We recently had the opportunity to premiere a portion of our new TE’A piece, There’s Something About America (TSAA) to a very special audience on the West Coast at The 30th Annual Fallon Memorial Lonergan Symposium at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Our audience was composed of Lonergan professors and philosophers, and we were humbled to present our artistic product and process to such an intellectual bunch! TSAA Company members, Chuk Obasi and Audrey Ross, along with former TE’A Company member Nalini Sharma joined me at the conference. I have chosen to narrate our experience by speaking with Audrey – telling the story through her eyes. Audrey is a young skilled actress that has recently graduated from the Stella Adler studio. This was her first performance on the West Coast.
Audrey, can you tell me about your experience with TSAA, how you came on board and how it evolved?
I started collaborating with you and John in the summer of 2013, while I was between my first and second year at the conservatory at Adler. At first I was asked to help log the hours of video of the first retreat with the Company - that also allowed me an introduction to Insight Theory and the faces of the wonderful artists that are engaged in this process. Little did I know that I was going to stick around and start curating the video journals of this process, which allowed me to observe the coming together of the Company through the lenses of my camera. This role allowed me to stay in a position of observance for a long time, while I was learning the dynamics of the TSAA Company and the Insight approach. I remember thinking about it with fascination, like one of those plays that you see that makes you discover ideas you’ve never had before. After a year, I was thrilled when you asked me to join in with my voice, which gave me the opportunity to become an actor in the Company and experience this process both on stage and offstage.
Has this process had an impact in your life?
Absolutely. The Insight theory/approach is such a powerful tool both in my daily life and in my stage life. It allows me to slow down and heighten my awareness to my conscience while experiencing the day, and I really think that is a blessing. When I was at the studio I had a teacher that said that “self-awareness is the most powerful tool as an actor”, and I remember thinking “well, how do you train in self-awareness?” We had all of these exercises, which we asked us to take notes every time a color was so bright that it stuck in our memories, or recreate a scene we saw taking place in the street or the subway. Those were fun exercises, but I never felt like they served me in any greater sense. It was when I came across Insight that I started truly understanding how my consciousness operates, and when I get defensive why I’m behaving this way. Insight provided a safe method by which I walk through my fears and grow and become “the better self”.
So when you came to LA, what was your experience like?
Incredible. It was really incredible to be in a room full of very smart, insightful people. It was like I was learning just by breathing the same air. Performing for them was also surprising, especially because my particular TSAA piece centers on audience participation. So I was like “oh no, what if I misunderstood something about this theory, what if this piece doesn’t work?” But happily, the two audience members that volunteered were willing to collaborate and play. It felt extraordinary because I was both getting insight from them, but I also felt I was able to give them a bit of insight: my piece is about personal identity and immigration, and what stereotypes we carry around with us without even being aware of them. After the performance I talked to several of our audience members and they all seemed very excited to ‘exit’ the intellectual academic world for a bit and enter the practical artistic world with us.
You say that your piece is about immigration, how is that personal for you?
Because I came to the States two years ago from Italy, so the last two years have been a lot about navigating the American culture with the eyes of the outsider and adapting and growing around a culture that is not mine by birth. That’s why I say that Insight has given me a valuable tool to navigate through my fears: I’m really hyper aware of everything that is around me because it’s so different, and when you have so much diverse stimuli, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and drawn in one’s own emotions. The Insight approach helped me deconstruct step by step my triggers, and it helped me adapt to the culture because I could finally understand what I was going through. But that’s what’s also so groundbreaking about this piece that we are creating: everyone feels very close to the issues they have actively decided to work with. It’s deeply personal and it puts all of us into a vulnerable state, and I think it’s really rare to have a group of artists that are willing to do that and really go with it. And all of this helps me to be more curious about America, to understand it better in its profound double nature. That’s why when you and John approached me about TSAA and about researching the reasons why America is deeply polarized, I said to myself “Serendipity! Here is my chance to better wonder about and understand America”. I think that that’s very powerful, not only for me as an immigrant, but for everybody, because when we start becoming conscious of how we are making meaning, very often some of the fear dissipates and we become more accepting of one another and ourselves.
Audrey is one of the fourteen talented and thoughtful members of the TSAA Company. We are on our way to a full realization of There’s Something About America, which will premiere in New York during the fall of 2015. We are working hard, and we’ll bring you in into our world very soon!