Happy Yahoo Day!

As you know, we've been having a doozy of a couple of years around Monkeyhouse, which is why we decided to kick off the first newsletter of 2014 (and now share with you) with the spirit of YAHOO! 

, you ask? 
What a fine question! 

Nineteen years ago on February 26th one of our biggest supporters, Zach Galvin, completed his final cancer treatment.  Every February 26th since then he has celebrated YAHOO DAY in honor of those who supported cancer research and who ultimately played a role in his survival.  Now, across the globe friends, family and complete strangers commit random acts of kindness in celebration of YAHOO DAY!

How is Monkeyhouse celebrating?  Well, we've got a few tricks up our sleeves.  First, we'd like to say a TREMENDOUS thank you to all of you for helping us through the past few years, both organizationally and personally.  We are eternally grateful for the love and support you've shared and we are excited to see what 2014 has in store.

Second, anyone who emails me (Monkeyhouse Loves Nicole at gmail dot com) TODAY will get a special YAHOO DAY tourtail sent straight to their inbox.  If you're feeling YAHOO-ish, include how you will celebrate!

For the third one we're going to need your help.  We'd like to spread the YAHOO spirit far and wide this year.  As you know, the arts play an integral part in creating a stronger, happier community.  So take some time this month and add a little art into someone else's day.  Draw a picture and tuck it in your child's lunch box.  Take a friend to a play.  Donate books you've already read to a homeless shelter.  Spend the afternoon with your significant other in a museum instead of in front of the tv.  Go dancing with your girlfriends.  There is art everywhere just waiting for you to discover it and by doing so you can make someone's day that much brighter.

Thank you for being such fearless Monkeyhouse Ambassadors and HAPPY YAHOO DAY!
-Nicole and All Your Friends at Monkeyhouse


Getting to Know Connor Shea!

Connor Shea is a Sophomore at Natick High School who is a new intern at Monkeyhouse. The following interview is conducted by Jacob Rosen, another new Monkeyhouse intern.

JR: Hello, Connor! How are you?
CS: Hi, I am doing well thank you.

JR: So, to start off this interview, when and where were you born?
CS: I was born on November 18th at Newton Wellesley Hospital.

JR: Cool! Now, since this interview is happening because of Monkeyhouse, when did you first hear about Monkeyhouse?
CS: Being a part of Natick High School Drama, Monkeyhouse just seems into your mind, but I remember during Freshman year Nicole invited me to a Monkeyhouse event on Facebook and I was interested in what it was, so I looked into it and I found out about Monkeyhouse as a result.

JR: That’s like how I found out about Monkeyhouse! For those who may not know you, what are some of your interests?
CS: I am really interested in theater and speech, I really love performing! I also am a really big movie buff.

JR: Theater and speech are some of my favorite activities as well! Since you are a movie buff, what is your favorite movie?
CS: I can say, totally, without a doubt, it is Polar Express. I can watch that movie any time of year and I have watched it countless times! It is the greatest movie I have ever seen.

Connor (Left) as Mark Cohen in
"Rent: School Edition", a production
put on by Wellesley Theater Project 
JR: Let’s segue to your love of theater, when did you get started in theater and what was your first show?
CS: Wow, I remember being podded into theater in 4th grade by my mother to do a program at Walnut Hill. I did it and I adored it, then it’s all downhill from there (Laughs). The show we put on was Charlotte’s Web, I played Gander and Mr. Arable. I was the only boy so they had me play all of the boy parts, I loved it nonetheless.

JR: Wow, that sounds like a great experience. Speaking of experiences, what theater companies have you worked with?
CS: I have worked with Natick High School Drama, Natick Drama Workshop, the Walnut Hill theater program, Wellesley Theater Project and Wilson Middle School Drama.

JR: That is quite an impressive resumé. What are your, let’s say, top 3 roles you have portrayed?
CS: Let’s see, the first one that comes to mind is Mark Cohen in Rent, he was just such a privilege to play, Emmett in Legally Blonde was a blast, pure and simple, and lastly I have to say playing Sir Harry in Once Upon a Mattress this past November was a fun and difficult experience,  Sir Harry and I spent some quality time together haha.

