Meet HPI 2018: Faith Wilwerding

Can you talk about your experience with HPI up to this point, reflecting specifically on the time since Fall break?

I think about it as pre-collaboration and post-collaboration. In a way it has been two separate experiences. And pre-fall break it was gathering information, in class and socially, and then post-fall break, I felt like there was a big shift within the group and our desire to get our feet on the ground with collaborations and generating material. Instead of letting the program happen at us, kind of taking control of it. In some ways I feel grateful for that, because I definitely need time to warm up to and feel comfortable in new groups. This gave me enough time to kind of get to know people, and just marinate in the whole situation that I had thrown myself into. As a group I think we have really taken control of our own experience, we’ve taken advantage of the community that we spent that time setting up.

You moved to Philly for Headlong, and you say you threw yourself into this program. How has that affected your experience here?

I think it all feels like one, I can’t separate the two, because I didn’t really have a lot of time here before Headlong started so it has all been one indistinguishable experience. Headlong and Philly. Prior to coming to Headlong I was really craving finding new communities and communities that I felt fostered me more as an artist and just as a human and a whole being. So moving here was literally throwing myself into all these new communities that felt like a fresh start for that, and just reinvigorating of myself as a human, and myself as an artist.

Has that felt like it’s happened?

Yes here, in this space and this community I do feel that has happened, but as we near the end of the program I am a little worried about making it a sustainable thing. Once I’m pulled out of this community, what do I do next? How do you continue to insert yourself in productive communities? This is kind of handed to us everyday; here are these people and this community, make the most of it, but once I don’t have that structure, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

In terms of creative work, do you feel that you are carrying ideas with you from before Headlong, or have you been sparked by being in this space with these people?

In the first part of my experience, I was definitely bringing in ideas and fragments of my work from before. It was a lot of solo work on personal and internal experience and memory. But then when we moved more toward collaboration as a group I kind of let my own things go a little, and am latching onto other people and being sparked by sharing ideas, which I’m finding really satisfying. Just in general this community is really teaching me, and my peers are really teaching me so many new things that are inspiring me. It’s just so much more vibrant than communities I’d been in before, so I’m very much enjoying sharing ideas and giving in to letting other collaborators direct me, it’s a really fulfilling process. In this moment, it feels a lot richer than making work from only personal experience.

What are you curious about with that going forward to the end of Headlong?

I think I’m just curious about what our final show will look like, because it feels like everything that everyone has been working on is kind of becoming one, like parts of everyone is showing up in every piece and I’m excited to see what that looks like as a cohesive show and collective body of work.

Do you have a fun fact?

I play the electric guitar, I took lessons for six years.  I have two electric guitars at home in Nebraska. I don’t practice nearly as much as I should, but I really love them!

See Faith’s work

Meet HPI 2018: Dante Green

Dante Green is a University of the Arts (UArts) student and HPI 2018 artist who creates and performs as an actor, composer, playwright, and director in devised theater. Though he’s involved in many activities outside the program this semester, he’s figuring out ways to interweave all these practices into his creative process.

Can you describe your experience at HPI up to this point?

So my experience… I was really nervous at first because I had heard a lot of really intense things about the program before coming here. Then when I got here, I was very excited after meeting everyone and meeting the alumni at the welcome dinner. It was just a lot of excited language around the program and about how the process would go down. And then I think within the first week or two I was sort of waiting for the exciting things to happen, and I would say with every week it definitely got more interesting and more hands-on and more productive. And now that we’re midway through, I’m hoping to continue ramping up the intensity with the program and ramping up the work we’re making and the amount of productivity we have with each other.

So you’re a senior at UArts. How are you taking being a UArts student into this program?

So one of the great things about being a UArts student is you get a lot of production experience, you get to work on a lot of shows. So that’s sort of where my mind has always been geared, it’s been geared toward production and geared toward education in the theater. But as far as a classroom experience goes it feels a little bit separate, it feels a little bit less important, less valuable, less concentrated in terms of what I’m doing in the classroom. And I think one of the great things of Headlong this semester has been that what I’m learning in the classroom is the concentration and it is like, the collaboration and the content generating and all of that stuff that we’re doing here at Headlong transfers directly into that theater mode and education in the theater. Working hands-on in your art.

You’ve been really busy this semester, how is that affecting your experience at Headlong?

It’s been a little tricky to manage, but also definitely manageable. I think if you wanted to have an experience at Headlong where you leave Headlong in the classroom, it’s possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an experience. I think that by my being so busy, it’s sort of hindered my ability to make the most of the program that is here, but at the same time it feels very valuable to be reaching outside the program and applying what I’m learning in the program to other works that I’m working on in present time.

Have you been focusing more on threads that began before headlong, or has being in the program sparked some ideas? Or perhaps a combination?

Definitely a little bit of both. I think I’m using headlong as a model to influence the work I was working on before coming here. But I also think being here is inspiring a lot of new ideas from me. But they’re all small, they’re little babies right now. And I’m not sure if they will grow in the program, but it’s been nice to plant those seeds while I've been here.

What are you curious about going forward in the last few weeks of the program?

I’m curious about how the program gears toward a final project, or final product, because I think a lot of the program is about exploring, being curious, working on ideas that you don’t exactly know what they are. And I wonder how that sort of mentality is going to translate into a final showing and presentation of like “here are all the things I’ve been working on this semester.” And also applying it after the semester. How the things that I’ve learned, and things I’ve made, will show up in the future. Whether that be in a developmental form or in a final form.

Okay- fun fact?

I really love dogs. I really really enjoy dogs. I recently got a dog on Sunday. It’s going really well, he’s a really sweet and gentle boy. I’m also really into music and a lot of the time it shows up in my theatrical work. Dogs show up in my theatrical work sometimes. Singing dogs, actually.

Follow on Dante on Instagram and Spotify!

[Photo by Aja Nadi]

Meet HPI 2018: Madeline Shuron

Madeline is a student at Bryn Mawr College and HPI 2018 artist whose solo work asks questions about internal processes and external social boundaries. Madeline is an actor and movement artist exploring what it means to be an individual maker this semester. Catch her reading French theorists who empower and celebrate woman bodies.

