Finding the creative juice

Amy Brenneman '86 & Sabrina Peck '84Amy Brenneman '86 & Sabrina Peck '84 began their long-lasting professional relationship at Harvard. Their collective experience is the focus of a workshop during JAMS.
By Jake Stepansky '17

It’s almost as if Sabrina Peck and Amy Brenneman share one wacky, electric, passionate brain. When I spoke with the pair during a group phone call, they repeatedly cut each other off – not to contradict each other, but to finish each other’s sentences. They’ve clearly been organically sculpting and growing a working relationship for years.

Amy Brenneman '86The Peck and Brenneman partnership began the way partnerships should: working on an HRDC show on the Loeb Mainstage. Brenneman, a freshman, was immediately inspired by Peck’s choreography for the piece. "Sabrina had this way of making expression very organic and very comfortable for the body," said Brenneman. "Suddenly, people who were afraid of dance were no longer afraid because dance was just another way of expressing – it wasn’t anything other than that." The pair quickly formed a lasting personal and professional bond, rooted in a philosophy of self-expression.

"We’ve always been interested in community organic self-expression," said Brenneman. "We’ve never been interested in rendering a script exactly as written – we want to find the life and the juice, which became more and more involving the performers to get their viewpoints."

Amy Brenneman '86 & Sabrina Peck '84Both artists’ careers have flourished independently. Brenneman’s Emmy Award-nominated career has included performances in Private Practice, NYPD Blue, Judging Amy and The Leftovers, while Peck is a prolific and much-lauded creator, director and choreographer of original work both around the country and around the world. Their friendship and collaboration have remained a cornerstone of their work. In fact, they immediately worked together post-Harvard at Cornerstone Theater Company, which Peck describes as "the premier community-engaged theater company in the country." She recounts that although the troupe is now based in LA, the company started out for its first five years on the road in rural America, "adapting classic plays to reflect local realities, [and] telling the stories that don’t often get told."

"It’s been a very collaborative flow," said Peck. "Because we live 3000 miles away and have lives that are very involving, when either one of us has a moment when we feel lost in the world or bored or bummed out, it usually takes about five minutes of contact with one another to wake up that creative energy and get really excited. It reminds us why we’re on this earth: to self-express. We’ve had a creative marriage for so long that it doesn't take much time to get excited again about creativity."

Together, the duo co-created Mouth Wide Open, an autobiographical theatrical piece that premiered at American Repertory Theater in 2011.

In their upcoming workshop on January 21 for OFA JAMS Wintersession, Peck and Brenneman hope to bring together a group of young artists of all experience levels to create new work. (Brenneman will also deliver a talk "Plugging Into Good Stuff and Letting Go of Noise: Some Tips for Staying Sane in a Show Business Life," 4 p.m. Jan. 20 in Fong Hall.) They’re excited to show participants that in five hours, you can: forge bonds with your collaborators pretty quickly in a great environment, and you can make a lot of theatrical material out of a very small, economical amount of original source material. In the workshops, participants might be able to take a small amount of text or movement or sound material and generate a fully formed theatrical event. 

"Put your focus on your collaborators and the people with whom you create work," Peck said. "There are people that you’re working with now who could become your lifelong collaborators in the arts. That’s such a powerful resource."

Amy Brenneman and Sabrina Peck will hold the Wintersession JAMS workshop "Performing Our Experience: Tools for Creating Original Theater" 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday at 74 Mt. Auburn St.