Student Reflection: Creative Residency in Italy

Most class assignments only lead to a grade. When I completed my application to an International Residency for Performers in Tuscany, Italy hosted by IUGTE (International University for Global Theatre Experience), I was merely thinking of submitting the copies to my teacher in time. It was our first assignment for a new course in the School of Theatre & Dance called Grant Writing and Artist Development. Thus, receiving the news of being accepted with a partial scholarship from Arts Oasis came as a shock, but days later I was already looking at what it would take to fund the trip.

Thanks to massive support from my friends, family, and a summer training scholarship from the Department of Dance, I was on my way to spend an intensive week in a monastery up in the mountains with complete strangers. The program features physical theatre and movement training with a focus on ensemble thinking. It caters to a variety of performing professionals such as actors, dancers, choreographers, and circus performers. Their intention is to serve as an international epicenter for artists through a fully immersive creative lab.


The 17 of us came together as a bunch of ambitious creators as diverse as the city of Houston, coming from Singapore, Great Britain, Brazil, Taiwan, Ireland, Ukraine, Canada, New York, and more. We range from young college students in dance to seasoned professionals in opera, theatre, and music.


Each day begins with a morning warm-up of tai chi on the rooftop (that comes with a bonus view of the sunrise on the beach). As we stretch out our backaches and jetlag, we’re already thinking of what this day will make available to us. Our afternoon practical labs have us explore space, vocals, and each other through improvisational games. We transition into evenings with creative discussions that ask us to question what roles we accept as creators and performers for others.

Our exercises start easy with weight sharing and escalate to reciting a dialogue about koi fish while maintaining a ball in the air in a group circle. As trust and willingness to risk grow between us, the exercises force us to adapt deeper physical connections. We lead a blind partner on our shoulder and hear, “Explore levels. Speed. Direction. Challenge your partner. But remember you are dancing for them.” We are reminded that wherever we go, we are thinking of their safety as they put their complete effort into listening to our bodies.


In a few days, our group of rag-tag optimists are now an intimate family. We’re not close because we like each other. We’re connected because we have a safe environment to learn about each other, to make mistakes together, and learn how to really listen for each other. Beyond what we see and hear, as performers, we are listening for what is really behind a person.


As our intense week nears an end, I learn that we are responsible for the intimacy we create as performers; the intimacy between fellow actors and the intimacy between the stage and audience. We are the creators, so what do we want to invent next? Fortunately for me, I now have a plethora of future collaborators from around the world eager to explore what we can do together.

—Thu-Mai Nguyen

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