• 10 Years Of Great ADA Alumni: Zany Umbrella Circus Founder, CCU Physical Theatre Professor and MFA Alumnus Benjamin Sota

    by  • May 16, 2014 • Alumni, Uncategorized • 0 Comments

    The ADA is celebrating 10 Years of Excellence and the Alumni that have graced our studios, hallways, gardens and city with artistic imagination, openness and light since we opened our doors. In our last post we spoke to Alex Makardish and Jeremy Hohn, ADA Summer Program Alumni, about ClownMa dell’Arte. This time we are catching up with one the Alumni from our first MFA cohort, Benjamin Sota. He took the time to share his favorite ADA memories and his experiences as a performer, director and teacher.


    When did you attend the Accademia?


    What program did you study in?

    MFA in Physical Theatre Program

    What was your favorite thing about the program? Can you share some highlights?

    For me the ADA provided personal attention, inspiration, and time and space to imagine.

    I remember struggling in Kevin Crawford’s Roy Hart vocal class.  I was having difficulty freeing my voice and I felt frustrated and constrained.  I vividly remember hearing my unrestricted voice for the first time.  I was riding down the infamous San Fabiano hill on my bicycle.  I was riding full speed,  singing a song at the top of my lungs.  I just didn’t care…  Perhaps it was the bouncing of the wheels on that shook my body or the dozens of hours in Kevin’s class, but I found my voice.  Disclaimer – San Fabiano is an unforgiving one-lane road frequented by pazzo Italian drivers and I do not recommend this technique to others…

    Another highlight…  My MFA cohort studied pantomime in Berlin with Burkhart Seidemann.  Herr Seidemann was kind enough to give me personal instruction for three straight hours on a Saturday.  During this intensive weekend session, my mind was pushed into accepting the subtlety of pantomime.

    Both of these experiences were watershed moments– and if you study at ADA, you will have dozens.


    Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom? 

    A couple of times, I had the opportunity to travel to Sicily.  In Sicily, in the summer, theatrical performances take place in ancient amphitheaters.  I was fortunate enough to see plays in Taormina and Siracusa that were beyond description.

    If you head to Siracusa, there also is a section of the city called Ortigia.  This old section of the city is where puppet makers still make traditional Puppi Puppets.  The Puppi plays are hysterical, action packed, and not to be missed.  If you want to vicariously travel to Sicily/ Lampedusa, check out the 2011 film Terraferma currently available streaming on Netflix.

    If you make it to Italy, I really recommend venturing down to southern Italy– where Italy really meets passion.


    Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo? 

    For one year I lived above Café Tanger (Via Francesco Petrarca, 22, 52100 Arezzo, Italy).   The café is a very affordable Moroccan option that also has great tea.  If you’re living in Arezzo, this will be a welcomed change of flavor. For Italian food, my favorite restaurant is Cio’ Che Piace located at Via Francesco Petrarca, 22, 52100.  The restaurant takes its name from the beautiful Italian proverb – non piace ciò che è bello ma piace ciò che piace.

    What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?

    I built a solid theatre foundation that I use constantly as a teacher, performer, and deviser.  At ADA, I learned how to keep things fresh, and was introduced to techniques, styles, and teachers who have had a profound effect on my artistry.

    Two concrete ‘take aways’ are two separate plays that I wrote in Arezzo.  They are plays that I constantly tour.  The first is called “,”  Beppe’s Elephant and it was devised for the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival, here is a video link.  http://vimeo.com/11856046  The play incorporates commedia, circus, video animation, and is over-the-top ridiculous.  I also devised a play with Louise Mellor and Federica Mafucci, that combined with Sufi poetry and clowning.  The piece was toured to Umbria and since I graduated from ADA, this show has toured throughout the Hawaiian Islands.


    Do you stay in touch with anyone from your class/ ADA?

    Bob Shryock, Rebecca Bernard, and I tour regularly, and we just finished up a performance series at Ashland University.  I also keep in touch with Meredith Fox and Francisco Mestre who joined Zany Umbrella with in 2012 to collaborate on a production called Mirette’s Circus.   This production was performed on Summer Stage in Central Park in NYC. We also toured this show a couple of times to perform at Mass MoCA where Emily Evans used to work. I also have kept in touch with the illustrious Dory Sibley.




