Meet HPI 2018: Julia Bryck

So this is the last interview of 2018! It’s T-minus 4 days before opening night. Start of tech week.

At first I was asking people to describe their experience so far, but it’s been so far! So I’m wondering if you can talk about two or three pivotal moments over the semester?

I think the first pivot for me was the day I asked Faith to jump into my project where we had to do a response to one of the Fringe shows. It was post-September. September we were all pretty skeptical of each other still and no one was really collaborating. We had been given all solo assignments. And then for this assignment I was doing it about grief and needed another body. And I feel like I just recognized a willingness in Faith and she’s our smallest member, our smallest body, and I was like “I need you to crawl on top of me, is that okay?” And she was so excited to have been asked, and truly we just kept working together after that day. There’s a lot of trust between our bodies built from that moment, which I think is really beautiful. Her center of gravity is at her shoulders, and mine is like at my knees, so we meet in the middle.

I feel like as a group we pivoted in that Shavon class. Do you remember the Shavon class where we had to do a big group piece? We all had to draw our deepest fantasy of a work that could never exist, probably. We never shared what those were, which I never expected, but she recognized that that was actually too intimate, and instead we just put up the things and one person guided each other around the room. I think that’s the first time we did a large group collaboration. And it was just really joyful! It was like “Oh, this doesn’t have to be so serious or so precious, we can make this wild thing in half an hour.” And I feel like it was the first time I really saw everyone, saw everyone as an individual voice and and an individual artist. That moment was really precious for me, a lot of Shavon classes are really precious to me.

I feel like I want to talk about the coup, because it was our rebellion as a student body, it was another turning point. It was like we became a united front and recognized a group need and each other’s needs and it was like “Oh wow this is truly a group consensus that this is a problem that we’re not getting what we need from these classes.” And we really tested the program on its values as a group. We were like “You told us we could do this, or that we were supposed to speak up if we needed things, and this was a malleable program. How good are you going to be on that word? Because we’re speaking up.” And that was crazy! And very stressful. It was really tense to test an institution. But we did that and we had a lot of really hard conversations, and I feel like as a group we were very articulate and respectful and I was really proud of us for doing that.

You’ve been working on a piece that you’re going to show at the final showcase since the first Open Salon. Can you talk about the process of developing that piece and how being at HPI has informed its trajectory?

I can try! Ah that’s so funny, you’re right, Faith and I didn’t want to make that piece. Which is so funny! I did not feel ready to show anything. I was so mad, I didn’t want to show anything, I was not feeling inspired. I was like the most frustrated I had ever been, and David was like “You’re not taking advantage of your time, you need to show something.” And I was just having a really hard time, it was Brett Kavanaugh month, I was feeling like shit. And Faith and I were like “Fine we’ll show something” and we kind of spitefully made something. We took fifteen minutes in this room, we gave ourselves a prompt, and then were like “Great fine, that’s what we’re going to show, it’s going to be terrible.” Then we did it and people had very strong reactions to it, but also people were like there’s a lot there. And we were like “What, are you joking?” We wanted you to be like “Okay fine we’ll never make you show anything ever again.” But they didn’t do that, and that’s SO Headlong. And I think after doing it we were like “Oh, cool they were right.” Because we came up with things that really didn’t work, but some things really did work. Maybe we found little gems we could hold onto. We had a common inspiration during that month, as did a lot of people. It’s more experimentation than I’ve done on a piece, ever. Bard dance is very linear. And I feel like Headlong is very spiral. So when Tina brought up all those mattresses to show a solo of her in bed, I was like “We have mattresses in the basement?” And we were just rehearsing that day and were like “Maybe we could do this on the mattresses.” Weird serendipitous experiences like that made the thing happen. Or like that we could just spend the day being like “This whole group, we’re all going to run up from the basement and learn a Whitney Houston number and then two weeks later we can scrap it.” But like to watch the piece really holistically and naturally is new, and I really feel like I know where the world of the piece is right now, and that’s really exciting. I don’t feel like I usually have the time to get there. I feel like I usually need three more weeks after I’ve made something, I don’t usually have an understanding of the rules of the world.

