Cross-Training in the arts

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2001

Theresa Manzanares knows the power of interdisciplinary creative work.

A short fiction writer who belongs to a writing group with a "concentration of poets," Manzanares has seen her writing strengthened by the sharing of different writing styles.

"I started to care about exactly which words I used," she said. "I think it's good to have an influence on each other so you can remember other aspects of the craft."

That melding of disciplines is one of the goals of Perseverance Theatre's Cross Training Summer Writing and Performance Project. The eight-day course lasts from June 26 to July 3, and offers classes in acting, directing, design, poetry, fiction, play writing, choreography and solo performance.

At the end of the week, students from each of the classes will come together and create an original piece of art that integrates the various disciplines.

"The poetry and the play writing (classes) would provide text which the choreographer might do some sort of interpretation of," said Darius Mannino, marketing director for Perseverance. "The directors and the composition classes might organize the participants in the structural way - from what place on stage the poetry is read to what music might accompany it."

Artistic director Peter DuBois said integration will only strengthen the theater.

"Theater is the perfect art form for this kind of approach," he said. "What we do in theater is pull all of these different ideas together in the creation of one large piece. ... Really what we're doing in Cross Training is embracing what theater does naturally."

This year is the second for the program. The increased emphasis on interdisciplinary work and the underlying theme of the project - which DuBois described as an "alternative history of Juneau" - are both new additions.

"We're taking a look at the Juneau-Douglas history and using that as a sort of resource material to pull from for some of the excursions in the interdisciplinary forum," Mannino said.


Playwright and Cross Training instructor Chay Yew is working with the theater to develop a work based on the history of Juneau's Filipino community. The piece could be produced during an upcoming season.

"We do use the Cross Training program to begin research on upcoming projects," DuBois said. "We started working on 'Moby Dick' through last year's Cross Training."

Judy Shuler is signed up for Yew's play writing class. She'll bring both new ideas and a work in progress.

"I've taken a number of play writing classes," Shuler said. "It's such a different way of thinking and writing. ... Play writing is kind of a blend of fact and fiction. It's kind of mysterious."

DuBois said Yew's work is a prime example of the interdisciplinary form the program is striving for.

"He integrates forms of poetry, ideas from short fiction (and) ideas from musical theater into his plays, which are straight dramatic plays," DuBois said.

About 55 people were registered by Tuesday night, when students and teachers gathered at the Douglas theater for a welcome dinner. Classes will take place at different times throughout the week and will be taught by a variety of guest and local instructors. Besides Yew and DuBois, who will teach two storytelling classes, teachers include Leon Ingulsrud, Thalia Field, Art Rotch and Michelle Spencer.

Manzanares worked with Field during the first Cross Training program. The experience made her eager to return.

"I thought she had a very unique style," Manzanares said. "I'm not really a huge fan of taking classes to learn how to do art ... (but) I think it was just her way of accepting and bringing out non-mainstream forms."

Art Rotch, set designer at Perseverance, will teach classes on production design and imagery from text. Though his classes are small - seven and three students respectively - he thinks the numbers are ideal.

"That's enough to where you can learn from each other," Rotch said. "I think that's just part of learning about art."

Perseverance administrators think the program will speed that learning.

"It's a crucible of ideas and artists," Mannino said. "Anytime you put that little bit of heat into the mix, you see what you get when you melt everything down and bring everything together."

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