to decide — and do so as a group of equals — that can be the hardest thing of all. Every single day I am learning more about the art of collaboration, particularly working within a horizontal (aka hierarchy-free) structure as we have been. I think I will return to the states better prepared than ever to communicate and co-operate with other artists, and to work free of traditional structures and limitations.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve learned from another alumni fellow?
AWESTA: This is a difficult question! We’ve all truly learned so much from each other, in and out of the studio. One thing that’s stood out is that we often utilize similar exercises but through different lenses or vocabulary. That’s been a great reminder to keep the creative process fresh and varied. Looking at things through a slightly altered eye keeps us from getting stale in repetitive ways…the training is never over! 🙂
JAKE: I don’t think I’m at a position to say just yet. Morganna has an incredible directorial/dramaturgical eye, she really sees the ‘big picture,’ that’s something I value a lot. And Stephen taught me about clown makeup…I like that too. I think the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my fellows will probably not make themselves known until weeks or months after we’ve scattered to the many and varied places from whence we came.