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TBA Online: News & Features: October 2018

Ragged Wing Debuts A Fierce New Training Program

Wednesday, October 17, 2018   (2 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Emily Wilson

On a recent Friday night, an audience gathered at the Flight Deck in downtown Oakland and watched a dozen or so theatre artists doing warm ups—slapping their thighs and chests, snapping their fingers. The performers walked quickly around the room, coming together in a circle and moving apart again, making eye contact with audience members, who were riveted by this backstage glimpse.

Amy Sass, artistic director of Ragged Wing, stood up and explained to the audience that they were watching exercises to increase awareness, connection, and brain elasticity—the building blocks of a weeklong theatre intensive called The School of Fierce Play.

The participants began to present what they’d created in the intensive. A group formed an impromptu punk rock band and made up a song using words shouted from the audience: “tiger,” “energy,” “football game.” Then audience members moved their chairs to different parts of the room to watch various stories—a tale about a grandmother, her sister and a bear; a saga about the beginning of the world; a musical in which a woman sang about earth and ocean and did cartwheels.

Amy Sass. Photo courtesy of Ragged Wing.

Ragged Wing has been making ensemble-generated theatre for 14 years, in residence at the Flight Deck for the past five years. The company holds work retreats and trainings a few times a year and Sass and Anna Shneiderman, Ragged Wing’s executive director, decided it was time to create an official school of training.

Sass, who is also a visual artist and puppeteer, says she drew on a variety of practices, including Butoh and Suzuki to create the multi-disciplinary training that makes up The School of Fierce Play. Over the next nine months, the school will hold weeklong storytelling intensives, creative workshops for entrepreneurs, and masterclasses with expert artists.

For its first weeklong intensive, the company advertised with various arts organizations and drew participants from around the Bay to meet three hours on weeknights and six hours each weekend day. Some participants were surprised by the program’s approach to structuring a story, Sass says.

“We were exploring how to break down story into different components and how a narrative might be shared best,” Sass explained. “There’s a lot of physical play. People think, ‘Oh, you’re working on story, you have to sit down and write,’ which we do, but we also look at visual and oral composition.”

Sass hoped participants would leave the intensive feeling more free to try something they didn’t know everything about.

“People come in and they think, ‘I’m a writer,’” Sass noted. “But how else can we talk about story? How else can we derive inspiration from different kinds of art forms? The disciplines are so siloed, and people get invigorated from a practice that allows them to be an expert in one medium and a total beginner in another. Like someone might say, ‘I know what I’m doing with choreography, but I’m a total beginner in puppetry.’”

Participants in the Story Intensive. Photo courtesy of Ragged Wing.

A flier promoting the intensive asked participants to “bring a spirit of dare and delight,” be “excited for a sweaty creative workout,” and to “want to get out of their head.” Sass relates that people in the group were completely willing to follow these suggestions, even at the end of a long workday.

“People were laughing and excited and every night was a different night,” Sass observed. “The joy is in creating space for people to really let go of the day-to-day grind and develop a practice around how do I let go? And sometimes that’s being quiet and sometimes it’s running around and swearing and making up a crazy song on the staircase.”

From the looks on their faces when performing, it was clear that the students enjoyed the intensive as much as their teacher. Participants remarked on the camaraderie they felt, how they appreciated both the action and movement as well as the sense of reflection, and how people in the class didn’t one-up each other, but rather offered support.

Marz Deste, a retired high school art teacher who paints, creates collages and works as an art therapist, called the style of the classes a “pedagogical miracle.”

Deste heard about the intensive on the Marin Theatre Company’s website. She was a little daunted by getting herself to Oakland from San Rafael every night, but she decided to do it because she loved the phrase “fierce play.”  Deste remembers, “It knocked me over--the idea of playing and having a great time and doing it fiercely.”

Deste, a movie buff , said the intensive taught her things she didn’t know about how to put together a story.  “I just fell in love with Amy--she’s an amazing teacher, and the group really gelled,” Deste recalled. “The way she stacked the activities was astonishing. The first day or two was just attuning the group. She has all these theatre games, and the time slipped by, and she just got us to pull out a story.”

At one point, the group used fabric to create stories. This exercise produced the story Deste performed—about a  beautiful scarf that wanted attention and turned into dress that was being cast off to the Salvation Army. Now, Deste is considering turning the story into a children’s book.

In January, Sass will lead another intensive with “the body” as its theme and in June she will present one focused on environment. Deste plans on going. And she’s bringing friends.

“This is a way to keep fresh,” Deste explained. “I always sort of had an urge to perform and this is a way to get in front of people and feel good.”

Emily Wilson writes for print, the web and radio. She also teaches at City College of San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ehw415


Ragged Wing Ensemble says...
Posted Thursday, October 18, 2018
Link to more information about SCHOOL OF FIERCE PLAY:
Ragged Wing Ensemble says...
Posted Thursday, October 18, 2018
The School of Fierce Play: Creative Entrepreneur Playshop is coming up soon! Sign up at to secure a spot! PLAYSHOP FOR CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS GROW YOUR ARTS BUSINESS. HACK OLD MODELS. THRIVE. Instructor: Anna Shneiderman, Ragged Wing Executive Director November 10-11, 2018, 10am-4pm January 12-13, 2019, 10am-4pm Join a cohort of badass creative entrepreneurs for this two-weekend playshop on building your arts-based business. Participants will spend the first weekend building skills, forging relationships, and setting goals, and the second weekend building on the first. Each participant will have a one-on-one coaching session with the instructor in between sessions. Participants should be ready to join for both weekends. Visit for more information. * If price is an obstacle, we have work/trade and scholarship opportunities as well, so reach out to if you are interested.