Right next door to SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School in South Philadelphia, there's a performance space called the Whole Shebang, where artists and teachers offer arts training that goes beyond the norm.
Choreography/movement artist Meg Foley, who, along with partner/sculptor Carmichael Jones runs the Whole Shebang, says, "It's not always technical training, or discipline-specific; it's research into your own consciousness."
To be sure, there are near-conventional classes and events, such as one in Primordial Qigong or one in Embodied Anatomy. But this weekend brings something else again. On Sunday, Foley will begin the first of five straight Sunday workshops in a movement practice she calls "Action Is Primary," and on Sunday and Monday, Barrymore Award-winning soundscaper Michael Kiley hosts "Personal Resonance: A Voice Class for All Disciplines."
"I'm trying to be a more social artist, to use the world around me as a starting point as opposed to sitting down at an instrument or computer to write," says Kiley. He won the 2016 Barrymore Award for his sound design in Theatre Exile's The Invisible Hand. He is also a creator of ambient "soundwalks" in projects along Race Street Pier and Rittenhouse Square. "I'm relying less on the training of how music works," he says, "and starting from a place of listening and capturing."
Kiley is at work on a piece titled Prescription for next year's Fringe Festival. In it, his "Personal Resonance" practice will lead performers in creating sounds and movement, then use that raw material to create an active listening environment. "There'll be no sound reenforcement," he says, "just acoustic voices moving as a sea." The audience will learn some of his "Personal Resonance" approach, Kiley says, and then join in a group-voice finale.
Just as Foley is seeking to free the body from the conventions of choreography, Kiley believes the act of singing has become elitist and must be liberated. He wants singing to get beyond the mere "ability to duplicate pitch, and realize a preexisting melody in a pleasing tone." Instead, he says, he wants to "dismantle people's preconception of what song is, and why people sing, by explaining that it is a physical, sensorial act you have control over." As a traditional vocal instructor as well as one working with choreographers and devisers, he says he is drawn to "using voice as an extension of movement."
Kiley developed "Personal Resonance" at a time when he began to hate singing and needed to find new approaches. "Through studying anatomy, psychology, and acoustical physics, I realized that the singer's primary objective should be creating pleasurable sensations in the body … if it feels good, it will therefore sound good." His workshops, and Prescription, are borne out of a longing for public acts of group voice and good feeling. Whether you're an artist or not, Kiley thinks you could be interested in pleasurable ways of accessing your voice: "It's free, immediate, and does not take any special skill or talent to achieve. We need this now more than ever." One just needs to harness this freedom, as Tesla did with electricity.
Foley — a founding member of the Mascher Space Cooperative on Cecil B. Moore Avenue and a dancer/choreographer whose work has been performed in places such as Thirdbird and Vox Populi Gallery — says her "Action Is Primary" workshops will eventually become part of a full-fledged 2017 production titled The Undergird. Like Kiley's projects, it, too, is a culmination of years of research.
"I want things that you normally wouldn't think of as material to become part of the process," Foley says. She is looking for "a constant dialogue as to where we are in the moment, within emotion, within history and herstory. We want to dismantle the notion of what performance and improvisation is without being goal-oriented, but rather a constant state of exploration."