Full house: Bellinger Hall allows arts schools students to live, eat, grow together

By Andrew Manzella | Guest writer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos by Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer

For 300 artists who have been accepted into Chautauqua Institution’s Schools of Fine and Performing Arts, Bellinger Hall has been a home away from home this summer.

Students in Chautauqua’s School of Art, School of Music, the Chautauqua Theater Company conservatory and the School of Dance arrive on the grounds from arts programs around the world. The best of the best are selected from hundreds of applicants, invited to spend their summer on the grounds attending classes, receiving one-on-one training with renowned artists and performing for the broader Chautauqua community.

All students live, dine and work together in Bellinger, allowing for collaboration between students, personal growth and exploration both inside and outside of their craft.

Stephanie Wademan, a sculptor from New Jersey, said she was often inspired by her fellow artists at Bellinger. This summer she had the opportunity to work with students from the School of Music’s Voice Program for one of her pieces.

“The opera students have a certain presence about them that I really admire,” Wademan said. “They stand really proud and tall.”

Beyond the obvious dedication to classes and practice hours, students learn valuable lessons by watching their new friends perform and from bonding with each other in Bellinger’s lounges, multipurpose rooms and dining hall.

Voice student Britt Truyts, who just completed her fourth season at Chautauqua, said that she too is able to find great value in the work of students from other disciplines.

“I find it interesting that we are so many different groups together, and we can actually learn something from each other that goes back to our craft,” she said. “For example, my walking through the art studios and talking to friends about how they feel about art and how they take a brush stroke across a canvas — it helps me sometimes understand how I have to sing a certain line, because I can find a musicality in what they do.”

Chelsea Dumas and Benjamin Kay, Chautauqua Dance apprentice dancers, said they benefit from forming such close relationships with their fellow dancers.

“When you’re around dancers all the time, friendship happens,” Dumas said. “You’re able to be yourself, and competitiveness melts away.”

Kay agreed. “When you’re closer to the people you perform with, you have more of a connection with them,” he said, “so it’s easier to form a connection with them onstage. It’s easier to have that chemistry when we perform.”

Bellinger students share more than living space during the Chautauqua season; they also often share the spotlight.

“When the dancers perform with the student orchestra, that’s always our favorite performance,” Kay said. “We have friends who are in the orchestra.”

Because the Schools of Fine and Performing Arts accept students of a range of ages — there are piano students as young as 13 and visual artists in their late 40s — everyone has a different experience in Bellinger’s dorm-style rooms.

Carly Zien is an actor in the CTC conservatory. She shared a room in Bellinger with set design fellow Lauren Mills.

“It’s the first time I’ve shared a room since my freshman year of college, and it has its advantages,” Zien said, “and it’s also very humbling. [Lauren] is a wonderful roommate. We definitely talk about our relative experiences.”

Jean-Michel Richer, a voice student from Montreal, explained that there is a general feeling of respect among the students.

“When people first arrive in Bellinger, they gauge each other up and try to test their ground,” Richer said. “But after a day, you realize that everyone is there to just make beauty.”

Conservatory actress Tangela Large likened the experience to a slower-paced version of Fame.

“It’s an honor to be among artists,” she said. “It ensures you that what you’re doing is not in vain. To have people in the residence hall come up to me and say ‘Great show!’ feels great, it feels like there’s a support.”

“No matter what you do, people see it,” she continued. “Some people like it, some people don’t, but they congratulate you because you were courageous enough to put yourself out there.”

Andrew Manzella served as a Bellinger Hall dormitory counselor during the 2013 Season