The first week of my Advanced Performance Training program at Pig Iron has just finished and I’m already sore, challenged and excited for next week’s training. My 16 classmates are all lovely and I’m enthralled to be working with artists from such diverse backgrounds—from a dancer who performed all over Eastern Europe, a Yale law graduate who took up community theatre in Africa, a film actor/producer based in LA, to Brown graduates who love to teach and start theatre schools in Mexico. I can already see I’ll be laughing, bantering and constantly challenged by them. After all, they’ll be my family here in Philly.
Generally, each day we begin with a movement-based class, such as acrobatics or movement analysis, followed by a range of technique classes, namely voice, improv, jeu or “play,” and mask work. While we are trained in the numerous ways to use the body and voice for performance, all the students will have to collaborate and create a unifying, theatrical piece to be shown before the faculty/public each week for the rest of the term.
Talk about adrenaline.
For this week, our piece was based on the “Creation of the World,” which evoked a wide scope of visual portraits, such as the evolution of men, Adam & Eve, a struck match, the Big Bang and the miscellaneous rooster. Unsurprisingly, there were many disagreements and redoes, but ultimately a huge sense of satisfaction after performance.
The schools’s structure is demanding both physically and emotionally. You are forced to question what theatre is and what it could be. Your body and voice are resistant to being shaped in ways not socially normal (I mean really, how often do you see a headstand and hear a voice like Gollum unless it’s Gollum himself?). Most importantly, you are a student so showing and having your creation piece critiqued is like having a midterm every week with the added frustrations normally associated with collaboration and the the creation of something from nothing (i.e. without a given script). On the flip-side, the opportunity to create ANYTHING and consistently work with people, who are also creating and problem-solving with you, is absolutely liberating.
I recently read a post by Nipun Mehta, which states that liberation is neither passive nor static, but rather an action, a doing, a series of choices and subsequent consequences you are now responsible for. Maybe that’s what Pig Iron is already trying to instill in us—creation as being a direct engagement with the ones who witness it. So take special care of both.