Winter is Coming and so are the Holidays: an Accademia dell’Arte Newsletter
Everyone here at the Accademia dell’Arte wishes you and yours a very happy holidays. We are humbled and grateful to everyone who has supported us over the past 14 years. In this time we have received support in so many ways. From volunteers to donors to alumni, we have the most wonderful extended family and we are glad you are a part of it. As we close the doors on another semester and looks towards our 15th year, we continue to foster the unique voices of young artists through the pillars of our philosophy: community, collaboration and curiosity. We hope you will continue to join us in our creative mission for many years to come!
– Scott McGehee (Founding President) & Anuschka Jaenicke (Executive Director)
Everything the Physical Theatre students work on in their Movement, Voice and Commedia dell’Arte courses culminates into one final demonstration at the end of the semester. They work as a collective ensemble, mentored by their professors, to combine and develop original work from each class to create a demonstration that reflects the process of collaborative creation. A week away from the demonstration, we spoke with Physical Theatre students Peyton Smith (Coastal Carolina University) and Olivia Tyndall (Muhlenberg College):
What was the process like preparing and planning for the Collaborative Final?
OLIVIA: I think a lot of us expected it to just kind of be a chunk of commedia and a chunk of voice and a chunk of movement or maybe voice and movement are a little more connected and then there’s commedia. And Dory specifically has made it a point to communicate that that is not the goal. So we were doing commedia in her voice class the other day, which we usually never do, but still trying to keep elements of the voicework that we have done, so I think that for me was the pinnacle of the collaborative work that we’ve done so far, because it actually incorporated everything into commedia, and it made our commedia so much better than it has been. We were all a bit rusty and then we went into voice and re-found it. It was actually really nice and really funny and didn’t feel like work, it came out really naturally. Yeah, so it’s a bit daunting but when approached in that manner it’s not so scary because it’s not like we have to prepare a ton of things for this massive show, we’re just kind of blending it all together. It has already been created we just have to refine it at this point.
PEYTON: We kind of just got an idea of how we’re going to start planning this. We’re trying to find out what we want to say as a group and what kind of impact we want to leave in our big final performance and what’s going to show our arc as artists but also show how much we’ve learned and improved. I also think it’s really about what kind of ensemble we are and what kind of ensemble we’ve built, which doesn’t’ mean that we’re always going to get along and think the same things, but with a common goal in mind and having our energies mixed like this for a whole semester, that’s kind of where we’re coming from to deepen the process of creating this final.
How did the faculty introduce the idea of a collaborative final to you and your classmates?
OLIVIA: At first none of us had any idea of what it was and it was stressing us out a lot, and Dory could see that. So she sat us down for 40 minutes and explained what we would be shifting into in individual classes and that we would be putting all the material together and that made things a lot easier.I think dory’s been really good about clarifying what we’re working towards without putting parameters on it, which is nice.
PEYTON: That the collaborative final is to show our process. It’s more about the process than the product. It’s a time for us to show our arc and collaborate and unify both the theatre groups because we were so separate for the majority of the semester and as well with the music kids. Especially for the two groups creating theatre, we have such different energies about us. The final product would be very different if we were creating a piece with just our half of the teatre students. Coming together just kind of creates a whole new thing.
How does the Collaborative Final compare to a final assignment, project or performance you might do in an acting class or theatre class at your school?
OLIVIA: We’ve already done a lot of the work, so it’s not like we have to learn a new scene and memorize lines and go through that whole process, even in an acting class at school that’s still very much the process, I mean you try to bring in what you’ve learned throughout the semester, but it’s a beginning again with something new. This is more synthesizing what we’ve learned. It’s a lot less pressure, also because we’re such a big group and at this point I trust everyone that I’m working with, so it doesn’t feel like there’s a much pressure on me as an individual as on us as artists to create something interesting.