So you grew up around Philly, you were an artist here as a child. How does it feel to land at HPI after going away to college?

I was a little suburb kid my whole life. I went to a little dance studio in Wayne, PA. Never went to the city in high school. It’s not something you do, because what would you do? You can’t go to a bar, you’re 17! We just don’t take the train that often but that feels so foolish now, because I think if I had come into the city to see dance in high school I would have been a completely different dancer by the time I got to college already. I took a year off between my sophomore and junior year at Bard and was trying to do the dance thing in Philly, in small ways, trying to do the dancer nonprofit thing. I worked the front desk at a dance company in center city, was trying to take classes there, which was really unsatisfying. Eventually was like “Okay, this is not where I want to land.” Left there, then just started doing a lot of nonprofit work, not really dancing, and being involved in “arts and culture” in a really general way. It felt really expansive and unfulfilling because I didn’t know who this community was either. And then I went back to school and was like “Oh no! I hate college!” But started developing this plan to go to HPI the spring of my junior year. I put together a Bard College exit strategy. It was a bound document, 20 pages, that developed for my junior-senior seminar where we actually used Andrew Simonet’s “Life of the Artist.” We did that workbook, which was super cool, but I had been researching Headlong even before that happened. So it felt like fate because I was talking about doing this and then I got that material and I was like “Ah! I’m headed there.” Just that book felt like all the right things. Being like “It’s going to be hard, we need you anyway. You are a scientist of culture.” And I agreed with all those things. So it was in the works, forever. Because I knew that I needed something smaller than being in a big dance program in a school far away. And I’ve always felt really connected to Philly, there’s always been a lot of people I really love here. I’ve been trying to convince people not to go to New York and to come to Philly forever. It’s just the right thing to do, it’s affordable, it feels really young and fresh still and accepting of this DIY lifestyle. And Headlong has been here for so long, it’s just kind of a testament to that fact that if you just keep doing the thing you’ll know everyone who’s doing the thing. I wasn’t trying to get to Bill T. Jones, I was just trying to get to who made it work for long enough. And if you stick around, you know all the people who still love that thing. It feels like this place is the center of a community, in kind of an underground way because there’s no markage on this building, at all. But really talking to Amy and David, you will meet someone in every class you go to in Philadelphia from now on. I went to the Leah Stein workshop on Sunday and there was a HPI alum taking the workshop. Small things like that where I feel like I hit the center of the web. That’s why I wanted to be here, it feels like a soft landing coming out of Bard that prepares you to be a dancer in New York. But I don’t want to be a dancer in New York, I want to be a dancer in Philadelphia, who can I talk to that can help me make work and help me meet people who are making dances in Philly and meet collaborators that I would want to work with. Like Lu Donovan! Haha!

I have to go to rehearsal, but do you have a fun fact?

Oh god! A fun fact! That’s just the most painful question. I’ve really enjoyed finding time outside of the studio to hang out with this group. We did a Secret Santa as an HPI community and I got all the fancy cheese I could muster. We had latkes going, spanakopita, I made mulled wine for the first time. And everyone gave really sweet thoughtful gifts and it just warmed my little heart to watch everybody loving on each other.

Meet HPI 2018: Camille Pileggi

Cami Pileggi is a senior at the University of the Arts and HPI 2018 artist who directs, devises big group theater experiences, and plays the ukulele. Growing up in Philly, she has a lot of passion for this incredible city and the art it shares with the community through making art as well as teaching. Cami reflects back on the semester and how her process as a theater maker and performer has changed and left more room for her honest self in the making of a big work.

Can you talk about two or three milestones that have come up for you this semester?