JR: Are you working on any show right now?
CS: No, however I am working toward my audition for Little Women: The Musical, that is being directed by Monkeyhouse's own Marie Libbin. So I am excited for that.

JR: I am thrilled for that too, it’s going to be a great show. Continuing on with our subject of theater, what do you like most about theater?
CS: I can confidently say that the environment of theater and the comradery everybody in the theater community has for each other and the work that we are doing. It sounds like a huge cliche, I know, but while most cliches start with a grain of truth, this one started with a bolder of truth. Theater is a place to escape to for me, a place where everybody can fit in. I love it with all of my heart.

JR: Seems like you have some mighty affectionate feelings toward the theater community, that’s great to hear. So, speech, what exactly is speech and how did you get involved?
CS: I guess you could describe it as competitive acting and speaking, however it is so much more than that, to really understand speech you must experience it. I got involved in the 6th grade because my friend was poking and prodding me to join, so I did and I fell in love with it, it is something that found it’s way into my heart and something that I love about is that the activity allows you to push the boundary of the rules and what is deemed acceptable. You couldn’t do that in a sport, you can’t walk into the batters box of a baseball field and decide to catch the ball that the pitcher throws at you. In speech you can find ways to make the activity your own, and not just whatever you are told. Also I like dressing up for the tournaments, for competition everybody gets dressed up in what we call festival dress, which is a different way of saying suit and tie, skirt suit etc.

JR: That is definitely an activity that you seem to put your heart into. Jumping back to theater, what are your strengths? Acting, singing, or dancing?
Connor (Right) as Sir Harry in Natick High Schools
production of "Once Upon A Mattress"
CS: I can say that I feel my strength lays in my voice. I love to sing and I love taking something small, like a song, and making it large. I remember one time, it was the callback for Once Upon a Mattress, I was told to sing my song (Go The Distance from Hercules) as a buff crazy sports coach, it was so fun to make it crazy and take something that seemed small and making it large and wild.
JR: I can certainly attest to the fact that you have a wonderful voice. In conclusion, what do you want to accomplish through Monkeyhouse?
CS: I wish to better myself both in dancing and the art of theater. It is going to be great not working with kids (my own age) for once. I am looking forward to working with such an amazing organization.

JR: Thank you for your time, and best of luck with Little Woman, so pumped to work with you and Monkeyhouse. Jacob and Connor love Monkeyhouse!!


Getting to Know Tyler Catanella

In August Monkeyhouse participated in Luminarium Dance's ChoreoFest for the second time.  There we met many new and exciting artists, including Tyler Catanella of Paradise Lost Movement Collective.  Nikki Sao Pedro Welch, who participated in the first ChoreoFest with Monkeyhouse, interviewed Tyler this winter.

photo by Ryan Carollo
NSPW:  I know you were one of the companies that participated in Choreofest. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience?
TC:  Our experience at ChoreoFest was transcendent, and one that shaped and strengthened our company's values. The nature of the beast was one that we were all excited to tackle. Because we work collaboratively 100% of the time, we felt that the dance theatre we do would thrive in this environment. And we were right; I felt like we got to share a very special part of ourselves in our process and performance during those twenty-four hours.

NSPW:  In speaking of your experience with Choreofest, can you tell me any challenges you may have had or easy moments of the 24 hours?  
TC:  Since we work primarily in improvisation, we were both scared and excited to delve into the realm of setting material. As it turned out, we were able to improvise out our piece within the first 45 minutes of working. What we didn't realize was that we had expelled so much energy within the initial stages of the night that by 1:00am, we were literally bananas. We laughed, we cried, we pasted ourselves with IcyHot and Salon Pas, I even got tonsillitis overnight.

photo by Ryan Carollo
We finished setting everything at 5:15am, and everyone went to sleep. That is, everyone but me; one of the tasks I had set for myself in ChoreoFet was to compose the music within the day as well. Well, it was a long night, but I managed to finish the score (which I am actually very proud of! We've been using the music for more of our work) at 7:45am, sleep, and wake up at 8:15am for tech.

