This is just a sampling of some of the amazing talent that comes through the gates of Chautauqua each summer! If YOU are an alumni would like to be featured in one of our upcoming newsletters and online, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviews by Sage Snider and Jennifer Barczak
MSFO 2015, 2016 – Clarinet
Since joining the school band in 7th grade, Garret Jones has carried a passion for musical performance. Currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan (DMA in Clarinet Performance), he reflects on his two summers with the Chautauqua Music Festival.
What inspired you to pursue music as your career?
I've always wanted to pursue music ever since I started playing in 7th grade band. Performing has always been a rewarding experience for me, and it's what I love doing.
What made you choose to attend Chautauqua and why do you return?
My first year participating at CHQ was from suggestion from my professor Chad Burrow, as one of the options for summer study. I returned to CHQ for a second year because the first year was such a profound experience.
Is there any particular moment or event from your summer that stands out?
I enjoyed spending time with my connections. The hospitality really made CHQ feel like home. It was great to have mature conversations about the arts with educated people of the CHQ community.
What faculty member had the most impact on you and why?
Timothy Muffitt is a fantastic conductor and leader. His is one of the greatest batons I have played under. His fast-paced but efficient rehearsal style was perfect for the concert cycles.
Do you have a favorite composer?
I love many composers, but I have a particular fascination with Stravinsky and Mahler. Both have a very defined musical language and also exhibit powerful meaning within their works.
How did you spend your free time?
When not in rehearsals or the practice rooms, I often spent my free time walking down to Bestor Plaza to get coffee during breaks.
What did you learn in your time at CHQ that you have carried with you in your professional pursuits?
Many of our rehearsals and coachings built a strong foundation for my playing. I have found myself talking to colleagues of certain teachers that have had great ideas for helping chamber groups to play better as an ensemble.
How has your time at CHQ influenced your future goals?
I want to win a position with an orchestra. The rigorous MSFO schedule helped immensely in keeping my playing in great shape, and forcing me to learn many pieces quickly. This is tremendously important when playing with an orchestra.
In your opinion, what makes the Chautauqua Music Festival unique?
The Chautauqua experience is very unique among summer programs. Not only do you study with highly experienced faculty and peers, but you are continuously supported by the Chautauqua community. Though it is a very long program, I always felt a sort of homely presence about the place. It is a great place to build professional skills and also connections.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Work hard and play hard. CHQ is a fantastic place to develop your skills as an artist. This is done not only in the practice room, but developing relationships with your fellow musicians and conversing with the CHQ community.
Piano Festival, 2016
Where are you currently studying?
I am at The Juilliard School in NYC with Robert McDonald. I am in my fourth-year of undergraduate studies and first-year of graduate studies. I was recently accepted into the accelerated 5-year B.M/M.M degree.
Why did you choose Chautauqua?
I first heard about Chautauqua actually through Facebook! Some friends from past festivals and competitions had been attending the festival and were uploading really beautiful photos of the campus and posting about their experiences there. I knew I had to look into it!
How did the Chautauqua community positively impact your studies?
The sense of community at Chautauqua was unlike any that I have ever experienced before. Not only did I feel welcomed, but I felt a part of the Chautauqua family immediately. Having Hale and Judy Oliver as my “connections” was the most amazing treat - they were at my performances and supported me throughout the festival. I woke up ready to explore the campus, and that gave me a lot of inspiration for the music I was working on during my time at Chautauqua. Can I mention that I took breaks and walked along every street in Chautauqua in order to catch Pokémon and hatch my eggs?!
What faculty member has had the most impact on you and why?
One of the really great opportunities I had was to see my former teacher, Alexander Korsantia. I had not seen him or played for him in a couple of years, and I was able to perform for him during his master class. I also was able to see him perform with orchestra for only the second time - needless to say I had chills throughout his phenomenal performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. One of the highlights of the program for me!
What are your future goals and how has your time at CHQ influenced those goals?
My ultimate goal is to be a concert pianist - as difficult as that may be to achieve, I have been performing since I was 5, and after 600 concerts, I am eagerly awaiting the chance to make my lifelong passion of performing a reality. I have been exposed to so many new musical techniques at Chautauqua - for example, getting a powerful sound (thanks to Alexander Gavrylyuk), varying my technique for creating a legato sound (Nikki [Melville] and John [Milbauer]) and making musical sense of long phrases (Ms. Antonova). The career-stories that I heard from the artists themselves are so interesting and inspiring - I really can’t wait to experience the same things!
What advice do you have for someone attending the program for the first time?
Get involved with as much as possible. I was so fortunate to have a really wonderful chamber ensemble group, which added an extra level of excitement to the festival. Also, I even taught a lesson to a piano student living in Chautauqua - being able to have a lesson with the amazing faculty and guest artists and then to use what you’ve learned, taking from your own performance experience as well, to teach someone else is really a rewarding experience. Being a student - we have access to everything on campus, 99% of the time for free, so live it up.
Visual Arts, 2016 (Painting – with a slight Print Making Minor)
Where are you currently studying?
This year I’m completing the second (and final!) year of my MFA in Painting at the New York Studio School in Greenwich Village, New York City. I will also be working as an artist assistant for a renowned sculptor in Tribeca, as well as for E.Tay Gallery right next door.
How would you describe your work?
I am a figurative oil painter who sometimes likes to head towards the abstract and on the way occasionally playing with impressionism and expressionism. I have long had an affinity with animals as a motif, probably for its versatility as a symbol and the lack of a given personality compared to human figures.
What are your future goals and how has your time at CHQ influenced, changed, or directed those goals?
Once I am done with my MFA this spring, I will devote my time to painting and showing as much as possible while getting more involved in the New York art community. Chautauqua brought out a newfound confidence in my painting and that is a priceless gift. That’s not even mentioning the skills I learned from a series of brilliant artists during the summer.
What faculty member had the most impact on you and why?
It is hard to choose just one. Clintel and Tom were both very important to me. Clintel Steed - I keep quotes from him even today. I also just finished a weeklong drawing marathon with him here in New York - what a bonus. His energy and honesty about art and what we do is infecting. I can still picture him telling me to find the personality of each tree while we were standing in the middle of the Art Quad at 8 pm as I was trying to find an end to a large landscape drawing that took me 5 sessions of 3 hours to complete. Later on in the program, after having pushed me to work harder and better in print making, Tom [Raneses] challenged me to translate this drawing that I had done with Clintel into a large and beautiful print. Tom was present the entire program as Print Master and was a massive help and support throughout all 7 weeks.
