Thursday, April 19, 2012

Filling the Well Artist Retreat: Where Play = Product


"Expect to get a lot of shit done. Expect to cry. To laugh. To get close with the other artists there. To step out of your comfort zone..."
- Diana Oh's Filling the Well

When did the idea to start Filling the Well come about?

The idea of Filling the Well came about when I sought free counseling during my thesis year at grad school at NYU. I sat in the therapist's office after my very first panic attack, which fell upon me after a year of feeling like anything I created was only meant to fall on its ass and fail real hard. Her response to me was 'a) you're depressed and b) Maybe you just need to fill your well. Go see a movie'.

It suddenly clicked and made so much sense to me. You can't create something when you're barren, when your resources are depleted, when you're inspiration is dull and dried out. You have to experience life in order to create something out of it. I'm a true believer in that.Playing is as important as hunkering down and spending those wee into the night hours banging out that first draft of your magnum opus. Playing is not the enemy. It is the disciplined artist's friend. I wanted to create an environment that welcomed that mindset, and that surrounded individual artists with other like-minded people in a highly intensive and very focused setting. Filling the Well is also greatly influenced by the time I spent at National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, which was a 7AM-11PM, 7 days a week,14 week-long theatre arts immersion. You wrote, you acted, you Russian acrobatted, you African danced, you sang, you cried, you directed, you costume designed, you drew yourself naked. You did it all. I realized past the collegiate level, there wasn't an environment for artists to run to engage in that kind of crazy as shit behavior. I essentially created an environment and curriculum I wanted to experience. And also a setting that served as a catalyst, as a place to help bring ideas to life.

What is your background as a theater artist?

Actor, writer, singer, songwriter, uke player. I've performed my whole life. I was in my first professional Theatre gig at the age of 12 playing some kid in a cokehead's dream with The Cornerstone Theatre Company. Studied Theatre at Smith College, attended London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, National Theatre Institute, and then sorta accidentally went to graduate school at NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program as an Elphaba Thropp Fellow.

I'm an artist-in-development with The Fullstop Collective, co-writing and performing in a musical adaptation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's "Hell Screen" and have just wrapped two shows, DICTEE and MAGIC TRICK with Culture Project, recently worked with The Living Theatre on HISTORY OF THE WORLD, and about to open my next show, Mariah MacCarthy's THE FOREPLAY PLAY.My background is always continuous as I live to connect with artists, to connect artists with one another, to have dance parties with them, to say ef you to the system even if it's just for a temporary moment. I believe that is our job as artists--to be the ones who act out, who live with at the least 73% more vitality than what other people live with. We kind of have to. Because we suffer, we feel, then we create awesome stuff out of it--that takes at least 73% more energy than your average Joe takes to go to work and call it a day. However, don't get me wrong--we need the Joe's to enjoy our work. Go Joes!

What is your vision for Filling the Well? What are your future goals?

Big dreams. I want to build on the land. I want to build a blackbox space for people to perform in, or paint in, or rock out in with their bands. Eventually, there will definitely be a performance of the work that has been made there. Because I gotta tell ya, when you let artists do their thing, amazing work comes out. I want grants so artists can come for free (but til then you have to pay a verrrry minimal amount), I want to continue what we're doing at The Well. Even when I'm rolling in the bills as an independent artist, my home will always be The Well. I think the artists who come here feel that way too. The sky is the limit as far as who else comes. If Beyonce needed a break, she could totally come to Filling the Well. You've had two retreats so far (I've been lucky to be a part of one of them). What was your experience like doing them?

FUCKING AMAZING. First group of people were my friends--I didn't mean it to be such a big group (I originally intended it to be for 4 artists total) but people were interested so I opened it up to more. Most of the people on the first group went to National Theatre Institute so they were all used to the intensive schedule and workload.

The second group were pretty much all strangers to one another and myself--and that was the true test--and guess what? We all passed. We all passed real good. I also had an Ayurvedic chef, Soraya Broukhim on the last retreat. She cooked our delicious mind blowing meals and I'm going to keep having her come on the retreats. So far, we've had actors, musicians, writers, dancers, directors, photographers, renaissance men and women.

What has the feedback been like?

I'm kinda speechless about it. The feedback has expanded my mind entirely. It's been unbelievable really. The day we got back from our first retreat in November 2011, the next three retreats filled up within 3 weeks. And people still write to sign up. I think we're all hungry for this kind of experience to connect with ourselves and others. This precious, once-in-a lifetime chance to have a giant sleepover with artists. I think The Well opens us up in an unexpected ways. I really don't think there's a way for you to go on one of these retreats and not come out changed, inspired, or moved.

One retreater called it one of the most incredible experiences of her artistic life, a game changer. Another says, "Filling the Well breathed much needed life into my creative soul. There, in that house, with amazing other artists, I remembered how to play again. It delighted me, inspired me and rejuvenated me...The weekend is structured in a way that shakes out the weight of the world we all place on our own shoulders, opens up your creative mind and gives your permission to soar. I will be back it again, and again!"

And another says, "If you live in New York, and even if you don’t, I recommend this retreat above anything else right now. Above the latest apps, above Florence + The Machine’s new album, above chocolate, above spending your week’s paycheck on new clothes and booze. This retreat will do so much more for you than any of those items. It will open your mind and help you remember a version of you that you knew years ago. It will get you to branch out, scream, sing, dance, leap, jump, write… always writing."

And another retreater, "This is a playground of hope, renewal, and inspiration for artists to create art and community and shrug off the world. A truly magical place. I'm excited to go again and again this year."

You can read more here.

How do you organize the retreat? What is the schedule like?

I thought about the schedule for months on end once I realized how much of reality it could all be. You are given an assignment a week before the retreat, your work is presented the night you get there, and then you are given 2 more assignments over the course of the weekend. Saturday goes roughly like this: we all wake at 7AM for a group warm up, then do morning pages, present work to another, introductions, then we jump into the "courses:" Spontaneity, Negative Space, Hat Writing, Snowflake Method, Depiction. It all kinda wraps up around 8-9PM, then you work on your assignments. Sunday is a similar schedule, except with the added Filling the Well activity, which is a basically an adventure we all go on to fill our well. Sunday night is a big night of presenting our work to one another.

What can people expect when they go?

Expect to get a lot of shit done. Expect to cry. To laugh. To get close with the other artists there. To step out of your comfort zone. Expect to be with nature in the middle of nowhere (a 2.5 hour bus ride from Port Authority). Expect to see stars, pack a sweater. And also, it's a dry retreat--no alcohol or drugs.

How do people apply?

Through the website.

How can people help?

I AM FUNDRAISING LIKE A FIEND. The house takes money to keep up. The retreats cost money to run--freaky expenses always pop out of nowhere. I love this place. I love doing it. I love fighting for it. If you are able to donate to my fundraising campaign, I will feel the impact so hard because as of late, expenses come out of my pocket. Plus, if you donate, you are definitely going to be a part of some history in the making. The artists who come are real artists whose work is getting done. So by supporting The Well, you also support them.

To support the artists and their work:
http://www.indiegogo.com/Filling-the-Well?a=364803Photos by Brian Hashimoto.

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