By Margarita Blush

Ascend is a piece of poetic visual theatre that was created collaboratively by the entire ensemble. It was born out of our hearts, imaginations, and dreams. It is our gesture of love to the world and humanity.

Ascend breaths and pulsates; it moves the heart, the body, and the soul. It stirs something deep inside of us that cannot be explained, but only felt. It is a cluster of lights and images which allows audiences to create their own constellations. When creating theatre of the imagination, theatre that strives to make the invisible visible, the guiding inspiration is to sweep the audience on a journey and entrust them to engage fully in the artistic experience.

When working with the students on this project, our guiding principles were: empowerment, honesty, openness, and joy.

Creating original theatre is extremely challenging, yet profoundly empowering. The creators have ownership and a platform to put forth their own voices, ideas, and aspirations. They are seen, heard, and invited to take part in one of the most profound and compelling acts in the world – creating art. Possibly for the first time, young students see the possibility to take charge of their own artistic destiny and entrepreneurial spirit. As they craft and create the ideas, images, text, movement, characters, and even the title of the work, they experience the incredible freedom to be an artist without waiting for someone to give you “permission” to be one – not the playwright, not the casting director, or anyone else.

Being honest, open, and vulnerable is not easy in a dishonest, manipulative, and greedy world. Yet, this is the best possible way of being a good human and making the world more just, equitable, and beautiful place. Every step of the way, my strongest desire was to create an atmosphere of creation that allowed everyone to see and to be seen, to open their hearts and minds, and to contribute fully to the work by overcoming the fear of judgement or failure. I can only hope I was able to do that! The young people that you see before you, and many more who you don’t see, gave Ascend so much and working with them was a wondrous and deeply fulfilling experience.

Undeniably, we are all living through one of the most challenging times in history. We did and do not want to deny that! At the same time, through this work, we want to help make space and time where we can connect with each other, laugh, and create beauty. To remind ourselves and our audiences that the world is still a beautiful place; that the best way forward is to lift each other up and to reconnect to nature and the earth. The laughter of the rehearsal room, the giddiness of discovery, the gasps of admiration to the beautiful images formed in the studio, will stay with us forever and have helped heal our souls.

In Ascend, we continue to deepen the work on “creating responsibly.” We ask ourselves what will happen with all the materials used in a show after the fun is complete and choose to work with things that are a natural part of this world and will not leave a devastating impact when we are finished with them.  Our branches will be thanked and given a respectful send-off, the cheesecloth, muslin, and silk will await more whimsical appearances, and when they reach the end of their life, will gracefully and fully will return to the Earth.

I am grateful to the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Iowa for this opportunity and will cherish this experience forever!