How did the community environment of Chautauqua positively impact your studies?
I came to Chautauqua at a crossroads in my work and had no idea what to expect. Chautauqua - the other visual artists, the musicians, the actors, the singers, the landscape, the lectures, and every discussion I had with people from around the world - somehow it allows everything to fall into place and carry each student to the next step in their work and career. There is also a certain confidence that has stuck with me from this adventure.
How did you spend your free time?
What free time? With such a set up - the studio and everything done for us - spending day and night in the studio becomes a necessity. There was really no free time for me and I enjoyed it very much. It’s something I try to translate to my life in New York, finding a way to always use “free time” as painting time.
Is there any particular moment or event from your summer that stands out?
The entire program itself was a moment on its own, all of it.
What advice do you have for new incoming art students?
Don’t waste time trying to think - just set up and start painting, drawing, sculpting or whatever it is you do. Let the faculty jump start your brain. You might come with a plan but you will likely not stick to it and that is okay. Don’t rush, take time to stop and discover all the new things Chautauqua works so hard to bring together for you.
Dance 2011, 2012, 2013 (Apprentice)
Hand-picked by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux at the age of 15, Alexandra Heier spent three summers as an Apprentice on full scholarship with the Chautauqua School of Dance where she received the Artistic Director's Award for Overall Excellence.
Alexandra began her dance training at the Boston Ballet School and is currently a member of Boston Ballet II where she has performed in Mikko Nissinen's "Swan Lake", as well as dancing a principal role in George Balanchine's "Divertimento No. 15".
Why did you choose to attend Chautauqua initially and what made you return?
I was invited by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux to study as an Apprentice after seeing me in a class at Boston Ballet School. I came back the next two summers because of the unique performance opportunity and the close and nurturing environment that resulted from its small size and caring instructors.
What is the fondest memory you have of your time at Chautauqua?
My fondest memory is of performing George Balanchine's Serenade in the Amphitheater one Tuesday night during my second summer in Chautauqua. There was nothing like the feeling of performing such a powerful, exquisite ballet outdoors at night for a huge and enthusiastic audience. It was a performance I will never forget.
“Serenade” is a favorite for many – what makes it special for you?
Serenade is definitely a favorite of mine, like many dancers and audiences. For me, what resonates about it is the incredibly beautiful music paired with movements that make a strong impact through their simplicity. The ballet is deeply emotional, even though there is no known narrative. Dancing this ballet in Chautauqua will always be one of my favorite memories.
What faculty member had the most impact on you and why?
I don't think I could choose just one faculty member that had the greatest impact on me because it was the combination of all the wonderful members of the faculty that made it such a great experience. Patricia McBride cares so much about her students and offers insight that few, if any, others can provide. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux helped me to gain confidence and showed me that there are people in power who are selfless and kind. Mark Diamond taught me how to move in new ways to be able to effectively learn contemporary dance. Everyone at Chautauqua is dedicated to the students and furthering their careers.
How did the greater environment of CHQ outside of your program positively impact your studies?
Chautauqua gave me the space to explore my art form along with others. It also provided me with a safe haven where I could spend my summer and grow as a person. The enthusiasm and interest from the audiences was also always encouraging and supportive.
What did you learn in your time at CHQ that you have carried with you in your professional pursuits?
At Chautauqua I developed the skill of learning choreography which has been extremely important in my career. I performed great works by Balanchine that I have carried with me and performed again in the future. I learned more variations in my time at Chautauqua than I had ever learned before. I also learned how to dance contemporary ballet, which has become a huge part of today's ballet companies all over the world and has been critical for me.
You have had quite a lot of performance opportunities during your time with Boston Ballet as well – as a Trainee and now as a member of Boston Ballet II. Are there any particular performances that stand out for you?
My favorite performance with Boston Ballet was Swan Lake. It’s a very powerful ballet and extremely rewarding, particularly when I performed in all four acts. I am looking forward to dancing this amazing ballet again at the end of this season. My other favorite performance was in Boston Ballet School’s Next Generation, when I performed the principal role in George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15. Performing a lead role was a dream come true. It was the most fun I’ve had onstage to date.
What great role do you most aspire to perform as you progress in your career?
The role I would most like to perform in the future is “Juliet” in Romeo and Juliet because it is such a deep and emotional role. Romeo and Juliet is one of my all time favorite ballets and the music gives me chills every time I hear it.
What are your future goals and how has your time at CHQ influenced those goals?
I aim to someday become a principal dancer in a high level ballet company. My experience at Chautauqua helped to further my determination for this goal by giving me the chance to perform solos and dance in large roles and by allowing me to work with a professional ballet company at an age when few dancers get such an opportunity.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
I would advise incoming students to take advantage of every moment of their time in Chautauqua, particularly the performances and to soak up all the insight they can from the incredible faculty.
Visual Arts 2014, 2015
Intro: Born in Iran in 1984, at 18 Morteza entered the Tehran University College of Fine Arts where he studied industrial design and sculpture. At 25, he moved to the US for a BFA in sculpture from the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. This fall, he started an MFA in printmaking.
Morteza describes his work as “fragments of experiences collaged into a history absent from reality. The residue reflects the bizarre, unbearable nature of living.” In printmaking, currently his primary medium, layers remain fixed “even if I try to remove it by scratching, scraping, or burnishing… The printmaking process enables me to rework the images to grasp the intensity of the situation.”
How did you get into art, and end up studying it in America?
In Iran, I studied industrial design for almost 2 years and realized that’s not what I wanted, transferred to sculpture, then dropped out. I couldn’t do what I wanted in fine art, which was figurative art. In Iran, a highly religious country, you can’t study or exhibit nude figures… I wanted to do classical study, old masters like Michelangelo, so I dropped out. I was doing business for 3-4 years, but I got bored. It wasn’t for me, so I came to America.
Last summer, I came to Chautauqua to draw and paint, but I got into printmaking and then decided I wanted to do that for grad school. My main interest is drawing. Printmaking has the main qualities of drawing, but you also have more tools—you can add to whatever drawing is.
Drawing has immediacy: it’s true to whatever you want to say. I like painting, but I don’t think it’s necessary. You can communicate with simple lines… I like that minimalistic aspect of it. It becomes only about mark making, simple basic things… I feel like all the great artists made their best work in drawing. People might not notice it, but it makes sense because everyone starts with drawing, so it becomes second nature... Learning to sculpt, paint, etc., are usually secondary. I started when I was 5… Every kid draws. Some people stop and I didn’t. It’s that simple.