ChoreoFest was one of those things that you have to push your body through, but we were all looking for a challenge, and it sure as hell delivered. We felt super-human having succeeded in creating a piece that we were all proud of, and for overcoming monstrous obstacles. 

photo by Ryan Carollo
NSPW:  After reading your companies mission statement, I noticed you welcome artist's from "all walks of life." This is quite interesting, can you elaborate on what types of artists you have worked with or would like to work with?  
TC:  So Paradise Lost is a collective, which means that we're not just comprised of performers; we have artists, musicians, designers, photographers, writers, bubble blowers, what you will, that make up our collaborative company. We try and create material with 100% organic and original energy, making what we do come truly from the heart. The dance we do is for personal and social change. Whether we're sharing a story about a nation or a family, that story should carry the same amount of truth.

The other aspect of that statement is that we are a company that values diversity. Why would I surround myself with people who look just like me, move just like me, and think just like me? By filling a room with people who come from all over the world, and bring with them a different set of eyes, the work that we make becomes richer and so much more exciting. It's one of my strongest values.


Getting to Know the Board: Jon Schaffrath

by Caitlin Meehan
I "virtually" talked with our board member Jon Schaffrath and discussed his experiences so far in fundraising and organizing.
C: So you are a member of Monkeyhouse's board- what has your experience been like so far?
J: It has been great!  I had the opportunity to join the board a little over three years ago as the organization was celebrating the 10th Anniversary and looking forward to how it will sustain itself and continue to exceed expectations into the future.  Going to meetings to discuss the strategy for the organization is always inspiring and it is very fulfilling to know that I (as a non-artist, but big appreciator) am able to contribute in some way to such impressive and meaningful work.
C: We are glad to have such enthusiastic support! Have you been on the board of another arts or dance organization before? (If so, how was it different?)                     
J: I have not been on the board of another dance organization, but I am involved with the GOLD Board at Boston College (Graduates of the Last Decade) and have had significant volunteer experiences at the Dover Church, and Babson College.  For each of these organizations I have enjoyed being able to have an impact on the direction of the organization moving forward.

C: know that you are working with Harvard Business school now- what would you say drew you to nonprofit fundraising?
J: I kind of fell into nonprofit fundraising seven years ago when I landed an entry level job at HBS.  I have had the good fortune to move up in the fundraising tract of the organization and really loved it.  In addition to my work at HBS I now also am an instructor of fundraising at Boston University Metropolitan College and at the Harvard Extension School.  For me I love connecting people with the organization, inspiring individuals to have a real impact with their philanthropy and building deep relationships with those people.

C: It's fortunate for us that you discovered your inspirational and fundraising skills and continue to apply them! Thank you for giving us some Monkeyhouse Board insight!


Good Things!

  • A belated congratulations to Josh Hilberman on the birth of his son, Felix!
  • Speaking of babies, congrats to the Heather, Jerry & James Gant for the soon to be new addition to your family! 
  • Congratulations to our two senior interns, Danny and Marie who were both accepted to their top choice colleges for next year!  Danny will be attending Emerson College and Marie will be attending American University.  We are so proud! 
  • Oh, and David, who just started up his internship again, was just cast as Robert in BC's production of Drowsy Chaperone!  What talented interns we have!
  • Congratulations, Jason, on a fabulous job with the set design for Company One's "We Are Proud to Present a Presentation..."!


Getting to Know Jessica Muise

by Sarah Friswell

Last year I met Jessica Muise when Shannon and I were performing at Luminarium Dance's 24 Hour ChoreoFest. I was thrilled when she was interested in being interviewed. Sarah Friswell took some time to chat with her about the start of her company, Intimations Dance, and their current work. Enjoy! Oh, and if you Jessica be sure to ask what her favorite sea animal is because now I'm curious! -Nicole

photo by Stan Csezniuk
SF: I read about Intimations Dance on your website and that you are a fairly new company (2012). What are the biggest challenges you've faced in starting up?

JM: Time. All of the companies members (including myself) work full time or are in graduate school in various fields, mostly art and education. Scheduling can be a challenge. We can only rehearse for two to four hours a week. This year, we have been creating a lot of new work, so we have self-imposed an additional layer of artistic challenge to this scarcity of time.

Funding. We’ve been lucky in year one to support our operations at break-even. It helps that our costumes come from our closets and we’ve received stipends for some of the work we’ve produced this year. Fundraising will be one of our priorities in 2014.

Administration. Finding time to balance managing the website, social media, performance applications with the time needed to be creative, experiment, create and rehearse pieces is a big challenge for me as an artistic director.

