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An art bootcamp: Indy Convergence turns six

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Convergers use different puppets during their time at the Wheeler Arts Community. - PROVIDED BY IAN GARRETT
  • Provided by Ian Garrett
  • Convergers use different puppets during their time at the Wheeler Arts Community.

Fourteen artists sit as if huddled around a campfire. Ellen Denham, an opera singer by trade, shakes a box of rice as others beat on drums, strike bells, clap wooden spoons and strum. Starting out slowly and gradually building momentum, they try to replicate the sounds of swamplands. The room fills with a wash of sound. Denham abruptly stops, and the group follows suit.

"Some of that was really great," Denham says. "What do you guys think? Can we use that?" Denham is creating a sci-fi themed play as part of this year's Indy Convergence, an annual, two-week workshop for artists from around the country and across disciplines. And to translate her question: Did that experiment - one of many that participants are conducting collectively and individually during the course of the Convergence - yield creative fruit?

Participants and audience members alike will have a chance to assess the results of all these efforts Saturday night, when the Convergence concludes with an Open Lab performance at its home for the past two weeks, the Wheeler Arts Community. Each artist will have 5 to 10 minutes to present an excerpt from whatever they've been working on during the course of Convergence.

Think of Indy Convergence as an art bootcamp giving professional artists from across fields the chance to test ideas, solicit feedback and learn from peers. Co-founder Robert Negron, an actor and producer who spends a portion of the year working as an arts instructor in Haiti, sums up the goal of the Convergence.

"We want people who know a lot about what they love and are willing to share that love with other artists," Robert says. "It's two weeks of being surrounded by completely different artists that are all here to learn and grow."

The artists work together to complete one collective project, The Umbrella Project. Each year one artist is chosen to lead the project and realize an idea associated with his or her work. This year, Denham has the helm.

"We have people that have walked away from here with knowledge about what is going to work and what isn't," Robert says of the Umbrella Project. "They have taken their project and started something great with it. We have people that have taken it overseas and performed."

Each artist leads a workshop during the Convergence, teaching other artists about the art form he or she has grown to love. These workshops are open to the public as well - and each year, new faces stroll through the door along with familiar ones. The goal is to bring in new artists each year to refresh the experience for workshop attendees.

Co-founder Caitlin Negron says that even after six years, Convergence organizers are still figuring out the best way to make everyone feel at home.

"We have to make sure we accommodate for what they can eat, or anything they need," Caitlin says. "We're proud of the array of people that have participated, and we make sure we always bring a very diverse group."

Another main goal of Indy Convergence is to show that artists can thrive in the Midwest.

"People have this idea that if you want to be an artists you have to be on the coast or in a major city, and that's not that case," Cailtlin says. "Artists can survive here in Indianapolis."

Butoh dancing

Shoeless, artists line up along opposite walls, gazing at each other. They're learning about Butoh, a performance and dance style that emerged from post-WWII Japan. Kendra Ware stands between the lines of people, demonstrating the proper stance. With feet superglued to the floor directly below their hips, knees bent, limp wrists extended and eyes halfway closed, her students resemble an army of zombies who drank a little too much Nyquil.

Together they inch their way across the room. "Don't rush, slow down, you have all the time in the world," Ware says in a soft tone.

The next exercise is conducted at the same slow pace, but with an added element: Participants are encouraged to feel the pull of gravity as they crawl from wall to wall.

"You completely become unaware of your surroundings, but the minute you open your eyes you get ripped right back to reality," a converger says of the experience. .

The exercises aren't easy. Keeping the muscles in position takes stamina and perseverance.

A poetry workshop conducted by Leah Falk opens as Convergers read out poems by Nancy Willard and Eric Weinstein, trying out different interpretations. The next activity challenges participants to write one line of poetry (dialogue, prose, whatever) on a sheet of paper, then pass that sheet to the person on the left, who then has to add his or her own line. That person then folds over the first line, showing only the second line of poetry, and continues to pass the paper. Once each piece of paper goes around the entire circle, the game is over.

Laughter fills the room as each artists reads the results. Next come dialogue poems using two voices written by teams of two.

"As a writer, I really like collaborating with other artists. I'm a poet. That's it," Falk says.

Dancer Tommy Lewey's workshop draws on his training in stage movement. "We are all movers. I create through movement and improvisation," he says.

The convergers start off by focusing on their own breathing patterns. The exercise continues as each artist warms up and gets loose - with eyes tightly closed. Each person is then challenged to find and identify each other. Once a person bumps into another, the idea is to latch on to this newfound partner and get a feel for one another.

The group then stands in a straight line, eyes open, no talking, to play 'Sticky Body Part'. A given body part - the choice is left to the participant - must remain stuck to the ground during the course of the activity. Each person must make his or her way across the room without removing that single (or multiple) body parts from the floor.

The game continues as rules are added and subtracted. One rule: act as if something and/or someone is chasing you.

Participating artists say they're taking in as much as they can before the two weeks are over. The group includes choreographers, dancers, students, an opera singer, a poet, a theater artist, a musician, a visual artist and an educator.

Some artists come for a year, benefit from the experience and pass on what they learn. Others, like musician Joshua Morris, keep coming back. This is Morris's fifth year participating. He first attended as a graduate student at Butler. He's since moved to New York, but continues to make a yearly trip back to Indy.

"When you're here they everyday worries don't come up, it's all about art when you are here," Morris says. "I've been introduced to so many things after leaving convergence every year. I've taken dance classes, and picked up new instruments. It is a great thing."

Since it was founded, Indy Convergence has expanded to include a Haiti-based convergence; plans are afoot to start another in Toronto. Visual artist Lee Rainbooth traveled from Haiti to participate in this year's convergence.

"I'm exhausted," Rainbooth says. "It's so physically demanding, but it is 100 percent worth it. Just being able to see everyone be so passionate about art and what they are doing is so inspiring."

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