Pretty much any time we had a class with Shavon Norris was a big deal for me. She’s definitely become one of, if not the, biggest artistic role model in my life, besides Amy Smith who previously was, which is the reason I came here. Just because of how well thought out and emotionally stable her classes are, and how, because art is such a vulnerable thing, and Shavon and most of the professors here really leave room for all of the mushiness and weirdness and distance that comes with making art as a person. And also, other milestones, I mean these are very vague and drawn out, not instances, but being able to have time to figure out the art that I want to make and being able to hold space for the physical time, like if I’m too tired I can sleep, if I’m too sad I can take time for that. Yeah, having time to make the art that I need for the person that I am in this place and this time.

We’re leading up to the final showcase, and you worked on a lot of things, including your senior project, at HPI this semester. Can you talk about if different ideas have come to you being here, or if you have more drawn threads from before HPI started?

It’s definitely changed my process, it’s changed the way I work with other people, changed the way I spend time making art. It’s changed the way I work on things, not so much the product though, I will say, which is not really a bad thing for me, just not what I was expecting. I expect to go to a school like this or a conservatory type situation, and I expect my artistry to be changed in so many ways, like “Oh I can access this character in this way or I can access this narrative through this type of movement I didn’t know about before I learned this method,” you know what I mean? Instead, it actually changed the way I work, the way I make the thing. Which is so much more fruitful I think, because it feeds my spirit so much more and I have so much more fun making it, I feel such a general consensus. I’m in love with working with big groups, I’m in love with collaboration and devising, but it’s a hard thing to do, to get into a room and agree on things, or not agree, you know? It’s a hard thing to do. But here I really learned how to honor everyone’s ideas and include everyone in a way that at the end of the show, the product feels like a limb on all our bodies.

So you’re doing a big group devised piece for your final, called Foodity. Can you talk about Foodity and how that became an idea? What are you expecting to unfold in the weeks leading up to it?

I’ve always been really interested in interactive walk-through-big-building experiences. It’s still something I’ve made and loved to make, so I figured I would make it in here. But I also love bringing people together. I love giving people free rein but having a little bit of say about some things so that I am able to tie it all together somehow. It’s going to be fun, I’m excited. I’m also excited about the piece I’m working on for it, which is about my parents. Will there be eggplant rollatini? I don’t know, I think, my dad is probably going to make, I kind of want him to make meatballs because watching him make meatballs is really interesting. It’s a film. It’s going to be a cooking show pretty much, but of my dad, and my mom’s going to narrate it, live. But she won’t know what he’s doing, so she’ll be making things up, it’s going to be funny. Whatever he makes, we’re going to serve. That’s me accessing my pleasure, as Shavon would say.

So you’re also a student at UArts, and you’ve lived in Philly for your entire life. I’m wondering if you can talk about how HPI has fit into the rest of your life here?

I didn’t really know about Headlong until I met Amy last winter, a year ago, and that was when I was like “What is this place?”. I knew about the people who ran it, the people who were a part of it, and I knew about them being part of the theater community, but I didn’t know much about the Headlong or HPI community itself. But it’s perfect for Philly. It’s something that really captures the essence of Philly. Cheesy to say, but it is the city of brotherly love, people are like “no, everyone sucks and there’s so much violence.” But everyone sucks and there’s so much violence everywhere, the people in Philly are actually nice people. They’re weird, and they make things like Headlong, where they get people together, and they provide access and make things. And they make names for themselves but in this hidden building in the middle of Broad Street. No one knows this is here. I didn’t know it was here. I went to high school across the street and literally did not realize that this was here until I interviewed. So I think that’s a really good metaphor for what Headlong is.

Do you have a fun fact that you want to share?

I remember everyone’s birthday whoever I met. I love birthdays.

Meet HPI 2018: Tina Zhong

Tina Zhong is a junior at Bryn Mawr College exploring performance art and solo theater making at HPI. Though she is relatively new to the idea of being an artist, her work captivates its viewers while questioning performer-audience relationships and taking risks onstage. Tina talks about her analytical process at HPI this semester and speaks honestly about her hesitations and triumphs as an art maker.

We have had a long semester behind us, so, I’m wondering if you can recount a few milestones so far from HPI?  

