This semester my colleague, Rachael Van Fossen, and I have been co-facilitating a group study titled Advanced Workshop in Performance Creation. While the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts program is best known for offering a way for students to pursue self-directed learning in one-to-one dialogue with a faculty advisor, increasingly the program’s Vermont site is offering collaborative learning opportunities as integrated elements of students’ academic work.
The workshop was developed to meet student requests to establish a multidisciplinary context for performance creation that blurs lines between authored, collaborative, and interpretive models of performance. It’s designed to support students who have established or emerging performance practices in the disciplines of theater (directing, acting, writing), dance (choreography, dance), music and sound (performance, composition), and hybrid performance, but is open to students working in other disciplines as well. While the workshop is focused on the support, development, and study of performance creation, and seeks to build a program ecology in which performance creation can flourish, it’s also interested in exploring the ways that art practices not traditionally thought of as performance (visual arts, literary arts, etc.) might utilize performance strategies.
Organized around providing direct, collaborative support to projects that students are currently developing, the group also engages with specific readings relevant to the participants’ projects. This semester we’ve focused our collaborative inquiry around Anne Bogart’s books, A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre and The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition (with Tina Landau), but have also explored writings by Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Tim Etchells. Project feedback is framed to respond to context, intention, art historical ancestries, and contemporary affiliations. The workshop has space for up to six presenting artists and two additional dialogue participants. One session is dedicated to looking closely at each presenter’s work. Dialogue participants have joined the group to learn about performance creation and to participate in critical feedback about the presenters’ works.
As we’ve assessed the development of the workshop at mid-semester, Rachael has said, “I’m excited about the discoveries coming out of our conversations. The range of performance backgrounds and perspectives represented allows group members to nourish and enliven their work. We discuss craft and technique where appropriate, for instance suggesting devising methods to develop strong stage pictures in collaboration with actors, and to another performance creator suggesting plays and playwriting resources related to the style and themes of his text. The multidisciplinary context also allows us to focus discussion not just on performance as ‘object’, but on what kinds of experiences the artists wish to create with or for their audiences.”
For my own part, I’ve found the vibrancy of our dialogue and the range of work being presented to be striking. Students have spoken broadly about their intentions, but also have asked specific questions about the development of their work. And thus far I’ve been impressed by the level of collaboration, such as when a musician was been able to gain insight from established directors and choreographers about the blocking of an ensemble cast on a stage. And when a new playwright was been able consider the literary trajectory of his project from a variety of perspectives. Perhaps most surprising was a conversation I recently had with one of the dialogue participants. An established television producer, the workshop is inspiring her to consider creating new, interactive works for the stage.
This semester has been an exciting opportunity to develop the workshop concept and to begin building an archive or resources focused on performance creation. We look forward to further developing the workshop in coming semesters.
To learn more about Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program, join us for an Admissions conference call.