PEYTON: Oh my gosh they’re entirely different. This is way more personal. This is also far more artistically challenging, in the fact that it is personal content and it is, I would argue, more expressive than a lot of our other finals, and working in such a large group makes it more fun but more also difficult. There’s no set text which is very different but also very exciting. It’s just more up in the air and it’s bigger than any other final that I’ve been a part of. I feel like a lot of performance finals are really about the performance, which this is but it’s about us learning how to create a piece and put all of the very many different pieces that we’ve created throughout the semester together.
What was a highlight or inspirational moment from the Collaborative Final process?
OLIVIA: This is maybe a bit more about movement class, but I think it’s tied in to the collaborative stuff as well. For me just getting time to work on something by myself and for it completely what I want it to be and what I feel like I need to do right now. We did that a bit with Tomaz, but it was on the spot and stressful, whereas this I can plan everything out and let it become what it wants to become and that is actually really relaxing, rather than stressful. It makes me more excited about the work. Nhandan today was talking about how we should start to combine the pieces and see how they work together, and I’m so excited to do that. Because I feel like I’ve had enough time to work on my own and now I’m ready to add other people to it and I don’t think that’s going to detract from it as a piece.
PEYTON: Today was really the big start of us thinking about what we’re doing. We’ve been working on this process for so long without really knowing it and today it was really framed and put in perspective for us about what’s really going on and what this final is going to be. We talked about what we want to say, we talked about what the questions are. Today hearing everyone’s questions and philosophies about the art that we’re creating is what kind of grounded us and put us in perspective. This project does mean that we’re getting close to the end of the semester and that’s is crazy and sad, but it’s also so exciting because now we get to make this massive piece of art and think about how much we’ve affected each other and how much we’ve changed in the weeks we’ve been here. Today we talked about the effects of the journey that we’re all on right now and how we just happen to be in this part of each other’s journey to create art. And that’s really cool, and that’s what this piece of art is going to be. This will signify this moment in time where every one of our paths’ crossed.
We also sat down with Giangiacomo Colli, Professor of Commedia dell’Arte, to talk about the Collaborative Final from the faculty perspective:
What was your role / responsibility in the Collaborative Final this semester? Which other faculty did you collaborate with?
GIANGIACOMO: I share the responsibility of the Collaborative Final with Dory Sibley and Nhandan Chirco. This is a new way to present at the end of the semester the work of the three main courses of the program (Commedia dell’Arte taught by myself, Voice & Ensemble Performance by Dory, and Movement by Nhandan) that was introduced in Fall 2017. We do not have specific roles, and, quite democratically I have to say, we share opinions about our courses during the first part of the program. Then, about three or four weeks before the final presentation, we have a class all together where the students are invited to present any material they want from the three courses.
What are the benefits for the students?
GIANGIACOMO: The Collaborative Final is a creative experience where the students work as en ensemble, where they are responsible for their choices, and where the artistic results obtained in each course merge together. In other words, and differently from the “traditional” shows the students are used to, the Collaborative Final at Accademia dell’Arte enhances individual and group creation by teaching students how to trust and adapt in an organic way the skills learned during the semester.
How did you work with – and negotiate – the process and goals with the other faculty? What are the goals of holding the final presentations this way?
GIANGIACOMO: The negotiation bringing to the Collaborative Final is the result of a double approach: the opinions of the faculty from one side (i.e. where the students show best results, which kind of individual or collective activities are more suitable or adaptable for the final presentation, which Commedia dell’Arte scenes are more successful, etc.) and from the other, the creative results the students themselves feel strongly about. The main goal of this process is to not impose a structure, but support the students in such a way that they become responsible for the creative material and the final shape of the presentation. The other more practical goal is to replace presentations focusing on just one course, which usually take too much time and have to be shown in at least three different days, with one single presentation showing how the three courses (Commedia dell’Arte, Voice, and Movement) work together organically.
For one week in the semester, the Physical Theatre students participate in the Experimental Lab. Two guest teachers, Sam McGehee and Tomaz Grom, join our Director of the Physical Theatre Program and Professor of Movement, Nhandan Chirco, to co-teach a week of classes. In the Experimental Lab the students are asked to explore improvisation using sound, space, and movement. We sat down with Physical Theatre students Sofia Levistkaya (Northbrook College) and Jacob Wahba (Muhlenberg College) to hear about their experience:
How was it having three teachers in the room at once? How did it change the environment from the normal classroom?