I never created anything of my own before HPI. I only started to do theater in the second semester of my freshman year in college, and now I’m a junior. And I’ve always been a part of other people’s pieces, like being an actor or being an ensemble in devised theater, and the milestone for me is the first assignment. It was to create something of my own, and I had to like it. That is the start of my creations. And the second milestone is… I feel that I’ve been creating a lot at the beginning of the semester and I’ve been trying many things to explore the relationship between the audience and my pieces. Sometimes it crossed some boundaries, and then I learned a lot about the compromises that have to be taken, which is something that I have never thought about before I create things.

You need to make what you want to make, but there are so many compromises, and I need to take that into consideration even though all of the people say there should not be compromises. Which is like, honestly speaking, HPI sometimes says “no compromises” but in reality, we still face many real problems that involve a lot of compromising. But we’re trying to fix it. And as other people have also said, this has been a slow process. It’s a very open-ended, free space, and definitely, I wanted more structure because I’m not experienced enough. But I was also getting a lot from this free space, I’ve been learning how to deal with free spaces. So, it’s like a double-sided blade. Milestones! I’ve been digressing.

The third milestone was when the whole community realized that we wanted to change some of the structures in the program, and when we were starting to learn to push ourselves subjectively in terms of not only creating art but also building a better community. And I think that has something to do with, firstly the structure not being perfect, secondly there being a lot of freedoms. And I believe HPI is trying its best to build a community that is equal and makes everyone feel equal to say something to change something. The fourth, so many milestones, the fourth milestone is when I wrote my artistic statement. I’ve never considered myself an artist before, and when I force myself to write a budget and statement, I realized I’m actually on this path now. That’s a realization, and now I’m lost, but I think many people feel they’re lost. Also, I’m still a junior, maybe I will change my mind completely!

So, you have mentioned that you’re new to this art-making practice. Being a fresh artist at HPI, has this space with these people provided you with ideas to make art about or have you still carried ideas and threads from your life before you got here?

I’ve definitely carried ideas and threads from before I got here. Because I’m a History of Art student so I’m always analyzing perspective. And that helped me understand other people’s art more, and I’ve been learning a lot of theater theories, so I’ve been absorbing a lot from looking at other people’s works. I think I’m fairly experienced, in fact, in looking at my own work and trying to figure out what everything means and does. One of the problems that I face is finding what I want to talk about because I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I don’t know what kind of artist I am. It feels like everyone knows what they’re going to talk about. They have a very clear sense of why they create art.

That question appeared in my artistic statement writing. All I know how to do is write what I make and describe the result of those things because that’s what I do in history of art and theater theory studies, I analyze these things. These things seem to have a great effect, but why am I going for this effect? I don’t know, I don’t have a driven belief, or at least I don’t know what my driven belief is for why I want to make art, I just know I want to make art. That’s more an existential reason.

I’m a deeply scientific and analytic person and at the same time a spiritual person, that I believe that everything that I create is like, I have to sincerely want my body to be super excited about it for me to create things. I have to be super inspired and sparkling to create something, and then that causes a problem because when I’m not in this super boosting fire stage, I don’t know what I’m going to talk about. And then the things that I create — why do you make this decision? Because I feel like it has to happen, but why? I think that I don’t want to say a certain message, I don’t want to give myself a certain label. But also, I want that stability, I want that instability, and at the same time, I want to settle down. Conflicting, maybe it will never be settled, maybe it will.

Do you feel like the process at HPI is supportive of the way you’re making art? How has it interacted with how you’re feeling?

In the beginning, I feel that I had more freedom to do things, and now because the existence of the final project makes me anxious and I think that I have to push something out. I need to have a result. I think I’m good at creating work in progress, but I’m not good at creating finished products. I never see how things finish. I think I talked about this in class, about wanting more support from the faculty, just them being there. I wish I had had more guidance and I feel that this program is very self-driven if you do nothing, you do nothing. If you do many things, you do many things. But I did a lot of at the beginning, now I’m kind of pausing. I don’t know which one is the best way! To have a steady system that supports creating or have a system that’s free. It’s hard.

What are you curious about happening in the last second of time we have left?

