Location: Bowdoin / Theater and Dance / activity / 2012 / Profiles / Lily Bo Shapiro '12

Theater and Dance

Interview with Lily Bo Shapiro '12, developing an Honors Project entitled Lullaby

Story posted April 20, 2012

Lily Bo Shapiro '12

Zarate Jr. And we’re live! To begin with, you are Lily Bo Shapiro, from New York?

Shapiro Yes, New York, New York.

Zarate Jr. New York, New York. Class of 2012?

Shapiro Yes.

Zarate Jr. I’ve done my research as you can tell. And you are a self-designed major.

Shapiro Yes, I am an “Aesthetics of Performance” major.

Zarate Jr. “Aesthetics of Performance”…who is the faculty member behind that?

Shapiro Davis Robinson and Charlotte Griffin are my advisors.

Zarate Jr. And aren’t you the first theater major or something like that?

Shapiro I think I’m the first student that has a major that is almost strictly dance-theater. There are four or five courses in my major that are from outside of theater-dance, but it’s a twenty-two course major, and the bulk of them are theater-dance courses.

Zarate Jr. Twenty-two course major…

Shapiro I think so…

Zarate Jr. Aren’t most majors only ten courses…?

Shapiro Yeah…so the guidelines for self-designed majors say eight to twelve courses. In the fall of last year, I submitted a twelve course major divided along theater and dance lines. In example, a history course for each side of the departments. Courses on basic skills, like performance skills, on each side of the departments. Cross-listed courses too, like Design and Improvisation. And a capstone; an honors project. That proposal wasn’t exactly rejected, but I did have to meet with Dean Higginbotham, because the committee felt it was too much of a ‘departmental major’, and self-designed majors needed to be more specific to the person designing them. I told him I couldn’t give up any of the courses I had listed, but he said that I could expand beyond the twelve-course limit.

Zarate Jr. What departments are the other courses in?

Shapiro There is a 300-level Education course. A 100-level German course. A Film History course, and an Anthropology course. So that’s four courses.

Zarate Jr. And the capstone project is Lullaby, isn’t it?

Shapiro The current title is Lullaby.

Zarate Jr. Current title? Why is it only the current title?

Shapiro It’s the title that went to press, and it’s probably the title it’s going to keep for the Bowdoin iteration of this piece. But if the piece continues to live after Bowdoin I might revisit the title.

Zarate Jr. It’s interesting that you see yourself continuing this project past Bowdoin. How would you envision keeping this production alive past Bowdoin? Different performers? Or…?

Lily Bo Shapiro '12Shapiro That’s definitely a possibility. I’m not totally sure. It’s possible I might submit this to The New York International Fringe Festival, and ask the Bowdoin performers to join me. One of the driving ideas behind this self-designed major and capstone project was that I’m an artist, and I’m interested in possibly having my own dance-theater-performance company at some point in the future. So part of being a free-lance creator and having my own company is creating a repertory of work that can have a life outside of an academic institution. One issue that came up was that I had originally planned on working with a composer for this project, although that didn’t work out. Now I’m using a lot of music that’s copyrighted, which works in an academic context, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed if I’m to continue this piece outside of Bowdoin.

Zarate Jr. As a senior, you’re getting close to leaving this academic institution, and though you’ve mentioned the theater-dance company, I’m curious as to what your plans are post-graduation. Especially the first couple of months after receiving the diploma.

Shapiro I’m going to the American Dance Festival this summer, at Duke University, for six weeks. I’m not sure if I’m going to make work there, or if I’m going to just take classes and audition for projects. I have to see where I am – I’ll be there only two weeks after Bowdoin, so I might need a break from making work. I’m also applying to the Moscow Art Theater for the fall to study theater for a semester, the Stanislavski technique in particular. So that’s what I’m envisioning. If I don’t get into the Moscow program, the plan is to travel next year. Mostly Europe and Asia – I didn’t study abroad because I was a self-designed major, and I’ve never lived abroad. I’m very excited about seeing the world, seeing what other art is going on in different places of the world, and what different kinds of training I can get. Develop my own body. That’s the plan.

Zarate Jr. Now are there any cities in particular that you are excited about?

Shapiro Berlin is definitely somewhere I’m interested in going to. Other than that, I’m not totally positive, city-wise. I also have a number of friends who have applied to teach abroad, or to Fulbright’s. I’m waiting until they figure their stuff out so I can figure out in what countries my friends will be so that I can visit them.

Zarate Jr. Now returning to Lullaby, could you tell me a bit more about it? In terms of what it is as a piece of production, and what the experience has been coordinating this capstone project with the department.

Shapiro Sure. That’s a lot of questions in one question! Some more about it as in genre?

Zarate Jr. What genre it is, how would you describe it to someone who you’re trying to get to come see the show, what would you tell them about it?

