For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Amelia Figg-Franzoi and I’m the theatre teacher at Homestead High School in Mequon WI. This blog is written in response to my teachings and learning, and sometimes written by the students I’ve conned into posting. Apart from being a teacher, I am also a student, currently at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying for my Masters of Fine Arts in Dance. I am a daughter, sister, fiancé, friend. I enjoy photography, skateboarding, knitting, painting, crafting of any kind… the list goes on.
This summer I was tasked to re-write my artist statement. An artist statement is an artist’s written description of their work: art, dance, theatre, music. The brief verbal representation is for, and in support of, his or her own work to give the viewer understanding. As such it aims to inform, connect with an art context, and present the basis for the work. At the beginning of the summer I wrote a statement that I thought my professors wanted to read, not one that was necessarily true. I had cut out the teacher in that statement.
Towards the end of the summer, I realized that I could not cut out the teacher in my art. Thus, my statement changed.
I live in the world of theatre and at the heart of my work lays the educational value of the piece. Before anything else I am a teacher and it is the second tier in my value system that rests my choreographic and theatrical work. With that in mind, my work generates itself from an educational standpoint. What will benefit and challenge my students? How can I create something that will enable all of us to expand just that much more as humans? I am interested in the space between dance and theater, where interdisciplinary work defies category and takes flight. I explore this theatre and dance space in an educational setting, complete with young performers, discovering not only the piece and their characters, but also who they are.
As a teacher, I draw my inspiration from choreographers and directors who work with their performers to create their pieces. Pina Bausch, Frantic Assembly, DV8 and the House Theatre in Chicago are a few of my muses. These directors and companies traditionally create their pieces in a very collaborative atmosphere, using the talents of the individual performers instead of forcing them into cookie-cutter molds. The process of creating a piece for me has the main question of, “what are we learning?” As a teacher it is not the end product that determines whether a piece is successful, but whether the process of getting to the end is educational, enjoyable and productive…that is what determines success with my work. My background as a theatre teacher informs me, I create pieces that utilize character work as storytelling, investigating the different ways each performer breathes life into a movement. I also wish to expose my performers to many types of theatre and dance so they grow into well-rounded individuals. For that to develop my pieces vary in style, allowing the performers themselves to experiment within different dance styles. I am always open to something new, using props, aerial work, stage combat; the list is endless. If we dream it up, we will traditionally try it.
Over the past couple of years, within this vein of discovery through an educational approach, I have been influenced by Physical Theatre pieces. Developing these pieces, I urge collaboration between the performers, costume and technical students. One primarily modality I use in these collaborative works is to workshop pieces, or to encourage creating a piece “from scratch”. This past year, my performers and I workshopped and performed our own version of Alice in Wonderland and Arabian Nights. With these pieces, we played with dance history elements and aerial work. But the goal of every piece remains the same. It must inform and entertain the audience, while simultaneously educating and developing confident performers through the process of collaboratively creating a work of art.
Why the change?
My Artist Statement shifted drastically from what I first wrote. At the beginning of the summer I was still trying to fit into the Dance mold that I felt I needed to be in in order to succeed in the MFA dance program. But as I sat down to rewrite this statement, I couldn’t speak as a dancer and choreographer. That is not who I really am. I am a teacher who happens to love creating dance and theatre pieces. From a young age I knew I wanted to teach, and by my undergraduate years I knew I wanted to be a theatre and dance teacher. This MFA program continues my passion for teaching as I educate myself for the benefit of my students. Educating my performers comes first in choosing any of my pieces. In building a season, I first ask myself what will challenge my students and I second ask what I want to create.
My Composition class this summer helped me remember my true passion was for educating students through dance and theatre, not entertaining the masses with dance and theatre. In reading Anne Bogart’s And then, you Act I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to answer the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How questions Bogart asks. At the beginning of the summer I couldn’t answer them. I was searching for peers and practitioners that everyone admires. It wasn’t until after my Comp class ended that I could answer these questions: “Who are you colleagues? What are you tempting/attempting? When does the art happen? Where does your work belong? Why do you create? How do you proceed?” My colleagues are enthusiastic teenagers and we foster our own imagination while attempting to create something we never before contemplated. Our art happens at any time, in the theatre or in rehearsal. We are constantly creating, because in high school you are always on stage. Our work lives in the community, it belongs in theatre and dance, and it thrives in the hearts of my insatiable teenagers. I create because I have a desire to be there for my students. I remember being in their shoes and knowing that the only time I truly thrived was in the arts. I create because I have an endless imagination and need somewhere to implement it. So I dump it in the minds of my students, in my sets and costumes, and in my work and teaching. How do I proceed? This question stumps me. In creating a work I traditionally proceed by diving into the deep end. If I were to try to answer this question in terms of my artistic career, I have not yet come up with the answer.
Anne Bogart writes in And then, you Act, “Find colleagues who are alive, committed, and engaged. To meet them, you need to cultivate an ingredient that serves as a magnet to such people: enthusiasm.” My previous artist statement talked about how I like to create, but it didn’t mention education as the main value. That is what I am enthusiastic about and that is how I have gathered my teenaged colleagues. In both statements I discuss my love of guided-inquiry and collaboration with my performers as well as dance and theatre mixing on all levels. Nothing has changed in that respect. That space between dance and theatre is still my favorite place to play, but the way in which I create is for education.
With my first Artist Statement I had a desire to be someone I’m not, to pretend that I create high art when, in fact, what I do is educate others on their own path to create high art. My passion lies not in showing the world that I created this work of art, but instead showing the world that I helped nurture the growth that made the work possible. Yes, I am the driving force behind every production, but it’s the students that make the magic happen. My art is educating them and shaping them into the artistic individuals they will be for the rest of their lives. I hope I get that across in this next artist statement, because that is what I feel my true art is: Education.