INTERVIEW WITH DIANA OH
Led by Christine Drew Benjamin
On November 18th, 2011, a small group of FullStop Associated Artists will embark on a new journey to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, as part of the “Filling the Well” artist retreat led by Diana Oh. A couple weeks ago, I was able to sit down with Diana and discuss with her the process she’s undergone so far, and learn more about the expectations she has for this fantastic weekend. Enjoy.
How did you come up with the idea behind ‘Filling the Well”?
I came up with the idea of “Filling the Well” because of something that I came across when I was at Grad school at NYU. It was the summer before my thesis year and I was battling an extreme amount of performance anxiety. I felt like people were expecting me to succeed and write the most amazing brilliant earth-shattering piece of theatre ever written. I spent week after week trying to create one hell of a musical and putting myself under the most unrealistic expectations. I cracked one day because I simply couldn’t handle the pressure. I felt like I failed and experienced my very first panic attack. That’s when I knew something was up–that’s when I knew I wasn’t okay. I sought counseling because it was free to all NYU Tisch students and my counselor told me A) You’re depressed and B) Maybe you just need to fill your well. Go see a movie. And she was absolutely right: my well was empty. I had nothing to create from, no inspiration to pull from, no story to tell. How could I create if I was creating from a place of end-picture ideologies. That thinking is never going to merit good work–well, I shouldn’t say never but it certainly wasn’t working for me. The Filling the Well Artist’s Retreat feels like the perfect synthesis of who I am and the experiences I want to share with others. It’s a place I want artists to come to make things the way I like to make things. A place where you are given absolute permission. And a place where you fill your well by getting away from the city, surrounding yourself with other artists, exposing yourself to new territories and opening yourself up to whatever comes your way.
Can you tell me about a little bit about the background of the home you are taking the artists to?
The home we are going to is my Aunt Cece and Godmother Mary’s home. Aunt Cece passed away this past February and Mary passed 10 years ago. As a family, we are still healing and mourning the loss of two unbelievable human beings. They ran an adoption agency together and lived with one another in this home for almost thirty years. It’s housed many animals. It’s full of loving energy, mystery, and their spirit and it was heartbreaking to have this house sitting on 2.5 acres of land, in the middle of historic Doylestown, only 2 and 1/2 hours from the city stay empty, cold, and unlived in. It was screaming “use me, make use of me.” And I knew in my gut, in my heart, in every nerve ending in my being that I needed to do something about it. My family doesn’t know I’m hosting the retreat at Cece’s but my wish is to build on the land. For example build a black box theatre to help establish the retreat as a regular artist haven. It’s screaming potential. The house doesn’t have any doors, it’s all open–all the bedrooms, like an orphanage. Exactly as I want the artists to be–you don’t need much, just a great group of people and enthusiasm and suddenly there’s genius at your fingertips. There is a garage with an office next door, an empty sun room, kitchen, dining area, gazebo. My boyfriend and I went to clean the place up a few weeks ago to make space for all the artists. I’m excited to see what the house feels like once bodies are in it. It will always be Cece and Mary’s home though and I know people will be respectful of that. It’s a special place and you can’t help but feel their warmth wrapped up all around you when you’re there. The home feels like a gift. A gift that cannot go to waste. Oh, and there’s a lake.
What do you have planned for the artists?
EVERYTHING. It’s a curriculum based on the time I spent at National Theatre Institute, the Living Theatre, LAMDA, NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, Smith. I’ve planned an intensive 7am-11pm course schedule that includes movement, spontaneity, improv, game playing, writing, morning pages, the snowflake method. It’s not about being solely an actor, or solely a writer, or solely anything–because we are not solely any of those things, and even if we are, we need the creative freedom to inhabit many things. The amount of work you would get done in 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, we are going to get done in 1 weekend. You have no choice. It’s about the work. And I’m choosing to lead it and teach it not so I can tell you what to do but so I can give you permission to do whatever you want.
What is a typical day?
7 AM Warm-up
8 AM Breakfast
9 AM Morning Pages
10 AM Affirmations and Introductoins
11:15 AM HAT WRITING
12:00 PM LUNCH
1:15 PM DEPICTION
2:30 PM SPONTANEITY
3:45 PM NEGATIVE SPACE
5:15 PM SNOWFLAKE METHOD
5:45 PM DINNER
7:00 PM MEDITATION
7:30 PM FILLING THE WELL
8:00-11:00 PM WORK TIME
Do you have any goals you want people to take away from this experience?
YES. YES. To not give a shit. I mean give a shit about your work. But don’t give a shit about what holds you back at home. The biggest push for wanting to do Filling the Well stemmed from asking myself over and over again, “HOW CAN WE MAKE OURSELVES MATTER AND WHY DO WE MATTER?” I want the artists who come to the retreat to go back to New York City unleashed and open. As if they’re shooting energy from every fingertip, eyeball, toe. I want them to leave with work under their belt, ready to continue working on it the day they get back into the city. It’s amazing what is born out of permission and spontaneity. It’s like everything is perfect in the universe when we exist in that realm. And then, I want to hold readings of their work. I want their work to matter to an audience and for their work to matter to themselves. Even when we present our pieces to one another on Sunday, I want us to act the hell out of them. What we are and what we do is SO special and there are so many people in this world who aren’t even close to being a percentage of as fortunate as we are to get to create. We are brave in ways others aren’t. We are free in ways other aren’t. We are free in ways other need us to be. I truly believe in that and it’s only when we lose sense of that excitement that we shut down and stop giving birth to amazing things. I want everyone to leave changed. I want myself to leave changed. It’s yet another experience to create from, whether as a singer, writer, actor, mover. We need awesome life experiences and this is a chance of a lifetime to get to be in the middle of nowhere with other like-minded individuals so why wouldn’t we choose to be present and productive? This isn’t college. This isn’t a party. This is something so beyond that. You’ll take away what you put in, and what you have to put in is the work.
How many people are going?
It was originally intender for 4 others and myself, now it’s 10.
Do you have any set rules or guidelines for the retreat?
No drugs, no alcohol, no sex. It’s celibacy time. It’s clear headedness. Save the stoned, acid tripping free-write from when you get back into the city.
Is it strictly designated to writers?
Nope. It’s designated for all artists. If I give an assignment that doesn’t make you want to write, and instead create something else–do it. You wanna write a song instead, fine. You’d rather paint a painting, great. Feel like choreographing, please do. It doesn’t have to be a play or a script, make the assignment your own. As long as you utilize the certain steps I’m asking you to take to create your piece, I’m all for it. It can’t be internal though. This is about sharing yourself with an audience.
What else would you like people to know about “Filling the Well”?
I am excited beyond belief and know this only its first incarnation. If you’re interested in coming to the next one, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.