Hoos for Art: Lisi Stoessel
From my experience as a freelance artist, I have learned that getting work is not just about being skilled at what you do. It’s also about being a kind, respectful, responsible person to work with.
You are in the midst of a career that defies labels…creating in the worlds of theatre, design, puppetry and more. Tell us how you have been able to forge this path…
I have always been inclined to pay attention to what interests me, and to follow those impulses and see where they lead, even if it is into entirely new territory. Given that I am a pretty curious person, this has led me to constantly evolve as an artist, and I generally haven’t operated exclusively in one discipline for too long. I find that I feel most balanced when I am weaving all my past experiences and skills into a project. These days I tend to be much more of a deviser/creator, generating my own work in collaboration with other artists. Getting here has meant a lot of self-motivated study; since receiving my MFA in Scene Design at UVA in 2008, I have enrolled in puppetry and physical theatre courses from independent teachers, and taken many workshops abroad. Along the way I have tried to surround myself with like-minded people and seek out communities and companies doing work that I am interested in. I have had great support from friends, family, and particularly my husband Jack as I have taken my time to figure out what makes me tick professionally. In the past few years, I have found a great community here in Baltimore, and recently became an Artistic Associate of Submersive Productions, a company that fully embraces my ideas and with whom I can work in an experimental, highly collaborative way.
What about your UVA experience and your UVA Arts experience prepared you for what you are doing now?
I started out at UVA as an undergraduate transfer student in the McIntire Department of Art. The teachers there were great, and helped me come into my own as a painter. The skills I learned there were an important foundation for my subsequent set design career, especially in regard to the conceptual side of making and developing a vocabulary for talking about my work. In the Department of Drama, one of the most valuable parts of my experience was the practical application of studio classes. Because my set design class was small, I was often able to design full productions, giving me the experience of making my concepts manifest, and preparing me for the wider theatre world. I was also able to work with professional directors, as well as acting and directing students on their personal shows, teaching me about collaboration, which to me is the most vital part of theatre-making.
Were there any particular people or classes at UVA that inspired you or prepared you for what you are now doing?
My primary teacher Tom Bloom was supportive in so many ways. Not only did he provide an excellent role model as a designer, but he was especially encouraging of my own personal interest in site-specific design and performance. For example, he facilitated a job for me with Pig Iron Theatre Company in the summer before my 3rd year, allowing me to make connections in the Philly theatre scene that are still productive today. R. Lee Kennedy’s website class was invaluable in starting a career as a theatre professional. I also particularly enjoyed the classes we were encouraged to take in other departments, such as Sanda Iliescu’s Conceptual Art class in the Architecture School.
Is there any advice you would give a current UVA student looking to have a career in the arts?
From my experience as a freelance artist, I have learned that getting work is not just about being skilled at what you do. It’s also about being a kind, respectful, responsible person to work with. The art and theatre world run on human currency. If working with you is a great experience, people will tell their colleagues, and more opportunities will open up. I would also emphasize that people get to know you as an artist for the kind of work you put out into the world, so do what you are interested in and more of the same will come. Becoming a professional artist can be challenging, because artists in our country don’t necessarily make a lot of money, especially when you are just starting out. That said, I wouldn’t recommend taking on a lot of projects just for the money- that can create exhaustion. If you love the art, do what you can to give yourself time and space to make it, even if that means taking on a non-art job to support your art making. And most of all, surround yourself with good people!
Lisi Stoessel (College BA ‘06, MFA ‘08)