The State of Being Many: An Interview with Celia Rowlson-Hall

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Celia Rowlson-Hall is a New York based filmmaker, choreographer, and Bessie Award winning performer. I was first drawn to Rowlson-Hall because of her short film Three of a Feather, a piece she wrote and directed. Three of a Feather stars and features choreography from Monica Bill Barnes, a contemporary dance company to which Rowlson-Hall once belonged. Because I am interested in multidisciplinary arts as well as artists who push boundaries, I found Rowlson-Hall’s work immediately appealing. She was gracious enough to take time from her busy schedule to allow me to interview her for MQR.

Many of your videos seem driven by narrative; I’m thinking of Prom Night, The Audition, Goody! Two Shoes, etc. What’s your process? Does the story, movement, or scene come first to you? What’s your relationship to story?

My process is all over the place. But my general rule of thumb is to always be making things, big and small, and figuring out what I am interested in expressing and from what angle. Story is everything… that is the meat. That drives it all. Without a story, all you have are pretty images.

But for the record- story comes first and then I make the movement. I can’t make movement without an intention.

Do you consider yourself a multidisciplinary artist? 

I guess? I like to say that I have a lot of loves- dance, film, choreography, directing, performing, drawing, theater, writing- and I try to do them as much as possible. Not too worried about the labels because I might be leaving something out that I haven’t yet discovered!

Still from Three of a Feather

Still from Three of a Feather

Your video Olive Juice combines your talent for drawing with dance, acting, and filmmaking. How did you decide to combine these artistic disciplines together?

A friend suggested I turn my drawings into a video and so I said, why not!? We had a great time and actually just made a “sequel”… coming out soon!

Can you discuss audience a bit? Do you think about audience when you make a video?

I try to think of audience last. Now it’s inevitable that you think about your audience because you are ultimately making something for people to see… but really I never want it at the forefront of my mind, or that would leave me in an unfruitful panic. I must make myself happy first and think about what I want to see… because at the end of the day, you don’t live with your audience, you live with yourself.

To me, you seem “undefinable” (for the record, I think this is the best thing!). You possess many talents. Has this ever been a source of difficulty? Have you felt the need to be more of one thing and less of an other?

It has been a huge source of difficulty because for whatever reason, people have some weird notion that someone should only be good at ONE thing… or MAYBE two… but that’s pushing it. And if you do more than one thing, you must not be very good at it and that’s why you have to do a few things. I call BULLSHIT on that one. Sorry that I can’t help but love to do a lot of things. And I will continue to explore in any and every medium I desire and wear as many hats as I please.

How do you think platforms such as Vimeo and other social media outlets are changing the arts? Are the arts suffering from this accessibility?

They are great. Everyone can put their work out there; it’s incredible and very democratic. We don’t have to wait for galleries or presenters or film festivals to “accept us”- we can create and share immediately. The only way the arts are suffering from social media is if the artists are wasting their time trolling Instagram instead of working in their studio… but that’s all I can come up with!

Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate? How much of each is essential to your art-making?  

I love both and both are absolutely essential. My favorite time is the time spent alone, as I am writing or choreographing, and creating the new work and imagining the potential.

But that phase can’t go on forever and you must collaborate to make the final piece, especially in film… It takes an army! I am trying to get more comfortable with this part of the process as I prefer to be alone… because it’s hard to get people all on the same page. But when we finally are and you are making the work (DAYS, MONTHS, YEARS LATER…)- the same joy I had when I was alone creating the work comes back again, and this time even richer because it is shared with others.


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