• Navigating Uncertain Times: an Accademia dell’Arte Newsletter

    by  • April 2, 2020 • Newsletter • 0 Comments

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    Every alumnus of the Accademia dell’Arte has a favorite memory of life in Tuscany, whether it is found in a small corner of nature as uniquely wrapped in history, or a special moment with a new friend, a shared epiphany perhaps, or maybe an accomplishment or self discovery achieved through hard work and encouragement or perhaps simply feeling for the first time communal vibrations, it is a memory that will last a lifetime.

    Everyone’s experience is different but all share a common bond of having dedicated more than three formidable months in residence at that villa on the hill overlooking the charming city of Arezzo. But today, alas, this magical place of creative discovery has fallen silent, visited by an unwelcome guest. The streets of Arezzo are empty, restaurants are closed, shops are shuttered and the few who venture out into the public,  disguised behind masks, create an odd mode of interaction. I like to imagine everyone offering hidden smiles. When will we return to normal, or better to ask; what will be the new normal?

    At the Accademia we always point out that in times of crisis the charge of the artist is to help us all reimagine a different future. The impulse is there, singing from balconies, banging pots and pans from the windows but this is only an impulse. If we retreat before an invisible enemy we know that others will take advantage of the crisis to their own advantage.

    Covid-19 has struck a near fatal blow to the Accademia, emptying the villa without warning, bequeathing a future that is still very uncertain. Those of us standing guard here in Arezzo will do everything in our power to bring the school back to life, indeed, to rekindle the flame!

    Please read on below. In these difficult times, we are especially excited to finally share some work and reflections from our Spring 2020 students and faculty from before we closed the school at the beginning of March. We are incredibly proud of what the students accomplished in the abbreviated semester and we hope to welcome these students back to the Accademia dell’Arte in the future so they can get the full experience at Villa Godiola. There is also a section honoring Katrin Pohl, ADA Business Manager (and so much more). Katrin, who has been with the Accademia since the very beginning, retired this semester and is now off to her next adventure.

    Stay healthy and stay safe,

    Scott McGehee, PhD, Founding Director


    P.S. – To all the many who have supported us with small, medium and sometimes even larger donations and continue to do so, our sincerest gratitude! We continue to work under high stress to overcome the current situation and warmly welcome your support on steady and/or one-time donations. But, even if you too have been struck by the virus economically, send us your good wishes and we will send you ours in this moment of crisis! With your help we will prevail.

    You can support the Accademia dell’Arte in these difficult times by:

    • Visiting the ADA Shop (purchases support student scholarships & programming)
    • Making a Direct Donation
    • Sending thoughts and well-wishes to: donations@dellarte.it

    Every epoch not only dreams the next, but while dreaming impels it towards wakefulness. – Walter Benjamin

    Student Relfections NL Header

    As our students were just getting started this semester, we asked a few of them about their first impressions of classes. See what Physical Theatre student, Blaize Adler-Ivanbrook (Colorado College), Dance student, Eleanor Crawford (Hampshire College) and One Year Physical Theatre student, Ashton Harris (Coastal Carolina University) had to say about their experiences in the studio and classroom.

    What have your experiences in class been like so far this semester? Can you describe an exercise, activity or topic that surprised or excited you in one of your classes?

    BLAIZE:  They’ve all been able to meet you where you’re at in a way to encourage an individual approach within a group, taking into account the fact that everyone is bringing their own individual perspectives and techniques to the work that they’re doing and they’re accepting of those different perspectives, which I find really refreshing. I would say that patience is something I’ve really appreciated among my professors and open communication, which is nice. As far as the actual work goes, I would say it’s far more focused on experimentation and figuring things out for yourself, there’s a much higher emphasis on that rather than just telling you how to do things. We just did an exercise yesterday where we just got to play around with a door, basically. It was in Sam’s class; It was actually really fun. We just had to non-verbally work with each other to just discover a door in ways it’s not usually used and how we can move it and interact with the door in new and exciting ways. It was definitely a heavily experimental exercise, it was exciting.

