Two Performance Artists Share Their Creative Philosophies
Comedian Camille Harris and dancer Lulu Soni share advice on heading off creative fatigue.
Photos by Alex Welsh
With opportunities and obligations pulling from all sides, working artists have the difficult task of staying present, authentic, and productive at the same time. Camille Harris is a stand-up comedian and a musician who writes and performs both serious and “silly” jazz. Her newest EP, Where I Go, is of the former. Lulu Soni is a dancer, choreographer, and instructor at the inclusive, donation-based chain of studios, Yoga To The People. Her Instagram is full of site-specific dance performances that she shoots and edits herself. These two creators got together to talk about the boundless inspiration found in New York, the power of self-forgiveness, and the freedom they find in their art.
The Creators Project: Living an active lifestyle, how do you avoid mental and creative fatigue?
Lulu Soni (LS): I would say giving yourself space and time and knowing that not everyday has to be 100%. You shouldn’t punish yourself or make yourself feel guilty because you need to take the time. Tell yourself that it’s okay to take a moment so that you don’t overwhelm yourself.
The guilt factor is what’s really difficult for so many people.
In New York City, it’s all about how much you’re doing and who you’re working with and go, go, go. It’s really great to have all these resources at your fingertips 24 hours a day, but at the same time, it’s okay to just hang out at home one day and reorganize and recollect.
Camille Harris (CH): It’s the idea that you have to live in order to create. Especially in stand-up when I’m writing material. You have to have something to write your material about. If your life is just going from one show to the next show, you’re not going to have material to talk about. You have to be a real person. I went on this big trip; I went to Panama last September. And for a month, I didn’t do shows. And you know what? No one forgot about me and some people didn’t even know I was gone. And I wrote some great songs because of it.
Camille, how much of your writing process has to do with getting out and observing human nature in New York?
I think it’s all experience. You know what’s cool about New York? The constant humanity around you all the time. If you just look around there’s something to observe every day.
Lulu, how has your yoga practice informed your choreography?
LS: Yoga has influenced my creative life as a whole for sure. You could talk about the flexibility or the openness within the sense of the body, but a lot of yoga practice has to do with shedding layers of yourself and really getting to the core of your body and your breath. If something isn’t happening the way you want it, to not have judgments or opinions about it, just to let it be. So it’s given me a more open outlook in terms of how I approach making movement and dancing and just feeling comfortable in my body.
Camille, comedy and jazz both have their own rhythm. How did you find what works for you?
CH: I decided one day that I needed to embrace the fact that I’m very high energy. I am working on talking slower on stage. I want to allow myself to get excited but I think I need to craft it more. I like being on stage and my presence on stage is very joyful. For a bit, I was trying to be this more deadpan, low-energy kind of person and that wasn’t successful for me. I think that finding out who you are on stage has to do with finding yourself.
LS: I agree with that. Being a true performer is 100% finding yourself. That way when you get up in front of those people, you can try things. Take risks.
CH: I’ve always felt comfortable on stage. But lately I’ve been feeling more comfortable on stage and I think that translates to people feeling more comfortable with me.
Lulu, the dance pieces you post online have a strong sense of place. Are you always scouting locations?
LS: Most recently, I’ve worked mainly on my rooftop. I went up there and set up a camera and thought Wow, this looks epic with the sky in the background. Another time I was with my mom in Big Sur and there were these beautiful Japanese baths. When I see something that catches my eye, my first thought is, ‘I want to make a dance piece.’
What comes first in that scenario: location or movement?
What kind of feeling am I getting from this place? What kind of movement is it inspiring me to make? The ones in Big Sur have a softer quality. The ones in a vineyard recently have this wild, dancing-in-the-vines quality. The ones on my rooftop are freeing and empowering, it’s like you against the sky. So in that moment, feeling the sense of your surroundings and letting it translate into your body and to your flesh and to your bones and seeing how that affects you. That’s what makes some of those pieces so strong and real, it was in the moment for sure.
What role does improvisation play in your work?
CH: I don’t do improv comedy, but I have. And certainly that idea of saying yes to something applies to stand up too. I’ve written out the jokes, but it’s like writing a song. I need to improvise it first.
LS: I love to improvise, it’s where I start from in terms of making movement. Sometimes I don’t know exactly where that movement is coming from, but that’s the exciting part of it. I improvised my college solo! I just felt more comfortable. That’s what it is like in New York City as a dancer. A lot of times when you walk into those auditions, they want to see what naturally comes out of your body.
CH: Well, and you have to have the craft to do that.
LS:Having the tools and also being like, “I don’t need them. I’m just going to do my own thing.” It’s a little bit of both.
If you were going to collaborate on something together, do you have any ideas on how you would approach that?
CH: Lulu, I really want to send you some of the electronic music I’ve been working on and see you dance to that.
LS: That would be amazing. I have all these ideas. My big dream is to make music videos. So, a music video maybe?
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