Since our final performances are in very unfinished stages, I’m very curious about what the result will be. Even though they said we don’t need to have a finished product, just somehow a finished version, I’m just curious about what will happen if people are in this “Oh, we are showing something for many people now, not in a casual setting.” This is my curiosity for the big final showing at Christ Church and for my own Washington Pier thing, which I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do. I’m curious about what will happen if I step out of school, doing a thing that’s no longer in HPI, it’s outside, literally outside, and also metaphorically outside, I’m not even with my peers! I’m doing it by myself. I’m curious about how that will happen and how it will affect me. Maybe I’m just destroyed after, or maybe not, maybe I’ll become a stronger person. I’m not excited, I am in this anxious anticipation, I’m waiting for a big explosion, I’m waiting for that kind of thing, waiting for a bomb to go off.

Do you have any special interests you’d like to share?

I collect dolls. They are made of raisins. Raisins? No, resins! It’s a plastic, they’re not made of grapes. And I paint faces for them, and I take photos of them. That’s my hobby.

Meet HPI 2018: Genevieve Farbe

Genevieve Farbe is a playwright, director, mask maker, farmer, environmentalist, guitarist, zine writer, and senior at University of the Arts (UArts). Her performances flow from life experience and steep in her brain-space before emerging as challenging and boundary-pushing works. Genevieve expects a lot to get done in the last week of HPI, and will come out flying in her final show piece.

So we are two weeks away from the final show.

Good God! I’m not ready.

At the beginning of the semester I was asking people to describe their experience at HPI up to this point, but now it’s been so long! So maybe can you talk about milestones up to this point?

I feel like the whole first month was just a blur. I don’t really remember what happened. I just remember being really sleepy and really excited by everyone. I wanted to get to know everyone. And I was curious about how we were all going to fit together as a group, for sure. So I started making work and I think I had a very different idea of what my process was going into this, I guess I had never really thought of the fact that I do best when I have a lot of marinating time and then I like do the thing really quick. Yea. I’ve done that a couple times.

The raspberry piece was cool because it was like... my whole thing I feel like is about living my life how ever I want to live my life and not thinking about art and the art part kind of just happens because I can’t help it. I don’t like forcing myself to make art or thinking about art too much because my best work comes from my real life situations where I’m talking to people about climate change or I’m really depressed and painting my face with raspberries because it makes my roommate laugh. You know what I mean? It happens out of my real life and then from that I’m like “Oh, maybe I can, maybe I have something to say about this or maybe this is talking about a bigger thing.” When I did the raspberry thing I was watching a bunch of makeup tutorials at that time, and when I did it for my roommate I was talking about how I was just locked in my room watching youtube the whole time because I was so sad, and then! Out of it came this whole commentary on natural beauty and Youtube and makeup tutorials and consumerism and all of these things I had been thinking about anyway. But I don’t think I would have come to the conclusion had I sat down and tried to make a piece. I want my art to be my living, I want to live my art every day, and just not think about it too much.

So that was a big part of it for sure, figuring that out. And then, I feel like I had this lull in the middle, and it was in some ways frustrating for me because I wanted to get myself out of this lull, and I felt like I wanted someone to kind of kick me in the ass, and be like “You need to do something right now, because you’re just not doing anything.” And that didn't really happen. And I kind of got myself out of it, I think, because now I’m making stuff again. But I would attribute my coming out of that place to our community as students. I believe we have a really really strong super supportive community and we understand each other pretty well as people. And I find a lot of support in all of you.

And now I’m just doing too many things! But I’m happy about it, it’s a good thing I’m doing too many things. But it’s a lot. And I’m also working mostly in solo work, which is surprising to me, I didn’t think I would be doing that. I always liked performance art in solo work, but I didn’t think I would do it.

Do you think all those things, the solo work, marinating in your process, are those appearing now in the semester, or are they things you knew about before?

