I had the opportunity to chat with the current cohort of graduate students in the European Devised Performance Practice program (shortened to EDPP for obvious reasons) about their experiences. For context, the EDPP MFA program is two years in length. The first year takes place in Berlin, Germany studying at arthaus.berlin. Students then return to Chicago for their final year of study on Columbia’s campus. I asked some of the cohort a few questions about the program to give you all the inside scoop! Check it out below:
How did you first hear about the EDPP program?
- Johann: I found myself in an MA in Theatre Studies program where my interest in devising was already encouraged, [as well as] my desire to meet the theory I was learning with practice. I had actively sought out programs online that were non-traditional in their approach to acting, theatre-making, and research that also had a more global perspective. Columbia is one of a handful of programs based in the US that I found with this devising/constructive and interdisciplinary aspect, combined with a long-term international immersion in Europe.
- Zoe: I was initially looking for a graduate program in playwriting, but was constantly drawn to the interdisciplinary and collaborative theatrical projects. I found myself scouring the internet for programs that might offer a degree in devised theatre. The only two US-based masters programs I found were Pig Iron’s training company in Philly and the EDPP program at Columbia. I was drawn to this program because it is catered to theatre-makers with a variety of backgrounds (as opposed to strictly “actors”) and offers the opportunity to spend a year working with an international ensemble.
- Dori: I heard a rumor about it at 2017 KCACTF [(Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival)], Region 7.
- Katherine: I heard about the EDPP program by doing a bit of research into grad schools online. I’d previously had a good experience with Columbia College Chicago as an undergrad (I had to leave for personal reasons and didn’t graduate here), and that previous experience led me to look into the graduate programs. I’d actually checked two years in a row, and the second time I saw a new program created. EDPP felt like it was the perfect fit for my need to create through the body and my desire to work internationally.
What are your top three favorite parts of studying at Arthaus in Berlin?
- Johann: 1.Training and devising with people from 17 different countries. 2. Being taught and mentored by a diverse team of facilitator/artists from various disciplines: mask work, painting/drawing, clowning, dancers/choreography, Alexander Technique, rhythm work, choral singing, storytelling, object work, puppetry, and so much more. Arthaus is both connected to a core artistic lineage (Lecoq) and an ever-evolving, experimental approach to performance practice. 3. Arthaus is located at a beautiful garden/coffee shop/artist community called Eden Studios.
- Zoe: 1. The people. In any profession, but especially in live theatre, making connections with and learning from other people is essential. I spent nine months working through challenging material with 23 people from Norway, Italy, Germany, England, Israel, Holland, Canada, Russia, Argentina, Mexico—to name a few. There is so much to be gained from stepping out of our US bubble and engaging with cultural and artistic practices from around the world. 2. Training location and pedagogy. Arthaus rents its space from Eden Studios. We are provided with large classrooms with views of the trees all around. Most days we train from 9AM to around 7PM in and around this space, and while it can definitely feel overwhelming and sometimes isolating, what you are gaining is valuable face time with instructors who are eager to engage with you and present for questions and discussions about the work. 3. It challenges you. Whether you come from a design, directing, or writing background (like me), you will be pushed to make yourself vulnerable and cultivate performative presence when you step into the space. There were many days that I questioned why I was there and if I was “good enough” to complete the year, and I am grateful for this challenge because it resulted in immense personal and artistic growth.
- Dori: 1.Being challenged in all artistic modes at the same time: movement, voice, music, writing and painting/drawing/sculpting, and experiencing how each mode influences the other in my creative process, especially intermodal shifting. The work we did at Arthaus had profound effects on my creative process. 2. The experience of being deconstructed, and then built back up with new ingredients from the curriculum, the materials, the teachers, and my fellow students. 3. Being in a learning environment where the instructors fully understand how creative people think and how the creative process really works.
- Katherine: My top three favorite parts of studying in Berlin? That’s a tough one because the experience was very rich. I loved working with the international cohort and instructors. I loved being immersed in other cultures, it really exploded the “American bubble” of what I knew to be true. And…I LOVED how challenging it is to uproot yourself and become immersed in the work we did (it’s hard to describe really). I came home with a new sense of self.
What was a challenge you faced coming to study on campus in Chicago after being in Berlin?
- Johann: As an institute, Columbia is massive compared to ArtHaus. There is just so much more here. Yes, there are a lot more people, distractions…different locations and buildings…It’s more expensive to live. But here at Columbia there are a lot more resources for students to use like the library and student center that were not available to us in Berlin.
- Zoe: It’s totally different to re-enter the bureaucracy of an American school system after the studio environment Arthaus curates. It can feel overwhelming to suddenly have a million small logistical things to worry about outside of the work: the paperwork for your TA position, financial aid, traditional grading models, a switch in product expectation, etc. At the same time, it is very interesting to study a similar pedagogy in such radically different atmospheres, and both have their pros and cons.
- Dori: It’s been tough finding a decent place to live with practically no budget. Cost of living is much higher in Chicago. In addition, I feel far less safe here—guns are tightly regulated in Germany, so I never worried about getting shot for no reason over there. Also, the vibe is much more chill in Berlin, it’s cleaner, and the public transportation is always on time.
- Katherine: Columbia has a lot of resources and people who are interested in getting involved in my process to help move it along. Because of this, I sometimes feel overwhelmed simply by the population, it’s a massive operation. In Berlin it was a grassroots operation and we knew everyone. It was closer to a small community, population 38 (including instructors).
Best thing you’ve discovered in Chicago so far?
- Johann: I’ve found Chicago to be a better city that I thought. It’s relatively clean compared to other large cities I’ve been in. And there are so many different things to do here. I’ve only begun to see the wealth of experiences to be had here.
- Zoe: The lakefront trail! As a Californian, I deeply miss the ocean every time I am away from home, but the lake feels like a mini ocean, and the trail is beautiful and takes you out of the commotion of the city. And again, the people. I’ve been finding many connections in the Chicago theatre world and am excited to develop that network further.
- Dori: The best thing about Chicago so far was zooming around on a Segway tour with tour leader Richie Schiraldi (EDPP class of 2019) shouting weird and hilarious Chicago fun facts every two minutes. The zooming was a blast but ohh my feet and legs were sore! I’m still walking funny.
- Katherine: I have to pick one? I suppose the best part about Chicago so far is finding out how supportive the theatre community is…and how many free events exist…and I also love meeting and getting to work with the other graduate students on campus…and there’s more than one best thing…
Where can folks see you perform next?
- Zoe: This month, we are re-mounting our psychogeography project in combination with Beckett’s Quad, but dates have not been solidified. In December you will be able to see a full production we will devise with a guest director. And, I know it’s early, but MARK YOUR CALENDARS for the Third Mask Festival, where we will present our thesis projects, May 7-9th!
- Dori: Soon. Verrrry soon. Also, we, the EDPP cohort, will be teaching a FREE Devised Audition Workshop on October 12. Get more info and reserve your spot at http://bit.ly/embodyart !
- Katherine: Check the info above and also give me a follow on Instagram @Tannerbackstage.