(Eds. note: Continuing our series of profiles of IAF people, Ellen Denham is a member of the IAF Working Group. Previous profiles in this series have included Cecil Castellucci, Matthew Kressel, Mike Allen, Christopher Barzak, Larissa N. Niec, Stephen H. Segal, Felice Kuan, Wendy Ellertson, Deborah Atherton, Erin Underwood, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman and Geoffrey Long.)
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Ellen Denham, primarily a classical singer and voice teacher, though I also write and direct. I live in Indianapolis with one husband and two cats. I’ve loved to sing since I was a wee thing and studied opera at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the New England Conservatory of Music. Since then, I’ve appeared in numerous performances, mostly in Baroque oratorio and in opera. I’m an avid reader and writing has been a long-time hobby. I started to take my writing seriously in the early 2000’s when I began work on a ballet libretto that turned into a critically acclaimed production, “The Willow Maiden,” performed by the Butler Ballet in 2003 in collaboration with my husband, Stephan Laurent, Artistic Director, composer Frank Felice, and numerous designers, dancers, and musicians. I attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2006 and have had a few stories published since then. I’ve continued to write for the stage, including a definitely-not-for-children one-act opera, “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater,” performed at the Indy Convergence in 2009, and this year I’m working on a musically improvised opera based on my short story “Homo Homarus–” a gender-bending twist on the Little Mermaid/Rusalka-type fairy tale.
What first attracted you to the interstitital arts?
I’ve never liked feeling boxed in by labels. I kept my music and my writing in separate compartments for years until I combined the two interests working on the ballet, and since then I’ve never stopped. When artists cater to a perceived desire of an audience (to fit into a narrow sub-genre, for example), their work may become stale and creativity can be stifled. When I have a crazy idea, I like to ask myself, “why not?” rather than assume it’s too weird or not doable. Classical music is, by and large, a conservative art. I’m not a conservative artist. While I love singing Bach or Mozart as much as anyone, I’m attracted to experimental forms and improvisation. When I heard [IAF co-founder] Ellen Kushner talk about the IAF salons, I emailed to ask how I could start one in my city. I suddenly found myself delegated, and have been hosting the Interstitial Indy salon since early 2010.
How do you consider your work interstitial?
Much of what I write in terms of short story or novel projects falls into the broad category of fantasy and isn’t terribly interstitial, and the singing that “pays the bills” is usually pretty traditional too. I feel the interstitial part of my work comes when I collaborate with other performing artists on something I’ve written. I do my most interstitial work at the Indy Convergence, where I’ve participated for the past three years. It’s a great place for artists to come together across artistic disciplines and learn from each other and just play with new ideas. My teaching is interstitial as well. I use elements of tai chi, yoga, improvisation, and just about anything else that works to help students find and improve upon using their voices. This is exciting work and I’m lucky to get to have so much fun for a living.
Ellen Denham’s interview with Indy Convergence founder Caitlin Swihart appears on the IAF blog March 10th, 2011.