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BLUR THE LINES

An interview with dancer Kris Lenzo
Conducted by Producing Intern C. Hano

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CH: What was it like to make the transition from an athlete to a dancer?
KL: It was exciting, it was a big change, and I didn’t really follow dance or watch dance before that. Once I started to perform myself I watched more dance and really enjoyed it.

CH: Can you tell us about the pieces we’ll be seeing at RIPPED?
KL: One piece is called “Passage Hawk,” and it was choreographed by Jim Morrow. We had both been in a piece together the year before, and the choreographer kept referring to “stand up dancers” and “wheelchair dancers.” “Wheelchair dancers over here, and stand up dancers over here.” It kind of bothered him the way he separated us, separated the two groups. So he wanted to make a piece where the lines defining those two types of dancers were blurred. It was really fun making it, we just kind of played around and included the chair as more of an apparatus and less of a chair. We never really use it as a wheelchair in the piece.

CH: How did it feel to have your daughter make a short film about you?
KL: I talked about a lot of things I haven’t talked about in a long time. It was fun to think back and revisit my past and think about how things were at different times and remember the process of getting a disability. I was remembering kind of physically getting used to a disability and psychologically getting used to a disability. I enjoyed it.

CH: How do you begin to choreograph a piece? What’s your process?
KL: It kind of varies, like sometimes I’ll have a song in mind and I’ll want to do something to the song. Sometimes I’ll do contact improv dancing and I’ll just get ideas of different movement from that. I’ll start moving in ways that I haven’t thought of and decide that I want to incorporate that into a dance.

CH: How did you come to work with fellow dancers, Anita Fillmore Kenney and Linda Mastandrea? What are they like to work with?
KL: Well I was dancing with Momenta, and Anita has been a part of Momenta for a long time. The first year I was with them she was dancing and then she went away to grad school for the next two years. When she came back, we wanted to do a duet together and we did Tango #4 by Sarah Najera. We did that in the Fall of ’06 and I really enjoyed working with her so we decided to collaborate and make a piece together the next year. We’ve been dancing together since then pretty regularly. And Linda, she had come to a concert at Counter Balance at Access Living, a dance series that Ginger Lane puts on. Linda was thinking about getting into dance and Ginger encouraged her. We did a duet that Ginger choreographed and we’ve been dancing together since then.

CH: What inspired your piece where you dismantle your wheelchair?
KL: I guess the moment of inspiration was to draw the line between the so called “wheelchair dancer,” and so called “stand up dancer.” The other [piece of inspiration] was to kind of look at things from different perspectives. That might be more my motivation and my storyline. I’m not sure if that was part of Ginger’s thinking. She’s really the choreographer and I had a lot of influence on the collaboration process.

CH: Do you feel like your art, your dancing, has changed over time?
KL: Yeah, I think I’ve just been exposed to more dances, to different types of choreographers, and I keep pulling ideas from them. Or I’ll work with someone who’s asking me to move in a way I haven’t moved before and I haven’t thought of moving that way before, I might incorporate that style. I guess what I’ve changed over the years, I’ve stolen from them.

CH: Do you have any advice for performing artists with limited mobility?
KL: I guess it would be keep trying new things, new ways of performing, and ask for feedback from artists who’s work to enjoy. Sometimes you could really be on the verge of something, but you just need somebody else to show you where you’re going. And just put the time in, stay healthy. Try to develop strength and mobility so you have more options. If that’s an option, if mobility can be developed.

CH: Thank you so much. I can’t wait to see your performance.
KL: Thank you.

Kris Lenzo performs at Victory Gardens Theater on January 17th. Click here for more information.

Introducing VG’s New Community Engagement Managers

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Happy Holidays!

Before we get into filling our stockings and singing cheesy holidays songs, we wanted to take a moment to introduce ourselves.

Hello. We are Jaclyn Tidwell and Nikki Patin, Victory Gardens Theater’s new Community Engagement Managers. We started at the beginning of November, so some of you may already know us. Hi again.

As Community Engagement Managers, our goal is to connect all of the vibrant communities in Chicago with our work here at Victory Gardens Theater. However, that doesn’t just mean getting people here to check out our productions. It also means us showing up to support what’s happening outside of Victory Gardens. To that end, you might see us taking meetings at your favorite cafe or getting some planning done at your local library or applauding a performance of teen poets at a community event.

Connecting with communities is more than what we do here at Victory Gardens Theater. It’s been a way of life for both of us for a very long time.

