Name: Chloe Whiting Stevenson
What is your performance/theatre background?
I’ve been acting in plays since middle school in community theatre and school productions. In high school I decided that I wanted to continue studying theatre and went to Siena Heights University, in Adrian MI, where I received my BA in theatre and speech communications. While there I studied primarily acting but also movement as well. I was involved in a touring children’s theatre troupe which was associated with Siena for a year as well as an achepella choir, teaching children’s drama, using theatre as a tool to work with people with special needs, and doing performance and production work at Siena.
I also spent summer 2007 studying theatre and performance at ACT in San Francisco. After graduating from Siena Heights in 2008 I continued my theatre studies at Illinois State University where I received an MA in theatre history. While there I continued to act in productions. I also became highly involved with studying a Japanese dance form called Butoh. There are guest artists who come and give workshops in Chicago and I became highly involved in performance art and dance workshops. I graduated from Illinois State University 2010. Summer of 2010 I traveled to Pontadera Italy to do a four week intensive butoh training program with a dance master. The next year I remained in Normal IL where I worked with children teaching primarily theatre and movement.
What were you doing just before you came to the Accademia professional/performance wise?
Before coming to the ADA I was working with children ages 3-13 at a private school teaching movement, drama, and other arts based curriculum. I also had been continuing my studies in Butoh and other workshops that caught my attention. As well as remaining active through performance in community theatre. I was a two hour trip from Chicago so I was often traveling there to take part in dance workshops in that area. Over 2011 I was often working on creating my own material for movement-based performance pieces that would continue with the themes that I had begun with “Civil Inquiries” a piece I choreographed and performed in Chicago and Michigan as well as in the 2011 Crisis Arts Festival in Arezzo.
Where did you first learn about the Accademia and what specifically about this program made you want to
I was interested in continuing my education specifically in physical theatre because it was a way to combine my passion for movement-based performance. This program came my way when I began doing research on studying overseas. After taking part in a workshop in Italy the summer before, I knew that if given the chance to study theatre in Italy I would take it in a heartbeat. I also was thrilled at the way both William Biddy and Kevin Crawford – the heads of the program were willing to talk with me in depth about the program. Upon further exploration I also truly appreciated the idea that the program included such a wide variety of training. With this MFA I would be exposed to different techniques of movement, voice, acting, philosophy, circus, mask, music, and more. This was a huge draw for me because I feel like the more topics I am exposed to then I continue to become more rounded as a scholar, performer, and as someone who wants to be a teacher myself someday. The degree itself was also a large draw. There are only currently two MFA’s in physical theatre in the world – and I feel like this training will set me ahead in the professional industry after completion of the degree.
What have been some of the most influential/impactful moments of your training at ADA so far?
This is a really difficult question for me to answer. I honestly feel that every day I learn something new – which is really what my goal was when starting this program. One of the first things that jumps to mind though was the first week of classes I was in a voice class and Kevin made a suggestion about how to open my voice. I tried this simple exercise and my entire voice expanded in a way I’ve never experienced before. As someone who has searched a lot over the years for ways to understand my voice better that day in class was an eye opener for me. There have been moments like that in every class. The movement class where I finally nailed the handstand, the music class where I hit notes I never dreamed of reaching, the philosophy class when concepts of power started to make sense, the final project for movement where in groups of three we all got to see choreography we created and directed come together, the acting class where I got the timing right and the passages for the character worked. I feel like that’s the beauty of this program. Every day I see things from myself and my classmates that I was never expecting – we’ve been in the program for over a year now and I am so glad that still every single day I go to class knowing that I am going to be surprised somehow.
What is something unexpected that you’ve found while working towards your MFA?
Originally I came to this program because I was interested in movement. I was used to using my body a specific way and I wanted to enhance my movement capabilities. I was not expecting to discover how much I would learn about ensemble performance. Prior to this program I did mostly solo work. The MFA has taught me so much about the extra possibilities that open up with partner work. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I now enjoy and actually seek out working with others. There is something wonderful about creating pieces with others and having dialogues about the work you are developing. I feel like these skills will help me immensely after the program.
What work that you have done during your time in the MFA program are you most proud of?
This is also a difficult question to answer. I feel like most days I come home from classes feeling pride for something either I have done myself or of something that one of my classmates did. I have to say I think some of the work I am truly proud of have been the pieces my classmates and I chose to put together extracurricularly. One example of this would be when we as a class decided to meet over our Winter break and put together an ensemble physical theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of our classmates, Dan Plehal, proposed the concept that the mechanical characters would be based on commedia characters, the lovers would work through stage combat and contact improvisation, and the fairies would work through acrobatics. We worked for two weeks and at the end had a piece that practically represented a lot of things that we had learned over the past semester.
Several of us also worked together to put a production called We are Thy Labyrinth, the story of Theseus and the Minotaur told from three different perspectives together for a festival in Turkey. I feel like our ability to put these pieces together outside of class utilizing our training was an excellent way for us to push ourselves and explore our creativity.