Can you describe your experience at HPI up to this point? Thinking back to day one at orientation, the welcome dinner, salons, fall break, and now halfway through?

It’s definitely been different than I was expecting. I feel like the Headlong process is really about digging into the process of the thing. And a lot of that has been stressed in all the different classes we’ve been taking and stuff. So it’s been really nice to focus on that in an environment that focuses on that even if I came into the process thinking it was going to be about the work.

You’re at Bryn Mawr College right now, so have lived around Philly for a couple years, how do you feel that HPI is fitting into either your BMC self or your Philadelphia self?

That’s a good question, and by this is a good question I mean I don’t know what to say. Mark has always stressed the Bryn Mawr-HPI link and I know a lot of people who did it who went to Bryn Mawr and so it seemed almost natural for me to just do it. So, with my Bryn Mawr self I feel like it fits in very nice, because I’m still close to Bryn Mawr so I can see people on the weekends. But I’m living in Philadelphia and I’m living in South Philly with these people I just met two months ago when we all moved in on September 1st, and so finding that balance between time for myself, and time to be in Philly and be like, okay, I’m not going to see anyone today, but I’m still going to use this to the best of my ability. Maybe I’ll go on a walk in the park or something.

What about artistically, creatively coming from the theater department to Headlong, how is that the same and how is that different?

They definitely have the same core values. I think, the reason I decided to come to Headlong was to figure out whether or not I wanted to be, could be, a maker, as opposed to just a doer and a vessel for preexisting pieces. I think I’m still grappling with that at the moment. It’s definitely really bizarre, being in the space of a maker in a way that’s completely guided by myself. Like at Bryn Mawr we do ensemble derived movement things, and very non-hierarchical -- “okay we’re all doing this together, we’re all an ensemble.” So making these solo pieces that I’ve been doing every week, it’s really different. I’m the one person making the decisions for everything, and that’s not how I’ve been, Bryn Mawr has been my only theater training so that’s not how I was trained nor am in the process of being trained. So to try to flex those muscles, it’s been weird and vulnerable and funky at times. But I would say I’m handling it!

Still thinking about creative ideas, does it feel like you’re bringing questions and little seeds from before the program started, or has being at Headlong sparked new floods of imagination?

I think an equal mix of both. Because, coming in over the summer that was one of the things I kept repeating to myself. I was like “at least at Headlong I’ll be forced to be creative. I have no motivation to make any work,” so the idea that you’ll be in a program where you have a salon [showing] every Monday, I’ve been trying to take advantage of that. I feel like I am taking some things that I was interested in beforehand and I’ve been working on a piece outside of Headlong that I was thinking about beforehand over the summer. And I haven’t shown anything from it, at salon or anything, but it’s something I’m working on outside and knowing that I’m in a creative structure [HPI] during the day makes me want to bring that into my night, outside. But I’ve definitely been getting new ideas and even if they’re not new ideas, I feel I have the drive to actually follow something through pass the first thoughts in my head; like, you see an image and say “ah, that would be a cool image” and you write it down and you just forget about it, but now I think of an image and say “oh that would be really cool, how do I make a piece around this image?”

What are you curious about going forward in the remaining half of Headlong?

I’m curious about working with others, I guess, especially since everything I’ve showed at salon has just been solo pieces. So, doing the dramaturgy for the piece with Faith and Julia and you [Lu] and Genevieve, has been really nice to work with people even if not in a performance aspect, a behind the scenes one. I definitely want to do that. I guess I’m just curious about what my preconceived notions of “good theater” are and how I’m able to break that apart. I was talking to some people about how a lot of the work I’ve been doing is super serious, so I was like, “Ah, I just want to make a piece that’s fun, fun to do on stage. And so I did that! It was fun, I made it serious, but it was fun. Still snuck in there, but ya, I guess exploring more of these realms and places I feel like I shouldn't go to, because like, I think I’m so terrible at comedy.

But we always laugh at you in clown!

That doesn’t count, clowning doesn’t count, that’s a whole other person up there, I don’t know who she is.

But ya, definitely, maybe I’ll actually script something. I’ve never scripted anything, I should do that. I guess I’ve been trying to go into everything “devised theater artists” make, which is very different from straight scripted plays. So I don't know, maybe I’ll go back and make a complete 180.

What’s something that’s either outside your artistic self or adjacent/aside your artistic self that people might want to know about you?

Another good question…I kind of just decided I would be a theater person and every facet of my identity went toward that. Let’s see…I like to read academic texts for fun. Oh! I really love reading, I speak French, and so I read French, and I really like French theorists, so ya, Hélène Cixous. She wrote this essay called "The Laugh of the Medusa" and it’s about women in literature and women writers and taking back stuff like that. The original is always the best way to go. I’m trying to teach myself Russian so I can read Anna Karenina in the original.

Follow Madeline on Instagram!

Stirring the Structure: A Look Midway Through HPI 2018

By Sarah Marks Mininsohn (HPI ‘17)

“It doesn’t feel like a school. It feels more like a Person Orientation.”
–Kate Madara (HPI ‘18)

Eleven artists of different ages, backgrounds, personalities, and interests make up HPI’18. As these artists come together under a new program structure, they meet, watch, and get to know each other. As the program continues, weeks and hours are spent with all in the same room, and they get to KNOW each other. They provide feedback as new works begin, express controversial opinions on Fringe shows, and learn juicy details about each other’s personal lives. As each artist develops and changes, so does the group, and a dynamic unique to this class emerges.

It quickly became late October, and the HPI ’18 artists have moved from getting to know each other to getting to KNOW each other. Individual artists are shifting and reassessing what they want out of the program now that they’ve experienced a month and a half of it. I had the opportunity to chat with three artists from this class, Tina Zhong, Julia Bryck, and Kate Madara, about HPI ‘18’s group shifting so far.

