Professional Arts Lab University of California, Santa Barbara
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The Professional Artists Lab is a dynamic artistic laboratory in which professional actors, directors, writers and producers create and develop new works in theatre, film, television, radio and multi-media performance.

A multitude of distinguished guest artists and projects come through the Lab. Simultaneously, students are offered exposure to, and various opportunities to work alongside of, active professional artists.

Over the next several years, the Lab will focus on international collaborations with professional artists to create and develop multi-media theatre pieces in which science and technology play prominent roles in content and/or form.

The Founder/Director of the Lab is Nancy Kawalek, Studio Professor in the Film and Media Studies Department and the Media Arts and Technology Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Lab is housed within these departments.

The Lab's Honorary Board members are Libby Appel, Artistic Director Emeritus of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; eminent Oscar-winning actor, Dame Judi Dench; Tony Award-winning director and writer, Frank Galati; 2000 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Alan Heeger; celebrated Tony Award-winning actor, Sir Derek Jacobi; and Oscar-winning cinematographer, Haskell Wexler.

A message from the Lab Director:

The Professional Artists Lab began out of a conversation with a prominent scientist. We were talking about the Nobel Prize when he mentioned that most of the Nobels in science were awarded for accidents – that is, accidental discoveries. For example, a scientist might have set out to see one thing and that experiment failed; but rather than abandoning the work altogether, the scientist decided to follow some obscure blip in the data that led him or her to a new discovery.

The scientist also mentioned that certain funding agencies will cut off funding if the “success” rate of one's experiments is greater than twenty percent, because a higher success rate indicates the work isn’t adventurous enough! This contrasts starkly with the arts, in which anything short of a rave review implies a questionable future.

It was astonishing to learn that great work was so often the result of great mistakes. That led me to think more deeply about how much commercial concerns are diminishing opportunities for “happy accidents” in the arts. Consequently, the Professional Artists Lab was born, so that artists could have a place to create and explore in a lab setting, just like scientists.

At about this same time, I saw a production of Canadian artist Robert Lepage’s the far side of the moon that profoundly affected me. In this work, multi-media was absolutely integral to the piece – entangled, as the scientists would say, in the storytelling. Witnessing such synergy between technology and story was thrilling. Prior to this, I had seen some impressive multi-media “special effects” in live theatre, but always in tandem with weak narratives. The Lepage piece made me begin to think about this remarkable technological age in which we live, and how rare it is to see that life meaningfully reflected in the stories our arts tell us.

I realized that was to be the focus of the Professional Artists Lab:  to be a laboratory in which artists create work relevant to the lives we lead – lives influenced by incredibly sophisticated technological and scientific advances – and one in which the happy accident is always a welcome, engaged participant.

Nancy Kawalek

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