Moments within class that I have been really proud honestly occur all the time. One moment that comes to mind would be when we did a singing workshop with Paul Keenan. He worked with each of us extensively not only on the vocality of the songs but also on acting them. We had a song presentation of our work at the end where each person shared what they had worked on. Singing is a very personal thing and something that I know I and many of my classmates want to work on – and I feel we were all incredibly successful with this work. This is only one example of many that I have experienced pride for my own work and the work of my classmates.
What is the connection like with your fellow MFA classmates?
I am normally a pretty private person. I have honestly never been closer with a group of people. For me my classmates are family and I know that I am not the only cohort member to feel that way. We have class together, rehearsals together, for the most part live together, and often hang out together outside of class. I do refer to them as my Italian family. This is the group of people who I work with everyday. We are our most vulnerable in front of these people because the type of work we do requires that we open up fully. We support each other, offer creative criticism, and push each other to be the best that we can. I have to say the other thing that has been incredible working with this group is that we each bringour own strengths and weaknesses with us. I have learned just as much from my classmates as I have my professors – which I believe is how it should be. My classmates have given me so much and I am grateful to have each of them. They are my colleagues, my teachers, my friends and my family.
How would you describe the interaction with the teaching faculty and guest artists?
Because of the size of our class our professors are very good about giving us all the one on one attention that is necessary with most of the work that we do. Also I feel like the guest artists that are brought in truly enhance the program. We have worked with people from all over the world – India, Ireland, England, Switzerland, and different parts of Italy. Having all of these different artists allows us to explore different techniques and approaches to physical theatre which has opened so many doors. I feel like all of our professors work with us to aid us to each reach our personal goals and expand into our individual potentials.
The faculty is also just genuinely friendly and enjoyable to be around. They talk with us about an array of topics and treat us as practicing artists. They provide support, respect, and constructive criticism that allow us to flourish as students as well as artists. The faculty has also been really wonderful about listening to our (the current MFA class’s) thoughts about the program and what we would like to get out of it. They have gone as far as to adjust the curriculum to make sure that those needs and desires are met – which I have truly appreciated. I love knowing that my professors truly think about what I want to
know and take that into account when setting the schedules within the program.
How would you describe the experience of living and working in Italy?
Living and working in Italy has been interesting, at times challenging, and all in all a dream come true. I love the history and respect for the arts that Italy has. It has been wonderful to be able to walk through the town and see frescoes, churches, and old architecture. Now all of that being said I have had my fair share of adapting to do as well. I am still in the process of learning Italian, however I am now at a point where I feel comfortable having a basic conversation as long as the speaker talks slowly and has patience with me. Italians for the most part have been wonderful though about working with me as long as I am making the effort. People have been very kind. There are practices that still take time to understand like paying bills at the post office, everything being closed over lunch and on Sundays, and the tiny coffee sizes. All of that aside though, waking up every day with the beauty that surrounds me – walking to the villa where I live – I am truly grateful for this opportunity and have truly considered attempting to stay in Europe after graduation.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
I am looking forward to working on and developing the grad labs. These are individual performance projects that will feed directly into material for our written thesis, which is required for graduation. I am very excited to be able to work on my own project which will include many things that I have learned throughout the program, as well as material that I have a personal serious investment in. I am also excited to see what my classmates’ pieces turn out like – as each of us are going in very different directions with our work. We will be presenting a “first draft” of the pieces at the end of the Fall semester and performing the final piece at the end of the Spring semester. I am looking forward to seeing how I can develop my own work utilizing many of the tools I have learned while studying in the MFA program.
Looking beyond the program what are your plans post-graduation? How would you like to use your degree?
What direction do you see yourself moving in ie: teaching, performing, company creation etc…
That is always the big question isn’t it. I originally sought out an MFA degree because I wanted to be able to teach at a university. Teaching is a big passion of mine and I know that is something I want to do in my life. I do see myself hopefully in a teaching position post-graduation. While I want to teach I also want to continue to develop my own work as well as continue learning new things through taking part in training courses and workshops all over the world. I am enthusiastic about all of the possibilities that this degree opens up for me and look forward to seeing which path I actually follow after graduation.
Who would you recommend the program to, who is a good fit for this program?
This program is very unique and I would recommend it to anyone with a love for physical theatre. The program is a good fit for someone looking for an MFA that is performance/ practical based. It does require a lot physically – so people applying need to be prepared to be challenged physically as well as creatively. Due to the fact the program is based in Italy and many of the faculty are from Europe people applying for this program should be excited about cultural diversity. Also this is an excellent program for people who are excited to live and work in Italy – this is an excellent opportunity – but potentially being
far from home can be trying at times. I would recommend this program for people who have interest in training with intent to go out and do performance work or for those interested in becoming teachers.
Within the degree we have a large array of material that we cover – so this program is an excellent fit for those who have an interest in learning about a wide array of theatrical and performance practices. It is an excellent opportunity to study in beautiful and strong creative places with an array of talented faculty.
Anything else you would like to add?
I think I said it already – but I would like to stress again all of the awesome opportunities this program provides. I feel that I have learned so much on a wide array of subjects. I also feel that when I leave this program I will have a wonderful CV filled with experiences that have improved me as a performer and as someone who wants to teach. This program has given me many different skills along with a wonderful sense of confidence that my body is capable of so much as an artist and for that I am truly grateful.