Why was learning classical drawing important to you?
I was used to seeing Persian miniatures, which I studied as a teenager; I studied with one of those true old masters. Around the same time, I was introduced to Western art, looking at art books at the house of my dad’s friend… I’d never seen anything like that, so I got interested… there’s so many young artists in Iran that study Western art—figurative art—really seriously.
In a country like Iran where government is always trying to convey the message that … everything from the West is bad, then people get curious. When someone tries to stop you from doing something, you’ll be like, “why are you trying to stop me…” I knew the pictures I saw in those books were from Europe, from the West, which I’m not supposed to know about. I think that feeling of discovering something from the outside world encouraged me to begin to study Western art, and I started to like it.
After that I stopped Persian miniature. I couldn't relate to it that much because it’s so unreal: about an unearthly world, not dealing with what you are. It’s religious decorative art. When you see Western art, you see things you see in real life, so you relate. When I was young, it was easier for me to connect to Western art than Persian because Eastern is harder to understand. Now I love those things.
How does your experience with Eastern art affect your current work?
First, one of the themes in my work is the tension between cultures. My pictures represent specific people, stories… I’m also visually interested in the rejection of the traditional rules we have in Western art: proportion, perspective, anatomy... The ancient eastern old masters didn’t think those things were necessary and I think they’re right. They didn’t care that the body is supposed to be seven or eight heads proportionally. There’s no perspective. Or all the figures are [stacked] vertically at the same size, and the only reason the picture makes sense is because you know the top figure is the farthest away. Obviously, they could see that when a person is farther away, they’d be smaller, but they think that that person is just as important, so they don’t draw them smaller. So actually, it was a more complex way of thinking…
I still feel more comfortable here because I understand this way of thinking: more realistic and open. It makes more sense to me... All that spiritual, religious [thinking] doesn’t help me...
So in the Western art tradition, who is currently most influencing your work?
Right now, German expressionists from the 1920s: Beckmann, Dix; the way they depicted the human body… I feel close to them because the situation in those years is so similar to where I am… All the restrictions and craziness of society, which is government and authority trying to limit everything, which is impossible…
For “Gallus Meeting with Assyrian,” I saw this [ancient Roman emperor] at the Met, a beautiful sculpture, but really bizarre… the head is so distorted and the legs are big. It doesn’t make sense with the rest of the body, but as a whole it looks really good… Then there’s this Middle Eastern god I took a picture of at the Met.
And there’s a connection. It was as if they were having a dialogue; this Roman god and Syrian god having a conversation. So that’s how the piece started: a mishmash of West and East and the way they react. So the guys by the Eastern dude, they’re doing something not good: they’re having this dirty discussion about something with the god, or making a deal.
Then in between the box looks like a ballot box. I was thinking what is that about? Then I realized: when I came here was the year after the 2009 Iranian presidential election. People thought it wasn’t an honest election, but nobody could prove it because there’s no clarity or control except the government. Some people got killed in rallies. I lost two friends and got arrested. It changed the whole mood of the country. That was the main reason I left.
What have you been working on this summer?
There’s a main theme in my work: what it feels to have this thing called the male body. Working based on that experience is really interesting to me. A reason I make figurative images is that I’m constantly thinking about how it feels to carry a body, especially a male body because that’s the only type of body I could possibly know. I don’t draw females that often, because I don’t know how it feels to occupy a female body... but the male body IS me. That’s why I do distortions; like drawing hands in a specific way. I’m trying to capture not how it looks, but how it feels or how you could look at it.
To me, the body is uncomfortable, sometimes gross, sometimes strange—the way it’s constructed: a head, two long things called arms, two legs... Also, having that classical background from the Renaissance, and this idea that bodies are supposed to be beautiful... Everybody believed the body was beautiful, but is it really beautiful? I understand how a tree could be beautiful, but the body is a strange thing. I don’t see it as beautiful, and the reason is because that’s me and I feel it, I live it, and it does not feel pleasant and beautiful. A body is not just its look, but how it works, how it smells, how it doesn’t work.
So now that’s a main thing for me, why I draw these naked or half naked bodies, really basic things. And because the body carries the brain, it brings other stories that might come from my previous work that deals with history, culture, and all this stuff. But to me, that’s the main thing: the body.
Since this view of the body doesn’t come from your classical, figurative studies, why are you so attracted to it?
Back to Iran, the limitations. The image of the body is not something that you’re supposed to see. So different from here, where you see bodies... But there, everything is covered and you’re not supposed to look at it, and it’s almost a sin to see a naked body of a stranger. Maybe that’s the reason I’m attracted to depicting bodies, again: they make you not do it, the censorship, and now you want to do it. Starting point… now it’s interesting for other reasons...
I don’t see [the body] as beautiful or sinful. I see something fragile that has to carry this burden of life. When covered and protected, it’s difficult to see that fragility. But when naked and exposed, it’s right there in front of you.
Can you tell me about your print “Mom’s Heart,” which won the VACI partners award?
Telling the process of making it is the only way I can talk about this picture. I’m always looking at pictures and books and I’m really interested in primitive art and all arts outside the Western art world. So I was looking at this book of 19th century Mexican sculptures—Jesus and Mary religious figures—and they’re really simple primitive sculptures. The people that make them live in small villages. These sculptures were meant to serve in religious ceremonies. They didn’t know anything about anatomy, and they are simple and minimal, but so beautiful and powerful, made of wood or clay. They dress the statues and will do their best to make them as real people. But when you look at them, they are really ugly, but so beautiful. There is no craft.
I saw this picture of death, which they portrayed as an old woman in black, and it reminded me of my mom. It was really powerful, so expressive, as if Max Beckmann made the sculpture. It makes me so upset that people with no art school training make something that powerful. When I like something that much, I just draw it to understand why it’s so powerful visually. I wasn’t thinking about death; I was trying to understand why these forms make this powerful statement…
I haven’t seen my mom for 5 years. I’m not that close but still... Skype makes it weirder and unreal, so I was thinking about my mom... I was feeling guilty. It’s a weird feeling: like I’m fine not talking to my family, but that picture made me feel terrible. Only way to deal with it is just to forget them because I have my own life. My mom has often been sick and weak, which connected to that sculpture of death. I’ve been afraid she was gonna die since I was a kid. She had a heart problem.
