Finding an Ending… Or a New Beginning: An ADA Newsletter
New and Exciting Experiences in the Classroom
As our students continue to train in their core classes, Voice and Ensemble Performance, Movement and Commedia Dell’Arte as well as in guest workshops such as Sound Lab and Experimental Voice Lab, they are making some exciting new discoveries. Read below to hear from Physical Theatre Students Dylan Gleason (Muhlenberg College), Aliza Saper (Coastal Carolina University), Sarah Louise McInnis (Coastal Carolina University), Ryan Estes (Muhlenberg College), and Carlie Maze (Coastal Carolina University) about their experiences in class.
How has Movement with Nhandan progressed since the beginning of the semester? What new challenges have come up since then? How is this class continuing to impact you as an actor and artist?
DYLAN: So at the beginning of the semester, I found movement to be pretty difficult just because I wasn’t very comfortable moving in my body, but I’ve recently noticed a change where I’m a lot more comfortable with moving and I think that is entirely due to my work with Nhandan. The class is great, it’s a lot of fun, it’s a great workout, you definitely have to be prepared to give your all and it’s generally a great time. So I think one of my favorite parts of the class is that Nhandan is fully active in it with us, she uses this work to grow as an artist as much as we do and I think that’s pretty cool. One of my favorite classes that we’ve had this semester was when Nhandan taught us how to do headstands, which was awesome. Headstands are cool! And it’s not something I really expected to ever learn how to do.
For you, what is most unique about your Voice and Ensemble Performance class? In what ways do you find this class impacting you as an actor and artist? What’s a new challenge that has appeared since the beginning of the semester?
ALIZA: Voice and Ensemble has given me a really unique opportunity to get in touch with my body in a way that I have not before. We spend a great deal of time, especially in the beginning of the semester, doing what’s called body mapping. So what that entails is essentially sort of destructuring what we know about parts of our body. For instance, we did a rib-mapping, where we felt between every single rib and opened up the space there, and then we were able to engage with the voice in a new way because of that new space that was found. It’s really been interesting to learn so much about anatomy, that came as a surprise to me, a lovely, unexpected, pleasant surprise, to be able to learn so much about my anatomy and the ways that I can enhance my use of it when I perform. Something that Dory has talked about and something that we have been in discussion about a lot this semester is duality and it’s been interesting to notice the way that we interact with our own instruments, with our own bodies. So much of the time we’ll identify something about our voices and label it as incorrect or bad or wrong and Dory is really working hard to instill this belief in us that there isn’t such a thing as good or bad or right and wrong it just is and how we can learn to utilize our voices and our instruments in most efficient and healthy way, straying away from negative and positive.
In your experience with Commedia so far, how does the class and the style of the form compare to an acting class at your school? What aspects do you find yourself especially connecting with? What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
SARAH LOUISE: Commedia has been very different from the acting classes at my school because it isn’t necessarily completely based in realism, although the scenarios we used, in order for them to be comedic, have to be realistic life events, but just on a more heightened scale. So I would say the difference is that it’s much more heightened. Also, the fact that we only work with improv has been really different because we don’t really do improv at Coastal. So that’s been really wonderful. My first love with theatre is improv, so working with Commedia has given me the opportunity to dig deeper into my love for improv and also look at it from a new technical aspect and look at it the from the eyes of already defined characters. So I don’t feel as lost in the improv because I know that once I start, my mindset will be one way or another depending on the mask that I’m using. One of the difficulties has been the commitment to the physicality and the vocals of the characters. It’s easy to start the scene with one position in your body and one leading point and with one voice and then halfway through the scene you realize that you are no longer doing those things. But that has also been a really wonderful thing to work on this semester, to push myself with this my commitment to a character and to hold myself accountable and use my character brain in order to only make choices through the eyes of that character. So that way, the body and the voice come naturally once I really switch into that character.
You’ve had a few guest workshops and masterclasses this semester, including Sound Lab with Tomaz Grom, Voicework with Kevin Crawford and Leather Mask-making with Andrea Cavarra. What is something impactful that you took away from working with Kevin and how did this workshop complement your work with Dory?