    ELEANOR: It’s been really exciting to come into this as a dancer and realize the similarities between what I’ve been doing and what all of these physical theatre students have been doing; it feels much more connected than I realized. A lot of my experiences in classes have been grappling with the question of what the difference between physical theatre and dance is. A lot of students here who are based in physical theatre view what they’re doing as movement, while I view movement inherently as dance. So like in the Tarantella workshop, the beginning was a lot of exploring movement of animals or responding to noises or things like that, like just basic movement exercises, which I very much thought of as dance, but like the people I was talking to said “no, we’re just moving.” Then once we actually got into the traditional Tarantella dancing, people were like “yeah that’s dance.”

    ASHTON: Ginevra’s class really impacted me. Since I’ve been here at the Accademia, I’ve been searching for vulnerability. How to show my vulnerability through my work and how to really drop into things emotionally. So there was this exercise we did in Ginevra’s class, it was a restraining exercise where you have a piece of text and you are pinned to the ground and your goal is to get to the door. You get to the door while saying this text. And that’s pretty much it. But for me, while I’m such an overwhelmingly emotional person and everything, I have such a hard time showing it and I don’t know how to access it in a lot of situations. So through Ginevra’s exercise, she really pushed me to access it. I don’t remember much of what happened during the exercise, all that I know is that it broke me open like a carcass, and I was there fully crying in font of all the other one years, and it was great because I felt really supported because of the environment that Ginevra had set up. 

    What’s something that’s challenged you in class so far this semester? How do you hope to engage with this as the semester continues?

    BLAIZE: I would say that Commedia is definitely a challenge for me because it’s something that I have absolutely no experience in, and it’s a form that is sort of independent stylistically of much of the work that I’ve done at this point. Of course, it has elements of physicality and voice manipulation that is universal in all acting, but the way it’s structured is completely alien to me. It’s sort of like sketch comedy in a way. And getting to work in a mask and sort of the improvisational aspects are quite challenging for me. I definitely want to work on my improv and particularly my physical comedy improv. Because I feel like that is something that up until this point, I’ve sucked at. Also breathing. Breathing is a difficult one, I don’t really monitor my breathing that much. I should, because I’m a singer, but I feel like I don’t think about it as much as I should, so Dory’s class is definitely challenging.

    ELEANOR: I have been really challenged by the ballet classes, because I don’t come from a classical ballet background at all. It’s been interesting being with all of these dancers who seem to have a lot of ballet training and not knowing all of the words, or the appropriate behaviors or the ways of moving. It’s been a really interesting process of going and getting to do classes with them, it sort of feels like I’m taking a different class, but that’s been really exciting because I feel I’ve been learning a lot, but I also have space to mess up in a way that I’m not used to. It makes so much logical sense that I don’t know what’s going on, so therefore, all I can do is try; that’s the best I can do and that’s accepted by everyone. It’s a really exciting challenge and it makes me think about where modern dance comes from and where a lot of beliefs about dance come from, because ballet has been so prominent in Western culture.

    ASHTON: Technique, I can do pretty much anything anyone asks me to do, it’s just a matter of can I be technical with it?

    Ashton, What classes are you taking this semester? So far, how are they continuing – or building on – what you learned last semester?

    ASHTON: In Nhandan’s movement classes, we still do lots of structure. The majority of my classes at this point have literally been just Ginevra, Ginevra, Ginevra. It feels like all I know is Ginevra, which I’m not mad about at all. So far this semester, I have been taking Lecoq, Principia Comica with Scott and Giangiacomo, Movement, Italian and Somatics. Somatics with Sabine was great and it’s pushing me to access myself personally. I’ve wanted to access myself truly personally because I feel that then I can access everything else that the work calls for. 

    Overall, how do you think your work in class differs from last semester? How does it feel working with a smaller group?