So… everybody in my family except me is in the car business: fixing cars, selling car parts. It’s not just a business; it’s a passion. I don’t know anything about cars, but my dad is a master mechanic and brothers the same. They have this bond between them, all about cars. The male figure is my brother. Growing up, I used to see the car parts like body parts, human parts. So what the woman in this picture is holding is a car distributor which looks like a heart. It’s also kind of the heart of the car: without it, it doesn’t work. Also, a few years ago the business went bankrupt while I was here, and my mom had to deal with that, and how it hurt my family.
I knew this picture would be about my mom, and it started as a funny joke—the car thing looked like a heart. I didn’t realize this was my mom’s heart.
And there’s another figure: this ancient Persian pot warrior [behind male figure]. That’s the only part I still don’t know why it’s there. I’m sure it’s not just decorative. There should be a reason: I’m still working on it by looking at it... Making something—it’s a journey. To understand yourself and whatever’s around you.
See more of Morteza’s work on his website: http://www.mortezakhakshoor.com/
Art (painting/printing) 2015
How did you start painting?
I went to a small art school a few nights a week starting when I was six years old, life drawing and oil painting. I remember I told the teacher when I was like 7, "wouldn't it be great if I could just paint all day?" and she said "you can do that!" So I found out you could be a painter... I came into BU as a graphic design major, then realized I didn't want to be stuck at a computer. I like making things and getting dirty, so I decided to make the commitment to painting.
[But] painting is just one thing I do. I've always considered myself to be a draftsperson first—drawing [is] how I think and where my ideas come from, but then I try to elevate these ideas in different mediums such as paintings or printmaking, whatever my idea fits. Some things stay drawings forever. Being at Chautauqua has really helped to know that certain ideas call for certain mediums. I don't have to make a painting if I don't want to. Lisa Corinne Davis, a Chautauqua teacher, talked about how... not all drawings are meant to be paintings.
What makes an idea work as a painting, as opposed to other visual mediums?
Ideas that deal with color and value and tone, but also with a certain texture, like “swimming hole.” I don’t think you can draw water in the way you can paint water. But certain things with linear solutions like wall drawings don’t need anything else to make this image.
I also learned through Lisa that [it might be better to work from print than drawing because prints] already have value and tone structure, so it’s an easier transition. Drawing to painting is a way bigger theoretical jump than print to painting….
I think your work has a distinct look. What do you think makes your paintings special?
Artists, we go through moments of having egos and then “I’m terrible”…. I try to show the moments and interactions between people and hidden humor in scenes that could happen in real life but are somewhat abstracted in subject matter. Like, would all these people really be in a pool together? It’s the way I interpret and represent people and their interactions.
Style has to lend itself to the subject; certain subjects have to be interpreted in certain ways to get a certain effect. Like that guy [in “Swimming Hole] up-right, peeing in the pool. If I made him naturalistically, it wouldn’t have the same humor: it would probably seem grotesque and disturbing. Approaching it in a cartoony way gives it more humor… Or like the shower self portrait: it was painted in a more naturalistic way, dealing with subject matter a little more anxiety driven, and I didn’t want to make fun of it. Whereas I make fun of these pool people.
So did you say that was your first self-portrait?
The first self-portrait that I was happy with. I’m not good at traditional facial self-portraits. I’m just not that interested in looking at myself. But once I started fragmenting the bodies, I was more inclined to go back to the self-portrait. I could do something that I wanted to talk about.
I know you're involved in gender activism–how do those issues shape your art?
I’m still thinking about them. As a woman, I think when I deal with just the waist down it has a bit of aggression to it, in terms of who is viewing and what they can project onto what I’m saying about myself. Because I’m displaying myself as body parts, so people can either identify with or objectify it…
I’m not trying to make activism paintings. That’s not important to me. But I am trying to make paintings that are conscious of all of these conversations that can be projected onto the painting. But I don’t want someone to read it as just “this is a male gaze painting”… You can also read it as about anxiety of space, because I made it from the Bellinger shower because it feels like a prison. I want there to be other conversations as well, because I think painting lends itself to opening conversations and projecting your experiences… I want people to be able to explore and find different topics to talk about. That’s what I think a good painting is.
How do you make paintings open to different conversations?
I try to make relations between people, and you can be like, “What are they talking about?” … I want people to be like, “what’s happening here,” to leave enough room for interpretation, but give them enough to start conversation…. I’ve set up these moments for you to interpret them. I did this specifically so you can have a conversation about what people are doing. Like when people come to my studio and notice a new character for the first time and they just talk about who they think that character is.
I’ve started writing about my characters—it’s important to become attached, and fall in love with them. Like I think of The Sims sometimes: “I’m gonna make this guy do this now because he’s mine and I love him….” I needed to ask myself, “Am I giving these characters enough effort, and context”… I have to give them more information so they can give me more information.
Once you make an object or a character you kind of owe something to them, push and pull between the object and you, to make the best situation that the two of you can muster…
Can you tell me about being a sketch artist for the Dzokhar Tsarnaev trial? Has that experience impacted your art?
In my last semester of BU, the school newspaper… was given access to the courtroom and they decided that they wanted a courtroom sketch artist … I was chosen and I went to the courtroom probably 4 or 5 times. I went for the first day for opening statements and last for closing statements, and various days in between.
During that time, a lot of the art I was making was super cartoony and I was still using that language in making some of these drawings. Then I looked at them and thought, “Asshole! Why are you making Tsarnaev look silly?” That was the first time I had the idea that different languages work for different subject matter. Tsarnaev is only meant to be seen in this one light. It’s not respectful to make him in the cartoony language I was using in my other work. I wasn’t trying to be offensive, but I never showed anyone those cartoony ones. It was a complete mistake, so I tore them up in the bathroom and then made ones that I think reflected the gravity of the situation….
I’ve never experienced something as high profile as that. My best friend was the first rushed to any Boston hospital. She was three feet away from the bomb. She was going to the Apple store carrying a messenger bag with a laptop, and all the destruction happened to the laptop….
Were you able to separate your feelings from your drawings?
I did draw him kind of gauntly—but that’s because he looked like that. He had been in solitary confinement for a year and he had nerve damage to his face, so I didn’t make him look pretty. I was trying to be distant from the situation and respectful because he was still innocent at that point. They hadn’t convicted him and I wanted to draw him as true as I could, as I saw him. I wasn’t trying to bring art into it. These drawings are purely for journalism and its conversations.