CARLIE: I really enjoyed all the work we did with Kevin; it gave me the opportunity to explore my voice in ways that I haven’t ever explored it before. Just all the exercises he did with us regarding tempo, placement, breath and sustainability were really useful tools to bring along with us into other classes, especially Dory’s class where it’s all about voice and voice as an actor and voice through the mask. It’s very useful for both of those because it just coincides and meshes together very well because in Dory’s class we also learn the same things, but in completely different ways. So we learn about tempo and about placement but in completely different ways than we did with Kevin so to mesh both of those things together has really opened up even more opportunities for vocal performance. You take the things you learn from different people and you kind of put them all together to form your own kind of way of doing work, or technique. So discovering so many things about my voice through different people and doing different exercises was very helpful in just exploring it more and finding sounds or resonances that I hadn’t ever tapped into before.
RYAN: Something impactful that I took away from working with Kevin is that I can change the sound of my voice and the quality of it without changing the pitch. So I can stay on the same pitch but sound very nasally or sound very, um, whatever the opposite of nasally is. Basically, I can do so much with my voice without changing a note. I think that that’s impacted my work with Dory because, like for voice in the mask, if I were to do a Commedia character that was like a child or a woman or whatever, I don’t have to make my voice higher, but I can put my voice in my nasal resonator and create that voice that way. I guess just overall, I didn’t know that I could do that much with my voice at all and I didn’t know how easy it really was. Like how, for me, I found the activity most useful when I wasn’t actively trying. It was easier for me the less I tried and that was comforting because I realized I didn’t have to try very hard to do these things because a lot of them just come naturally, but they’re maybe blocked or unconsciously blocked in some way and I just need to free them.
Can you describe the focus of the work in Sound Lab? How does Sound Lab connect to the work in your other classes this semester?
CARLIE: The work with Tomaz was really cool. It was a lot of improv with sounds and all about the ensemble work of listening to create a whole piece. As soon as you start focusing on your own thing or your own instrument that you had with Tomaz, the whole thing would fall apart because it’s all about an ensemble and to be an ensemble you have to listen and work together to create something powerful. And that translates to all of our classes because even though we are growing as individuals and individual performers, when you’re in a classroom setting, it’s about supporting the ensemble and supporting your peers, and helping each other grow which involves listening and communicating and working well with people, which is what Tomaz’s whole workshop was about. Not only that, but it taught me a lot about how to play, and be playful, because we had our set instruments, our sounds and our things we did and although we were creating something, it was improv and you could kind of do whatever. It was fun, finding out all of these different sounds that things could make and we could play around with it while still putting in the work to make something really cool. Which just then helps in all classes because you have to find the play in it, because finding the play is how you explore and make discoveries about yourself and other things. So it taught me a lot about ensemble work and playing.
RYAN: The focus of Sound Lab was to explore all of the different ways you can produce sound and to explore how not every sound has to be aesthetically pleasing to the ear in order to qualify as a sound. There can be beautiful sounds, ugly sounds, and it was about exploring the beauty of both and exploring the appropriate times to present a beautiful sound and to present an ugly sound. And it was also about working together as an ensemble and really tuning into each other and knowing when was a good time to make your sound and when was a good time to step back and let others shine. Kind of just being acutely aware of what was best for the ensemble in a particular moment in time.
How has your experience in studying Commedia evolved now that you made your own mask? What was most exciting about the process of making your own Commedia mask?
CARLIE: Making the mask was super cool. I’ve never been a part of a process quite like that. I guess I’ve always seen masks before and admired their beauty and just the details and everything but I never really thought about all the work that goes into it, like to do the process and see how long it took and how much detail and time we had to put into it and how hard it was. I mean, you would be sitting there shaping it and just be sweating because it’s just such detailed and meticulous work. And it was just so interesting to make. I think it brought everyone, including myself, a whole new respect for the craft of making masks because it’s one thing to just see it and be like “oh that’s super cool” but to actually see that process is a whole different thing. In terms of Commedia, we learned a lot about the different characters through making the masks and through watching each other make the masks because it’s almost like they were being born and he would talk to us about them and their lives and these characters. I struggle a lot in Commedia, I think everyone does, at least in the beginning. It seems easy, like you’re just playing around, but once you put the mask on, I don’t know, it’s just been a real challenge for me to get out of my head and just do it instead of being scared that I’m gonna look like a fool or not be funny because that’s not really what it’s about. I think after making the mask, I still feel that way, I’m still working around that, but I think making the mask kind of brought me closer, at least in understanding and connecting to the actual craft that is Commedia.
