Ilana Bean explores the interactions between audiences and performers

Nonfiction Fellow Reading: Ilana Bean

Englert Theatre — Sunday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m., Free

Englert Fourth Annual Nonfiction Writing Fellow Ilana Bean. — courtesy of the author

Ilana Bean, an MFA candidate in the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, is interested in the interaction between artist and audience in performing arts settings. This interest led Bean to apply to be the fourth annual Englert Theatre Nonfiction Writing Fellow.

Bean will read from her work as part of the Intimate at the Englert series on Sunday, May 8, at 7:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public.

Her application for the fellowship highlighted her desire to more fully explore how artists and audiences create a shared experience in a shared space.

“I’d written about how, in recent work, I’ve been exploring the rise of micro-fame and the changing nature of celebrity in today’s landscape,” Bean explained. “I’m interested in the role of audience — not only as viewers of already-created work, but as an integral feature of the art itself. I’ve also been thinking a lot about distinction between the desire to make art and the desire to be seen.”

The Englert fellowship provides Bean with access to performances and to artists. Among those she has seen are singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus (Dacus and Bean both hail from Richmond, VA; “Seeing her in Iowa was really special,” Bean said) and singer Gregory Alan Isakov. “This was probably, for me, the greatest differential between the way I understood his music before when I was listening to it on my phone to listening to it in person.”

Part of that experience, Bean believes, may have stemmed from the ways in the which the fellowship erases the transactional nature of the performing arts experience. She wasn’t worried about whether she was getting her money’s worth from any given performance. Instead, she could let the performance and her experience of it exist apart from such considerations.

She was also able to observe the audience with attention.

“At least in the shows I’ve attended, the Englert has had a really enthusiastic audience. I’ve left at least three shows saying that it’s been the warmest crowd I’ve seen — like really receptive to jokes and performer banter. Maybe this is just something that’s been more apparent because I’ve been paying attention to it, maybe it’s a feature of Midwestern show culture, maybe it has to do with living in a more difficult-to-reach area of the country, maybe it’s just been luck — but it has really been something that’s stood out. I think that especially when it comes to live, performing art, I like thinking about how the audience plays a collaborative role in creating an experience. Because the fellowship gives me a few chances to read in front of people, the audience/performer dynamic is also something I get to think about from both sides.”

Writing is not the first art Bean has studied, but no matter whether the artistic endeavor in question involves writing, the visual arts or the performing arts, her questions and interests adhere.

“I come from a background in biology and visual art — I studied medical illustration in college, and so coming to Iowa for writing was a big change in course. It’s been an really exciting shift, but has also led me to some uncertainty and questions about how people commit to creative endeavors,” she explained. “I’m really interested in people who devote extensive amounts of time and take risks to make their creative work possible — what drives them, what fuels their certainty and whether they feel that it ultimately pays off. I think the Englert has provided more access to a broader network of artists to consider and has pushed me to think more about performance and the role of community in making that kind of commitment and risk sustainable.”