So back to Chautauqua, what's your masterpiece of the summer?
I always think every painting I make is kind of bad. I don’t think I’ve reached a point that I have a painting that I think is entirely successful. I don’t think anyone really does.
I like that guy on the toilet and the smoker next to him. They were quick—an hour each. Normally I labor over paintings and destroy them, and I just told myself I’d spend a short amount of time on the painting and it was relatively successful. I used that mindset to make these swimmer paintings, which all happened quickly. Technically speaking, if you labor over an oil painting, it can get brown and muddy and you forget what you were working on in the beginning. In these, the paint and ideas stay fresh, and if I have another idea I can make another painting. Whereas, these longer ones have lots of ideas and moments I have to deal with and explore, but it’s nice to do those smaller paintings first to see what ideas work... I tried to make a bigger guy on the toilet but it was a failure. That wasn’t meant to be a bigger painting.
What do you think overall about making art as a Chautauqua Summer Student?
It’s nice to just worry about art for awhile and not worry about rent or school or feeding the cats. All I have to do is show up and do that and it’s my only responsibility. I have the time to make paintings that suck and then throw them away, but then use that experience to then make a good one. I’ve made a lot of bad paintings here, but I had a teacher who told me you have to make a hundred bad paintings before one good. And it’s made me experiment and try things I’ve been afraid of, mostly because of the time aspect…. This is my job, my free time, my life. So time and somewhat lack of stress. I’m stressing about art, but I’m gifted that I just have to worry about that… I’ll definitely be back.
How did you start singing?
I come from an artistic family; my mom is a choir teacher and my dad is a director/actor/writer. When I was in high school, I joined my mom’s choir and started taking voice lessons in Phoenix. I fell in love with classical music. As I became more involved in performing, I decided to audition for collegiate programs, and was encouraged to audition for Juilliard. I’d been working hard for a few years and was committed and disciplined, but getting in was a complete surprise… My voice didn’t even change until I was 16, so I’d only sung as a baritone for a year. It was like handing someone a cello and saying, “audition for conservatory in 10 months.” But after this door opened, it was clear to me that singing was going to be a major part of my life.
This was your third summer at Chautauqua, and you already study with Marlena at Juilliard. Why do you keep coming back?
I feel like my artistic family is here. The faculty that Marlena brings to this place is astounding and I feel like I’ve grown so much because of the investment that they've made in me not only as an artist, but also as a person. As I've become more interested in a multiplicity of art forms and mediums, I’ve deviated from pursuing full time singing studies. But this is a place I love returning to - it was the first place I’d found where I'm not just a student in an educational hierarchy, but a member of a collaborative community. And the faculty supports me pursuing a path that’s a bit different from the typical "professional singer" career.
There are unique possibilities for cross-pollination here at Chautauqua. InterArts is in my DNA— being able to collaborate between divisions, across mediums. It's essential to be secure in a specific craft and I think it takes time and dedication to one's craft as a primary focus. But I think where the performing arts are headed in the 21st century is towards more collaboration, not only with other artists across disciplines, but outside of the arts. And it'll be imperative for the artist to be a versatile contributor to society, not only a "singer" or "actor," but an artist with deep social consciousness and political involvement.
There’s a lot of pessimism about the current state of the arts and bemoaning that classical art is dying…but I think as we get more isolated by technology, the more people are craving human to human connection. I think the performing arts provide that unique connection when they represent the broad scope of humanity, not just a sliver of experience focused on one group's narratives, but representing a diverse spectrum of cultures and identities. That's collaboration: What do you see? What do I see? How can we work together and recognize differences and similarities?... When the arts are aligned with the intention to open a conversation about the human condition, and not to show off or compete, they create an environment of sharing. That kind of work is truly beautiful and important. That’s why I’m an artist: to collaborate and share.
Those are some beautiful ideals, but how do you put such collaboration into practice when so much of your artistic work requires focused, isolated rehearsals?
It’s challenging, but you have to go above and beyond. It’s not good enough to just punch the time clock, to put in the required hours… the real creativity, that beautiful stuff, lives inside the cracks of all that "structure." Some of the most meaningful experiences at Chautauqua have been conversations at the lunch table or late at night in the Art Quad, with artists in other disciplines. It’s not always the private lesson with your teacher that makes everything click. The dedication and time spent with teachers is priceless and necessary, but so is taking off the blinders at a certain point and looking around to be inspired…
At Juilliard, you have to continually find in yourself, “why am I here? why am I doing this? what’s the reason for all this focus and intense training?” There is a great quote by the dancer and choreographer La Meri that says, "The only reason for mastering technique is to make sure the body does not prevent the soul from expressing itself." Technique is not an end in itself but a means of expressing the human condition. We train and work hard because of our love for that expression. I think weak expression sometimes comes from weak technique, so you have to find a balance between being technically proficient while still being in touch with our human imperfections. Art happens when they intersect.
This is why it takes so much practice. I’m making a big investment—8 years total at Juilliard— to become as versatile as possible. I want to understand where we’ve come from and imagine where we can go, not just to sustain a performing career for myself, but to contribute to society in many forms. If that means I’m not working on a show everyday, that’s okay with me. My place in society might be different than that. One dream of mine is to have a sustainable organic farm and to work with the land…
I realize these are kind of contradictory ideas. I go to a conservatory where I live in a box all day, but ultimately it’s to do things that have nothing to do with the box. It’s just like in singing - Marlena talks about how everything is a paradox: to go up, you have to go down, to go front you have to go back, and on and on. As an artist, I can’t be concerned with what the finished product will look like; I have to trust the process, not knowing what will come out, but trusting that something new and honest will happen. This is what acting and singing has taught me about life. It’s hard to trust these things and believe in the process, but it’s essential.
So where does being a farmer fit into these artistic goals?
For three months last summer, I lived in Italy volunteering on organic farms, learning about local culture and sustainable agriculture. On that trip, I lived with people that I’d never have met otherwise. In our field of work [performing arts], we meet lots of interesting people from all over the world who are passionate, fun, and creative… but there’s always this common thread of “I’m a dancer, actor, or singer...” On the farms, I was around people that were just living their lives and wanting the same things people all over the world need….
The human condition is universal: people may have different customs and want different things out of life, but something in each of us is connected to a fundamental source. On those farms, I found an experience of reality outside the noise of NYC and façade of American commercialism… I hope eventually to continue having that type of relationship: where I can grow my own food and have a sustainable relationship to the land. Those three months were some of the most beautiful of my life.
