The Art Monastic Laboratory program is an intensive, closed-container development period in which invited artists come together to collaborate towards a pre-determined artistic goal. The Art Monastic Laboratory program values experimenting with creative process and collaborative art-making while maintaining artistic quality and the final product. The program kicked off in summer 2012 and continues to be a part of Art Monastery programming.
In spring 2013, the core Artmonk team entered an intensive three-month development period in Puglia, Italy, thanks to a new collaboration with the Accademia del Rinascimento Mediterraneo (Academy of the Mediterranean Renaissance). This collaboration resulted in an event series entitled Incontro Art Monastico (Art Monastic Encounter) that served as meeting points for the Artmonks with the community in this new region of Italy. Each event was composed of the three pillars of the Art Monastery: Contemplation (a participatory exploration including all event attendees), Creativity (a performance or installation by the Artmonks), and Community (an informal get-to-know-you session with the audience over wine and snacks).
Summer 2012 Laboratory
The Art Monastery kicked off the Art Monastic Laboratory program in summer 2012, inviting five Artmonks-in-Residence to join the long-term team members in Labro, Italy for a 90-day art-monastic retreat. The purpose was to create a full-length collaborative, devised, multi-disciplinary theater piece that came to be known as Ad Mortem. The piece was co-created by the group (directed by Artistic Director Liz Maxwell and composed by Music Director Charles Darius) during the first eight weeks of the summer and subsequently performed regionally during the final four weeks.
About the Program
The goal of the summer 2012 Art Monastic Laboratory was explicitly stated to be 1) to develop and perform an original theater piece and 2) to live together as an intentional monastic community that supported the artist as a whole person. With these two goals hand in hand, the Artmonks engaged in a daily balance between process and product, work and play, individual time for reflection and collective rehearsal and community engagement. The daily schedule reflected this balance, attempting to carve out time for myriad goals, intentions, and needs.
How It Worked
A stable community of 10 artists lived together in Labro from June 1, 2012 to August 30, 2012. For the duration of the 90-day retreat, additional volunteers would join for various periods of time, also contributing to the community and show in invaluable ways.
Three artists were housed at the monastery, which is situated approximately a five-minute drive away from the house where the rest of the community slept. Accommodation is in modest, shared rooms, following in the tradition of simple, monastic life. Every day our wonderful chef, Emma, prepared beautiful, delicious meals (highlights include home-made yogurt at breakfast and the use of local ingredients for healthy, sustainable lunches and dinners). The entire community participated in daily community chores and weekly community activities, where we experimented with various intentional and monastic practices.
Artists were encouraged to seek individual grants, private contributions, or frequent flyer mile donations to cover their own travel to and from Italy. Unfortunately, the AMP presently can not offer stipends to artists for their time and talents.
For the majority of the summer, the community followed this schedule template to organize our days:
- 8am – Meditation (optional)
- 9am – Breakfast
- 10am – Check-in
- 10:30am – Morning training (dance, voice, theater)
- 1pm – Lunch
- 3-6pm – Rehearsal for Ad Mortem
- 8pm – Dinner
- 10pm – Gregorian chant in the temple
No prior experience with meditation was necessary, and Artmonks of varied spiritual backgrounds partook in this optional daily practice that took place in a vast sunlit field next to our property. To end each day, we gathered in our roofless temple, which we built from materials found around our property, to sing a shortened version of the Requiem mass under the stars.
For the second half of the summer, the community also began performing nightly for Calici Sotto Le Stelle, a local wine, food, and entertainment festival. Each evening, a group of Artmonks would drive over to the local town to perform this 15-minute opening act. Our daily schedule shifted accordingly in order to accommodate this new activity.
Social Sculpture and Community Life
All artists, along with interns, volunteers, and staff, were part of the monastic intentional community for the entire summer. The community shared lunch and dinner every day, participated in cooking, cleaning, other chores, and additional community activities, and explored elements of contemporary monasticism as a group (meditation, ritual, etc.). In summer 2012, the Artmonks took temporary Artmonk vows, created a summer solstice ritual, and held a shadow ceremony to explore the dark side of our individual natures.
Although we are a secular community, the Artmonks are deeply interested in alternative spiritual practices and we seek others ready to engage art and spirit in similarly profound ways. We seek participants for our programs who are also actively lit up by all of these elements. Our vision is that the laboratory program challenge each individual creatively, spiritually, and inter-personally; that the community deeply investigate art monasticism; and that this process yield a professional, high-quality product.