JACOB: I thought it was really interesting because of how collaborative it was. It wasn’t like a formal class environment, where there’s one teacher who saying “this is the way you have to do it”, where it’s kind of one-sided in terms of what is being given to the room to consume and feed off of. By having three amazing masters in the room it was interesting to all be feeding off of each other. They really made it a very safe place for us to explore and take risks, and they were also taking risks and exploring with us. A lot of stuff that we were doing wasn’t planned prior to coming into the room. I was in awe of seeing their creative processes going with us, and I felt very much so on the same level with them. It was awesome to work on devising work with these amazing artists. To be free and to do anything.
SOFIA: It didn’t feel like three teachers in one room. I think the fact that they weren’t planning is the most interesting part, because they would say “can we try that or can we try this” and it was more an artistic exploration than people teaching us how to explore. It was like we were collaborating with them. I would have loved if they introduced more some of the things that they do as professional artists, because sometimes they would go with just what we needed as students and just for us to explore, but i would love to be able to try their ideas on to learn from them.
What was a moment that stuck out to you during the Experimental Lab?
JACOB: I just find Tomaz really fascinating. He is completely in the moment and works totally in the now, which is really impressive to me and I think that affected the entire energy of the room because we had to be on our feet because he was on his feet and was expecting us to be there with him. It almost was like a trust fall and he was falling and we needed to be there to catch him. More specifically there was a moment when we were creating our performance art piece together as an ensemble. It focused on writing, and at first we had no idea where it was going or where it was going to lead. He had us all write individual stories from our own perspectives and then we took that and added sound to it. We used instruments with writing and with our movement until we crafted our own compositions, and that merged into an ensemble piece. It was cool because it started out a little confusing and frustrating and we didn’t know what was happening, but before we knew it it formed into something and we knew what to do and the reason why it all just clicked is because we were with him and we trusted him and he trusted us to exchange with each other. I felt very much as an individual but still part of an ensemble. I think he balanced that really well. Through the week he really stressed that it’s important to work off your ensemble but stay true to yourself and your impulses. That was a challenge because at first we had a hard time balancing doing both. But this activity helped because but he forced us to write our own pieces and then our own writing that was just private for us was taken as a communal ensemble movement piece.
SOFIA: Probably when we all sat in a circle there was a rule that we could only have maximum three 3 people in the middle of the circle. There was a point when the musicians started to go into the middle and then Tomaz would go in and play with them in a completely different way, and the way the classical musicians were reacting and working with that I think was the most interesting part of it.
What is something you will take away from that week to use in your future artistry?
JACOB: The most important thing is to not enter something with set expectations and really be open. I think our natural instincts are to say “Where are we going? What’s the product? How are we going to get to that product” and it’s set in our heads, even if it’s on a subconscious level, and I think prior to coming here a lot of us thought that way. Always thinking “okay what we’re doing is great, but what is the end product going to look like?” With Tomaz and the whole week we really learned that thinking like that is actually limiting and by doing that you’re taking away a lot of other possibilities that could be even more impactful and stronger. By taking that thinking away it completely teaches you to be in the moment and have trust in the process. That’s a major thing from this week and this program. Trust the work that you’re doing and the process you’re doing and that’s it.
SOFIA: I want to start exploring more with this improvisational thing with sound and movement together. I want to do it with actual musicians and also movers, but not playing too musically just exploring the thing, I want to try and start doing that when I go home. Also the solos that we did, gave me a lot to explore and I’m planning to do a piece for the last collabaret based on this balance exploration that I found.
To get the faculty point of view on the Experimental Lab, we sat down with Nhandan Chirco:
What is the primary goal of the experimental lab?
NHANDAN: It serves primarily to break boundaries of the concept we have of performance and to expand the creative potential to new possibilities and perspectives. In the lab we worked in collaboration with Tomaz Grom, an artist and pedagogue based in the John Cage line of work and with Sam McGehee who is also as a musician and as a theatre artist. In the aim of forming an artist-author the LAB provides a context for experimenting among students and artists coming from different backgrounds, to explore how the transferring of principles and concepts from one discipline – sound, music – to another – theatre, movement – might influence the creative process and inspire new approaches in performance-making.