RYAN: My experience has evolved because now that I’ve made my own mask, the work is a lot more personal. Because I’m not just picking a random mask out of a box and putting it on. I chose that mold myself and knowing that I’m the first person to wear it ever is just a very cool concept. I was particularly gravitated towards that mold; I saw it and I was just like “that’s the one.” And still, a month later, I don’t really know what about that mold excited me so much, but I’ve found it interesting to explore. It’s kind of like my mask has become my comrade in this Commedia process, and I’ll look at it like “welp, at the end of the day, I still have you, and one day you’ll be hanging on my wall and I’ll look at you and I’ll think, whenever I had you on my face”… It’s funny because it sounds like it’s a person, but like just looking the mask, I’ll be thinking about how there were times when I was wearing that mask where I was self conscious and other times where I felt like an artist, and that’s just part of growth in general. Recognizing the good times and bad times are all an equal part of growth and that growth is all being done inside of that mask. And I know that it’s mine and something that I created, and something that I will always have; it’s a priceless souvenir. In terms of the process, I think my favorite part was definitely not the chiseling, that was the worst. My favorite part was probably the day we peeled the leather off of the mold because that was the first time that to me, it wasn’t just a sheet of leather on a wooden block; it was the first time it was its own being.
A Change of Pace: Our Time in Ljubljana, Slovenia
This year during our trip to Ljubljana, our physical theatre students had the opportunity to work with both En Knap dance company, led by the incomparable Iztok Kovac, and participate in a devising workshop with Uros and Vito. The workshop with En Knap was a dynamic meeting between physical theatre and dance where participants tested the boundaries of their choreographic styles and then improvised together as a group. The devising workshop was a space to learn about feedback and how that deeply affects the process of art making. Besides studio work, we were able to see two performances. First, a concert featuring the work of Tomaz Grom, an inspirational musical improviser. He collaborated with a local artist, Anja Novak, pushing the limits of music, art and performance. The final show was a revival of Falcon by Iztok Kovac. In this new version, Iztok, in collaboration with Janez Jansa, local artist and founder of MASKA, not only dances but analyzes his life as an artist, what it is to get older as a dancer and his own transformation. The performance was a beautiful mix of dance, resilience, multi-media and truth.
This year held some really exciting moments and we look forward to what next semester may bring. Below, we hear from semester physical theatre students, Stacy Jackson (Coastal Carolina University) and Amanda Hinge (Skidmore College) about their experience in Ljubljana.
Can you describe the ways in which the work you did in Ljubljana connected to the work you have been doing in your core classes and the ways it contrasted from the work those classes? Were there any new and exciting discoveries made through the work you did with EnKnap?
STACY: Well I think the biggest thing that I got from it is something that I am continuing to apply to my courses here, which is to question why. As an artist, I’d always be like “Huh, why am I doing this?” But then I’d be satisfied with saying “Eh, because that’s how it is, that’s how I want to do it.” But here, I was like “Wait a minute!” when I asked why and everybody got into nitty gritty of what I wanted this piece to do. When I ask why, it makes me think “Why am I even doing this?” and then when I answer that question, it makes my performance more clear, which is something I always struggled with prior to coming to the ADA. The biggest difference is that, and this not a bad thing, is the fact that at the ADA, while they are still honest, they have a more visual aspect of support. Where even though I could tell that Uros and Vito, for example, still wanted us to succeed, the way that they gave feedback was different from the way Dory or Nhandan would talk to us. Because they knew that they weren’t going to spend that long of a time with us, they were just like “Here’s what your piece is saying,” and then they had everybody else speak. In this case, people are encouraged to speak here at the ADA, but people were mandated to speak there. We really learned how to critique more so in Ljubljana than we do here at the ADA.