SF: Have you been working with current company members for a long time before starting the company?

JM: I met most of my dancers since I moved back to Boston from New York City in 2010. After choreographing a piece for the community non-profit OnStage Dance Company in 2011, I asked several dancers I performed with if they’d like to join my company (which felt like just an idea at the time). I’ve also known one of my dancers for over 10 years, and others I’ve met more recently through Boston Dance Alliance’s website and Open Call Audition.

In January of 2012, we participated in National Choreography Month (Nachmo), what I would call our first “unofficial” piece we created and performed in a studio. In the summer of 2012, we continued to create works in progress and host classes in studios around Brookline and Cambridge. We discussed possible performance opportunities as a company, but never applied to any of them. Looking back, I don’t think I was ready to show my work to a live audience.

For January 2013, I asked an even larger group of dancers I had since met in the Boston dance community to participate in National Choreography Month Boston, which was our first ‘official’ performance at Green Street Studios. After creating and performing 6 new pieces this year at 12 shows in the Greater Boston area, we’re finding new ways of moving together heading into year three, kicking the season off again with Nachmo 2014.

photo by Ryan Carollo
SF: Could you talk a little more about the collaborative nature of creating your pieces? Monkeyhouse works in a very collaborative way and I'm interested to see how you take that on.

JM: My collaborative approach to choreography is based on honoring who is in the room. Everyone in the company has different backgrounds, training, strengths and movement, energy and creativity to offer and their contributions are central to any piece we perform.

We start with a concept inspired by something emergent in our lives, a collection of shared experiences we can explore and unpack together. We talk, we write; randomizing groups of words to inform new phrases, or draw shapes and feelings on paper. We’ll spend time moving across the room as individuals, pairs, groups through various structured improvisation exercises. Exploring the content/story/theme in a variety of ways works to open up mind-body connections to create a sense of embodiment within a new piece.

Then I’ll teach a phrase or two I’ve created inspired by our exploratory work to establish core vocabulary. The core phrases become iterative, and everyone participates in generating a bunch of additional related phrases. Dancers work alone or in groups with words, drawings and the core phrase as layers of inspiration. I may ask for something as simple as 6 movements, one in every direction. I will suggest changes in plane or pathway or more specific instructions like inserting four walks or a greeting. We show these phrases to each other to offer feedback and discuss feelings/reactions as viewers and participants.

Once we have some set phrases to play with, I become the conductor, watching how the notes and instruments sound together by experimenting with different spacing, timing, and dynamics. Often the structure emerges from watching theses phrases together. We also try different music choices and see how our phrases are influenced by different songs or sounds. At some point, we  decide it is ready, often shortly before we’re set to perform the work. Sometimes we get audience feedback, often we ask for it. We then continue to work on the piece for future performances by restaging, tweaking or total transformation, or scratch it and move on.

SF: Can you tell me a little bit more about your outdoor work? I'm fascinated by the photographs of your company in the water. Are all of your outdoor works site specific or works that you modified to be able to perform outdoors?

photo by Stan Czesniuk
JM: These photos are by Stan Czesniuk, taken at Walden Pond in Concord, MA, where I’ve swam every summer for over 10 years. For this shoot, we took existing pieces, some previously performed outdoors, and modified them to engage directly with Walden’s environment. One of those pieces was “At the Water’s Edge” we had performed in the foundation ruin of the Old Manse in Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA for Global Water Dances in June 2013. It was exciting to perform this particular piece literally in water. We have also performed outside in a field for National Dance Day and on a snowy lawn for dance anywhere in 2013.

I’ve also explored site specific work in the past as a visual artist and independent choreographer, mostly in the woods and mostly exploring environmental themes. As a permaculture teacher and designer, I am fascinated by nature’s design, patterns and structure of leaves for example, and the movements of bugs, birds, water, the wind. Much of our work is inspired by observations of nature outside of us and connecting to the same patterns within our own mind-body-spirit. When boiled down, the way insects determine home and location through movement does not feel so much different than our search for home and where we are when we dance.

What is exciting about outdoor work is that it asks us to think about what space dance occupies in our lives; where does it happen? when does it happen? who watches? Site specific work is something we hope to focus on more in the coming year.