What is it like for you being one of three teachers in one classroom? How do the three of you prepare for this kind of environment?
NHANDAN: It changes a lot. Going from a binary structure that divides the roles of student and teacher, to the LAB where I share the experience with the students, I am in a quite different position. I am partnering with my colleagues to exchange competence, reflections and creative energy, and I am partnering with the students to engage in the session as one of them, and effecting the session with my creative impulses while being inside what’s happening. I think is very important being able to shift between positions, not crystallise and hide in one. This refreshes the relationship with the work and with the students and gives space for different forms of exchange.
We prepare for the lab by talking, but mostly by the background of shared creative experiences we have with both with Tomaz and Sam. We are very interested in each other’s work – that’s the basic ground that makes it possible to meet in a common space-time, to see what’s happens when we get to collaborate, and what changes and opens in the way of doing and of thinking from each one of us. We are going to meet again in the Spring for a next step that will involve also other ADA faculty members such as Dory Sibley and the Dance Program Director Sabine Fichter, and involving both dance and theatre students.
The Physical Theatre students spend the semester taking Movement, Voice and Ensemble Performance, Commedia dell’Arte, and Philosophy of Art and Performance as four core classes. A series of intensives and workshops with guest teachers supplement the core curriculum. We asked Fall Physical Theatre student Caden Fraser (Muhlenberg College), and One Year Physical Theatre Program students Tucket Shoji (Coastal Carolina University) and Erika Davis (Coastal Carolina University) about one faculty person who has had a profound impact on them and their studies at the Accademia:
You’ve worked with several faculty and instructors up to this point in the semester. Who has had the biggest impact on you as an actor, performer and artist? How come?
CADEN: It’s hard to say, I’m thinking specifically about Dory, Nhandan, and Giangiacomo, because we spend the most time with them and it’s a lot more hands on rather than sitting in a classroom, so it’s easier for me to connect with those kinds of professors. For myself as an actor and as an individual in society I would say Dory. I think that throughout her class I have been able to learn a lot about myself and how I work and and how it’s okay to say whatever is on my mind and I shouldn’t have to feel bad about saying “I can’t do something right now”. I’ve learned to be more proactive for myself in the work and the life of an actor. I think she has transformed my voice and body into something I didn’t think I would be able to get to. Every day I go to her class just knowing that I’m going to walk out of there completely different, shaped in a way that I didn’t ever think that I could be. She also is such a kind and loving individual. She always makes you feel so welcome within the classroom and outside of the classroom. She’s always there for you to help you in whatever you need, she’s very supportive. She always a smile on her face, and she just has this way of knowing what you’re going through and what you’re dealing with, and she knows how to connect with you without overstepping any boundaries. She’s a person I know I can go and talk to about anything, so I think going away from the program she is one of the people that I really will remember and really take with me back to school.
TUCKET: Nhandan. I feel like she creates a very safe space for sure, especially since in the beginning of the semester she had meetings with us making it clear that she cares about us as individuals. In her class there’s always room for failure. When Nhandan says, “110 percent is easier to give because then you get some back” I love that and I think it makes a lot of sense. A big thing that I’ve learned from the training in her class, is that commitment is key. Even if you’re failing, when you’re committing you get more out of it, it’s more important, it’s more helpful for you and those around you. When you feel yourself slipping and getting distracted or in your head or giving up, focus on those that are there with you. It’s kind of the same as Commedia, just go back to the audience, go back to what’s in front of you to focus. Do anything to get yourself out of your head and you’ll always find more. Another thing she says a lot is when she says that we should just do what we can to take in her instruction and if we don’t understand what she’s asking for that it that’s her problem not ours. So that really gives us the ability to just exist and create and it’s easy to trust that she’ll come in when she needs to and that she has the insight to intervene or not intervene as would be beneficial for us.