    What have you been up to since the Accademia? Tell us a bit about your new job at CCU.

    I just accepted a position to be a professor of physical theatre at Coastal Carolina University.  The program is the first BFA Physical Theatre program in the U.S.  Students in this BFA program spend three years at CCU, and their fourth year studying at ADA.

    The Physical Theatre BFA at CCU is also the first university program to give students an opportunity to study and perform environmental theatre in a real circus tent.  Below is a link; if you are an aspiring actor, you really need check it out.  Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information. https://www.coastal.edu/theatre/html/bfa-physical-theatre.html


    Can you tell us more about Zany Umbrella Circus? What was your motivation to start this company? 

    Zany Umbrella Circus  (www.zanyumbrellacircus.com) is a tented circus company (www.zanytent.com) that I founded in 2002. The circus has toured nationally and internationally, and has performed at both the White House and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. As an organization, Zany Umbrella Circus is known for social circus, and touring and developing locally specific programming in an experimental theater format. As a performance art company, Zany Umbrella is interested in further addressing issues of social change and community participation and involvement. With its mission rooted in compassion – the company has performed in war zones, disaster relief areas, areas of famine, and areas where xenophobia exists – Zany Umbrella uses performance art in the form of circus and physical theatre to educate and connect people to each other.

    In my twenties was motivated to form the company because I needed a ‘vehicle’ to express my artistry.  Over the last twelve years Zany Umbrella Circus has hired dozens and dozens of artists. If you are interested in collaborating, please do not hesitate to send a CV to bensota@zanyumbrella.com.


    Tell us more about your projects. When and where can people see them?

    Here are a number of my upcoming projects…

    Performance series of Della and Jim at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (performances July 18th, 19th, 20th, 25th, 26th, and 27th)  Shows are performed at 1pm and 3pm in the lower level theatre and free to the general public.  Della and Jim tells the story of a heartwarming couple, one dollar and eighty-seven cents, and the very first wedding anniversary of young performers. Based loosely on O. Henry’s classic tale The Gift of the Magi, Della and Jim uses physical theatre, animated video, masks, and circus to explore the role of gift giving in expressing and creating love.


    I will be featured artist in upcoming exhibition at the Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art titled “2014 New Installations: Artists in Residence.”  The show will run from Sept 13, 2014 – May 31, 2015 at the museum, and an opening reception will be held September 12, 2014 from 6-9 pm.  My work at MF will utilize sections of the Zany Circus’s traditional portable Italian tent to create an intimate structure inside the museum. The work encourages museum attendees to participate in the circus, and they, in effect, become part of the Zany troupe. The piece explores magical realism and ancestry charts, among other themes. For more information please visit mattress.org.

    At Coastal Carolina University I will be directing Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses.  The show opens on October 16th 2014.  Metamorphosis looks at theatre as ritual, as rite of passage, archetype, and our universal need to love.  Actors perform stories from Greek mythology in a very large swimming pool in this experimental theatre production.  http://www.coastal.edu/theatre/

    A circus-dance collaboration as part of the CSA (Community Supported Art) program at the New Hazlett Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA on February 12th, 2015 at 8pm. “When circus meets dance almost anything is possible.  Dropped into a sweeping landscape performers explore the world around them, moments of quirkiness will melt into shifting perceptions, and reveal hidden beauty.”  Website:http://newhazletttheater.org/



    Do you have a clips you can share or link to?

    This is a piece I directed in Hawai’i called Warrior Worrier.   http://vimeo.com/78282778

    The performance piece examines how polarized, fearful and extreme we have become in 2014.  Enjoy!

    What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?

    I really recommend reaching out to alumni of the school.  If you are considering the MFA program, you should visit campus or schedule a meeting with professors in Italy or in the U.S.

    In your opinion who is a good candidate to get a lot out of the program?

    A self-motivated actor creator who loves the plays of Dario Fo and the films of Federico Fellini.


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