SF: You mentioned that anyone looking to own a studio should go to
photo by Stan Czesniuk
dancestudioowner.com. Do you have any other advice for people looking to start a studio or their own dance company? Maybe any advice you wished you had?

JM: Dance Studio Owner is based in New Hampshire, and is a great local resource and tool that I’ve connected as an affiliate. They support dance studio owners with a platform and tools to better manage their operations. Affiliate relationships are one way we’ve sought income and support for the company, although we’ve found is not a common opportunity for dance companies. Opening a studio is a small dream I’ve had for a number of years, but isn’t something happening yet, so I am grateful to those folks in our community who make their space available for rehearsals.

Based on the work I have been doing, this is the advice I wish I had two years ago:

  • Produce your own show, or a performance opportunity for the community. It is a risk but it is worth it. I’ve shared my own experiences producing shows independently here.
  • Always apply to performance opportunities and grants, whether or not you think you’ll get a ‘yes’.
  • Take the time to clarify your mission and goals, and frequently evaluate and change them as they shift.
  • Don’t make work in a vacuum. Invite choreographers you respect to rehearsals or to watch rehearsal videos for feedback. Also ask your friends and family to share their thoughts on your work. This is necessary and valuable feedback that I have not sought out enough. When you’re ‘in the work’, it can be hard to see outside of it.

SF: Can you give us a little preview of what we are in for in your upcoming performance for National Choreography Month?

JM: We are working on a new piece expanding on phrases and ideas explored in our recent piece “Tether” along with new ideas inspired by National Choreography Month’s daily tasks. We are excited to be performing alongside 24 other choreographers and companies taking on the challenge of creating new work in one month in our community on Friday February 7th and Saturday February 8th at 8:00pm at Green Street Studios. Tickets are only $10 and are available from Brown Paper Tickets.

SF: What question do you wish I had asked you?

JM: What is my favorite (sea) animal?


Getting to Know Jacob Rosen

by Connor Shea

Jacob as Bud Frump in Weston Drama
Workshop's production of "How To
Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
I had the honor of interviewing Jacob Rosen. Jacob is a Sophomore at Natick High School and a new intern to Monkeyhouse; as am I. Jacob is truly an unique, and interesting individual. Jacob Rosen was born on February 7th, 1998 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His family moved to Massachusetts when he was 2; they lived in Belmont. From there, they continue to move around Massachusetts; from Wayland then to Natick when he was 4. The family has been settled in Natick ever since.

Now, I have known Jacob for quite a while and I assumed I knew all of his interests. Well, I was mistaken! To my surprise, Jacob’s interests extends from writing to running to theatre to music! WOW! I was truly surprised when I found out the Jacob has a passion for writing. I was beyond curious as to how this all came about and he answered with that he always had a, “will to create.” That was always something writing gave to him. He then proceeded to talk about how writing was a way he could express himself. Jacob referred to writing as therapeutic.  For Jacob, he believes writing makes you discover things about yourself that you never knew. Jacob also believes that writing is very introspective. Well, I had no clue what introspective meant. So, I did some research and the word introspective comes from the word introspection; which is the examination or observation of a person’s mental and emotional process. You could say that Jacob is quite into his writing and has a genuine, caring passion for his work; which is quite admirable. Jacob has self published some of his original stories but feels they aren’t quite ready for the public yet. I have no doubt one day they will be, and they are sure to be magnificent! I cannot wait to read them someday!

Jacob (middle) as Feldzeig in Natick
High School Drama's production of 
"The Drowsy Chaperone"
Next, I wanted to delve into Jacob’s theatre story. I believe that it is one that everyone needs to hear. It is a story of perseverance, dedication, motivation and really a story of a boy with a love for theatre. As cliche and cheesy as that all sounds; it is not far from the truth! In his younger years, Jacob played many sports. Sports ranging from baseball, to basketball, to football and even soccer! That is quite the athlete! Up to his 5th grade year, sports was all Jacob endured. “...thought I’d be a sports kid.” is how Jacob put it to me. Until he entered the realm of theatre as a fifth grader in Natick Drama Workshop’s (NDW) production of The Wild, Wild, Wildest West!  From there, Rosen fell in love the atmosphere that was and still is theatre. “It enticed me more than sports...” Jacob told me. He then continued to be a part of theatre throughout middle school. Working with Wilson Middle School Drama; Jacob preformed in productions such as Beauty and the Beast Jr. as Monsieur D’Arque, Phineous Trout in Willy Wonka Jr., Chi Fu in Mulan Jr., and finally Papa Ge in Once on This Island Jr.  