Shapiro I would say it is a dance-theater piece. It’s not a play with a script and plot. It’s more a collage of many different scenarios – many of them to music. Most of them using gesture if not straight-up dance vocabulary. But we’re also using voice, we’re also using some text. The performers are all very much individual people, rather than formalistic movers. The process has been very based on the performers themselves. We began the year by working physically and vocally but also sitting down for thirty minutes, or up to an hour at a time to discuss a topic. The first topic we discussed is presentation – of the self. We talked about other subjects too. Including gender, people’s experiences with kissing. People’s experiences with role models. People’s experiences with moments of fear and moments of joy. And the process itself other than that has been very couched in the performers personalities and abilities, and what excites them, what their tendencies are. The piece began as an exploration of childhood and adulthood games, and the ways children perceive adulthood, and adults perceive children. As we’ve continued to work on it, it’s become more and more focused on obsession with ‘things’. So ‘adulthood’ as a thing, ‘childhood’ as a thing. There are a lot of props in this show, which is a new experience for me. A lot of the work we’re doing with the props is very fetish-ized in terms of the performers’ relationship with the object. We’ve worked a lot with the idea of setting people up to fulfill a stereotype or an ideal, an image that they have of something, and working with that surface level, and what happens when it breaks. It’s still working a lot with the playfulness of childhood and a lot of the scenes are based in children’s game, or memories of childhood that the performers or I spoke about in rehearsal.

Zarate Jr. Well, I’m still puzzled about the title…Lullaby. To be honest I was imagining more a – a more oneiric styled piece, something more focused on dreamscape and sleeping. How do you see the title fitting with the childhood exploration and adulthood exploration and object focus?

Shapiro I think there is a dream-like quality to the show that we’re trying to play with.

Zarate Jr. How do you emphasize that?

Shapiro Part of it comes from the collage structure of the show. The structure of the show came from the idea of dreams and memories very early on, namely in the way you construct or live in a dream logic, or the way you revisit memories. There’s that. There’s also the shifting of focus and of emotion and volume – the dynamics of way dreams shift back and forth. And escalate and then you’re somewhere else entirely. The title itself is a funny story. I found out about a week before Thanksgiving break that I needed to submit a title for publicity, and I hadn’t thought about it yet, to me that felt quite early in the process. The other independent studies that needed to submit information for publicity were plays that already had titles, so I was scrambling at the last minute to figure out a title. I had lists and lists and lists of title ideas. Some of them felt too didactic, some felt too cutesy, and some of them –

Zarate Jr. Example of some these rejected titles?

Shapiro ‘After Dining’ is a title I considered. ‘In the Parlor’…

Zarate Jr. You say that with such disdain!

Shapiro Which was vaguely related to the piece at the time, but isn’t so much anymore. There was a track of music we were using which was a Romanian lullaby. The title was in Romanian, and in parentheses it said ‘Lullaby’…so I picked that as a title. It helped focus me a little bit in terms of music choices. I was very all-over the place in terms of music last semester. Once I picked the title ‘Lullaby’ and I knew I wanted to work with some dream qualities and some sleep qualities a little more…I then went and scoured my music library and the internet for lullabies and for music for children, music about children. It was very focusing.

Zarate Jr. In terms of the cast, you said a lot of the production has come from a collaborative effort. What has the experience been like, being the creative force behind this project, and assembling this collage from the cast? How do you think it has been informative in your future plans to have a company?

Shapiro I knew going into the project that I wanted to work collaboratively – though I wasn’t totally sure what that meant. But I knew that I wanted to draw a lot of material from them and engage them in the process. It’s definitely been my artistic vision that has structured the piece, but a lot of the material itself comes from them and their stories and their personalities. It’s been very exciting, it’s helped me let go a lot in rehearsal, I’ve a habit of planning everything very precisely beforehand, but working collaboratively with my cast has helped me as an artist let go a bit more, and be a little more available at rehearsal to new ideas. In example, watching an improvisation and feeling ok to stop it, and say, “Try this instead”, which has been very exciting for me. I really like working collaboratively, I think it produces interesting work, and it’s exciting for me as an artist and creator to work with people who are generating ideas and not just waiting for me to give them ideas. It certainly takes a lot of time though. We rehearsed at least nine hours a week last semester. We’re rehearsing six hours a week as a full cast this semester. Plus anywhere from one to six other hours in solo, duet, and trio rehearsals. So it takes a lot of time. And it’s a yearlong project. We’ve spent a lot of time exploring, telling stories, revisiting stories, and coming up with new stories. It’d definitely a lengthy process.

Zarate Jr. Would you say that Lullaby is still a work in progress?

Shapiro Yes.

Zarate Jr. Very much so. Now, the cast. How did they join the production? Was there an audition process?