Though Jaclyn was born and raised in central Illinois, she called Nashville, TN home for 10 years prior to moving to Chicago this past summer. During her time in Nashville, Jaclyn connected to the community in many ways. In the Nashville theat​er​ community, Jaclyn worked as an actor, writer, and organizer with Actors Bridge Ensemble, Nashville Children’s Theatre, and Nashville Repertory Theatre. Jaclyn also served weekly as an art studio mentor at the Oasis Center, a youth intervention program for teenage men caught in the juvenile justice system. In her past role at the Arts & Business Council Nashville, Jaclyn developed three year-round projects that connected business and community volunteers with low-income residents of Nashville to provide education, mentorship, and support. A highlight was designing Periscope, a small business incubation program to create business training and economic opportunity for artists. Jaclyn also managed partner relationships working with a range of community organizations including the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Metro Nashville Arts Commission, The Land Trust for Tennessee, and the Center for Nonprofit Management. As a professional theat​er​ artist, Jaclyn produces high-level theat​er​ and contemporary arts exhibitions, creates community events, and co-founded the inaugural Sideshow Fringe Festival, a progressive four-day performing arts event. Jaclyn holds a B.A. in Political Science and Theatre Performance from Belmont University.

A native Chicagoan, Nikki first began to connect with communities in Chicago as a spoken word artist and educator. Nikki has performed, taught and spoken at elementary schools, high schools, colleges, universities and community events such as the University of Chicago, Adler School of Psychology, Northwestern University, Nancy B. Jefferson High School (located within the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center), Francis Parker High School, DePaul University, Chicago Humanities Festival, Beastwomen, The Black Women’s Expo and many others. Nikki is also an outspoken advocate for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. She has worked closely with Rape Victim Advocates and Center on Halsted as an educator and case manager. Nikki has also supported numerous arts education organizations in their efforts to connect young people with arts, including Urban Gateways, the Chicago Park District and Free Write Jail Arts. In 2014, Nikki was part of a historic delegation of Black women who traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to speak on behalf of Black women sexual violence survivors before the United Nations. Nikki holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from the University of Southern Maine and is the Executive Director/Founder of Surviving the Mic, an organization dedicated to creating safe and affirming creative space for survivors of trauma of all kinds.

With our experience and passion for engaging and supporting communities as well as a wealth of dynamic experience, we make an excellent team and we’re grateful for the opportunity that Victory Gardens has given us to collaborate with each other and with YOU, the beautiful people who make up the communities of Chicago.

So, keep an eye out for us. If you see us out and about, feel free to introduce yourselves or even snap a selfie with us!

We look forward to engaging and connecting with you.

Happy Holidays!

Nikki and Jaclyn

Evening the Playing Field at Access Night 2015

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From left to right:
Liz Tregger (ASL interpreter), Mike Ervin (Access Project Coordinator),
Monty Cole (Artistic Programs Manager) kick off the evening.

 

Written by Braden Cleary, Producing Intern

More than 1 in every 10 people in Illinois has some kind of disability. That means that with every sold-out performance at Victory Gardens, there could be up to 29 people in the audience who identify as having a disability. From an intern’s perspective, it was hugely inspiring to see 64 Audience Services professionals from 21 institutions from across the city come together for a common cause.  That is why it is so important for cultural institutions to understand accessibility services in order to create equitable and enjoyable experiences for all patrons, no matter what obstacles they may face.

The first annual Access Night at Victory Gardens aimed to do just that – bridge the gap between patrons who identify as having a disability and the front of house staffs at cultural institutions across Chicago. By interacting with hands-on workshops about American Sign Language translation, audio description, physical accessibility, touch tours, and live open captioning, audience services professionals came together to learn how to make their organizations more accessible as well as learn the language necessary to communicate about accessibility. The event ended in a question and answer session with a panel of disability advocates and audience services professionals who were able to provide honest insight from the perspective of patrons with disabilities. It acted as a great reminder that even though Chicago is huge, the arts and cultural community isn’t! If we all work together to educate ourselves about disabilities, we can “even the playing field” not only for patrons, but for artists too.

Here are the five most important lessons I learned at Access Night 2015:

1. Person first! When interacting with a patron with a disability, remember that they are a person too – “a man who is deaf or hard of hearing” instead of, “a deaf man.”

2. Always introduce yourself as an employe when offering assistance. “Hello ma’am, my name is Braden Cleary and I am an intern here at Victory Gardens. Can I help you with anything tonight?

3. If a patron or artist with a disability declines your assistance, accept it. Never respond, “are you sure?” Yes. They are sure.

4. When communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, never pretend to understand what he or she said if you really didn’t. Simply ask them to repeat themselves until you understand.

5. Accessibility assistance doesn’t stop at getting patrons into the building. Patrons with disabilities typically appreciate someone checking in with them at intermission and when the production is over.

But how can you make your institution more accessible? Access Night taught me that there are many ways to navigate this conundrum, but perhaps the most cost-effective way to introduce accessibility services (with theaters in mind) is through touch tours. Having a house manager lead a touch tour of the set and props before a performance is a great way to supply and accessible service with little financial investment. Those wishing to take further steps towards accessibility can think about accommodating restrooms, providing ramps as an alternative to stairs, hiring ASL interpreters and audio describers, and accommodating heavy doors. Even installing a doorbell could be a great alternative if your budget doesn’t allow for fully automated doors!

I encourage you to keep up with Victory Garden’s Access Project here in order to stay up-to-date on future accessible performances and events.