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October 18, 2007


Bryn Mawr Teams with Renowned Artists
To Offer Semester-Away Performance Program

Headlong Dancers
Headlong Dance Theater members. Photo by J.J. Tiziou

Next fall, a small group of undergraduates from around the country will have a chance to "test-drive the life of an artist" in Philadelphia, the home of one of the nation's most vibrant experimental performing-arts communities.

They will be the first students of the Headlong Performance Institute (HPI), a unique semester-away program that offers an intensive performance curriculum shaped by liberal-arts values. Academic credit for the program will be granted through Bryn Mawr College.

Bryn Mawr Director of Theater Mark Lord will administer the program and serve on its faculty. The founding members of Headlong Dance Theater, several members of Pig Iron Theater Company and other luminaries of Philadelphia's interdisciplinary movement-based performance scene compose the faculty of master teachers, who are all practicing artists as well.

According to HPI's Web site, it is open to actors and dancers as well as "directors, designers, choreographers, performance artists, physical theater creators and any artist interested in live performance."

Pig Iron Dancers
Pig Iron Theater Company members. Photo by J.J. Tiziou

The coeducational program is designed for "smart students — thinkers — who are interested in an immersion experience in performing arts and want to spend time with like-minded people in intensive study," says Lord.

"But we don't intend to teach technique in an assembly-line way. We will not be saying, 'come to our school because last year two of our graduates got jobs in the chorus line of Cats.' Our approach integrates performing, creating and thinking about the arts. We focus on original, ensemble-driven work that blends movement and theater."

Most of the members of HPI's faculty have close ties to liberal-arts colleges. The three founding members of Headlong met at Wesleyan; Pig Iron Theater's founders graduated from Swarthmore, as did Lord. Faculty members have taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore, Dickinson, Sarah Lawrence, Temple and Yale.

"The values that we bring to the program are classic liberal-arts values more than they are conservatory values," explains Headlong Dance Theater's David Brick, who has taught on Bryn Mawr's dance faculty for several years and played a major role in developing HPI's curriculum. "Being good thinkers has been more important to our work than the pursuit of narrow areas of virtuosity.

"In the teaching that we've done in liberal-arts settings, so many of our students are enormously excited about the work, but they have no idea how to go about doing it in the real world because the arts — particularly experimental performing arts — aren't professionalized in the way that other disciplines in the liberal arts are," Brick says.

"Being able to live in and fully experience a vibrant artistic community will allow students to begin to imagine what an artistic life might look like. There are many ways to have a life in the arts, and students will understand their options better if they're familiar with the arts ecosystem. Whether they become creative artists or arts administrators or decide to follow some other path, they can approach their work as artists by learning to solve problems creatively."

The program is designed for 16 to 18 students, although the first cohort might be slightly smaller, Lord says. HPI will help students find appropriate short-term housing in Philadelphia, and they will be expected to attend live performances in the city regularly throughout the 14-week program. The curriculum will consist of four interrelated courses:

  • Live Art Analysis and Critique: An Up-Close Encounter With Performance in Philadelphia
  • Performance Techniques: Three Proposals
  • Composition for Movement-Based Artists: Improvisation, Ensemble, Collaboration
  • Independent Projects: Creating Original Work

HPI will open its doors in the fall of 2008. To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit its Web site at can sample HPI's curriculum at either of two workshops that members of the HPI faculty will offer on the Bryn Mawr campus at the end of November, after the Thanksgiving break. Dates and locations will be posted soon at Bryn Mawr and on the HPI blog at blog.html.


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