How does this desired connection with nature relate to your artistic goals, if at all?
Nature is a source of endless inspiration. It’s hard to feel that connection within standard classical arts performances as we know them, because we usually go into a dark room, sit quietly and watch a performance, then leave abruptly and hopefully talk about it later. But I’m interested in creating experiences that are more immediate and engaging for the audience. Involving our natural, specific location can tremendously enhance the experience of a performance.
For example, at the beginning of this summer I did a musical and theatrical project in McKnight Hall that we called the “Songs of Travel Project." We opened the sliding glass walls and the back door and people sat on every side of the stage. I used the songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams and poems of Robert Louis Stevenson to create a dramatic narrative that centered around the story of the famous song cycle. We reimagined the formal art song recital - where typically the singer stands in a suit in the crook of a piano and sings at the audience in a foreign language. But we used outside elements of nature inside the performance: flowers, trees, grass, the wind blowing into the concert hall. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was a different experience at Chautauqua: to reimagine the recital as a theatrical event that tells a story about a human's experience of youth and love, through the specifics of our space and time. It was a thrilling experiment and I think it'll lead to similar projects in the future.
I think part of its success was because it was in English. There’s a powerful connection when you sing in the vernacular. People can understand you without a translation barrier. Ultimately, I think we should be able to communicate and express in any language with the same detail and refinement we can in a native language, so that the story is legible and engaging. That’s one beauty of dance and music: the story is so clear even with no words.
A long-term goal of mine is to create intimate experiences, no matter the performance space. I love the intimacy of the theater: where it’s not just pretty music to be sung beautifully, but it’s a story—there’s a narrative, life happening and changing throughout. These songs and poems have always been bursting with theatricality, so we just have to let them live. Incorporating elements of the natural world - real human behavior, flowers, stars, grass, being where we are in space and time - creates possibilities for integrating local agriculture into the artistic process, and I don’t exactly know how yet, but it’s exciting to dream…
As a singer training to be an actor, why do you value theatricality in voice?
The great operas and musicals are the pinnacle examples of how we express things through music and language, but they are even bigger than language… I love the theater because there is so much power in linguistic exchange. What's spoken (and what's left unspoken) is very often natural and realistic, and therefore powerfully relatable. And then it goes to another level when you sing... the sound of an acoustic voice is naturally vulnerable. The vibration and resonance that's shared between people is profound and mysterious.
At its core, singing is speech and sound, just elevated. Speaking and singing are different styles and use different mechanics of the body to create them, but at the heart of either song or speech, you always have to be doing something with your words and actions: what does your character want from other people? What do you need?
Ultimately, the best art comes from a place of deep intention and need. A character breaks out into song in a musical when they can’t speak anymore. Same with opera recitative, which is just sung dialogue; they burst into an aria because they need something more than they were getting with just words, so the music opens up into another dimension of communication.
Often I go to the opera and hear beautiful sounds, but I'm not moved by the story because I don’t think they’re playing for anything or going for what they needed. The stakes are incredibly high in opera, and yet often it feels like the drama is forgotten. Fundamentally, we're storytellers through song, but often we as opera singers fall short with our acting. I call myself a singing actor because I think all singers are doing something with their language and sounds. The greatest classical composers knew that. They weren’t just writing beautiful music. Their characters were human beings living out lives full of desires, obstacles, triumphs, failures, love, pain and beauty. Singing has to come from a place of need. If we’re not trying to do something, why sing?
MSFO (percussion) 2015
How did you become a percussionist?
I only started doing this a few years ago, but I always loved listening to music. Like before school, I’d listen to the Beatles, in 3rd grade I loved the Sex Pistols, and my parents have amazing taste in music, so I always had the ear for it… I started guitar in 5th/6th grade, quit, then in 8th grade I started bass and drums and taught myself… then I stopped again, played in a rock band called Project 324, recorded, and we really started taking off. We’d be on the St. Louis News, we’d be promoted on radio…we were playing from records and listening to other people.
Then my world changed when I was a sophomore and I found my grandpa’s record collection. I found Gould, Bach, Philip Glass and pretty much fell in love with classical music. It was a whole other world… And then I discovered the St. Louis Youth Symphony… Seeing them was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard. Life changing. I had a calling for classical music….
So I started to learn to read music late sophomore year of high school…I started practicing eight hours a day. Got obsessed with Bach. From there on, I’ve been practicing as much as I can. I ended up getting into the Youth Symphony, quit all the sports I’d played, and started just playing music constantly: practicing, studying, still playing in my rock band, youth symphony, church band, drum set on weekends. Then I started looking at colleges.
Do you think playing so many different genres makes you a better musician?
I’m always working on my sound, time, feel, and musicality, and no matter what genre you’re playing in, those things are most important… and style, understanding what you’re doing [Because I played in Latin band], I was playing maracas and congas, but I was working on my time and feel, and when you play an audition for classical music your time has to be impeccable. So now I have a much stronger sense of time than if I just studied time in a practice room…. So technically [now], I am learning classical music, but everything’s connected; it’s all the same.
If you could only choose one, which would you play?
I’d want to play drum set in a brilliant R&B band… that played various genres [laughs]… I will always use and love drum set. I actually got a scholarship to go to Berklee on it… but I knew I’d go farther on drum set if I studied percussion, to become the musician I wanted to become.
My thing with music is I want to be able to sit here and clap my hands and not have an instrument and be able to make music and groove. It’s just in me. I don’t need an instrument. I’m a walking body of ability. I don’t want to be held back... To me, a musician is someone that can go anywhere. They have the ear and it’s internal…
So you came here immediately after graduating from Indiana University. What did you think of your first Chautauqua Summer?
It’s so beautiful here, it’s surreal… and you can’t explain it to people, only people who’ve been here can relate... [This environment] allows my mind to open a bit, rest and be engaged… I love being by the water and the flowers and the dogs and the people, and I think one of my favorite things is when you go to eat. You’re just standing in line and everyone is so unique: there’s an opera singer that looks like an opera singer, ceramics people have pottery on them, painters have paint all over their clothes.
And you learn so much about yourself as you see the other artists. I thought we, musicians, were artsy, but artists are artsy. You get this scale of where you are in the artist world beyond just musicians, and I love everyone being so different and unique, in the way they dress, walk, and look. Everyone here is full-bodied into what they do, so you get this sense of what each medium of art breeds inside of them…
And you've gotten to work with many of these artists through Inter Arts collaborations. What interests you about working with other types or artists?
