Marion Fellowship #3: What Did I Accomplish at Chautauqua?

The Marion Fellowship requires that the journey of creating the project begin at Chautauqua. They ask that you identify a themed week that ties into your subject. I chose to straddle two sessions as it fit into other travel plans – The Arts and Global Understanding & The Forgotten: History and Memory in the 21st Century. Both happen to fit my subject well. I’m creating a multimedia theatrical piece that reflects on the dark episodes of Chinese communist history that my wife’s family lived through before leaving China to make a new life in the United States. I will unpack that in a future blog post.

I approached my time at Chautauqua as a space to listen, learn, reflect, and create. I took in a healthy amount of the cultural events and made sure to attend the events most relevant to my project. Outside of events I spent a lot of time thinking and drafting ideas. While the larger structure of my piece is established, the nuts and bolts of each movement is largely undetermined. The subjects are complex and do not present an obvious path towards artistic expression. For example, one movement is a reflection on The Great Famine. This three year famine killed anywhere between 15 and 45 million people. It was caused by a complex set of factors and contained a variety of horrific experiences. How exactly to I create a 10-minute movement for live instruments, dancer, and film? What can I express with these elements to capture some aspect of the pain that defines the famine?

This is but one example of many questions I have related to my piece about Mao’s China. How do I capture some essence of these tragic and often epic episodes in recent Chinese history in a relatively short breath of artistic expression? I specifically did not require any answers to these questions while at Chautauqua. I simply sat with the questions and created space to ask more questions. This week, which flew by, fulfilled a simple need to have space to contemplate a myriad of questions, ideas, intuitions, and other sparks of creative energy driven by this project. I believe I used the time well with the full intentions of the Marion Fellowship. Many who embark upon the fellowship are forging new paths in their own creative journey. In my case, I am tackling a darkly complex subject with three mediums that are new to me (electronic music, film, and dance). Space to sit was an incredible blessing.

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