AMANDA: I think for the Uros workshop the big contrast was we were told to devise a piece and we were given a certain amount guidelines, but it was very free-roaming when we hadn’t gotten to that stage yet in our other classes; we were doing more directed work in those classes. So it was interesting to go straight into that and be able to create a piece with very open guidelines. When we actually performed them, I think it was one of the first times that we were actually performing something in front of peers that we had created ourselves. So that was really exciting and I loved getting peer feedback. I think most of the time we get a lot of feedback from our professors and hear thoughts from our peers, but it was really great to hear from ensemble and how they would do things differently, and what worked for them and what didn’t. This was a very upfront way to take work to the next level. EnKnap is a dance company and we are working on physical theatre and not specifically dance, but there are a lot of parallels. I found it really interesting to work with a lot of their ideals which is body separation, playing with suspension and I think that their choreography is something that I never dealt with before in a lot of my dance classes. So I really, really enjoyed that because the creative part can be scary, so it was fun to be able to roll a dice and have that be what tells you what to do next. For similarities, I think obviously we are working with physical theatre here, we didn’t use a lot of voice, but there were a lot of similarities to our movement classes. I think a lot of the professors that we work with here and guest artists that come in and the people we worked with in EnKnap were all very excited about their work and very helpful and supportive and it was a really good learning environment. I think it’s really a great thing to work with active artists who are very passionate about their craft and to take that passion into our own work.
What was exploring Ljubljana like? How did it contrast from Arezzo and what aspects of the city did you enjoy the most?
STACY: I LOVE Ljubljana, I just really love Ljubljana! The biggest difference is that Ljubljana is so flat; there’s no hills and my calves were thanking me the whole time! I think the biggest similarity between the two is that I could see the youth here in Arezzo and in Ljubljana. I feel like the youth had a bit more of an impact in Ljubljana, especially because it’s the capital. But it was just so cool to see the punk rock scene in Arezzo and Ljubljana, again I love it. It definitely seemed like Ljubljana was more culturally diverse, like “here’s a Serbian place, oh here’s a German place, oh here’s a Slovenian place but let’s go to this Japanese, Chinese place.” I feel like it was more culturally diverse, but again, being the capital, one could assume that. Arezzo and Ljubljana are both beautiful, gorgeous cities, but also Ljubljana is less vegan friendly, so I guess that’s one critique I have about it, it’s not as vegan friendly. But honestly, I could see myself living in Arezzo and I could also see myself living in Ljubljana just as much. It was gorgeous, and the culture was just.. ah! And I’ve seen more street performers in Ljubljana that week than I’ve seen for the whole semester in Arezzo.
AMANDA: I think the architecture is definitely different, in that the typical yellow buildings and terra cotta roofs of Italy weren’t there, because it’s a different country. Ljubljana is a little bit more urbanized in their buildings and that was interesting to see; it felt a little bit more modern. The river was beautiful, I loved walking on the river and seeing all of the different restaurants and venues there. A lot of the shops were really cute and the food was very good. On the last day, Daliah and I went to the castle which is on the very top of a hill in Ljubljana and were able to see a 360 degree view of the city. And Slovenia is a really small country so we were able to see the city, the suburbs, and mountains. There were the Alps, right there, covered in snow, which was gorgeous and we also saw farmland and woodland all right there from that one spot. We had the time to explore a little bit, so we mainly did that in the form of walking around or going to restaurants. I was able to have dinner with Dory and Monica and a couple other students, which was really fun, being able to chat with them in that setting in a different country. Another way we explored was by trying to learn as much of the language as we could. Which were just little phrases, like being able to say hello, goodbye or thank you and it was fun to assimilate ourselves in that way.
Villa, Sweet Villa: Life in Arezzo, Italy
Halfway through the semester, our students spent their fall break traveling all over Europe to places such as Amsterdam, Paris and more! Read about some of their adventures in one of our recent ADA blog posts here.
