What follows is the first in a series of profiles of Wesleyan students by Alexandra Provo, ’10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern. These students all have one thing in common: they became deeply engaged with one or more artists presented by the CFA. Sparked by the artist’s workshop, performance or exhibition on campus, they began a lasting relationship that affected the trajectory of their academic exploration. We hope you will send us your comments about these and future interviews.
Last week I sat down with Asa Horvitz ’10, a music major with a passion for performance. Though he was involved in physical theater prior to coming to Wesleyan, he marks his encounter with international artist Ang Gey Pin as a turning point in his artistic life and a true catalyst of his expression.
Gey Pin, originally from Singapore and of Hokkien Chinese descent, attended the University of Hawaii and studied in California in the 80s in the Objective Drama program at UC Irvine. There, she worked with Jerzy Grotowski, an influential Polish theatre director. She went on to work with him in Italy from 1994-95 and 1998-2006 and was the lead performer in One breath left (1998-2002) and Dies Irae: My Preposterous Theatrum Interioris Show (2003-2006).
Theater Faculty member Claudia Tatinge Nascimento suggested Gey Pin to the CFA’s Outside the Box Committee. Nascimento had included Gey Pin’s research methods in a recent book. Gey Pin was invited to teach a quarter-long course and present public performances in the fall of 2006.
Grotowski is actually what drew Asa to Gey Pin’s course. He saw a poster advertising the class and recognized Grotowski’s name, which his high school theater teacher had mentioned as a strong influence. For Asa, the class “already held this aura for me…I had this sense about the work of this group of people.”
Though he was initially put on the waiting list, he was eventually admitted to the course. There, he and roughly 16 other students unlocked blocks in their bodies through intense physical training. According to Asa, it was “very linked to play, very much like a game but with specific images associated.” There was also a singing element to the class and students each developed a short individual project, which Asa compares to an etude.
Though the course lasted only one quarter, Asa developed a strong relationship with Gey Pin. He attributes this partly to the eagerness of first year students and their willingness to throw themselves into projects wholeheartedly. He also accounts for his intense involvement in terms of loss: in high school he had worked with a theater company for five to six hours per day for credit, and without that full time commitment “I was honestly freaking out,” he says. “I approached [the course] with desperation.”
He reported a curious response to seeing Gey Pin’s public performance later in the semester. “It made no sense to me, I didn’t really like it…afterwards I couldn’t stop shaking and I had sort of an embarrassing public meltdown underneath World Music Hall. I’m tempted to say that something in her mode of presence, her extreme embodiment, spoke to my body directly…I had a vivid sensation of being reminded of something that I already knew but had forgotten. It was a reminder of the needs of my body and that the freedom I had experienced as a kid could be something to work and rediscover as an adult living in a de-physicalized society. It was a serious wake up call.”
After returning home for winter break and digesting what had happened, he wrote her a letter asking to work with her again. She replied that she was going to be in Poland that summer, and why didn’t he come? “So I went to Poland, not knowing what I was getting into.”
Well, what he got into was two weeks of intense study with Gey Pin (sometimes working from 7 am to 1 am!) and exposure to other performance groups. According to Asa, what’s been valuable for him is that “she is empathetic but also has really high standards.” He notes that it was transformative for him to have “someone who is a professional treating me seriously, holding me to professional standards. To have that kind of pressure put on you, the growth is just exponential.”
Back at Wesleyan, Asa’s growth as an artist is certainly evident. After his summer in Poland, he returned to Wesleyan in the fall of 2007 and formed a theater company, called No Face Theater, with Mark McCloughan ’10 and Gedney Barclay ’09. They are still working–their most recent performance was last spring.
Rather than seeing his experience with Gey Pin as an opportunity to engage in theater outside of his academic life, Asa noted that he views the two as “a network of things that inform each other.” His understanding of his own artistic production and that of others “has been tempered by my critical education…I couldn’t do without either.”
The relationship continues to thrive. Asa spent this past summer with Gey Pin and her partner in Tuscany and Umbria, and next year will be apprenticing with Theatre Zar (a Polish performance group he met through Gey Pin). “When artists take you seriously you realize if you want to make it happen you can,” says Asa.
— Alexandra Provo, ’10