Grace Kuckro ’03 is not asking for an apology.
“Have you ever noticed how often people say, ‘I’m sorry — ‘ or ‘This is cheesy, but — ‘” Kuckro said. “We don’t know how to say, ‘I believe THIS’ — People are scared of letting go.”
With the creation of a new group at Yale called the Improvisational Art Troupe, Kuckro hopes to change all that.
“I hope it breaks down insecurities that performers and audience members have about themselves and about taking risks,” she said.
In the initial e-mail she wrote soliciting performers for the group, Kuckro said she believes spontaneous expression has an honesty that premeditated art lacks.
“This Improvisational Art Troupe — is based on the artistic and spiritual belief that when we let go of attempts to control our minds and bodies on stage, the sublime sings through us,” Kuckro wrote. “Our goal is to allow audiences to witness the current, truthful thoughts and emotions of a group of people.”
In traditional theater, Kuckro said, there is an inherent dishonesty because actors do not express their true feelings. She said she believes young people have incorporated this dishonesty into their daily interactions.
“In social situations, the cool people are the ones who are detached,” Kuckro said.
Troubled by the detachment and dishonesty she sees around her, Kuckrow decided to take action. She started the improvisational performance group in an effort to bring honesty back into art, and ultimately into life.
The new troupe had its second performance Wednesday. What began as a group of 15 people standing in a circle in the Berkeley College multi-purpose room ended in a colorful entropy of costumes, painted bodies, and a 10-foot mural.
“It felt like you were back in kindergarten,” said Jon Lehrer ’03, whose shirt, face and arms were covered in splashes of red, blue and green.
Stacey Sofka ’03, an economics major, happened to be studying at the Bagel Bar overlooking the Berkeley College multi-purpose room on Wednesday. She said she thought the performance was bizarre, but “very Yale.”
“That’s exactly how I would think a Yale artistic production would go, off the wall and a little eccentric,” Sofka said.
Lehrer said Wednesday evening’s performance let him take risks.
“You just have an urge and you follow it,” Lehrer said. “There’s no denial, no ‘I can’t do that.'”
Perhaps because of this sense of freedom, the program for the performance took a significantly different course from what Kuckro had envisioned. Kuckro originally planned a structured set of five pieces for the performance — including an improvisational dance segment, painting inspired by improvisational poetry, and improvisational sculpture using materials from umbrellas to bathrobes to bodies.
The first segment was to be a soundscape, in which the performers would stand in a circle and make sounds with their voices and bodies, “like an orchestra,” Kuckro said. There would be a crescendo about halfway into the 15-minute piece, then a decrescendo to the end. There were two rules: pay attention to the ensemble and don’t use words.
But soon after the exercise started, words began tumbling out into the cacophony of humming, stamping and singing.
“Have you heard about the war?” someone shouted.
“The war?” another responded, and the group suddenly crescendoed into a stamping march beat, interspersed with groans and piercing yells that shook the floor and left one’s head buzzing for minutes after it had subsided.
“I think really good moments happen in theater when you get past what you know and don’t know what will happen,” said Michael Wighton ’03, one of the performers. He said the spontaneous expression about current events was a memorable part of Wednesday’s performance.
James Duruz ’03 has been participating in improvisational dance and music for several years. He sees improvisation as a revolt against the instituationalized thinking that he believes corrupts today’s youth.
Kuckro, trained in singing, dancing and acting, said she feels the limitations of traditional art can stifle her ability to express herself.
“As a singer, I’m trapped by other people’s music,” she said. “As an actor, it’s someone else’s play. Even as a writer, you’re always rewriting and rewriting and having all these anxieties.”
Kuckro performed her first improvisational show in a performance art theater studies class last year.
“I literally got up on stage for 40 minutes and sat in front of my class, rolled around on the ground, singing, dancing — just trying to be honest,” Kuckro said. “In my final performance piece, I had James Duruz on electric guitar, Sophie Emigh ’05 was dancing. The theme was faith — It was the most transcendent piece I have ever done in my life. I started sobbing.”
Kuckro says in improvisational art she is looking for a way to reproduce moments when she is able to let go of her inhibitions and just express herself naturally.
“When you’re dancing at a club, there’s sometimes a moment where you just let go and just go with the music,” Kuckro said. “That’s the moment.”