Up to this point, I had heard multiple faculty members describe the group as “quiet” and “thoughtful,” likely comparing it to my class the previous year, which was pretty talkative from early on in the program. When I asked for their perspectives on the group dynamic, they told me about a significant moment of shifting in core faculty Shavon Norris’s class, “Mindful Making.” So far, Shavon’s class is a special space for HPI’18, a “community haven,” according to Julia.

At the beginning of the conversation, Julia agreed with the talk I’d heard: “It’s kind of a quiet group. I know the faculty’s been trying to give us a lot of space to sit in silence, where none of us have to say anything. I think it’s a very thoughtful group. When we have open studio time, we end up spending a lot of time together hanging out and getting to know each other.”

The group has been mainly using open studio time to work on solo work, between chats and check-ins. While this dynamic has been fruitful to some extent, the artists were growing eager for collaboration. Julia told me, “the program talks a lot about collaboration as a value, but the structure doesn’t support it right now for this specific group.” Julia had voiced this concern in Shavon’s class.

Tina chimed in, “Julia herself said this, but the whole group felt this way. Even though we’re always here, we haven’t been collaborating with each other as a group that much. We all felt that we need something that we work on together, and then it happened in Shavon’s class yesterday afternoon. We worked together, creating a piece.”

After hearing the artists’ concerns, Shavon provided them with a structure for making something together. It began with each artist creating an illustration, and turned into a traveling, dynamic, and silly group piece.

Kate described, “We each drew an illustration, and we put them in different places in the room. We all created a piece from one illustration to the next using movement. So, if my piece was there, and Julia’s piece was there, how do I get everybody to Julia’s piece? And then how does Julia get everybody to Tina’s piece? We all took turns as director.”

Julia added that the exercise encouraged the generally-thoughtful-and-quiet artists to take the lead without overthinking, to trust their instincts: “You have like three seconds to decide what you’re going to do. What does your instinct tell you to do? Someone taught a song really quick. Someone else had us crawl in a crab walk. I had everyone do a runway walk.”

Kate added, “we practiced each piece, and at the end, we put it all together. It was really fun to see how those movements changed as we practiced them.” She continued, “I think it illustrated how really different each one of us is, and pulled out the particularities of our selves and our personalities, in a really positive and low-stakes way.”

“It was a really joyful experience, with a lot of silliness,” said Julia.

“Definitely a lot of silliness,” laughed Tina, “I think now we are gradually becoming more comfortable questioning the structures instead of only questioning ourselves.”

The discovery that they could critique and adjust the structures of HPI has been opened new possibilities for the group. They’ve since chatted about using Friday open studio time to do something collectively, whether that involves making something together or switching off leading a dance technique class. We look forward to witnessing how new collaborations unfold.

Meet HPI 2018: Skye Hughes

Skye Hughes is an HPI 2018 artist who moved to Philadelphia from Boulder, CO to participate in the program. Her work is reaching toward a broad range of media this semester, including movement, film, photography, soundscapes, and acting. Skye is switching up her usual lengthy process and generating quick and smaller pieces each week.

Can you describe your experience at Headlong Performance Institute up to this point? Now that it’s our first day back from Fall break, where does that place you at this moment?

I think at the beginning, the first day we all met here and were introduced and had dinner, I was struck by how lovely everyone was. The faculty and the students, and that it was going to be really delightful, friendly, supportive, in really deep and meaningful ways. And it’s totally proven to be that. I think my favorite part of everything, of the program so far, are the people and the sort of sense of community and taking care of each other and having fun and being real. And then the commitment to making work consistently, and the consistency of morning practice, or even just the idea of a consistent coming to the table, getting ready for artmaking, and committing one’s day to that feels like it’s helping me shift and reorient the direction of my life because I’m like 'Oh ya, this is what’s important, and this is what feels right, and my prior priorities were really crushing this.' And now I’m just like 'Okay now I know exactly what I have to do in terms of work and life and location and all those things.’

The faculty are very personally invested in each student. I feel like they really really care. And present time…I feel kind of exhausted, and so it feels difficult to make work, but when I do succeed in making something I feel way , and it’s great. The faculty is extremely helpful in that regard.

Have you found yourself continuing creative ideas that were being born before Headlong? Or has new stuff flooded in since the beginning?

So new stuff has flooded in is the answer. I’ve been making smaller pieces week by week. Since there’s a lot of freedom and structureless making-- it’s pretty self-guided-- I’ve just sort of been making things ad hoc. And because I’m really busy with work outside of school as well, I don’t have the space to be working on bigger sort of longer-term projects. So week to week I make what’s possible, which is probably more useful for this program, and better use of my time.

And that’s pretty different from your history of art making, right?

Profoundly different, yeah. My work, I take years to form it. I have a project going which has already been a year or two in the making and is going to require a lot of people and a long process. It’s not possible to work on it here, which is totally fine, or maybe it is possible in some way, I don’t know! I can imagine the faculty also trying to find ways to support me in that. But I do feel like it’s been really beneficial to be making smaller work, just to be generative and be shaking up, ya know, the powers of creative flow. I hate that term, but ya know.

You also moved to Philly for HPI, can you talk about the transition from where you were to where you are now and how that’s affected your experience here?

I’ve really enjoyed living in Philly and starting to get to know the city. It’s like, it feels important to me to be in a location like this, a very like vibrant, lively place, in terms of performance. And so, ya, it’s so affordable compared to where I was living before. That was a huge treat! The food is not as good, that’s ok! Fine! But I think that’s another huge benefit of the program, is that it’s a very vibrant place.

We’re halfway through the semester at this point, what are you curious about unfolding going forward?

I’m curious about what is possible in the last couple of months that maybe wasn’t happening in the first. I feel like I’ve gotten, and we’ve gotten, a clear sense of the relationship of the teachers to our personal endeavors and maybe are beginning to get clearer on what we want during this time. So I'm excited to see what everyone and I come up with inside of this structureless structure and I’m hoping for more time to make work because the week includes a lot of class time. I imagine some people have time outside of Headlong to make things, but since I don’t, I really wish there were more time to make things. I guess that’s mostly it, and then having a showing at the end of the process feels like that’s going to kick us into a different gear. It’s felt sort of goalless the first months, which is cool, I like goalless times, but then, I’m like, 'Oh ya, goal times have a different impact on what we do and how we feel, so great!'

