An Interview with the Creative Lead of nonSense, the Opening Show for MU Theatre's Independent Artist Series



Micki SmolenskiAn interview with Micki Smolenski, the Creative Lead for nonSense, conducted and written by Theatre 200 student Jack Troiano. 

As the creative lead for the production of nonSense, the description of the show says that multiple styles of dance are involved in tandem with spoken-word and poetic aspects of the performance; would you mind giving me some examples of what genres of dance we can expect to see?

The main six movements are mainly contemporary style, a little bit of a jazz style thrown in there, and then there are also interlude pieces created by other artists. The main six are my work and stick to that more contemporary flow, while the other four interlude pieces range from hip-hop to tap. A lot of variety.

My next question is about your experience personally with the show: as a dancer and choreographer yourself, what did you find most rewarding about creating this piece?

I would say definitely creating the whole vision and stories from the ground up was really cool. Because usually, as a choreographer, if you’re creating for a musical or something you have the lyrics and the music already– and you pretty much have a set style that has to be present. But with this, it was “whatever you want to do." I found the poems, I helped create the original music, and then I choreographed it. It was probably all that throwing it together and making something that literally came from nothing.

This show will be live-streamed and the audience will not be in the room with the performers– how has this online format impacted the artistic decisions you made surrounding the production?

Well, it’s definitely interesting because there’s a limited amount of things you can do with that space that we have and making sure that everyone is six feet apart at all times – with dance. So that means, from the get-go, no lifts, no touching, or anything like that. And then, of course, we’re centering this piece around the five senses, and touch is a sense, so that’s interesting! How do you show touch while staying six feet apart? It’s definitely limiting, but I haven’t found it to be a massive drawback. It’s made me think a little more about positioning but other than that, not a huge impact. Movement-wise the dancers have been really great at taking corrections verbally, because again, you can’t be like “point your toe” and, like, push their toes!

But they’ve been really fantastic at taking direction verbally and fixing techniques just by watching themselves or feeling it out. And then there’s the issue of creating dance that’s not totally flat when portrayed on a flat-screen. Definitely a challenge! Especially with technical elements, I had a few instances where I was imagining a dancer facing to the side– but then realized that we can’t do that on-screen because you’ll just see a hand and the side of a body! Just a balance between continuously honoring the medium that it will be streamed on and doing your best.

I’m glad you mentioned the difficulties associated with portraying touch onstage in a pandemic because I have to imagine that difficulty is essential to our reception of this performance as an audience. In a time when we as a species are dealing with a loss of access to our senses – like the smell of open-air, the cacophony of full indoor spaces, or the touch of a stranger on the subway – this show seems like it will be especially poignant. Do you think this show can provide an experience that reminds us of the sensual experiences we’ve missed in the past year?

Yeah, we definitely considered that. I would argue that it does, a little bit. It plays with those themes, I’m thinking particularly of smell– there’s a joke about the masks we all wear, in the world and in the performance. The dancers, in their black outfits and black masks, just shrug a lot, almost as if to say “what are we smelling? I don’t know!”

I think our exploration of touch really centers around that feeling of a loving touch, so I hope that some people can get a therapeutic release from the feeling that might generate.

What would you like your audience to walk away with after seeing this production?

Going back to what we talked about earlier, surrounding our hyper-awareness of each other and ourselves these days, I want this show to remind you that these senses exist. For a year we’ve had such limited capabilities of what we can touch, what we can see, how we can live– I’d love for this show to act as a reminder that these senses are what make us human.

flyer for nonsensenonSense will premiere at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 19, as part of MU Theatre's Independent Artist Series. Combining poetry or spoken-word performance with dance, this work will be a series of pieces surrounding a central theme: the five senses. Different genres of dance will be represented, accompanied by poetry and music. 

The student-run Miami University Independent Artist Series (IAS) provides an outlet for the creative work of students and encourages experimentation with theatrical form. The series is modeled after the "storefront" theatre movement and is produced entirely by students who serve as directors, designers, technicians, performers, stage managers, and marketers. In addition to nonSense, the 2021 series also includes Amazon Crime, written and devised by Ash Aiobheil, Bex Gray, Laura Smith, and Charlotte Snee. It tells the story of A group of oddball assassins who gather to discuss their newest target: Jeff Bezos. Amazon Crime will premiere at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 20. The Independent Artist Series will premiere its final show on Sunday, February 21, at 7:30 p.m. with  Tell Me About the Other Side by Eleanor Alger. This piece examines three genocides in the late 20th century (in Germany, Rwanda, and the Balkans) and the ways that genocide uniquely impacts women. We see the beginnings and the aftermath of genocide in these respective countries. It is based on a lengthy research and interview process.

All shows can be found on the College of Creative Arts Youtube Channel. 


View nonSense on YouTube >

View Amazon Crime on YouTube >

View Tell Me About the Other Side on YouTube >