    ASHTON: My work is different now because I approach things from a more personal perspective. Last semester, it had nothing to do with the teachers, it was really more the environment I was in, in terms of my classmates and such, but I didn’t feel as supported or lifted up in a lot of situations like everyone else did. Now since I have a smaller group of people that I feel a little closer to, I feel like my work can really transform and I can approach it from a more personal perspective and a perspective of truly trying to learn rather than just doing it. Because I am the kind of person who likes things to hit me hard. I’m a visceral person, I need things to truly affect me in order to feel anything deeply. With how I am approaching my work now, and how my professors have prefaced this semester, it sort of kind of made me pull up my bootstraps and really face myself as I’ve been trying to do since I’ve started acting. I’m a lot more interested in that now because I actually have the time and the chances and a small enough group to be able to do that. 


    We’ll Miss You, Katrin!

    After sixteen years as Business Manager, Katrin Pohl will be leaving the Accademia dell’Arte. It is hard to imagine the Accademia without Katrin since she was present when the school was still an idea. When Katrin heard that I was in the process of founding a school back in 2003, she immediately expressed interest and offered herself to help in whatever way she could. While the job was to be Business Manager, little did either of us know what exactly was entailed in such a project.

    For the first year, while Villa Godiola was being renovated Katrin and I shared a poorly furnished, unheated office, with bad lighting in a vacated convent in the center of Arezzo. The only metaphor I can think of that captures the experience is flying an airplane for the first time without instructions. We managed to lift off the ground  but realized that we had forgotten to factor in nap times and coffee breaks and where the landing gear was located; someone had to keep flying the plane. It was as exciting as it was relentless! Though Business Manager by title, Katrin was willing and eager to take on every task as it was needed. In this work she drew on deep passions, tenacity, creativity, empathy and a genuine love for the work. The school as it is today is the expression of those who were there to give shape to a dream. As such, Katrin Pohl’s imprint will be part of the school for years to come. We all wish her luck in the future and will miss her.

    -Scott McGehee, PhD, Founding Director


    Faculty Perspective NL Header

    We spoke to some of our faculty about what was going to make this semester unique. Dory Sibley (Core Faculty: Voice and Ensemble Performance & Undergraduate Programs Associate), Sabine Fichter (Dance Program Director & Core Faculty: Laban Movement Studies and Contemporary Dance), and Ginevra Scaglia (Faculty: Movement) offer their insight into the Spring 2020 semester.

    Dory, what inter-program collaborative opportunities will the Physical Theatre and Dance students have this semester? How are opportunities like these important to the Accademia’s pedagogy, philosophy and the overall experience the ADA wants to provide students?

    DORY: This semester is especially unique as we delve even further into the collaborative work between the three programs. Some big opportunities are the Gaga workshop with Shahar Binyamini, Tanztheater workshop with Mitsuru Sasaki and the Knight-Thompson Experiencing Speech workshop with Andrea Caban. In addition, every student will take at least two classes within the core of each program and they have weekly meetings in Philosophy, Italian and Devising. We believe strongly that young artists benefit from working collaboratively, especially across disciplines. A physical theatre artist observing how a dancer might translate the same exercise completely differently, and vice versa, strengthens the ability to create and problem solve from various points of departure. These connections open a new conduit of creativity that will feed their artistic careers and inform the diverse ways in which they will be able to collaborate with others in the future.

    You recently did a 2-week solo recruiting trip to the US, visiting schools in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington D.C. / Baltimore. What’s most invigorating about a school visit? Most challenging? Besides the ADA’s location, what aspect of the ADA have you noticed consistently grabs a theatre student’s attention?

    DORY: The recruitment tour [was] incredibly exciting. Doing workshops and discussing our programs with various institutions, faculty, staff and students is the easy part. The programming and location alone grab interest quickly. The most challenging thing is to continue my own self-care while on the road. It is a big process and quite exhausting, but worth it. When you are in a room together with students and faculty you have never met, the spirit and philosophy of the Accademia grows in a totally unique way. You have very little time, so you figure out quickly the main things that grab attention. Consistently, the location and the idea that you would have an entire semester to focus only on creating art and performance is rare and inspiring. 

    Sabine, what are one or two significant aspects that set it the 2020 Spring Dance Program apart from last spring’s program? What inspired these changes?

    SABINE: This spring we are particularly excited about a Gaga Intensive that we have added to the program for the first time. The 4-day workshop will be taught by Shahar Binyamini, who has been a dancer with Batsheva Dance Company in Israel under the direction of Ohad Naharin. 

