Perspektives: The Artistic Process

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Every year, after two semesters of acting, singing and dancing classes, Prince Dance Institute puts on an original show that includes all of the above. This year was the 13th annual performance, with Angel Prince as the artistic director of the school, and myself, Noelani Anderson, acting as the managing director. Each year the show is unique, and this year was no exception. However, in the past Angel has always been the visionary behind the storyline of the show, and this year, she trusted me with the plot creation (although she was still involved in every step). It was her idea to collaborate with the West Hawaii Mediation Center, and create a theatrical dance show around conflict and resolution.

We spent the first semester doing workshops with our students, facilitated by the director of the West Hawaii Mediation Center, Eric Paul. The story emerged from those workshops, many brainstorms between Angel, Eric, and I, and a lot of research. We ended up creating two teenage characters who become brother and sister when their parents get married. The story follows a day in their life, through their individual points of view as well as those of the peers they encounter. They are also covering war in history class and are presented with concepts such as dehumanization and conscientious objection. They encounter marginalization through social media, the challenge of their family conflicts, their interpersonal challenges and internal struggles. This story came to life at the Kahilu Theatre (where we hold our classes) on May 4th and 5th, and it was absolutely magical to see months of hard work come together on stage with over 150 students performing. In case you’re wondering what those few months looked like, here is a window into our process….

As a young performer, I was always under the impression that the rehearsal process was a chronological one. We started with the material (whether song, dance, or skit), we practiced, and then we put on the show. It wasn’t until I went on to study theatre in college that I came to understand the importance of vision– the predecessor to creation. At Prince Dance Institute all our work is original, which means every show begins with a series of moving parts that we weave into a vision wrapped around a concept. Creating original work presents a certain duality; is as challenging as it is freeing, and requires as much discipline as it does surrender. Ours is also a collaborative process, not only with our teachers, but also with a local community organization, our students, a costume designer, a technical team, and the logistical variables of space and time.

So… where do we begin?

We begin with our overall mission and vision, which is to create original performance pieces that showcase what our students have learned while also incorporating the community and producing work that is relevant to issues in society. At Prince Dance Institute one of our goals is that our productions have an exponential, or ripple affect on our audience – in other words we hope you leave the theatre with something to think about, reflect on, and act upon in your own life. Our artistic director, Angel Prince, selects a concept that fits within this vision more than a year prior to the show.

Yes! An entire year!

The general material needs to be selected over a year in advance so we can start spreading the word and be included in the notes that you may see in programs throughout the Kahilu season. Over the summer we coordinate with the organization we plan to collaborate with. In this year’s case, the West Hawaii Mediation Center, where we worked with the organization’s director, Eric, to arrange workshops for our students to participate in. Then the Fall semester begins! With the concept in place, workshop’s in progress, and classes in session, the blueprint for the Spring show is set and we leave it up to our teachers to start formulating their artistic ideas around how to portray the concept through their pieces.

Once the Spring semester begins, time starts to fast forward, and the ‘artistic process’ becomes layered by logistical factors like song times, the order of the show, how to get aerial apparatuses in and out between numbers, creating effective dialogue to tie the pieces together with the acting class, work shopping skits, nailing down songs and focuses within the overall theme to assign to each class (hip hop, glee, jazz, contemporary, etc.).  It’s like putting together a puzzle when you don’t necessarily have all the pieces – so you have to go find them and create edges that fit into and complement one another. This is when it gets fun…sometimes the show seems to create itself, and things just work. Other times you feel you’ve hit a wall and there’s no doorway out, so you have to take a detour that in the end contributes more powerfully to the overall content.

This is where faith, trust, and teamwork come in.

If you’ve ever been a part of a live performance production you are probably familiar with the beautiful chaos that inevitably leads up to the show. This is where the behind the scenes choreography comes in. A balancing act of creation, scheduling, costuming, choreography, rehearsal, communication, lights, more rehearsal, and eventually, a show that you, and all your students and teachers, can be proud to have been a part of, and which the audience never forgets (at least this is the goal).

I’ve been a part of many shows, as an actor, a narrator, a singer, a dancer, and a collaborator, but this is the first time I wrote a fully produced original show, and all it’s building blocks, from the seed of an idea. It was overwhelming, but I think that’s important. After all, art should never be underwhelming…it’s the work you put in and the process of bringing vision to life that makes it so beautiful. I think it’s also important to note that it’s constant, this process. For me, it was like writing a song -ideas or lyrics might come to you in the shower, or while you’re driving, or first thing in the morning when you wake up, and you have to make the space to stop, maybe even pull over on the side of the road, and write it down. Other times you have an idea, and have to let it marinate for a while. It’s like a recipe – you have all sorts of ingredients, but the way you put those ingredients together is just as important as the ingredients themselves.

I’ve learned over the years that the artistic process is far from chronological. This year, as Managing Director of PDI, under the artistic direction Angel, I’m learned that this process is hours of thought and incubation layered by long conversations, the search for music, late nights of playing with ideas, long days of rehearsal, emails, texts, marketing, all driven by a concept that was rooted in passion. And that’s the real starting point.

Passion.

Our passion as performers is rooted in the simple and ancient desire to tell a story. Every single person involved in this production, from the youngest student (4), to the amazing tech team, to the teachers and parents, was committed to bringing this story to life, and it showed. If you saw the show we hope the story resonated with you, and inspired you to leave the theatre and go into the world as the best version of yourself. If you didn’t see the show, it was filmed, and we hope you see it one day. Perhaps I am biased, but this is a story that in one way or another everyone can relate to, and with over 150 students telling it, the story truly came to life in the way that only live theatre can.

Mahalo to our unique and beautiful community, and especially the Kahilu Theatre for your continued support of the arts, and of Prince Dance Institute. We have so much love for you all.


Noelani Isabella Anderson is from the Hamakua Coast, studied Theatre at Chapman University, and teaches Musical Theatre and Acting Technique for Prince Dance Institute, North Hawaii’s performing Arts School, where she is also Managing Director.

Photos from Perspektives by Steve Roby

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