What’s one thing that someone in HPI or the performance world here might not know about you?

This is a funny one, I’m almost an ordained minister. Oh man! It’s not associated with any religion, but I will be able to do births, marriages, and death work. And also it’s a great tax write-off, you cannot believe, you can write-off your rent, everything! I’m going to marry all the queers!

Conversation as a Project: Masculinity Interviews

By Irina Varina (HPI ‘15)

“Masculinity (also called manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men.” – Wikipedia.

At the end of May 2017, I texted a male friend of mine to ask if I could come over with tea and cookies to talk about masculinity. He said “yes.” In the following eleven months or so I did the same to eleven more men. It created something I now call “masculinity interviews.”

It wasn't always cookies, and I did one interview over Skype (which didn't seem like the right set up despite how well it went). But it was always just the two of us in an undisturbed, secluded enough place, mostly their homes, where I would ask things like:

How do you relate to the word “masculinity”? Do you use it in everyday life, in what context? Who was your favorite superhero in childhood and why? Are you close to your father? What do you admire about him? What did you learn from him as a child? Was he masculine? Was he the head of the household? What about your mother? What did you learn about emotions as a child? Who were your role models? Were you popular in school? What about masculinity in relation to sex? Has anything or anybody changed your views on being a man throughout your life?

Basically, how did you learn your way of being in the world and how did it change over time?

At the time it seemed like my most undefined project. It began with a sudden “Oh I want to do this thing,” and I did, and I just kept doing it. At some point, it started asking to be more defined. One reason being – it wanted to feel legit which I wasn't very interested in. The other – it wanted to be clearer to be able to evolve, to go deeper. Also, when I started interviewing people outside of my immediate community, I felt some pressure from myself to “officially” know what I was doing and where I was going. It never really got more defined. When somebody asked me last September why I was doing interviews about masculinity, I just said “Well...we need to talk about it”. I think by “we” I meant society.

I felt ecstatic after each interview. I liked having long, rich, open conversations. I liked feeling welcomed into somebody's home space. I liked an element of a ritual, of care about the whole set-up – intentionally creating space with no distractions and giving it time. I tried to listen fully and then some. Sometimes I interrupted. Sometimes I judged. Sometimes I drifted away. But most of the time I was there and loving it.

I don't know what these interviews did for the men. I think for me they were filling the need to connect and understand something. Who truly knows what. Things I remember from then are so (seemingly) random and all over the place:

I remember one man admitting to getting into romantic relationships and taking care of others in search of being valued.

I remember one man who thought he wasn't man enough in bed.

I remember one man who mentioned to his wife that if they were to fight in front of their kids, the kids should also see them make up, they should also see them being affectionate.

I remember two men with experiences of punching holes in walls when angry.

I remember a man who was the peacemaker of his family as a child.

I remember a man who was always smarter than everyone else and learned not to be arrogant about it to have friends.

I remember a man who went to a male retreat after a devastating break-up.

I remember a man who talked about performing masculinity for dating apps.

I remember a man whose mother cried when he dyed his hair purple.

I also remember the time I realized I had only interviewed white men and reached out to a friend who was black. And the first time I questioned my definition of “a man” and interviewed a trans boy. I remember the time I started asking about their pronouns and what they identified as while worrying if it was too invasive.

I never recorded the interviews, just scribbled down things along the way, the original reason being safety and comfort. I wanted people to be able to share intimately without restrictions. So it's all very ephemeral. Just a little encounter. No records left, nothing material to hold except for an experienced connection, new learning, consequently a new memory, and some poorly scribbled notes that I am not sure even I can understand half the time.

On the one hand, it felt good, that structure. On the other, the scientist in me panicked: “What? You're not recording? I am losing data. I am losing something that could have been looked at later and could have led to some revelations that would only have been possible with some distance. Also, where is it all going? Is this it, just interviews?”

Looking at it now – this is it, just interviews. It seems this is all it has needed to be. At least for me. At least for now.

And for the scientist in me: I interviewed twelve people, laughed, cried, had some of my most deep and personal conversations with men, accidentally fell in love with one of them (not mutually), discovered some of my own biases, made a new friend, and tried to really listen.

Thank you everyone who was a part of this.

Follow Irina’s work.

[photo by Jillian Jetton]

Meet HPI 2018: Kate Madara

Kate Madara is a current HPI 2018 artist focusing on intertwining her photography background with experimental performance. Outside the studio she works at Children's Hospital as an Ultrasound technician and spends her time rejuvenating with animals and nature. 

Can you describe your experience of Headlong Performance Institute so far?

I feel like the program is very good at guiding a collaborative group process. I feel I’ve gotten to exercise muscles of myself that I haven’t been able to exercise or have access to in years. I’m in a space I haven’t been in in a really long time, and that’s been really nice to access while I work on my art in in a really open and joyful space. I feel a lot of healthy tension that allows me to explore different facets of my art making practice so it can be sustainable and work for the communities I'm interested in serving. I think the projects that we’ve done have been very well organized, and different exercises that we do are just very thoughtful and compassionate. The staff is just really good at making sure everything is taken care of, from the basement to the attic basically.

Living in Philly for a while now, how would you say being at HPI fits in with the rest of your Philly self?

Totally different experience. It’s starting to kind of line up a little bit more, but when I came here, it was the total opposite of my experience of being in Philly. I've gotten clarity and understanding of what parts of me were driving that versus what parts of my environment I was absorbing and casting back out. Also, because I’m usually really busy, it’s nice to have a space where I can keep working on those things consistently and not have to let something drop and then spend more time later on picking it back up before being able to move forward with it.   

Giving you space within the chaos of everything to focus?

Ya, it’s helped me feel more connected to Philly. Sort of being able to see places and spaces in my life where things were going well that I couldn't see before, because I didn’t know how to focus on them.