Now that our students have been living in Villa Godiola for two months, they are reflecting on how living in Italy has helped them grow, what they will miss, what they are looking forward to when they go home and what lessons they will take with them. Below, we hear from One Year Physical Theatre student, Jalil Bonds (Coastal Carolina University), Semester Physical Theatre Students Hannah Mahr (Gustavus Adolphus College) and Olivia Rescigno (Muhlenberg College) and Music student Samuel Hsieh (Furman University).
What has exploring Arezzo been like? In what ways has this city become either more familiar to you and in what ways has it excited and/or surprised you?
JALIL: I don’t go into town as often as everyone else does, so I can’t say that I have some super grand experience in town because whenever I think of going in town I think of spending money or something. So I don’t go in town by myself, I usually go with a group with other people that are gonna go do something and I still see the experience and what’s going on throughout the day, but I haven’t felt like I have been contributing anything to the city in the sense that I haven’t really purchased anything since I have been here. But the relationship I do have with Arezzo, I would say is more so from the rooftop, seeing the entire picture as a whole, rather than the nitty gritty details and all the things that make the city as a whole. So my experience of seeing the entire city as a whole reminds me to always look at the larger picture. And it excites me because I know that there are so many people in one small place, that give this one piece of land life. And then when I’m standing on the roof, looking over it, I have thoughts of how to reach all of these people, through like a common touch, or like a shared experience or shared sense of reality. And how to create that bond through there. But I’m not really too pressed about the fact that I haven’t been into town much since I am staying for the year. I haven’t felt the rush, I haven’t felt called into the city yet. I feel like that’s something that should be explored more in second semester, this semester seems more like time to gather all the information I can from the hilltop and then run down the hill like a headless chicken. Or maybe not a headless chicken, run down the hill like a wise man with answers or the fool with the wise man’s answers. That’s what I feel like I’m going to be doing second semester.
What have you learned from living with your cohort at Villa Godiola that you will take with you into your life back home?
HANNAH: It’s really interesting that you asked me that question because I would consider myself to be one of the more introverted people in the program. I would say this program has taught me a lot about opening myself to others and what it means to be a part of a community because sometimes it’s necessary to give yourself space but in other moments you can find so much joy and goodness that you didn’t even know that you needed in the presence of others. I think this program has also helped me give less weight to expectations or first impressions and to really embrace all of the possible connections here. I still find myself reaching out to new people that I haven’t hung out with in the past and making new friendships even though we’re two months in and that’s really exciting to me. In terms of what I’m gonna be taking back to school with me, well I’m gonna be a senior and I think it’s easy to feel like you know, “I’m already at the close, why should I put in more effort to find things that are new if I am so settled and comfortable in what I know?” But living here at the ADA and constantly find those new connections with people inspires me to try to do something similar back home. You know, there’s a whole new class of first years coming into Gustavus this year. We just did “Into the Woods”, I’m missing that back home right now and I just heard so many great things about the first years and how wonderful they all are and I’m very excited to meet them even though I’m a senior and to hopefully make new connections and make new friends. I would also say that this program has taught me quite a bit about empathy and the variety of ways that you can express empathy and be an empathetic person. Before coming here, I already considered myself to be quite empathetic, I cry with people a lot, I’m quite emotional. But living with people and being in the quarters with them all the time, you start to become familiar with if not the whole spectrum of their emotions, a very large portion of it and it’s something to navigate and it’s something that’s really beautiful too. I think our ensemble that we have together here has become only stronger because we are open with each other, in terms of our emotions and our humanness and it’s inspired all of us, I think to find a new level or degree of empathy in our everyday lives.
What will you miss the most when you leave? What are you most looking forward to when you go back home?
OLIVIA: I will definitely miss the people when I leave. Everyone here has been so amazing and so supportive in this journey. I’ve met some really great people who I think I could spend a lifetime still talking to and I made some really great connections, which I’m definitely going to miss. I’m looking forward to implementing everything I’ve learned here into my work back at Muhlenberg. Just the physicality and how I’ve had a new connection with my own body, I guess you could say, and how that’s going to affect my work in the future.
