Idyllwild Arts Academy Theatre Chair Bonnie Carpenter has no doubt about the benefits of her department’s recently begun partnership with Fiasco Physical Theatre (fiascophysicaltheatre.com).
A handful of Fiasco ensemble members take turns driving up the mountain from Los Angeles to teach at the academy for two-week stints. They train Academy Theatre majors in improvisation, acrobatics, physical theater, clowning, juggling, ensemble dynamics, Alexander Technique and commedia dell’arte. These are already valuable as supplements to the more familiar acting, singing and dancing skills that Carpenter’s department teaches so well.
“But it’s also about teaching the self-motivation and discipline that the Fiasco members model,” Carpenter said. “Our students see Moses and Kent and Yiouli using their spare time to create for their own company’s performances.”
Moses Norton’s wide range of physical-theater skills include mime and acrobatics. Kent Jenkins is a Youtube sensation as the Blue Man Group-inspired Snubby J. And Greek-born Yiouli Archontaki is a flamenco dancer and pianist (and much more, like both Moses and Kent).
“The students have them in class, working hard to teach these physical-theater skills,” Bonnie continued. “They could rest when class ends because they’re tired, but instead they go straight to work on their own things. It’s inspiring!”
The inspiring connection to Fiasco Physical Theatre comes through Carpenter’s Theatre Department colleague Erin Crites, now in her fourth year at the academy and also a Fiasco ensemble member.
Crites’ excitement about physical theater is supported by UCLA Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian’s research (tinyurl.com/yb7ds7xv) suggesting that 55 percent of our communication is nonverbal. As vice president of Clowns Without Borders (clownswithoutborders.org/), Crites has brought the power of nonverbal communication to refugee camps and other trauma-affected areas where little English may be spoken.
Happily, trauma is in short supply at Idyllwild Arts Academy. But little English is spoken by some of the new international students who arrive every year, and Carpenter points out that incorporating more physical theater into her department’s curriculum “can increase our international enrollment.”
Talented international students can add a lot to her department, Carpenter suggests, noting the importance of the “inclusion of diversity.”
Of course, the Theatre Department’s American students also benefit from physical theater. For one thing, English itself can often seem foreign to native English speakers.
“Think of Shakespeare,” Crites said. “A couple years ago I facilitated a ‘devised’ ‘Hamlet’ called ‘Who’s There — a Reimagining of Hamlet’ —adapted and performed by the academy’s theater students. The foreignness of Shakespeare’s language meant that focusing on nonlinguistic sensory qualities was helpful even to the native English speakers as they were trying to decide on the most important elements in the original ‘Hamlet’ and reimagine how to tell it.”
Speaking of diversity, that devised “Hamlet” incorporated six different languages.