Do you feel like you’ve brought creative material in with you from before Headlong, or has being in the program sparked an interest in all these things you didn’t know about?

It’s very grey for me. All of my projects are, well, I’m a collector and my work usually takes years to solidify, construct and find a place for.  One thing I have appreciated is the ways in which I’ve been able to talk about what I do to myself that are completely new, and I'm even gaining new words to do so. I've been working on that for about a year or so, but in a way that wasn’t necessarily rooted in myself or my experience, more like healing other spaces outside of myself.

What I was working on before I got here, I knew I wasn't sure where it was going to go. So, I carried a little bit with me, but most of the projects I’m working on have shifted quite a bit.  The structure of the main piece I'm working on I had developed, but the last couple weeks have been about a whole thing opening up that I didn’t even see. And it’s really good. Some of that is just research, but a lot of it has to do with the ways in which I’ve kind of grown and gotten to let go of a lot of my past, and find new ways of seeing my world.  My work is pretty ephemeral and as my process goes along different parts really hit me as the thing rooting, built over time.

What are you curious about unfolding in the future weeks of Headlong?

I haven’t put a lot of definition to that, especially because it’s a very experimental kind of explorative space, so I want to honor that about the space and take advantage of that in myself because most of my work that I have made has been so targeted and specific.  I wanted to give a space for myself of kind of mushing around things and collecting and seeing how it comes up.  I've had trouble with one way my work has functioned in the past, that I've been working for some time to clarify.  Luckily, with the help of the HPI community I've made huge strides in that.

Seems like it aligns with your desire to mush around for a while, because maybe there’s less specificity?

Ya, I think I had such a pointed way of looking at my process.  I really feel like I could find other ways to approach those things, and all that kind of lines up with this bigger conversation I've had about myself.  As a humans, I can’t cut a part of myself off like it doesn't exist, but it’s about how to let those things go and be soft and explore what’s happening, and let that inform what kind of gathers and blooms around that.

Is there any fun fact that people at HPI or in the art world might not know about you?

I really really enjoy going into the woods and talking to trees and animals. Ya, it’s my favorite thing to do for myself.

See Kate’s work!

Meet HPI 2018: Luisa Donovan

Lu Donovan is a Wesleyan graduate and current HPI 2018 artist who moved to Philadelphia to attend the program. Lu is a creator-dancer exploring drag performance who loves to spend their time cooking and creating in the kitchen.

Describe your experience of HPI so far – from arriving, to seeing Fringe shows, meeting other artists and beginning to show work.

Crash landing is a good way to describe it. I crash landed in Philadelphia on Sept 1st and had 3 days of doing absolutely nothing, and then HPI started on the fourth, so that was a relief because I’m a person who thrives on doing something every single minute of the day. Once I came into the structure [of HPI], I knew I had somewhere to be at 10 am every morning. They will lead me through this exercise, or this discussion, or collaboration until this time, and that structure was comforting. It was a lot of balancing – moving into a new apartment, making friends inside and outside of the program, and figuring out what is the most sustainable way to support myself financially which is still something I’m figuring out a month later. I’m lucky that I saved enough money over the summer as a cushion. All these things were very at the front of mind before thinking creatively.

All of this at once is like ‘whoa’; every day I have a pretty different experience at HPI and I still kind of am. Some days I’ll go home and be like what did I do for six hours today and sometimes it’s that we sat in a circle and talked, and it was really frustrating. I wanted to be sparking my imagination with doing the exercises and being led through activities or games. And some days we would be guided through activities and games and would be seeing each other’s creative tendencies and social tendencies and those moments were very exciting and fulfilling.

I do think it was a slow start in terms of class work, which I believe was intentional because of the fringe shows. They knew that they’re asking us to do more outside of the studios. They knew that they were asking us to go to three shows over the weekend or on a Thursday night. Again, because I'm a person who's like ‘let's do stuff’ I personally didn’t need the day to be slower.

Are you on the same path of creative investigation or has that changed since coming to HPI? What were you curious about then vs. now?

I just graduated in May, and we had a senior thesis project that for me felt like the piece, the culmination of all those years and it was very personal and felt like a self-portrait piece. It was about genderqueerness, how that relates to body size and shape, and trying to investigate how genderqueer bodies and fat bodies are made ‘other’ in similar processes of indulgence and excess and pleasure. And that was the thing. That’s the project. After that I thought, “now what, what do I care about?”.

Over the summer I started playing with drag and I was like this isn't exactly dance, but it is performance. It’s something new that I don’t’ know that much about – painting my face and using makeup is something I haven’t done since 7th grade. So, I was curious about it and had done a few drag performances last December as part of a student club at Wesleyan. I started painting my face and taking pictures and posting them, and so that was something that I wanted to continue in Philadelphia with HPI.

I did a very silly drag piece during one of the first salon performances with Jaz (HPI '18) which was great to find a drag collaborator. That’s exciting. Drag is often seen as a solo art form, but I was really excited that Jaz was here to talk about it and do it. This week I'm experimenting with being in drag, but in dance, so it’s not like “this is a lip-sync or this a burlesque show." This is a person in drag doing a movement-based piece.

There’s much to figure out during the first weeks of HPI, and it can be tumultuous. What do you like to do outside of the program? Do you have a hidden passion?

One of my favorite things to do is create menus – like this thing would go really well with this spice and this side dish, dip, and drink. Then spend four-plus hours in the kitchen making it happen, sweating a lot near the oven and listening to music with one or two other people. For example, we should make our own pita and falafel with beet tzatziki and carrot salad with feta and mint and get dry cider because it’s a summer day and hot outside.


Follow Lu on Instagram

On Midsummer Humidity and Shifting Modes

By Sarah Marks Mininsohn (HPI '17)

Since completing HPI, Shreshth Khilani ('17) and I have been working on various iterations of Table on Table on Table, a project that combines radio podcast and dance into a multi-dimensional story experience. After a whirlwind of rehearsing for SoLow Fest in my hot, woody West Philly attic, suddenly it’s the middle of July, and the performances are over. I find myself suspended in the new and slower pace of post-performance life and midsummer heat waves. In the spirit of pools and waves, of indulging in the slow weight of watery humidity, I’d like to focus on the fluidity and floating. I want to reflect on where I followed watery feelings, my pleasure and my intuition in the project, and how I can take these lessons with me as I shift modes.