Jacob as General Mackenzie in Natick
High School Drama's production of
"And Then There Were None"
By 8th grade, Rosen decided that theatre was the way to go.  However, the same year he discovered his new love for theatre, Jacob was also diagnosed with cancer. As to a result of that cancer, Jacob lost his eye. Something that no 8th grader or anyone for that matter, should have to go through. But he was a trooper and did not let anything get in his way of what he loved. He snatched every opportunity he had in front of him, and he excelled in every way. When I asked him what motivated and inspired him to persevere and pursue theatre, he automatically responded, “My mom.” He mentioned how she was always there for him and always pushed him to try his best; that she was always supportive in all his life decisions. He paused, then continued with another role model of his, Sandy Duncan. Sandy Duncan is best known for her portrayal as Peter Pan in Peter Pan. Sandy Duncan also lost her eye due to cancer. However, she continued and did not let anything stop her from doing what she loved. Jacob talked about how he felt the same way and used Sandy Duncan and her story a way to motivate himself; that if she could do it, so could he. “I admire her courage. She wasn’t afraid to put herself out there. She didn’t let her injury hinder her performance as an actor. She also didn’t let it hinder her life.” His motivation and perseverance shows as Jacob has continued on with theatre to do this day; and plans to continue far off into the future. Jacob has worked with many companies including: Natick Drama Workshop (NDW), Weston Drama Workshop (WDW), Natick High School Drama, Wilson Middle School Drama, Alexander Children’s Theatre School (ACTS), and Boston Children’s Theatre (BCT). Some of Jacob’s favorite roles and shows he has been in include: Feldzeig in The Drowsy Chaperone, General Mackenzie in And Then There Were None, Bud Frump in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Chip Tolentino in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Jacob as George in Natick High School
Drama's production of "High Society"
Jacob is currently in the Alexander Children’s Theatre School’s (ACTS) current production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as Chip Tolentino. The production is showing on February 14-16 and performing at the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts. You can go to www.ACTS1.org for more information! The one word to describe Rosen’s experience at ACTS is “eyeopening.” He hopes that everyone enjoys the show!

To conclude our interview, Jacob would just like to emphasize how ecstatic he is to be a part of Monkeyhouse. He can simply not wait to begin this new adventure! I am so honored to have been able to interview such an amazing, talented, well rounded guy like Jacob. It was truly an awesome time! 


Meet Connor Shea!

I'm excited to introduce you to another new intern, Connor Shea.  Connor is a student of mine at Natick High School and I'm excited to work with him on this new dance adventure!  Stay tuned for interviews with Connor and Jacob next week!  -Nicole

Connor Shea is a Sophomore at Natick High School and is beyond excited to begin his internship with Monkeyhouse! Connor comes from a musical theatre background; beginning theatre when he was in 4th grade. He has been in RENT, Legally Blonde the Musical, Once Upon a Mattress, The Drowsy Chaperone, Little Women the Musical, and many more. His favorite performance so far is Mark Cohen in RENT. He found such a strong connection with the character and was attracted to the realness and depth of the overall message of the show; along with the music and script. Connor is not a dancer by any means but is however, eager to learn the skills and technique that it takes to dance. He is so blessed to have Nicole, his choreographer and dance teacher, teach him the ways of dance, specifically tap. Connor is part of Natick High School Drama, along with the Natick High School Speech and Debate team; where he participates in events such as Prose Reading and Poetry Reading. What Connor finds fascinating and astonishing about the theatre community is the people. Connor loves how everyone is so accepting and welcoming! The community and people are a big part of Connor’s love for theatre. This is Connor’s first dance experience outside of a show.  He hopes for the absolute best throughout the entire process and wishes to come out of the internship with a new love and knowledge for dance and theatre communities as a whole!