I think I’ve always done them, my dad’s the same way! I didn’t realize that until very recently, it’s kinda sweet. But, I think I always did it, and it’s only, like Headlong does body scans all the time and they’re like “Where is your body hurting, what are you feeling?” and I was like “Oh no I have back problems!” and they were like “What is your process, what’s going on?” and I was like “Oh my god here’s my process.” It’s just being asked the question, even if you think it’s a dumb question, which sometimes I do! Sometimes they’ll be like “What’s a community?” And I’m like everyone knows what a community is, we don't have to talk about this, it’s stupid, and then, we talk about it and we all have very different opinions and I’m like “Oh my god I had no idea that we all had really different opinions on this seemingly simple subject.”

How do you think that being at HPI is in conversation or fitting into with your UArts life?

I think I’ve learned a lot from small moments, and I’ve learned because I’ve been forced to practice, and I learn best in practice, not necessarily classroom settings, which is helpful because HPI is kind of not always a classroom setting. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not though! And, ya, I think that I appreciate the fact that there’s been so much space given for us to make work, and learn through doing. I feel that that’s mostly been independent, but I definitely believe that we wouldn’t have jumped in if they had packed us every single hour of every day with stuff. In some ways the space is really frustrating because you’re like what am I supposed to do with all this time, I’m just sitting here. But in other ways, it’s very illuminating. Because it’s like taking you out of your home where your habits are kind of imperceivable because you’re always living them. And putting you into a new environment and say “Great now look at your habits in this new environment, and then look at how you make your work.” Instead of spending six hours at my house sitting around, I’m suddenly spending six hours at Headlong sitting around, but that suddenly makes it, I’m like “Oh wow this is how I spend my time.” This is my tendency.

I think I also discredit the amount of research that I do… for me watching Youtube videos and everything, it’s living my art. It’s practicing "personal practice"! Cannot preach how much I love personal practice, like it’s great, I think it’s so important. It’s validating to know all of my really dumb interests might be useful at some point. Like watching too many Youtube videos and I don’t even wear makeup, but I love watching those dumb videos. They’re so funny and strange, it’s like a social experiment. And I watch videos on space all the time, and I think I need to trust that in some way those things will make it back around.

What are you curious about unfolding in the smidge of time we have left here?

I’m curious about how much work I can get done, and knowing about my spurting, my spurts of creativity and movement, how I can arrange that to get done all the things I need to get done in the amount of time I have.

You have so many fun facts and hobbies and things you’re interested in, including watching YouTube videos. Is there one thing you’d like to put out there as a curious interest of yours?

I have so many curious interests. Well, I’m really into farming, that’s a basic one about me. I’m super into sustainable agriculture and the future of food. I find that I collect really strange facts about things, specifically nature facts I have a real affinity for. And I just collect them in my brain as useless knowledge until all of a sudden I’m like “I know this fact! Now I can use it.” I also drop my pen six times a day, maybe that’s a hobby.

Meet HPI 2018: Jaz Blain

Jaz Blain is a University of the Arts (UArts) student and HPI 2018 artist whose performances start with play. They have brought countless forms to HPI this semester, toying with the overlaps in the imaginative realms of clown, drag, animation, sculpture, and comedy. Jaz looks ahead to the final showcase hoping to work in collaboration with their peers.

So we’re at week ten of this semester, I’m wondering if you can describe your experience, thinking back to fall break [in October], until now? What did it feel like to come back to HPI?

I don’t know what it is about this place but it just feels like time is so much more expansive. When you said ten weeks I was like, “only ten?! Wow”. But yeah, coming back from fall I felt like I was very excited to jump into whatever was going to happen next, but I also was feeling artistically blocked personally. I was having trouble coming up with ideas and I felt weird reaching out to people just saying “hey do you want to make something” without having an idea to reach out with. But it was kind of fortunate, people were like “hey, do you want to work on this thing?” “Do you want to be part of this”? I was like, “yes please, give me something to do”! I’m really grateful to everyone for that. I’m still coaxing myself towards not always feeling that I have to have an initial inspiration to bring to the table, it can just be like, “let’s see what’s happening” and make from that place.