I want to begin with Shavon Norris, a beloved HPI faculty member. I entered Leah Stein’s Art Room for Shavon’s showing, which was part of Leah’s May Studio Works Series. The room was coated, from floor to ceiling, in Shavon. The walls were adorned in her drawings and paintings, and chalkboards were laden with Star Trek and Prince. Throughout her performance, she swam through memories, ranting, and raving, swirling between characters and moments of past and present. Memories bubbled to the surface and crashed, breaking and opening way for new ones. She did not separate her words from her movement, nor did she draw lines between performer and audience, joy and loneliness, science fiction and religion. All components flowed together to form a whirlpool of honest, embodied, Shavon.

The fluid feeling of this showing reflected much of what Shavon taught in her HPI class called “Mindful Making.” Each Tuesday afternoon, she would enter the Rear Studio and refresh the space with her fierce energy. She would generally begin class by checking in on her feelings after teaching a classroom of young humans. Sometimes she was bubbling with energy, other days she felt frustrated or frazzled. Either way, she would allow her emotions into the room, making it okay for us to do the same. Each class, she would feed us new tools for locating pleasure, honesty, and intuition in artmaking. Looking back at my written notes from her class, I found one from late September that said:

You don’t always need facts to back up intuition.
Practice intuition muscle so it doesn’t stop working.

A few lines down, I had written: 

Water lingers, gets into everything.
Right now there’s a lot of water in the world.
Oozing emotion and water.

A few weeks after Shavon’s performance, I had the opportunity to chat with her on a bench in Rittenhouse Square. It was a hot afternoon, and people strolled by slowly in a hot afternoon kind of way. We caught up on her day and mine, and her work and mine. Throughout our conversation, I was reminded of the fluid intuition she encouraged throughout HPI. I asked how, in the context of her project, does she remain so honestly Shavon and still allow for openness and not knowing what she wants. She replied that she focuses on the feelings she wants to feel rather than the things she wants to have. The universe works in twisting turning ways and won’t always give us what we want to have. But, we can set ourselves up in the universe to have options for feeling.

She said that she has no idea what she wants her final piece to look like. However, she knows how she wants to feel. She wants to feel proud. She wants to feel both witnessed and witnessing. She wants to feel like the center of attention.

This acknowledgement of desired feelings keeps her honest, and allows for openness, the ability to flow and adapt in many aspects of her work. In her current project, she has opened herself to working in different performance spaces that she wouldn’t have thought she’d want to work in, because she knows how to make them her own. By infiltrating the walls with Prince and deciding to perform in close proximity to her audience, she made Leah Stein’s studio “Shavon.” Throughout her performance, she takes inspiration from unique combination of bodies in the space, allowing new ways of feeling pride, connection, and pleasure to arise. Because she has tools for affirming herself and her feelings in many different settings among many different audiences, she can indulge in openness, in flotation, in watery intuition.

Shavon said that throughout her rehearsal process she would try to rehearse in a studio, the setting that had been scripted as the proper rehearsal setting. A few times after attempting to move in a studio and sitting against the wall doing nothing, she allowed herself to turn around and leave. She wanted to be in a space that inspired her, a space that was more “Shavon.” Sometimes her most inspiring rehearsals took place in a steaming hot shower.

In this spirit, I want to reflect on intuition in my own practice, in following feelings in the fluid, often confusing and frustrating state of not knowing what the a piece of art will become. Sometimes we stuck it out in Table on Table on Table rehearsals, allowing the unknown to take us somewhere, even if we knew that nothing we came up with would make it into the final showing. Other times, when the hot attic felt limited and overwhelming, I said, “let’s go drink ice water and eat fruit.”

Table on Table on Table flowed between podcast, theater, and dance, between worlds of the auditory and the kinetic. In rehearsals, Shreshth and I negotiated murky questions of logistics and power dynamics, questions that may lack a single correct answer. How do we approach working with a splintery, historic attic that stores heat like a sauna? In a story surrounding issues of queerness and immigration, what does it mean to embody characters that we don’t share experiences with? The process was messy. Wooden floors squeaked. Sweaty bodies slid off of one another. Sweaty bodies took pleasure in cold juicy watermelon and then sweat and slid some more.  

Now that my evenings are free of rehearsals and tech runs, my practice of intuition takes a slower pace. I’m reassessing how I spend my days and treat my body. I’m taking time to indulge, whether by attending more dance technique classes, or jumping into a cool swimming pool, or lying in front of a fan doing nothing. David wrote in the Quiet Circus blog, in relation to his artmaking lessons learned from Eiko, “being brave is not a matter of being powerful.” As I practice listening to watery intuition I realize that I can’t exercise complete control, but I can give myself options. Water works in twisting, turning, and surprising ways, and maybe part of being brave is not trying to contain water with my bare hands, but letting myself float in it. My body is comprised of mostly water, a luxurious, inspiring substance.

[photo by Sarah Marks Mininsohn from Glen Onoko Falls, PA]



An Echo Score: Finding Structure for Artmaking After HPI

By Sarah Marks Mininsohn (HPI '17)

In my West Philly attic that smells of wood and roasted vegetables wafting from the kitchen below, twelve or so bodies sit in a circle. It is the first of two “Call for Collaborators” workshops that Shreshth Khilani and I would hold for the next iteration of Cabbage Head, a project that began at HPI this past fall. After sharing names and artistic interests, I introduce a version of a score I had learned over the summer, a score that would help us become familiar with the space and with one another in this new process.

