Inspirational Women Workshop

Directing the Unscripted Life:
HJT alum returns to help lead workshop program
By Scott Dalton of Cape Cod Arts & Culture

Fall 2006

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.

Andy 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 accordingly.

“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 to be.”

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 globe.

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 the experience.

“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 Women session.

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.”

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