    Apart from that, we were able to schedule more inter-program classes which means that dance and theatre students will share  a lot of classes and will also be working on a final performance all together. 

    At the end of February you led a recruiting trip to a few US schools in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Western Massachusetts. When visiting US schools to lead dance workshops for students (and meet with dance faculty), what do you hope they experience or learn about the Accademia’s dance programs in your brief time with them?

    SABINE: When I do a recruitment trip in the US, I usually teach a one-hour class for potential students which is then followed by a 30 minutes info session. Although the encounter is brief, I certainly provide the students and faculty with all the information that they need to understand what makes our program such a special experience.

    However, I think the most important point is that they get a chance to meet me as the director and teacher of our dance program and that they can have a moment of that personal contact. I really believe that face-to-face contact makes all the difference. In addition to that, for the recruitment tour I have an AdA dance alumna assisting me which is a very fortunate situation. So, in every Q&A session she can provide students with very valuable first-hand information and she can report what her own personal experience was when she studied with us at the AdA.

    Ginevra, in your course, Foundation of Lecoq Work, with the One Year Physical Theatre Program students, what is a key concept, skill or experience you expect the students to take forward with them into their own work? How is this reflected in your own work?

    GINEVRA: What I hope students will take forward in their own work is a much more clear idea of what’s urgent inside of them. From my point of view, an artist is someone that has an urgency, someone that feels the need to express something. During my classes, I provoke students through many different kinds of exercises to help them to get in touch with this state of urgency, this hunger. I help them to find a state of openness, to see what kind of presence they then reveal to me and to an audience.

    The second thing that I would like them to take forward with them is a more clear idea of which art form or Physical Theatre style or mix of performing arts they most enjoy playing with. What do you enjoy most doing? I believe that an artist has to be able to bring back their childhood, to be a child/adult that plays with life and creates with pleasure and fun. I hope they will create a theatre that is alive, sensitive and vibrating.

    With this group of students, what aspect of the work have they engaged most strongly with? What has challenged them most?

    GINEVRA: This group revealed a strong need to find tools through which they could express themselves. I loved working with this one year program group because they revealed to be so different from one another. Sometimes this can be difficult, but also very stimulating and good in a group dynamic.

    I think giving them some of the basic Physical Theatre principles, the work on Jacques Lecoq’s 20 movements and the technical and creative final presentation was a very good tool to throw to them, which they understood how to structure and bring to life an idea.

    Student Life in Arezzo NL Header

    After a month in Arezzo – and finally settled into Villa Godiola – we checked in with Physical Theatre student, Candace Hudert (Sarah Lawrence College) and Dance student, Lilianne Gering (Muhlenberg College), who shared first impressions of their student life experience. One Year Physical Theatre student, Milla Blackwelder (Coastal Carolina University) spoke about returning to the villa for a second semester.

    Candace and Lilianne, what expectations did you have surrounding what your life would be like here in Arezzo? How has Arezzo and the Accademia either matched or differed from your expectations?

    CANDACE: Honestly, I was expecting more spoken Italian in the villa, obviously in town there’s plenty, but it was kind of surprising to see that the vast majority are primarily, if not solely, English speakers on campus. I think that’s the biggest difference honestly, that and not having a kitchen. But I love the food the Mensa has. My room is pretty big, especially just for Milla and me. Yeah, it’s very communal. There’s not a ton of dedicated study spaces, which I guess I hadn’t thought about, but I was expecting to be there. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, there just not a lot of them so I have to scout around the villa to find a place to park for a couple hours. 

    LILIANNE: My expectations are actually pretty similar to what is actually happening, I expected to be here and be dancing and be taking a lot of classes Monday through Friday because that’s what people at Muhlenberg told me it was. Coming in, I’ve wanted to travel every weekend and I think that has changed a little bit because I see how tiring it is and I want to stay in Arezzo more definitely later on in the semester, but so far it’s been a lot of fun doing that and it’s definitely worth it. In terms of the villa, I don’t think I was expecting to have as many people that I felt comfortable around so soon, so that’s kind of better than I was expecting, because I was expecting there to be groups and for it to be clique-y, but it’s not like that all. Everybody is pretty friendly and gets along well and it’s fun to hang out with everyone. 

