Inside CONCRETE: Stefanie Batten Bland’s New Immersive Theater Intensive for Boundary-Pushing Dancers
February 22, 2024

CONCRETE, the new three-week summer intensive created by choreographer and Company SBB artistic director Stefanie Batten Bland is forming a new foundation of immersive theater training. Running June 10–28 at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, the program is the first of its kind and delves into the evolving genre of dance-physical theater, particularly as it applies to immersive theater. 

CONCRETE is designed for professionals and college students 18 years and older and includes work in clowning, partnering, voice in movement, material and prop approaches, and more. The three weeks culminate in a fully immersive production, and attendees gain direct training and career advising from directors and creators from the physical and immersive theater scenes. Tuition includes tickets to see two theatrical experiences from immersive theater company Emursive Productions, with housing, meal plans, community rates, and college credit available to participants.

Throughout her work as a casting director with Emursive, Batten Bland began to notice a discrepancy between the genre’s required skills and dancers’ preparedness. “Many dancers have incredible performance abilities, but they aren’t necessarily tailored for proximity-based work,” she says. “We aren’t preparing everyone for what is really coming to the market, yet the pool of performers that can actually create and understand the techniques is so small. So it’s the duty of the educators to make sure that we’re giving everyone the training necessary to have successful careers, right?”

In September 2023, Batten Bland pitched the idea for CONCRETE to her team at Montclair, where she is also an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance. They immediately jumped at the idea. CONCRETE has an exciting curriculum and an impressive list of faculty members that includes Batten Bland; directors Leslie Kraus and Dan Safer; and teaching artists Jamal Abrams, Heather Benton, Raphaël Kaney Duverger, Kayla Farrish, Peter Flynn, Jordan Morley, David Parker, Guillaume Segouin, Kelly Ashton Todd, Joy-Marie Thompson, and, of Baye & Asa, Amadi “Baye” Washington and Sam “Asa” Pratt.

Stefanie Batten Bland. Photo by JC Dhien, courtesy Batten Bland.

“I’ve never seen people say yes to something so quickly,” says Batten Bland. “And I think it’s because we’re all inside of this moment, this crucial window of transmission.” She explains that as first-generation descendants of the genre, she and her colleagues have a duty to pass the baton—across, not down, she emphasizes. “We have to ensure that those artists become great colleagues of ours and that there is great evolution to come after we’re no longer here.” 

While pondering a name for the intensive, the idea of concrete—with its stability, porousness, liquid beginnings, and molding tendencies—stuck. The classes are even named after the various stages of concrete as they progress throughout the day: Gravel, Stones, and Cementing the Daily Mix. And drawing from her experience working both inside and outside of the U.S., Batten Bland found the typical American model of the summer intensive to be ideal. “There is something about it culturally that has that rigor and fire,” she says, “but still does allow the depth of the European process.”

Photo courtesy Batten Bland.

As for whom she’d recommend the program to, it’s important to be honest, she says, because dance-physical theater isn’t for every artist. “This is not a genre that is in competition with any others,” she continues. “It’s for people who want to gain knowledge of close-range work—for those who want to connect with people on the visceral level. And it’s important to have an alternative alongside traditional codified training.”

Going forward, Batten Bland hopes that CONCRETE can serve as a template for future programs in immersive performance training. The greater exposure given, she says, the greater the likelihood that current and future artists will find the work they want to pursue for the rest of their lives.

“I’d never in my life felt that I was in the right place at the right time,” says Batten Bland. “But I’ve realized that I now am. And if anyone says anything about me, I think it’s that I’m a community builder. The only way I know how to do that is by listening to what we all need.” 

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