A Few Words of THANKS from Danny

by Danny Foner

Last year we celebrated the THANKS Giving, a month of saying thanks to just a small number of the people who have gotten us to where we are today.  At the time, our then new intern Danny wrote an article that, with the insanity of the ending of the year, is just now seeing the light of day.  (Sorry, Danny!)  So, as we head into 2014, here are Danny's thoughts on thanks, music and collaboration.  -Nicole
p.s.  Congratulations, Danny, on getting into Emerson!  I'm glad you'll still be in the area next year!

As this month of THANKS Giving winds to a close, I’d like to take a moment to express my own gratitude for how Monkeyhouse has impacted me. Namely, I’d like to give thanks for my experiences as a co-leader of Natick High School’s a capella group, Seven’s Not Enough, and our collaboration with Monkeyhouse’s own Nicole Harris. We’ve had the opportunity to work with her on two separate projects, each of which have expanded my appreciation for the powerful relationship between music and dance.

Seven’s Not Enough’s connection to Monkeyhouse began around two years ago, in my sophomore year. I was a part of the fall show at Natick High School, which was to be a musical revue, celebrating the 50-year history of the old Natick High stage. Nicole asked me to arrange an a capella version of “Winter’s on the Wing,” a song from The Secret Garden, which would be set to body percussion. The finished product was an absolute joy to perform. The pure, acoustic nature of a capella combined with body percussion perfectly matched the theme of the song, winter thawing into spring. That experience was one of the most profound moments I’ve had on the Natick High School stage, and for that, I can’t thank Nicole and Monkeyhouse enough.

photo by
However, the story doesn’t end there. The next year, Nicole was back with another project. Combining with a local youth company, TAProject, Seven’s Not Enough sang James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light,” as arranged by former intern David Makransky and choreographed by Nicole. After a few weeks of practice, we performed the piece at Chelsea High School for Against the Odds. The music, paired with the choreography, told a story of how the “ties between us” can create a community from complete strangers. As a matter of fact, I had never met some of the TAProject dancers in my life, but as the last chord faded, it was unmistakable that we had shared an extraordinary experience. Through that performance, I gained an immense respect for how music and dance, when combined, can send a tangible, powerful message. Thank you, Nicole, for giving me this understanding, and thank you, Monkeyhouse, for connecting us and providing the opportunity for all of this to happen.

So, what are you thankful for? Let us know on Facebook!


Happy Birthday Andrew Palermo!

 by Danny Foner

Andrew Palermo (whose birthday is this month) is the co-founder and Artistic Director of dre.dance, a contemporary dance company in New York City. For nine years, dre.dance has created critically acclaimed works, described by the likes of the New York Times as 'powerful', 'athletic', 'gifted', 'passionate', 'propulsive', 'unexpected', 'weird', 'abstract', and 'wonderful.’ Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with him about his career.

DF: What inspired you to pursue dance? Were there any people or experiences that especially influenced you?
AP: I started dancing when I was 5 years old. I'm from Newark, NY, a little town outside of Rochester. What's crazy was, back then, the local ballet studio didn't take boys! Can you imagine? Everyone kills to get young boy dancers in their ranks now. So, my mom brought me to the next town over to take dance in the home-studio of Diane Ladd (not the Diane Ladd), where I studied ballet and tap for 5 years. I was inspired to dance by watching Fred Astaire. I don't know what movie it was, or if it was more than one (it was a loooong time ago). But I do know that I saw the man glide, and I wanted to as well.

DF: You've been on both sides of the curtain line, as a performer, a choreographer, and an instructor. How does your experience as an actor and dancer influence your choreography and your teaching style? 

photo by Paul Kennedy
AP: Every day, in every situation, I draw from my years performing as I now direct, choreograph and teach. I think there can be a big difference in both the work and the work atmosphere when the person 'running' the show knows what it's like to be IN the show. I'm very aware of what it's like to be a performer. I consider how movements will feel on the dancer/actors, if they'll feel connected to them or just enjoy the aesthetic, will they be able to sustain the work over a long run. If there are vocals, will they be able to do what they need to do at a 10AM student matinee, etc. I'm also careful in rehearsals to ensure performers are well-treated, getting appropriate breaks, not abusing their time, maintaining as positive an atmosphere as possible. On the flip side, because I performed for quite a while, I may be a bit harder on dancer/actors with whom I work. When I was coming up, I feel like there was much less entitlement in our culture. I was taught to work hard, and do everything you need to do to get the result the director, choreographer or teacher was looking for. Accomplishing that brought a great sense of pride to my performances. So, I hold performers to very high levels of expectation, and expect them to do the work with a smile. As the old adage goes, there are 200 people, very similar to you, right behind you in line.