We begin around the periphery of the attic. When drawn to do so, one person enters the space, and positions their body into a shape of their choosing, in this case, standing upright with hands on their shoulders, elbows sticking out. Gradually, others enter the space and imitate that shape, in relation to the original. The second person to enter stands close enough to touch elbows with the first, amplifying the shape in close proximity. A third person enters and imitates the shape on the far end of the space, drawing our awareness to the depth of the attic. Eventually, someone adds another shape, which might remain still, like the first, or move in a repeatable pattern. With this contrasting shape, we may choose between the two existing ideas. As the score continues, these two ideas pass through the filters of different bodies, like a game of telephone. Each idea changes the space. The original task of imitation soon unravels into interpretation. We may translate shapes into traveling pathways, or flip them upside down. We may introduce rhythms; feet thumping on wooden floorboards or elbows swimming in circles. As I lead the score to a close, the final image does not visibly include the original still shape. However, it echoes in the space, laying the foundation for what has developed.

When I graduated from college last May, I feared that I would no longer make dances without a school structure to support my creativity. My artmaking had thrived in college, a setting that provided performance dates and challenging assignments, and offered talented collaborators and abundant rehearsal space. Entering into HPI, I hoped to continue developing my choreographic practice. In this school-like setting, I would prepare for the impending cliff jump into life as an artist with no school at all.

HPI did impose structure. It provided me with deadlines, space, assignments, and collaborators. But HPI did not imitate college. It introduced performance practices I had never considered, as well as peers with very different interests and experiences from my own. So, the choreographic plan took unexpected turns, as it tangled with others’ ideas of how to use the resources offered by HPI. Shreshth Khilani and I began our hybrid dance/theatre/radio collaboration called Cabbage Head, combining our tools for choreography and directing. While the choreographic tools I had learned previously were foundational to Cabbage Head, this new process took me away from what I knew, into the realm of character work and narrative. Our combined process could no longer fit into the category of dance, nor could quite define it as theater. It became something unknown, unstable, and chaotic. By the final HPI showing of Cabbage Head and into showings of the piece in January, it culminated into some sort of cozy podcast listening party combined with movement, an experience with fragmented stories of memory, loss, and healing. I was energized to do more with this process we had at once worked rigorously to create and stumbled upon by accident.

After HPI and a few more showings of the piece, Shreshth and I continued to explore this process by applying it to new themes and stories. I no longer had the structure of college or HPI, but I held onto the echoes of those structures, and I had momentum. We were curious about involving more artists in the continuation of our work, animating my West Philly attic with many moving bodies. I also predicted that working with a large group would hold me accountable to thoroughly planning rehearsals. We held multiple movement and text workshops, enlivened by each guest artist who felt moved to wander into the space. These workshops became calls for committed collaborators, which became a group of nine people dedicated to regular rehearsals and the next iteration of the process, extrapolating from what Shreshth and I had developed during HPI.

Nobody has carved a path for me to follow, or written me directions, or given me a deadline, or done exactly what Shreshth and I are doing. This is hard for me because I take comfort in structure, organization, and accountability. Considering this new openness, I am thinking about how I transition from imitation to interpretation. How can I embrace new shapes, flip them upside down, and perform a chaotic unraveling of what I know how to do, as I build my own structures and processes? Throughout the next few months, I plan to gather stories of how HPI alum have found and created structures for their artmaking. If you’d like to talk to me about your experiences as I continue this blog, reach out!


Shavon Norris joins HPI Faculty

We are feeling lifted and excited to have Shavon Norris join our faculty this year and we hope to pass on that excitement and joy, so please read on about Shavon in her own words and find out more about her class Mindful Making. 

"This is where I'm from.

Thomas. Eva. Carmen. Maureen. Mimi. Kenneth. Randy. The tree. The names. The double Dutch jumpers. The curry goat eaters. The storytellers. My people are the loud ones. My people are Bronx. St. Croix and Antigua. My people hold secrets. My people tell hard truths. They love and they eat. My people are care takers. Healers. Prayers. Kneelers. Bowers. Tea drinkers. My people lay face down at altars. Welcome and hold. Remember and forget. My people look alike. Move alike. Sound alike. My people have full bodies. Full lips. My people are ancient. They are learning how to speak. They commit crimes. Create legacy and shift generational curses. My people are bound by Christianity. My people practice habits of white supremacy. My people are regal. Ratchet. And righteous. Savage. My people are silent criers. Historians. Remeberers. My people are now. My people are beautiful. My people are trying. My people are clever. Sharp and direct. Suffering. Surging and thriving. My people. My tree. My before. My above. My below. My in front of. My people are my people.


This is what I am.

I am Artist. Educator. Mover. Maker. Facilitator. Dreamer. Empath. Writer. Healer. Teacher. Wailer. Rager. Lover. Smiler. I am imagineering. I am passioning. I am Black. Brown. Pink. Bones. Blood. And Sweat. I am in the room and in the margin. I am light. I am lifting. I am shifting. I am being. I am pro no and pro me. I am caressing and touching my pleasure. Reaching for delight. Shining lighthouses on my flesh. Speaking truth and gentle. Remembering my native language. I'm growing my religion and my deities. My tribe and my heart dwellers. I'm building my temple. Birthing my gods in salt and moons. Claying statues in blood and flesh and sand. Making them. Making me. Hammered and loved. I am calling my angels and my dragons. My shame and my light. Calling up my tender and bruised and my extraordinary. Sitting them at the table and breaking bread. I am focused on my humanity.


This is what I do.

I create space that acknowledges and celebrates and explores the light.

We are full of light. Chi. Chakras. God. Goddess. Mother. Earth. Oshun. Fire. Kali. Water. Spirit. Soul. I create space to explore. Be curious. Look at our light with intention and purpose. Dialing it up or down. Our human inheritance. Our human right to be bright and blinding. Or go dim and invisible. Supernova this moment or slip into the background. Camouflage. Hide. We are deserving of the full expression of our divinity and vulnerability. 


This is what I do.

I create space that acknowledges and celebrates and explores difference.