To me it’s about the populist: I want to add someone speaking English to my pieces or the visual arts so everyone can get something out of it, at different levels. To me, it’s all about emotions: your heart or how you feel or getting in touch with how you feel… That’s where the blues musician comes in: how you feel and having people relate, and getting to know yourself and the people around you from expressing these emotions…
And visual arts is so immediate. And when you listen to words you get to tell a story: you can just say love. In music, people might not arrive at that statement. If you say the word love, everyone knows what that means. But, music can support it. You can say love, but how much more beautiful is “love” when you play it with a major 7th? How much more beautiful is someone saying “sad” when you play a minor chord with a picture of a tear or someone crying?
Why was just listening to music ever a thing? Because it really wasn’t. From the beginning, music was used to provide support for a story or dance. And with dance comes theatre, costumes, a story… the different mediums just intensify the message. Listening to music on its own is great and cerebral, but maybe we’ve tilted too far in that direction.
How did you get into collaborations with visual artists?
I got really into visual arts after I took art history, which changed my life. I love art history and visual arts, and I love going to museums… I’m just a visual person. I don’t think I have synesthesia, but I might as well.
… We studied these two Renaissance painters, and how one guy would put Jesus on a horse in the middle and everyone was looking at him and it was really simple and really clear. And then the other would have Jesus and then this windy road in the back and… the message is less clear because it’s more complicated.
That to me is everything, even back in the Renaissance. Take a song or anything: if you make it more complicated, you take away the clearness of the message…. [People] don’t understand that choosing to be simple is a complex thought… I learned these things through visual arts and think about them in everything…
In your Inter Arts performance of the poem "Red Meat," you collaborated with a printmaker, theater director, and opera singer. What was that like?
The first time we did it, we all just let go and saw everyone’s ability and how well we could communicate without words and through our mediums. It immediately brought us all together and made us fall in love with each other… We were all like, “wow, we all get each other don’t we?” We tried talking about this stuff, until we just shut up, used our medium of art, and were striving for this goal of improvising. It was a great experience.
And I’m proud of its effect: we created something people felt. People were captivated for twenty minutes, and we expressed what it means to be an underdog. How this red monstrous child was the victim. Everyone saw him and thought he was ugly and terrible, but he was actually innocent and nice, but was judged for the way he looked, nothing he could control. And it relates to societal problems right now. To put forward energy towards that in a room full of people…
What type of musical work would you like to end up doing?
I would love to be a principal percussionist of an orchestra, and do a lot of community outreach teaching and sharing… to show how all these [genres] are intertwined and that classical musicians aren’t always wearing a coat and tie… and are down to earth, not just someone stuffed in a practice room for hours. They know how to be a human being too. You don’t have to practice classical music in a way that shuts out or shuns popular music or any music.
So as a principal percussionist, you have a community leadership role, and you can work with musicians around there on combining different types of musics: blues, R&B, and everything in between. Combining music together, people together; bringing them together through playing their music together…
Classical is a part of all music…. [I want to] teach the music as an expression of emotion, that you can feel things, and get to know people around you better and feel happier and more in tune with yourself and the world around you.
Given your wide-ranging interests, are you worried about focusing your studies on classical music?
Classical training is not perfect, but it can be really powerful, and the musicians that I love… went to Juilliard, Eastman, or Manhattan, and they’re classically trained, but they just took it with a grain of salt, sometimes. They didn’t shut their ears off to Dr. Dre or Aphex Twin… they didn’t say “I can only listen to Brahms”… I just find that I can play Brahms way better when I study hemiolas in Afro-Cuban music that are way more complicated. If you can do that, and keep your styles in check, Mozart is a piece of cake…
The reason why I do classical music, with the intensity I do, is the way it suffocates your creativity. Because when you suffocate it, it just makes it want to blow up, like explode. When you sit in a room and play quarter notes for an hour, you’re stifling your creativity, but it’s actually just growing like crazy. So when it’s time to be creative, it’s gotta explode like a volcano. [I like to] make all these crazy pieces or say all this stuff I didn’t get to say when I was working on Mozart, or some excerpt where I have to sound like a computer. But it’s the balance that makes each one stronger… being a human being, artist, and a machine.
James Dean Palmer
Theater (directing fellow) 2015
Where are you from, and how did you become a director?
I was born in a small working class town called Ottumwa, Iowa, in a trailer park, and my father was a factory worker and my mother left when I was very young… and by the time I got to high school, I was drinking a lot and doing a lot of drugs and playing in a really great heavy metal band and I was screwing up in school, and I barely graduated high school but I graduated—2.0—and I looked around at all my friends who were 5/10 years older and they were doing the exact same thing… terrible dead end jobs, doing drugs, and this was their life. This was their future.
And I remember thinking, “my god, this can’t be my story.” So I made this crazy decision to go to the community college, and I had no idea what I was doing because no one in my family had gone to college before. Fortunately, while I was there, a friend’s father found out that I was taking classes and he took me under his wing and he said, “I’m gonna get you into the room with all these people so that you can actually do something with your life.” And I remember going to this dinner party for the first time and sitting at the table and thinking, “I don’t even know how to use the forks that are in front of me.”
With his help, I transferred to Simpson College and graduated with a major in theater, and again I had no connections anywhere, and this idea of doing theater was such a foreign idea. I remember asking my professor what I should do and he said, “you should go to Chicago,” and I said, “I don’t even know what that means.” I couldn’t afford to go, I didn’t have any jobs, and he said, “You just have to go and figure it out.”
And it was terrifying, but I went and spent the first year on the floor of my apartment crying every night because I had no idea what the hell I was doing in Chicago. I had some acting training and some lighting design training, so I was trying to do that for the first year, but then I started telling everyone I was a director, and they bought it, and started hiring me to direct plays. Before long I became the artistic director of a theater company and the assistant to the artistic director at Steppenwolf, a nationally renowned theater company.
What an unusual path! How exactly did you start doing theater?
I was involved in high school. I’m always drawn to authenticity and generosity in people, and you tend to have more authentic relationships in theater because of the training and what you’re asked to do. I’m attracted to communities like that.
And I’ve always liked performing. When I was a kid I grew up around motorcycle bikers—my dad was a biker—and all of that is pageantry. Like no one called anyone by their real names, and it was very theatrical. I was raised around a bunch of characters, so it only made sense I would eventually play and now direct a bunch of characters.