Daily Technique Training
Every morning of the development period, the Artmonks-in-Residence trained for two and half hours together in skill-sharing master classes. These sessions increased our individual and collective skills, improved our technique, and created a shared vocabulary that carried forth into rehearsals and performances. Each day, the company trained in dance and strength building, music and vocal skills, and Viewpoints-Suzuki stage techniques. Each session was led by a different company member and built cumulatively throughout the summer.
Artistic Concept for the Show
Building on the strength from morning training, afternoons were devoted to devising and rehearsing the original piece. Following the SITI Company model of devising original work based around a Question-Anchor-Structure, the Artmonks-in-Residence devised the piece based on these three pillars:
- Question: How do I live when I know that I’m going to die?
- Anchor: personal and cultural reflections on death and dying
- Structure: a deconstructed Requiem mass
The concept for the piece explored general themes of death and transformation (how do these themes on an individual level cause to spring forth metaphors for the death and transformation of a society, culture, and world?) and drew inspiration from ancient Italian culture and mythology (what do rites of the underworld mean in our particular time and place today? How many ways have human beings come up with to cope with the concept of dying?). The artists actively engaged in the question of language (how do you communicate in a place where no one understands your words? What do these problems mean symbolically? Could we create our own language for the play world?), ultimately performing text in both Italian and English for a mixed audience. The text was layered over what developed to be an extremely physical dance-based work, although the piece also incorporated shadow play, a completely original score, and abstract characters and story-telling to tie the piece together. Photos and video from the show are available in our portfolio.
*Note: The show created from the summer experience is called Ad Mortem, but it was originally called L’Eterno Smascherato for the local premiere. These titles refer to the same final work.
Documenting the Process
It was challenging to document the process while experiencing it, to reflect on the successes and challenges while still in the midst of them. For snippets of the experience of the summer, see the following blogs that document the process throughout:
- Reports on starting the process from Executive Director Betsy McCall and Artistic Director Liz Maxwell
- Welcome speech from the first night
- Chef Emma Sanchez’s first blog: “Welcome to the Kitchen“
- Personal experiences from Artmonk-in-Residence Raphael Sacks on starting the summer
- Video reflections from the whole community, one month into the Laboratory
- Notes from Artmonk-in-Residence Anaya Cullen on the process of creating costumes
- Chef Emma’s mid-summer notes on cooking for the community and local foraging
- Onlooker’s Journal: three posts by Marcella Calabi, consultant to the AMP, on what it was like to visit the laboratory, meet the community, and see the show
- Reflections during the final month from Artmonk-in-Residence Ryan Hazelbaker
- From Liz Maxwell, on the closing of the summer laboratory
- Post-laboratory reflections by Artmonk-in-Residence Neva Cockrell
Additionally, a private blog documented the process more in depth throughout the summer; access to this blog was reserved for high-level donors, select advisors, and Board of Directors.
A Co-Created Magical Summer
The Art Monastery Project is a unique place, an idealistic start-up that is an exciting experiment. The ideal Artmonk-in-Residence to join us for a laboratory is open-minded, kind-hearted, and enthusiastic about the adventure of living with a bunch of creative, big-spirited, hard-working Americans in the Italian countryside. The summer 2012 Art Monastic Laboratory was a huge success; please check back on this page for updates about future upcoming laboratories.
Meet the Summer 2012 Community
Executive Director: Betsy McCall
Artistic Director: Liz Maxwell
Music Director and CFO: Charles Darius
Community Production Manager: Molly Freedenberg
Assistant to the Executive Director and Language Artist: Christina Vani
Culinary Artist: Emma Sanchez
Artmonks-in-Residence: Neva Cockrell, Anaya Cullen, Ryan Hazelbaker, Andi Hemmenway, Raphael Sacks
Stage Managers: Marko Grunz, Kelly Jenkins
Worktrade Volunteers (with us for one- to three-week periods throughout the summer): Tom Sharp, Luelle Llorens, Jordan Aragon, Traci Longacre, Tina Grandinetti, Sean Yoro
Additional pictures from the summer 2012 Art Monastic Laboratory can be found in the social sculpture section of our portfolio.