We are different. The cadence in our voices. The pulse of our breathing. The soaring of our desires. The color of our dreams. The smell of our skin. Like the delicates of snowflakes. Finely and beautifully different. Birthed in unique. Gliding and floating. And then finding each other. Landing and gathering. Our different together. Sticking and staying. Living and being. In love. In family. In humanity. I work art create teach speak love in space to be curious about the different. Shaking assumption. Opening eyes. Making love to the new and the surprise. Our fingerprints. Our soul prints. We are deserving of the full expression of our divinity and vulnerability. 


This is what I do.

I create space that acknowledges and explores oppression.

Reflecting on how oppression helps us think we have little. Or no options. Oppression supports us limiting. Sabotaging. Restricting. Ourselves. And others. Encouraging us to say yes when we want to say. Hell no. Supporting us saying I can't. When our insides. When our ancestors. Dance and chant. Yes love. You can. Oppression says rage is for some. Fragility for others. Bliss for a few. This is what black be like. This is what woman looks like. This is the relationship between poverty and self worth. The is the story of happily ever after and forever. I work art create teach speak love in space that explores freedom and liberation. Our right to have access to the full landscape of our emotions. Thoughts. And dreams. Our right to fully express and be ourselves. To be fully embodied and awake. Or asleep. Our right to have choices so we can make choices. How you art. Learn. Love. Live. Be. Is choice. We are deserving of the full expression of our divinity and vulnerability. 

This is where I come from. This is what I am. This is what I do. I see. I dance. I chant. I bow. I wail. I rage. I move. I teach. I make. I bliss. I love. I soar. I land. Light. Lift. Shift. Be."


Want to learn more about Shavon?

Curious about Mindful Making?



By Amelia Couderc (HPI '16)

Two weeks ago, we were given the prompt to bring in an object, a song, a video, and a text that piqued our interest, drew us in, or was somehow special to us. However,  the things we selected were not supposed to be statements about WHO WE ARE. But isn’t everything???

Anyway, these things made our constellations.


A metallic gold  wallet.
A reflector that fell off my bike.
A picture from a magazine from the perspective of Michael Phelps looking up from under the water of an olympic race.
A youtube video of a girl honking her arm at a huge steamship.
The song “Who Said” by Margaret Glaspy.

DAY 1 /2

We set up the studio with our mini-installations and toured the space like an art gallery. David had us each explain our constellation to the entire class. Then our constellations were grouped together.

  My group day 1: Logan Schulman and Carl(os) Roa

My group day 1: Logan Schulman and Carl(os) Roa

In our cluster, we were to dive into each constellation individually and experiment with what people brought to the assignment. Right away, our group “did it wrong”. Instead of  jumping into just one person’s constellation, we tumbled into an accumulation of all of our materials.

Our agreed starting point was the concept of cinematic techniques and “forced perspective” executed in live performance. Light/reflection and vanishing points were elements of my constellation that fed the group  concept.

  Me, Amelia, in the helmet

Me, Amelia, in the helmet

Logan came up with the idea of the space helmet as a tool to “frame” what an audience member saw. The duct tape was added to control the participators line of sight even further. Then, to make it so the participant was seeing something that we really controlled, we grabbed a wheely chair from the office. With both the chair and helmet, we could control the proximity, frame, and the movement of the frame of vision. Like navigating a person as a camera filming a movie.

Once the vehicle was built, we designed tableaus and scenes that the participant would “pan” across. The content of what the participant saw was pulled from all of our constellations.

We left this experiment considering additional cinematic techniques and what the content of the exploration might be...


We welcomed former test subject, Becca Khalil, to our group and  decided to try following the rules this time. All of the work with cinematic perspective was put on a backburner and we jumped into Becca’s constellation! Her  collection stirred up questions of giving secrets away, secrets/faces submerged in water, a fire belly burning with words, and a song.

So we gathered a bucket, slips of paper, and a Becca.

I was was drawn to how the secrets could hover in the water, not floating or sinking. You could still read them as they swirled around.

As we kept working, I noticed myself acting as the facilitator of Becca’s ideas. And, in that position, I never really questioned how I was implicated in the experiment. It was kind of a relief to be there solely as a supporter, but there was a point in the experiment when Becca dipped her head into the bucket of our secrets (not her’s) and I wondered if my secrets belonged in that bucket at all.

ALTHOUGH what came out at the end of the session was a really interesting submersion into one person’s concept. There was a lot of heat in being completely present in someone else’s realm of things, but still on the outside.


And then we  returned to the cinematic world of the space helmet. We found too much heat in our first concept to spend more time away from it (AND we wanted to invite Becca into that world). So we dove FULL OUT into aesthetic/design and lighting land.

I worked with Carl(os) on a tableau of a ship at sea in a rain storm, seen below.

  Not seen in the picture is caution tape raining down from the sky on the boat amongst the waves. 

Not seen in the picture is caution tape raining down from the sky on the boat amongst the waves. 

Becca and Logan worked on ways of manipulating light to create the atmosphere of our world. In the picture below you can  faintly see our second attempt at a vehicle for transporting the audience member through the space. As soon as the wheelchair entered the experiment, Becca brought to the attention of the group the implication of using a wheelchair in performance with regards to those who have disabilities and navigate the world in wheelchairs. We all agreed that it’s important for the wheelchair to be a thoroughly considered element of the piece (especially if it makes it into a performance of some sort). This made us realize that we don’t quite know WHAT THIS IS ABOUT?! If a wheelchair doesn’t make sense, then it doesn’t make sense and we don't use it. If it does, then we might transform the wheelchair into something else.  But WHAT?! iS? tHIS? about? Do we have to come to a consensus? 

All food for the next meeting.

OR we might move on to another constellation…

(That’s what happens.)



Zoe Richards in The Taming of the Beast

Then I saw the Reject Theatre Project'sSHREW, director Christine Freije's playful yet harrowing "feminist reaction," and I realized I had blithely accepted bullshit because I've accepted Shakespeare's reputation for exalted timeless wisdom, and want to believe that we've finally grown past his misogynistic era.

Arielle Pina in the FringeArts Festival

Arielle Pina in the FringeArts Festival

Headlong Performance Institute alums are making us proud this Festival! Check out this great review of Arielle Pina's ('14) piece "Unarmed".