    What are your first impressions of life here at the villa? How is it different from your home institution?

    CANDACE: Generally, I don’t have a lot of exposure to dancers, like in my life, but also at Sarah Lawrence and particularly at the study abroad program I was at last semester,  there were no dancers. So just having that kind of physical energy changes the energy of how people interact. It’s not like “the dancers are weird,” that’s not what I’m saying but, I don’t have a ton of exposure to dance I feel like when I’m at my home institution. Which is part of the reason why I came, in terms of physical theatre, training in different ways of moving, so dance makes a lot of sense. In a lot of ways it’s very similar to Sarah Lawrence, like very small class sizes. The classes are kind of shorter here actually, which is interesting.  Some of my favorite classes at Sarah Lawrence were like 3-4 hours, which I know is a bit of a rarity, but I like them a lot. I feel it’s odd having one years, it brings a different kind of dynamic; I am also comparing again to the abroad program I was at in the fall. Everyone was new there and having people who have been here and kind of have an idea of how things work or how they saw things work, it changes the tempo a little bit, which I wasn’t expecting necessarily, it’s just different. Plus the one-years have crazy athleticism.

    LILIANNE: It’s definitely different in that it feels like it’s more of a community than a bunch of different groups of people. Even though I’m not taking classes all the time with the theatre students or the one years, I feel like I have pretty close friends in both of those programs so I don’t really feel that there is a disconnect between the programs, where in my home institution there definitely is. Dancers are separate from theatre majors (at Muhlenberg), so it definitely feels much more cohesive and community-like here. That could just be because it’s a lot smaller though. 

    Milla, does life at the villa feel different for you this semester? How has it felt to return to the Accademia?

    MILLA: This time I’m more laser focused on specificity and finding the balance between my soul drive and technique all while growing as a human being and appreciating things as simple as sensory elements in terms of being alive. And the little moments are what I’ve found the most meaningful and invigorating.

    As it is the start of a new semester, is there anything about your life in Arezzo that you wish to change going forward or do you feel content with your established routines? Is there anything new you are looking to experience this semester that you didn’t get to do last semester?

    MILLA: I want to explore more, I want to explore little nooks of the villa that I haven’t found yet and also find more things in Arezzo. I want to work with Riccardo to use old materials to create things to use for CabLab. I am definitely working towards being more productive, in a way that I’m allowing myself to use my down time in a more creative way, like developing my sense of craftsmanship within different elements.

    Student Insights NL Header

    Sometimes spontaneous questions are the best way to find out what students really think … plus, its fun and keeps everyone on their toes! Physical Theatre student, Lee Diamond (Wheaton College), and Dance student, Victoria Fender (University of Arkansas, Little Rock), played our latest round of Think Fast! Complete the Sentence.

    My journey to Arezzo was…

    LEE: Pretty smooth. I mean like, I’m not a big fan of flights, but it was nice that there were six of us on the flight from Munich to Florence, so I got to meet people before hand and then it was nice that there were so many people at the airport waiting.

    VICTORIA: Delayed and expensive. 

    Since arriving in Arezzo I have discovered…

    LEE: I hate hills, but I kind of really love churches. And I have also discovered Sunflower (a local Gelateria), which I think needs to be said.

    VICTORIA: That Europe is a mixture of past traditions as well as modern ones.

    I am most looking forward to…

    LEE: Gosh, everything. I’m excited to be more in my body, do more physical stuff, which is new to me in some ways, and just feel better as myself. 

    VICTORIA: Collaborating and learning through discussion with my peers.

    When I complete this program and leave Arezzo, I hope I’ve …

    LEE: Fixed my posture a little bit and made some friends. I know I’ve made some friends already who I’ll be keeping in touch with.

    VICTORIA: Become more open-minded, well-traveled and spiritually enlightened.

    The Accademia dell’Arte makes me …

    LEE: Happy. It makes me feel at home.

    VICTORIA: Feel confident in my own feelings.

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