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Edinburgh Fringe Festival welcomes UNC Asheville drama department

Bjorn Goller
Arts & Features Staff Writer
[email protected]
Starting as nothing more than a few texts, UNC Asheville’s drama department, with the help of the world renowned Siti Company, sets out to create a devised theater production to showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this year.
“I guess it was probably about four years ago now, the university received a grant from the Windgate Foundation to do this Black Mountain College Legacy Fellows.  The idea was a partnership between the university and the Black Mountain College Museum in a way that would amplify and support the legacy of the Black Mountain College,” said Kloeppel, associate professor of drama.  “It was a three year grant and the idea was that each semester the university would host a visiting scholar or artist whose work was aligned with Black Mountain College. There’s been numerous folks that have come in, Mel Chin, and the wake project that was sort of a big thing for us, he was here last spring. There’s been several different ones that have come. So I kinda threw the Siti company in as artists to come.”
Kloeppel said BMC, Siti Company and UNCA are kindred spirits in that they center the arts in most of the curriculum.
“Education by doing,” said Kloeppel. “When it comes to Siti Company they don’t think of teaching and art making as being separate things, they align both of them and the educational component is always inside of the art making, hence there are always considered more

Louise Gilbert and Morgan Fuller find inspiration reviewing artifacts.

According to Kloeppel,  the methodology employed by BMC and the access to its resources through the legacy fellowship encouraged the Siti Company to participate.   
“I reached out to them and said there is an opportunity for you to be in residence, it was spring of 2017. I didn’t  really know of their connection to BMC, I just knew their work was very similar. When we contacted them, they were like ‘Oh my gosh we’ve been fans of BMC for a long time, we consider them our artistic grandparents.’  There is this lineage in terms of using BMC as a model for artistic exploration,” Kloeppel said.
A palpable excitement grew out of the opportunity to work in close proximity to such an important, long lost but not forgotten, launching point  for so many of today’s great artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Ruth Asawa, Hazel Larsen Archer, Robert Creeley, Kenneth Snelson, Richard Buckminster Fuller, John Cage and Alen Ginzberg.
Leon Ingulsrud, one of the SITI Company’s co-artistic directors and founders, will work with and direct a group of UNCA’s drama students in creating the devised production. The SITI Company is an ensemble based theater company committed to providing a gymnasium-for-the-soul where the interaction of art, artists, audiences and ideas inspire the possibility for change, optimism and hope, according to their website.
The SITI company uses different tactics than other companies for creating devised productions, according to Grace Siplon, senior drama student and assistant director of the project. Instead of created stories through a series of improvisatory theater games or other conceptual ice-breakers which create stories cultivated by everyone’s participation, the Siti Company starts with a text and then works off of it.
“They usually start with text, from what I’ve seen. I’ve seen them do a devised theater project off of Chekhov’s Three Sisters  before, it doesn’t mean they necessarily do the play, they more mime the text, and ours is coming from the starting basis of John Cage’s A Lecture on Nothing  with an exploration into Black Mountain College,” Siplon said.
Senior drama student Morgan Fuller said she was attracted to the production because of its devised nature.
“Lise had initially sent an email out to people in the department to get the word out that this was going to happen. There was an application process and then a month later we found out whether or not we were going to be a part of it.  I was interested because it’s a devised process, and I had worked on a devised process once before a couple of years ago and it was really cool so I was really excited to do it again,” Fuller said.
Likewise, Louise Gilbert received an email informing her of the project’s initiation. The option to go abroad, as well as work with work with Siti Company peaked her interest.
“I was initially interested because it would mean I could study abroad,” Gilbert said with a giggle.  “Later on is when I found out about what Siti company was and that we were working with a piece of John Cage’s work and all of that came after wanting to go to Scotland and understanding what the Fringe Festival was.”  
Students can observe the collaboration between the theater department and the Siti Company live on April 18 and 19  at 7:30 p.m. and April 20 at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m..

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