SAMUEL: Mensa Food, free food is always good food! Other stuff that I will miss is being able to enjoy the beautiful scenery here too, it’s just really nice here to see everything like when you walk out of your room and you see how everything’s so pretty and it’s just very calm and relaxing. Kinda just like being on Italian time. But what I’ll be looking forward to when I go back is taking the experience that I’ve had here and applying it and to not necessarily teach other people, but to influence other people back home. To use it to not just grow musically, but as a person, too.
As the semester is drawing to a close, we asked some of our amazing faculty members to weigh in on how their classes are going. Read below to hear from Dory Sibley (Voice and Ensemble Performance), Giangiacomo Colli (Commedia Dell’Arte) and Nhandan Chirco (Movement and Body Work).
Moving forward from now to the end of the semester, what will be the primary focus in your class? How do you feel about where you are currently with the students?
DORY: We are working mainly on the collaborative project. However, after the working demonstration this week, our focus will shift towards AcroVoice and singing.
GIANGIACOMO: The students of this semester have been following my teaching with great dedication. Many questions, improvisations, lazzi, and the creation of about ninety scenes touching the most diverse subjects: political correctness, corruption, immigration, and so on.
Now the students are working on their final presentation, which includes a few Commedia dell’Arte scenes, and the work on Voice with Dory and on Movement with Nhandan. This is the third year we develop these interdisciplinary presentations, and it is always extremely intriguing to observe how the students are able to integrate our teachings.
NHANDAN: In this last phase of the work, the focus is on empowering the students to handle the creative process as an ensemble and to realize a performance and to connect materials created in the practical courses, utilizing the working principles they experienced during the semester. Actually we are working all together, all students and faculty from Commedia, Voice and Movement to create this ensemble piece. Our work as teachers at the moment shifts more toward mentoring as we are not directing the final performance rather helping the students to articulate their inspirations and to shape their materials in a collective dimension, starting from their proposals and artistic choices.
Can you share an in-class conversation, moment or experience that’s been especially unique to this semester?
DORY: The students this semester went quite deep fast. The experience that sticks out is watching them build scenes from their haiku words. They were asked to play with the sounds and words inside their haikus is pairs and keeping some sort of connection between them. They played with distance, level, dynamics, tempo, rhythm, etc. From that, scenes started to build. I’ve never really taken the exercise very far into development because of time constraints but they connected so deeply to each other that the characters and relationships just became so clear. It was a great example of deep listening through all of their senses and it was incredible to watch it all develop.
GIANGIACOMO: Being a considerable number, since the beginning of the semester the students have been divided in two groups. Only recently we had a class where both groups were present and were able to watch the scenes created by their colleagues. It has been a unique moment, because by observing for the first time the work of the other group, the students learned something new, realized how certain techniques were working, and the entire class moved to a higher level of awareness.
What’s an upcoming topic, activity, exercise or presentation that you’re really interested to see how the students respond to, or engage with?
DORY: The Sensational Statues exercise is usually interesting but I think in general this group responds in surprising ways to the prompts. So, I think it will be inspiring to see what they get curious about in this particular exercise.
GIANGIACOMO: After the presentation, during the final week of the semester, we will still have a few hours of Commedia dell’Arte. The final objective will be to stage full brief scenarios with casts of about 5/6 students. To stage a full scenario, even in shorter respect to the other scenarios of the tradition, is never easy, but I am looking forward to it, because I know that these students will be full of surprises.
NHANDAN: In the following week, after completed the collaborative ensemble piece, students will have an intensive week on devising with Sam McGehee. The intensive lab on devising, as all the activities in this last week of the program, aims to pull the thread of the different areas of work, to have a moment of elaboration and metabolization of the condensed working time students went through in the program, to underline principles that are implied in the creative practices, and to help them to bridge it in useful way to their development in the future work in other contexts. Group talks and individual talks with faculty are planned and a closing self-managed performance on the last day of the program!