ERIKA: Dory. The last two years at Coastal we’ve been hearing from Ben Soda all about Dory because they lived together during the MFA It was really interesting coming here and putting a face to the name and all of the stories. I’ve always really taken voicework. In the last couple years I’ve really found who I am as a person and who I am as an artist through voicework, but I’ve never gone through the physical approach that she uses.It was really revealing to figure out how to work through that because I consider myself a super physical person. It’s so interesting working with her because she’s so good at making class feeling like a personal experience even though there are so many people in the room. I think that’s super important when it comes to specifically voicework, like comfort and willingness to explore yourself because it can get really deep and thick and kind of scary and uncharted territory. She is so supportive in that uncharted territory and she makes me less scared to figure my stuff out just in the way she talks with us and jokes with, but also takes it so seriously. She’s helping us figure things out like not necessarily giving us all the answers, and is letting us uncover it for ourselves. She’s super inspiring. I told her the other day at the end of every class I want to hug her, and she wa like “you can!”, so I’ve started to hug her after every class. It’s exactly what I need.
How would you describe them and their work to your classmates and teachers at your school?
CADEN: She always talks about destructuring and restructuring which I think is the thesis or overarching idea that she always comes back to. Going through it I’ve felt like we are breaking down the body and habits of the body and re building to something better and more open. I think that a lot of us came in here not really knowing what to expect especially with Dory. When I was back at school and hearing about the program I hadn’t heard Dory’s name and when I started taking class with her I was so blown away with her ideas and outlook on life. The class affects you in a way that allows you to let all of guards and walls down to be able to rebuild yourself and your body within the sphere of performance and also as a human in society. It’s also a lot about allowing yourself to say that it’s okay . A sense of empowerment is what I feel that I’ve gained her class, in the sense that we are creating all of our own work and she’s giving us prompts to find what we want to work on and find our happiness and positivity through the work. That has given me a voice to be able to talk to not only my peers around me but also to myself to say “maybe today I’m not feeling it” or “can we take a break”, so I can get my body and mind to where they need to be. Just to be able to say that that’s okay. I know I came into this program always wanting to push myself to the limit, and not remembering that I’m a human and that I need those breaks and times alone. I think that can be hard for artists to understand because we always feel like it’s go go go all the time and we need to do everything and we can’t stop and she’s taught me to just breathe and take a step back.
TUCKET: Nhandan is one of the coolest people I know. She is the perfect definition of swag in the best kind of way. She is a kind teacher, who in a gentle and nurturing way she does not accept bullshit. Her class is a lot about physical and emotional connection to each other and physical and emotional connection to yourself. There’s a lot of sweat. Literal dripping sweat. That’s why we’re here. Good sweat. If you don’t sweat you’re doing it wrong.
ERIKA: Extremely physical work. I would probably start with the concept of body mapping. You find where that things affects you in your physical body, and then you can go deeper from there. A lot of what we’re doing here that I have never experienced before in Coastal training at least, is how to devise. At Coastal they say “okay, so you’re going to have this devised piece” and then they give us a prompt, but never options on where to start, which I mean it is our job to figure it out, but here they’ve given us so many options on where to start. Like body mapping or starting with a song or starting with text or something like that and rooting it in something else to find your own work. I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m not even thinking about it. I’m here to work, and it’s not that I’m not at Coastal to work, but here I wake up and I’m like well it’s time to work. It’s so hardcore. I’m really holding myself accountable here in a way that I never have before, and it’s not even because I think I should be holding myself accountable it’s because I want to be. I want to keep getting stronger and I want to keep finding these new things about myself and about everything going on around me and about my peers, and developing creative partnerships in ways that I didn’t think would ever happen just because I didn’t’ know that that ever happened. It’s really fulfilling and exhausting, but at the same time I feel like there’s not enough time.
As a student of the One Year Program, how do you hope to continue the work from these courses for yourself in the next semester?
ERIKA: Specifically with voice and dory I hope our relationship keeps getting closer because I feel like that’s what’s been happening this semester. Finding more comfort and finding more places in myself to explore. Every time I’m like “yup I’ve figured it out” that’s so false. I keep surprising myself with all of the things I don’t know about myself, I just hope that that keeps happening and I keep learning and growing.
