Danny Park has been ping ponging across the world since his time at the Accademia dell’Arte. Now he is getting ready for his first tour of You Are The Hero, which he wrote and self-produced with the help of some ADA friends. He took a minute to reminisce and tell us a little about his artistic life.
When did you attend the Accademia?
Spring of 2012 (with the awesome Genevieve Durst!!!).
What did you study there?
What University were you coming from?
What was your favorite thing about the program?
The respect I got from the teachers as a fellow artist. This meant a lot to me as a young artist and student. Someone else used this phrase to describe something else to me later on, but I think it really applies to ADA: They didn’t say we’d leave as artists, because they knew we were already coming in as artists. This was one of the major things that helped me grow in my time at ADA. I mean that and living in a Tuscan hillside Villa. That was astounding.
Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom? From a trip or a meal in town etc…
Yeah, I mean this is kind of my go-to: The first or second night in town there was a dance performance a town away that everyone was going to go to. It wasn’t mandatory though, and Nate Fisher, Katie Dingle and I were all like, “PFFFT DANCE!? NAH THERE’S FOOD TO BE EATEN!!!” so we went into town to eat. Once we’re at the restaurant, about halfway through the meal, I check the time and lose it (in a good way) because it’s been an hour and a half already. I had never experienced something like that before. Just sitting around, eating awesome food, being with amazing people, and not feeling rushed. About three hours in I just start muttering out loud, “Life is good.” It was the first time I’d ever really said that and meant it. It was a completely life changing experience for me. It was an establishing moment in my life, realizing that for me, happiness is good food and good people. It’s had a huge effect on not just who I am as a person but also on my artwork.
Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo?
Oh man, ok I can’t remember the name of this place, but they have the best pasta I’ve ever eaten: ravioli con sugo d’anatra. I think Scott told us about it? Walking into the city from the duomo, it’s the first right, down the giant hill, past the statue, then just keep going. They’re attached to a little mercato (that also has some great food for picnics and weekend lunches).
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
Happy life first, making art second.
What have you been up to since the Accademia?
A ton! I graduated in 2013 and lived/worked in Italy, Cleveland, Toronto, the Catskills, Washington, DC, Boston, and now Philadelphia. I wasn’t making art for a little while, then realized that I wasn’t making art, then worked really hard to change that. Since then I’ve been making some cool stuff, mostly involving Starburst. It’s been a wild ride, but I’m glad to slowly be settling down. Of course I say that and yet here I am about to go on a tour. The travel bug has kicked back in.
Do you stay in touch with anyone from your class?
Yeah absolutely. Joseph Ahmed and Nate Fisher, who both went to ADA, have been major contributors to You are the Hero (Joe is the director!!!). Katie Dingle also helped me find my venue for Chicago.
Can you tell us more about You Are The Hero? What was your process? Who has contributed?
Yeah, so I’ve been describing You are the Hero as a mix between The Legend of Zelda and theatre. It takes that same basic monomyth of the Hero’s Journey, three trials, and the Hero (the audience) is on a quest to save the world from an ultimate evil, yada yada yada.
It plays (yeah the audience plays!) a little like a video game where you get a segment of story, then the audience plays around, then a story, then the audience plays and on and on. It’s a bit simpler/more engaging than a choose your own adventure because there’s a little more free-form wiggle room for the audience to create content. And because my work is really focused on empowering people, giving them control over their own fate through the art makes a ton of sense. It creates a safe space for the audience to see how their existence makes a concrete difference in the world around them. But that also means that failure is a possibility, and Game Over (the tragic ending) could happen early on.
I started developing the piece as a member of the Core Company at the Orchard Project and it’s been about 10 months to get to this point now. A lot of the beginning process was just sharing stuff with an audience as I created it, because so much of the show is dependent on the audience’s feedback in the moment. After a while I knew I just needed to finish the damn thing, so I set a deadline for myself (and met it!). It’s my first time writing, so I’ve also been learning a lot about how I work in that medium too.
Like I said before, Joseph Ahmed is directing it like the total saint that he is, Nate Fisher has been helping edit, and Katie Dingle helped me find my Chicago venue. Solo work really isn’t solo work haha.
What difficulties and triumphs have you encountered in your work, so far? When and where can people see it?
People are having fun with it!!! I think that’s honestly the biggest triumph I’ve felt so far. Watching audiences play and complete the Trial of Courage, celebrate in that Fiero moment, and then sharing with each other afterwards feels so damn rewarding. The happiness in the room is palpable. I feel like I so rarely see people that engaged with each other when they’re also engaging with art, and that’s part of the whole point of the piece: finding those levels of Flow and community and play.
This is my first time self-producing a work of my own AND my first time touring. I also decided to tour about two months before I was scheduled to do the tour. So that has definitely been a great challenge that I’m learning a ton from. If anyone out there wants to become my personal producer, contact me! No, really!!!
You Are the Hero is playing:
Philadelphia, 4/15 @ Quig’s Pub (Preview), https://www.facebook.com/events/612053125564980/
Chicago, 4/20 @ The Bug House Theatre, https://www.facebook.com/events/1565178470429179/1567662536847439/
Toronto, 4/22 @ 888 Dupont St., https://www.facebook.com/events/1417625545210640/
Boston, 4/27 @ the Boston University College of Fine Arts, https://www.facebook.com/events/462830290552947/
What kind of person might be interested in similar work and how might they go about pursuing this?
I’m not sure I understand the first part, but in terms of pursuing work like this: Try making it! I know that’s weird, but really! That’s what I did. Make something where you can’t rehearse it without an audience. Play and analyze your favorite games and video games. READ REALITY IS BROKEN BY JANE MCGONGIGAL. That’s for everyone ever, and I’ll say it one more time for emphasis: READ REALITY IS BROKEN BY JANE MCGONGIGAL. There are a few people out there (with much bigger names than myself) exploring similar work: Coney in the UK, Dog and Pony DC and Miguel Gutierrez (DEEP Aerobics) in the US, but I think this idea of sincere audience engagement (as coined by Dog and Pony) is still relatively new and risky for a lot of art makers. Giving the audience real power and necessity in the artistic product.
Do you have a clip you can share or link to?
I haven’t been spreading this around, but for ADA, anything. Warning, Spoilers though!!!
How has the Accademia helped shape who you are as an artist/creator?
Reminding me that if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing.
What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
Do it. I don’t know a single person who didn’t have an outlook-changing experience.
In your opinion who is a good candidate to get a lot out of the program?
Anyone who wants to explore the fun in making art while still having rigerous technique training.
Anything else you want to add?
Really, if anyone out there wants to collaborate and be my producer…call me!!!