Interview with Artist-in-Residence, Jen Abrams

By Monel Chang, Executive Intern

 

At Earthdance, artists frequently stay to take a creative personal retreat for themselves and their work. Jen Abrams, from Brooklyn, who is a choreographer, dancer, writer, and has been trained as an actor, visited us for a week at the end of August. She has been working a multidisciplinary performance project called Any Resemblance. It follows a queer interracial couple trying to get pregnant. The project takes place live in the LaMama lobby, and online.  Jen has been a long-time contact improvisation teacher as well as a friend of Earthdance. It was a pleasure to learn about her work-in-progress.

Monel Chang: Jen Abrams, you are here as an artist in resident, welcome to your stay at Earthdance. What brought you to be an artist in residence at Earthdance?

Jen Abrams: I just needed to get some focus time to work on a piece that I’m developing. It’s a big piece and I just needed to sit and think and not be interrupted and I had been trying all summer to carve out enough time to really get deep into the work and it was just not happening so I decided I needed to come up here and let everything else rest for a while.

MC: And what are you working on?

JA: I’m working on a piece that I also worked on at the E|MERGE residency.  It is a serial performance narrative… is that the right way to put it? I’m still not sure exactly what to call it. It’s a narrative performance piece. It follows an interracial lesbian couple trying to get pregnant and it takes place on a 28-day cycle, so the events of the story are unfolding in real-time. There are performance episodes once a week in a series. They’re short episodes sort of like a TV show. In between the performance episodes, the characters are blogging and having Facebook updates and all of that social media stuff. So you’re seeing the events of their lives unfold in real time over the course of 28 days. And it’s one insemination cycle. So at the beginning of the project they’re getting things squared away with the donor and the second performance is the insemination and the third performance is kind of the waiting and the fourth performance is the pregnancy test.

MC: And how far along were you before you came [to Earthdance]?

JA: It’s really hard to know, ‘cause I don’t know how far away the end is. But, you know, we’ve met a lot...it’s a collaborative team. I’m not making this by myself. I am here to focus on the parts of it that I need to generate, which are the movement parts and the overall story architecture and a lot of the scripting and the blog posts for one of characters, the one that I am going to be playing. We’ve done a lot of laying of groundwork. There wasn’t a ton of concrete stuff we could look at. I was able to generate a lot of stuff while I was here.

MC: What were you able to generate?

JA: Some movement, a couple of movement phrases, also, generating the movement phrases tells me something about the character and who she is and what her internal state is. That’s very slow for me and in particular, it’s slow because I’m pregnant, so I can’t be on my feet for very long and there’s not much I can do on the floor because I can’t roll onto my belly, so I was having to really figure out a different, or a new process for making new work, because I just couldn’t stand on my feet. But I did manage to figure out a new rhythm for making the work. And came up with some movement material and I came up with a lot of written material. And it was just very nice to feel like I spent a lot of time sinking into the story architecture and thinking about people and what the flow of the narrative needs to be and how the characters need to behave in relationship to one another. So a lot of the time was just spent sinking into those ideas and starting to really have a handle on them.

MC: How did you get yourself to sink into the ideas?

JA: Well, Earthdance, is…I mean there’s…well, I’m surrounded by neurological cues to sink in.

MC: Yeah?

JA: So, that’s why I came here.

MC: What cues?

JA: I mean, some of it I think is, that I’ve been coming here for a long time and this place has always meant going deep for me, and I think…I feel like I’ve been coming here on and off for fifteen years. And I think if you have a long history with a place it gets into your muscle memory and if you arrive at that place your body does something. I mean some of it is just the pace here and some of it is the simplicity of it, I mean there’s, for me, I mean it’s probably different for staff, but for me, there isn’t anything else I have to do here. And, you know, there’s nutritious food that makes my body feel energized and, you know, there are these very very beautiful spaces. And I think that, there are… also the intension of the people who built these buildings resides in the buildings, so when I enter these spaces, I can feel the intention. And that might be because I know some of those people, and I know the intentions that Earthdance was built with, but to me, I enter the square barn, and it calls a certain kind of energy. So that’s very helpful to sinking in.

For the rest of the interview, check out this audio file. For more information on Jen and her work, please visit her website at JenAbrams.org! For more information on Residencies at Earthdance, please visit our residencies page.

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