Physical Theatre Exploration capstone project to combine theater, dance in “devised play”

Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16 and Ash Willison ’17 recently held auditions for Physical Theatre Exploration – a project that they are producing for Swenson-Klatt’s senior capstone. Willison is a theater and English double-major with a concentration in film studies, and Swenson-Klatt is a theater and dance double-major. The project is focused on combining movement and theater, blurring the distinct lines that arts programs tend to draw between different disciplines.

“We somehow started talking about physical theater and that we are interested in the ways it can tell stories with a different potential. It came out of a passion for loving both dance and theatre and not really being content with the art that’s been created here [so far],” Swenson-Klatt said.

When Swenson-Klatt and Willison came up with the idea for the project, they wanted to push those in the arts to venture outside of their comfort zones and combine different art forms. Over the past two years they have gotten caught up in classes and college life, but Swenson-Klatt’s capstone project gave them a reason and motivation to pursue their idea.

“The purpose of this project is to show that theatre is more than listening. I think that we tend to segment the arts into that dance is for moving, art is for seeing, and theater is for listening. We need to make art more of an all inclusive experience that applies to all of our senses,” Willison said.

The duo got their idea for this project about two years ago, when they met and began discussing theatre and the arts at St. Olaf and beyond. Both agree that the arts are not meant to be divided, and that story telling is most effective and powerful when including different forms of creation and performance. Group auditions were used to include a wide variety of students and were informal so that creativity and ingenuity were not limited.

“On our audition form, we kind of said ‘any movement background, any shape, size, skill level.’ It’ll not only be Ash and I [overlooking] it, but a group of students bringing their own particular voices as well,” Swenson-Klatt said.

Thirteen students will be working on the project, each contributing their own ideas to the final product, a process that is known in the theater world as “devised work.” Because physical theatre is such a fluid concept, Willison and Swenson-Klatt are not entirely sure what exactly their show will look like in the end.

“One path would be to take a text everyone knows,” Swenson-Klatt said. “We’ve kind of played around with the idea of using some ancient Gree k texts or maybe even a fairy tale which have some universal messages. Then [we will] kind of break that apart and deconstruct it. Another idea would be to completely make something up on our own.” Both are excited to see where the project leads, as well as if it could possibly evolve into an annual or permanent concept at the college.

“At this point I think I’m more excited for the process as opposed to the product, and also seeing how this will role into next year and seeing if this becomes a club or a company,” Willison said.

Both would love to see the arts at St. Olaf become more interdisciplinary, encouraging students to create more open-ended and multidimensional art.