DF: You co-founded, and are now the Artistic Director of dre.dance. In what ways has the organization grown or changed since it was created in 2005? 
dre.dance - photo by Steven Schreiber
AP: I think, as with any artist or in any career path, your perspective changes, continues to refine itself, maybe broaden, who knows. But I do know that, you've got to keep growing. Taye [Diggs, cofounder] and I are both hybrid kind of 'artists'. We came up equally through dance and theatre, so our aesthetic and storytelling mechanisms either straddle that line or flip flop over it. That said, it's been interesting to me to approach movement and physical storytelling from different angles, and look at the work through different lenses. If the piece I'm working in is more abstract or interpretive, I may yearn to move into a straight dance piece next. If I'm using pop music, I'm probably next looking to work to something that's more left of center, more experimental. Change is good. I like when people say that something looks very 'dre' or 'Andrew' or 'Taye'. That's a compliment I think, to have your own vibe. But within that vibe, if you stop growing, that's death. The company is currently on an extended hiatus as my wife and I recently relocated to California. I'm now Assistant Professor of Drama (teaching dance) at University of California Irvine. It's been a beautiful blessing to be able to bring ALL of my work to my students. One day, I'll give them a dre.dance combination, the next, something from West Side Story, the next just a fun contemporary/jazz piece. 

Fortunately, my work in the theatrical world is keeping me quite busy these days. Right now, I'm in New York rehearsing The Other Josh Cohen, a new musical, at Papermilll Playhouse. After that, UCI is presenting a new theatrical work of mine entitled Nickel Mines, centering on the 2006 Lancaster, PA Amish schoolhouse shooting. Those two pieces are kind of a perfect example of the yin yang that my career has become. Josh Cohen is a hilarious, small, endearing show that utilizes musical staging, less choreography. Nickel Mines is more of a 'downtown' piece that will entail completely interpretive modern dance elements within the choreography. All this is to say that, even when dre.dance is 'quiet', I'm still pulling from my experience with the company and utilizing the aesthetic that has grown from working within that element.

DF: Reading your resume, I was especially fascinated by beyond.words, a piece which "examines the spectrum of autism with sympathy and wonder." Can you tell me more about that? Specifically, where did the idea come from? How did exploring autism through the lens of dance impact how you think about it?
AP: beyond.words germinated from a video made by a woman named Amanda Baggs. The piece is called 'In My Language', and it's a snapshot of 'a day in the life', followed by a description of that day, and a look into this woman's philosophy on autism. Amanda is non-verbal and considered 'low functioning', within the autism spectrum. She speaks through typed text on her computer. The thrust of the video is that, while she 'speaks' differently, interacts differently, and maybe appears different than much of the population, it doesn't mean that her differences make her disabled, impaired or any kind of misfit. She appears to love who she is and how she interacts with her world. In 2007, I found this fascinating. I knew nothing of autism and certainly had never heard this side of the story. So, we embarked on a piece that endeavors to shed some light on autism with Ms. Baggs' perspective as a strong part of the discussion. Beyond.words developed over 2 years through multiple residencies and remains, possibly, our most 'complete' work. In addition, I've become a bit of an advocate, lecturing on the arts and special needs and teaching creative movement to children on the spectrum. As we know, dance is a powerful tool. That's part of what I learned through watching 'In My Language'. Amanda never stopped moving. She communes with her space moment to moment through, what I think, is beautiful improvised choreography. That's the point of my classes with kids on the spectrum; to take an inherent love of movement, maybe harness it a bit, connect it with some concept and a bit of structure, and then empower the kids to tell stories with their bodies. It's been a wonderful journey, working with students across the country, and one that fills me with joy.

DF: What's the next project we can look forward to from you?
AP: Josh Cohen, then Nickel Mines, then Allegiance at The Old Globe, a new musical about the Japanese internment of WWII is looking to land on Broadway in the fall (fingers crossed).
Allegiance, choreographed by Andrew Palermo


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