I’m wondering if you brought in different ideas and pathways from before Headlong that you’d already been working on or if more of the semester has been sparked by being here in this place? Or if it’s a combination of both, can you talk about that?

In the moments when I was feeling artistically blocked, I found myself being drawn to old ideas I’d done outside of Headlong. I thought maybe I could do something with that, or something in that vein. But the more I thought of that I wanted to close it down. I want to just focus on what comes up here, what is happening now and leave that sort of outside. And I feel like Headlong has given me space to just mess around, a lot of the pieces I’ve found myself making are-- I grab some things and go into a room and just do stuff, and whatever comes out of that is like, “oh I’m curious to see how people would be engaged by this”.

And part of me has curiosities about how other bodies doing these things would work, or having multiples bodies doing these things. But I’m not completely sure of the things themselves and not really sure if other bodies would be interested in doing them. I think they would!

You’re working in a bunch of different media. You have your acting side, clowning side, visual art side, your drag side. How do all those things collide right now (or not) at Headlong?

I do like to live in all these media realms and I’m very interested in the collision of those things. At different times I’ve either felt them being compartmentalized into their own things and at other times I’ve felt a little bit of overlap. And with the clown, I mean clowning class has just been fantastic. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for me and I’m very glad it happened. It’s unlocked a lot for me in that realm I hadn’t really been thinking about before. It feels at the same time like that work connects to my performance work in one way, but in other ways I feel like it is just that realm that the work lives in. But in this piece, today, [created for Shavon Norris’ Mindful Making class] I felt more of a collision between my sculptural, visual art, puppetry realms and my performance realms. And even though I felt like this particular performance was very sculpture heavy as opposed to performer heavy, I’m not sure if it came across that way. I found myself letting the sculpture and the environment that was created sort of dictate what was happening. I’m used to more having a set of events that I can structurally improv within, but there were things that happened that I wasn’t thinking about. Most of the time when that happens I’m like how can I technically or creatively utilize this in the piece. But in that moment, the unexpected bits, brought up some personal emotional things for me that I also had to deal with in that moment, and changed how I explored that piece. It helped me explore that sort of performance that I don’t usually get a chance to in the worlds that I live in because they’re more character driven or it’s other people’s work that I’m collaborating with or contributing to or being a vessel for. So to have a piece that was very personal to me, and be outside my control at the same time, was a wild experience.

You’re taking a semester from UArts, I’m wondering if you can talk about the creative relationship that you’ve felt going back and forth being a UArts student and a Headlong student.

It is a very different relationship I will say. Which has been really lovely at the same time. Headlong has felt sort of like an artistic retreat for me where I’ve been able to be around other like-minded performance artists. Where we’re all experimenting and making space for each other and that work. I definitely needed that. Just a nice break from the conventional school structure, so I could focus on expanding my art making. But at the same time I’ve been workshopping UArts students’ pieces at Headlong and back at UArts. So I’ve still had that tie, which is nice, I still feel connected. It’s the people at UArts I really love, even if the structures aren’t the best. So I’m glad I can still be connected to them even while I’m here.

So we have four weeks left of the program, what are you curious about going forward in that time?

I’m definitely curious in whether or not- I’ve sort of been conflicted about if I just want to be a part of other people’s work for our final or if I want to imagine a piece. I haven’t really had any final piece ideas yet. One thing I’ve been beating myself over the head about is “you should reach out more even though you don’t have ideas in the moment, just use this resource to work with other artists and get bodies in the room and see what happens.” Instead of me and some objects going into a room and figuring it out how about you and some people go into a room and just figure it out. So I might push myself to do that in the weeks going forward.

Is there something we don’t know about you that might be fun to share?

Hehe, I haven’t really gotten a chance to do this recently, because being in the city and all, but when I’m back home I like to go into the forest and commune with the trees. I like to talk stuff out with the trees or like do little shows for trees. I used to do that a lot as a kid but because I don’t have those environments around I can’t so much lately.

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 HPI, 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 HPI?

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 Shuron 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 Philadelphia 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 HPI, 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 HPI 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 HPI 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 HPI?

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.)