the Unscripted Life:
HJT alum returns to help lead workshop program
By Scott Dalton of Cape Cod Arts & Culture
Jessica Lanius and Andy Arden of Theatre Lîla chat about their
lives on the deck of the Harwich Junior Theatre. The pair was in
Harwich last week to teach an Inspirational Women workshop.
Arden has lived a life of drama.
Arden grew up at the Harwich Junior Theatre. As a young girl, the
Harwich native took classes at the popular children’s theatre
and later taught there before setting off to the Tisch School of
the Arts at New York University.
Since graduating from Tisch, Arden has literally traveled the world,
bringing her talents to productions and workshops from Oregon to
Iceland. Along the way, she has co-founded several theatre companies,
pursuing her talents as a teacher, director and producer.
But last week, Arden came home.
Arden was in town with Jessica Lanius to help lead a workshop at
the HJT entitled Inspirational Women. The week-long program focused
on participants exploring ways to honor, in a theatrical setting,
the women that have inspired them.
The workshop was part of a week-long theatre residency program through
Theatre Lîla, a New York-based theatre company that Arden
and Lanius co-founded in 2005. The company strives for “human
connection in an increasingly disjointed world.” The pair
has exported their collective talents through a series of workshops
and residencies across the country.
“The process matters,” Arden said as and she and Lanius
took a break on the deck of the Harwich Junior Theatre on day three
of the five-day workshop. “It’s not just about the product;
not just the result. The process has a merit in the world. I think
it’s that aspect that we bring to the workshop.”
Arden, who was renowned for her intensity as both a teacher and
an actress when at the Harwich Junior Theatre, has continued to
bring that energy to her work. She and Lanius worked closely with
a small group of women, a group that included actors, as well as
painters, writers and other non-theatre people. Arden said each
of the women brought a unique approach to the process, which evolved
“It’s really about the 360 degree self,” Arden
said of the Inspirational Women workshop. “It’s about
the physical, emotional and intellectual body; it is the whole…Theatre
is the forum, but we invite people to come in and work with anonymity,
which is freeing. It means everyone is constantly adapting to what
is in the space.”
Lanius said that their approach moves beyond a more traditional
acting approach. “It’s not just memorize and block,”
she said, referring to the age-old method where actors commit their
lines to memory and directors tell them where to stand on stage.
“We ask them to play in different ways to get where they need
Arden concurred, adding that the workshop participants or the facilitators
may find themselves inspired by one particular moment and then use
that as their compass for moving forward.
“Our actors know they’re going to get exercised in every
direction,” she said. “It is very much a collaborative
process…You want to create organic blocking. You learn to
work with actors to find what’s under the text and how does
that affect the scene. The ‘how’ of it begins to unfold.”
In addition, Lanius pointed out, she and Arden bring a level of
physicality to the process that is sometimes left unexplored. Rather
than walking across a stage on a particular line, the actor may
instead crawl. Then the actor needs to decide how to crawl and to
consider how that movement might have an impact on other aspects
of his or her performance.
In many ways, Arden’s career path has been an exercise in
organic blocking. In the late 1980s, Arden directed the Harwich
Junior Theatre’s traveling troupe, the Junior Players, working
closely with young actors to produce work that was both challenging
and entertaining. She continued to stretch her abilities at Tisch,
and then worked with theatre companies and residencies across the
Today, in addition to her time with Lîla, she serves as a
certified executive presence facilitator with The Ariel Group, which
offers workshops in corporate environments, which often do not include
individuals with a theatrical background.
“Sometimes when you work with theatre people, you make assumptions,
such as theatre language,” Arden said. “You learn to
speak as clearly and plainly as possible…to try to create
an ethereal piece of something….to stretch the internal boundaries.”
Both Arden and Lanius said they encouraged participants to “wade
into” the process, allowing them to become more and more comfortable
as time went on. As co-facilitators, each said they hoped that the
women they worked with would each take away something unique from
“Every time I teach any kind of acting or workshop it’s
really about living fully on the stage or in your life,” Lanius
said. “To be more present or available on stage or in their
lives. That’s what I hope for and see.”
Arden agreed, adding that for her, it is also about having a sense
of confidence and comfort with who you are.
“Can you stand in your body, truly stand in your body?”
she asked rhetorically. “Can you just show up as you are?
I hope they have a little of that when they leave.”
Lanius said that the Inspirational Women workshop is just part of
Theatre Lîla’s burgeoning outreach program, which will
also include the Lîla Wildflower Project at Edgewood College
in Madison, Wisconsin this coming March. Arden noted that she and
Lanius plan to return to the Harwich Junior Theatre in June to stage
Lîla’s inaugural production of “The Waltz of Elementary
Particles” as part of a three-week workshop project that will
build off the work begun as part of this year’s Inspirational
Arden said it is a wonderful experience to watch as Lîla evolves,
but that at her core, she remains committed to the same principles
that have guided her since started at the Harwich Junior Theatre
more than two decades ago.
“My sensibility, my gut, my desire is the same,” she
said. “I am more skilled technically, and my skills are constantly
evolving. But I hope I’ll never lose that gut. I’m just
constantly trying to find what the container is for that.”