Shapiro I had an audition, and five people showed up. From there, I took four of my cast members. Also, people has contacted me expressing interest before auditions, but they didn’t make it to the auditions, so I reached out to them afterwards, and two more joined us at that point.

Zarate Jr. So you have a cast of six.

Shapiro Yes. Three women and three men.

Zarate Jr. Is there any reason for the balance?

Shapiro I knew I wanted a fairly gender-balanced cast, I thought I wanted seven –

Zarate Jr. Would you go as far as to say gender-neutral, or just gender-balanced?

Shapiro Gender-balanced…I’d say we play with gender a lot in the piece, so I wouldn’t say gender-neutral. I thought I wanted seven, six wound up being a great number.

Zarate Jr. So you’d be the seventh I assume.

Shapiro I’m not in the piece.

Zarate Jr. Not in the piece at all?

Shapiro No.

Zarate Jr. Oh, ok. So when does the show go up?

Shapiro April 25th and 26th at 8:00 PM in Pickard Theater, and it’s probably going to run for forty-five to fifty minutes.

Zarate Jr. Onto some other questions. I know you’ve been very active in the Theater & Dance department while at Bowdoin. Has there been any course in particular that has really developed you as an artist or a person, or a course that you really enjoyed?

Shapiro I’d say there are a couple classes that have been very influential. One was a course I audited, ‘Choreography for Dancers’ (Dance 270). I audited it because I had taken it previously with Paul Sarvis, I took it again with Charlotte Griffin last year. It was a very productive course for me. Very small, improvisation and critique based. It helped me focus on developing the language for my art and critique skills for myself and for others, and it was a way of distinguishing what my performer habits were that were winding up in my choreography as choreographic choices without me realizing it. And that was very productive for me. It was also the first place where I did a prop study, and Lullaby is full of props.

Zarate Jr. Prop study?

Shapiro Well, the class comprised several studies you brought to class: A self-portrait assignment. A live-accompaniment assignment. A prop assignment. A self-designed project. It was my first time really working in depth with a prop as a choreographer, which was incredibly helpful moving into this project, where I’m using wine glasses, and balloons, and dead balloons, and lipstick and saran wrap. We were using scarves and a ball, and I thought we were going to be using purses and shoes and other objects as well…we’re using a wig. So that’s been very helpful. I’d also say the two classes I took with Abigail Killeen, ‘Acting Shakespeare’ and ‘Voice and Text’ were incredibly helpful for me. ‘Acting Shakespeare’ was a course that culminated in a collaborative project. That was very helpful process for me to go through. ‘Voice and Text’ was a course that focused on using the voice to communicate. We’ve done a lot of work in my creative process based on the work I did in that class. Professor Killeen even came in and worked with the cast a little last semester to really develop their vocal training.

Zarate Jr.  One last thing…this blending of theater and dance, framed in a larger context, seems to point to the growing departure from ‘pure’ or ‘straight’ forms of art, that is to say, ‘purely’ theater, or ‘purely’ dance productions. This is shown for example in the growing use of multi-media. Where would you place Lullaby in this context?

Shapiro I was particularly drawn to the combination, the merging of theater and dance, because a) I do both as a performer and creator, and b) it felt like a fuller way to access something universal, and to express something, even for the performers themselves, to express something in a more universal way. Dance-theater itself has been around for much of the twentieth century as a developing art form more so in Europe than America. Lullaby definitely comes from this lineage of dance-theater makers; Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, Martha Clarke. But I also think it comes from another cultural place – which might be the same or similar cultural place from which they were coming – of images and identity. Of an image based culture. We’ve played a lot with the identity of adulthood, and the identity of childhood, and the identity of a man, and the identity of a woman, and the identity of what love is, and the identity of what fear is. And that’s been a key part of this project. I think this comes from growing up with a sense that there was a way to be in each of these roles, that comes from image and television and movies, Disney and whatever else you grew up watching.

Zarate Jr.  So a reaction against media of sorts?

Shapiro I don’t know if it’d be a reaction against media, it’s certainly influenced by growing up with media.

Zarate Jr.  Would you say this is something more unique to our generation?

Shapiro I think our generation certainly grew up with a lot of media. More than previous generations. Certainly we’re the generation that grew up with the internet, and the ease and access of images is heightened for our generation.

Zarate Jr.  I believe that will conclude our interview. Do you have any final thoughts?

Shapiro I hope folks come to the show, and enjoy it, and chat about it.

Zarate Jr. Any suggestions?

Shapiro About how to view it?

Zarate Jr. About whatever you like.

Shapiro I think it’s important to have fun.

Zarate Jr. Excellent. Thank you very much Lily.


 I think I’m the first student that has a major that is almost strictly dance-theater. There are four or five courses in my major that are from outside of theater-dance, but it’s a twenty-two course major, and the bulk of them are theater-dance courses.
— Lily Bo Shapiro '12