Throughout the semester, the music students have traveled on day trips and weekend excursions throughout Italy to view the most interesting and historic churches they’ve studied in their Music History class. Each student is assigned a church to study. The student gives a presentation on that church and then the whole class takes a trip to see the church, it’s artwork and to explore the city. We asked musician students, Tyrese Byrd and Quentin Prewitt (Furman University), which trip has been the most impactful:
What are the places you’ve traveled with the music program this semester? Which has been your favorite
TYRESE: The places we’ve been are Florence, Assisi, Siena, Milan, Venice, Orvieto. My favorite was Venice because there are no cars and everything’s really beautiful and different than Tuscany.
QUENTIN: My favorite was probably Venice because I’ve never experienced a city like that, on the water. St. Marks is just so grand and different and the art was different inside than other churches we’ve seen.
Was there one place that surprised you in the way it looked or something you saw there?
QUENTIN: It was probably the David because I had always seen pictures and stuff but in person it was such a different experience. It really took my breath away and I couldn’t stop looking at it for a long time. It was just not what I expected.
TYRESE: I was surprised how urban Milan was and to see all the different stores that we also have in the states. The duomo is really gothic in comparison to all the other churches we’ve seen. And we got to eat at Five Guys. I also thought Assisi was really beautiful, it was a different color palette than here in Arezzo. Everything was really light, like pink sandstone. It was odd to arrive somewhere and see a different color scheme than we’re used to.
Did you experience a specific moment in one of your trips that is something you’ll remember forever?
QUENTIN: When we were in the duomo in Orvieto, there was a wedding going on in one of the churches and we got to see the different Italian traditions in the wedding and it was cool for me to see how those churches are used in a service because you can kind of look back and imagine what it was like throughout all the years, and not just pay money to go and look inside the church. It was crazy because the church was so big so the large wedding party wasn’t really taking up most of the church, but there was still a ton of people. They were doing chants and you could tell they were all close and they had all of their really close friends there. Then at the end the bride and groom kind of walked amongst all the people and talked to them before they left.
We have been working hard to respond to the success of last year’s program. The 2019 Summer Intensives have been rebooted to allow more space for inter-program exchange and experimentation. The program will kick off with Bob Shryock and Dory Sibley who will lead a day of voice and body work during which participants from each program will have the opportunity to work together for the first time.
This year, Dancers will have the opportunity to work for two weeks with their master teachers. Returning to us are Wagner Moeira and Helena Fernandino as well as NOMAD Dance led by Dragana Alfirevic and Dejan Srhoj.
For those interested in digging deeper into devised performance practice and the physical body, participants can choose to work with Sam McGehee and Saso Vollmaier in Hidden Dimensions: The Musicality of Performance and in Body Memory with Dénes Döbrei who will return this year with his wife Heni Varga, whom he boasts brings even more to the work than he does. In terms of mask work, participants will be transformed and discover new depths of character between Chiara D’Anna’s contemporary Commedia dell’Arte masterclass and Clown: Comic Body and Identity with André Casaca.
Besides programmed courses, participants from both Dance and Physical Theatre will collaborate under the mentorship of summer faculty in a collective experimentation and discussion for a greater sharing of the overall experience and pedagogic exchange.
Don’t miss your chance to participate in what people have called “one of the most rewarding experiences of their life”.
Early Bird Discount: Register by December 1, 2018 for $100 off the Program Fee.
What do students from last summer have to say?
This program changed my view on life, myself, and my art. The artists I met here were inspiring and I feel like I found so many connections to use in the future! The professors here cared about every single one of us and pushed us to be the best version of ourselves. I feel like a whole new artist after leaving this program. – Jennifer Rivera (2018 Summer Physical Theatre Intensive)
Wonderful people, amazing instructors, in the most beautiful place I have ever been to. I am so grateful to learn from the best and be a part of a community which values and respects live art. – Abigail Dodds (2018 Summer Dance Intensive)