Performers in The Art of Me exchange energy as part of a fantastical acting scene. Photo by Jason Bucklin.

Upstream Arts was thrilled to once again partner with Valley Friendship Club for an Art of Me performance this summer. It was a joy to see the performers shine onstage and to witness the enthusiasm of the audience, sharing in the infectious energy and affirming each performer’s presence. Upstream Arts Artistic Director, Matt Guidry, reflects below on The Art of Me and how we invite participation. 

One thing in which we pride ourselves at Upstream Arts is allowing everyone to show up in the way that best suits them, in the way in which they feel most comfortable. We do this every day. In every class. That’s what Voice and Choice are all about. And it’s a continual practice giving this space to everyone.

Teaching Artist BriAnna McCurry and performers dance their way on stage as part of the opening sequence. Photo by Jason Bucklin.

How do we practice this? It starts with an invitation. Would you like to join us? Do you have something you would like to share? Gentle, persistent, and welcoming invitations are offered throughout every one of Upstream Arts’ classes. That’s how we practice. And the space is there when someone is ready to show up, whether that’s on Day 1 of a residency or if it’s 3 months later during the final class.

Our Art of Me performances embody these ideals exponentially. Within a group dynamic, each individual performer gets to negotiate their own path through the process. Everyone gets to express their truth in a way that they choose.

Performers in The Art of Me embody their favorite movie archetypes as part of a dance and movement sequence. Photo by Jason Bucklin.

In a recent Art of Me program with Valley Friendship Club, during the final rehearsal on stage with all the lights blaring down, one of the performers decided she did not feel comfortable and, for the entire rehearsal, she sat backstage. Later that evening when it was time for the show, with the audience brimming with excitement in the house, she chose once again not to go on stage, but to sit backstage. While the show went on, one of the Upstream Arts Teaching Artist performers would occasionally go backstage and invite the young woman to join the rest of the cast on stage. She remained where she was, comfortable with her choice. Then, with about 5 minutes remaining in the show, she decided it was her time and came out on stage. The final scene was a song where everyone had their own moment to sing a line. She sang the final line, which was I’m still me. Truth. She showed up on her terms, and her role was crucial.

Director Aaron Fiskradatz and performers gather around Teaching Artist Dylan Fresco for the final song, “I’m still me.” Photo by Jason Bucklin.

Although she was missed by those in the cast, I don’t think that anyone in the audience will remember that she wasn’t on stage for most of the performance. But they will remember that final moment. No matter what, I’m still me.

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Click here to see the video documentation of the show.

Click here to see the complete collection of photographs on our Facebook page.