Does the community you come from affect your directing work?
I like plays that are dirtier, more working class. I remember when I went to Chicago, everyone was like, “go see a show at Steppenwolf,” and I couldn’t understand why. At no point in my life did people sit around drinking wine on nice sofas in condos; or a man and woman were in a relationship, owned a home, and didn’t have extreme money problems, and when things were bad, they’d drink wine and complain about it and laugh. That’s like all the plays at the major regional theater companies, and all those cultural things didn’t make sense to me; they weren’t my culture growing up. I think that’s part of the reason theater is dying: no one is doing plays about what it’s really like out there.
But I did learn something from those shows: I realized not everyone with money was a bad person, and there was value in hearing those stories, and trying to make the world better not through a revolutionary gesture, but by doggedly focusing on changing the world one person at a time. The artistic director at Steppenwolf knew her audience of suburbanites, so she told their story and tried to slowly, slowly broaden their perspective. But I’m not very good at that. I’m better at loud, aggressive, dirty plays. I’m trying to do quiet, subtle, domestic plays.
Do you want your plays to target audiences like the people you grew up with?
It’s hard because I know that audience doesn’t go see theater, so you have to build an audience if you’re gonna do that. There’s also a case that those communities don’t want theater. Instead, I’m trying to become a more articulate artist. I want clarity—simplicity in storytelling—and how that manifests itself is just a matter of aesthetics.
But even if you aren't challenging who comes to your shows, do you want to challenge their ideas, and in particular, their politics?
No matter what I do, it’s gonna have a particular political bent. Like the Bratton Late Night Cabaret tonight: I didn’t intend for it to talk about anything important, but ultimately we made something speaking to an idea, just because of who I am as a person.
What graduate school taught me is that you have to listen to those artistic impulses that aren’t politically driven and the politics will come out, but it’s more important to listen to your soul and to follow that, and to follow your feelings because it’s authentic… The way an artist reflects back to their community is by exposing their soul. By understanding your explicit singular experience of the world, I can extrapolate a universal understanding of the world.
Some of the things we love most about theater is technique: how actors stand, pitch, intonation, resonance, suspension, but that’s all technique. Technique is a means to an end, but the question is: to what end? The end has to be an authentic honest reflection of the world around you. I think more people should be thinking and grappling with bigger issues.
What issues specifically would you like to see theater address?
Things we experience as clichéd abstractions: police brutality, homelessness, poverty—mutable issues; and then there are the immutable issues like love, generosity, selflessness, and humility. I like watching mixed martial arts—the most unbridled fighting you can have just shy of being brutal and savage—and I love it for the same reasons that the Romans loved theater, and probably everyone does but doesn’t think about it: we like to watch humans grappling with things infinitely greater than they are. And it’s an athletic sport when it’s done right on stage.
Theater is at its best when it’s asking provocative questions that get under your skin, that you can’t answer but want to… I think it’s dangerous to live an unexamined life. In Young Jean Lee’s Church, they say, “All of the greatest evil that has ever been done in the world has been done by people who are prospering and terrified, just like you.”
You look at Oedipus: he was on a quest for truth. He could have handled all of it behind closed doors, in a dark office room somewhere and then after, never talked about it again. No one finds out, loses their eyes, gets exiled… But Oedipus is grappling with truth, BIG truth, transparency truth—the type we have trouble with in this country: an ugly truth that implicates us and people in power. And we love Oedipus because he has to know the Truth.
As a director, how do you help contemporary audiences find these "Truths" in old "classics?"
I look at it all as new work: you’re doing the play for the moment, and you have to find a way to reactivate the words. The challenge with extant plays is creating a room where everyone is treating it as a new play… You have to find that curiosity for every play and then share it with the audience, invite them into the question. Because it’s in pursuit of the answer that we find out who we are.
Do you have a personal directing style?
Directing is one of the few art forms where you’re completely dependent on the artists you surround yourself with. It’s never “my” play. Some directors, the auteurs, the German Directors, can do that. It creates focus, but it’s hard in the US because you have to find a way to truly collaborate. Some directors are tyrannical and make an excellent show, but everyone has a bad time. But really good directors take all the energy in a room and harness it into a better idea than what any one person could come up with. It’s as hard as governing a town.
How do you harness your actors' strengths?
It’s my job, before I come into the room, to come up with the best questions. I’ll do extensive work on the play, I’ll have it staged, I’ll know what every line means, and I’ll have big questions, [but] when I walk in with the actors, I throw everything else away… like the way I block a scene. You might read a scene thinking it’s a love scene—he’s pursuing her—and then in rehearsal realize she’s trying to move away from him. You figure out something early in the process, but it’s in the not knowing that we learn more about the play. If you’re not open, you’ll miss the bigger thing.
What do you ultimately want audiences to take from your shows?
I’m one of these weird people who believes art should change the world. Entertainment is one thing—and theater should at the very least be entertaining—but I think it should do more than that. And that has to do with where I come from and what my upbringing was like. Theater taught me that I can change my story, and I think that as a theater artist I need to give that back.
I hope someday I’ll be able to go back to Iowa after having gone around the world and learned all these things from great artists and worked with people from places I couldn’t even name when I was growing up, and I can take all of that cultural capital back to Ottumwa and pass it on to the generation of kids who’ve been handed a story that they’re not satisfied with.
My nephews are in that situation. They’ve been handed a story, and it’s very important for me, even though I’m half a country away, to stay in contact with them and to remind them: that doesn’t have to be their story. They can change it; they can do something different. And I think as artists it’s a responsibility that we have; that we hold the mirror up to society. We say this is what it looks like. But good artists will tilt that mirror just a little bit so that you see something you didn’t realize you were looking at before. You look at it from a new perspective. I think that’s our responsibility as artists.
Do you think "changing your story" to become a director was a good choice?
The more challenging you decide to live your life, the more of that life you’ll live. It’s really stupid to pursue a life in theater. It’s the dumbest thing: because you make no money to work with crazy people to do something not everyone is into and you go into debt for it. On paper, it’s the dumbest thing you can do. But I do it because of the question: you’re always in pursuit of things bigger than you. Your soul is a muscle, like empathy, that you have to exercise, and if you’re not exercising your soul, then it’s atrophying. In my hometown, people have just given up on their souls… We try so hard to take care of this stupid body, when we have other more beautiful parts we neglect: the part of us that’s aware that we’re part of everything else.