by Hope Singsen at Vassar College
An exploration of embodied creativity, neuroscience, and healing through the arts.
In the fall of 2017, writer, performer, and Alumna Hope Singsen returned to Vassar as a Creative Arts Across Disciplines Artist-in-Residence, bringing decades of academic and practical research on creativity back to the institution that launched her study of the topic.
Singsen’s Vassar senior thesis investigated the mechanisms within creativity that enable personal and social change. This research later guided the development of her solo play with music, SKIN—which recounts a grad student’s effort to transform herself through relationship, scholarship, and art. For SKIN is a funny and frank love story about the power of creativity to transcend sexual violence.
To craft co-curricular events for her Vassar residency, Singsen interviewed faculty and students in Psychology, Somatic Therapy, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Film and Drama, Music, Media Studies, English, Women’s Studies, and Disability Studies. The resulting program featured an experiential workshop, a performance, and a panel discussion.
Together, these co-curricular events illuminated the research on creativity, resiliency, and neuroscience which gave rise to—and were studio-tested by—SKIN.
Experiential Workshop: “The Touch of Creativity”
A research-based exploration of the sensory, neurophysiological, psychological, and phenomenological impacts of creativity.
While completing a related residency as a Vassar artist at the Catwalk Institute in nearby Catskill, NY, Singsen offered a workshop on “The Touch of Creativity” for 15 Vassar faculty members, administrators, and students, as well as fellow Catwalk resident artists.
The workshop’s experiential format blended theory with practice, as Singsen outlined the phenomenological, developmental, neurophysiological, and clinical aspects of her research into creativity and healing through the arts. At each step, participatory exercises prompted observations about the senses, sense memory, and imagination, ultimately inspiring curiosity about the neuro-processing, resiliency, and novel modes of ideation that may kindled by embodied creative practice.
SKIN/A Solo Performance with Music
A funny and frank queer love story with original music, SKIN explores the power of creativity to transcend sexual violence.
In SKIN, two things threaten a grad student’s dissertation on Virginia Woolf: her hot new girlfriend and her own dark past. When confronted by echoes of sexual trauma in Woolf’s text, Marais races to write herself into a happier future. Her work grows inventive as she strives for a love greater than any she's known before. But after you learn to guard against life, can you open up again?
The centerpiece of Singsen’s residency, SKIN earned a standing ovation of the well-attended audience in Sanders Auditorium and inspired conversations about:
- Recovery from sexual violence, stigma and shame
- The neuro-psychological effects of trauma
- Embodied creativity and healing through the arts
- Queer identity, love relationships and intimacy
- The personal rewards of intellectual risk-taking
To watch video excerpts of the play, use password “skin” at tinyurl.com/SKINpreview.
Panel Discussion: “Healing Through the Arts”
An interdisciplinary conversation with Vassar faculty and community members about SKIN and the theories behind it.
The day after her performance, members of the Vassar faculty joined Singsen to discuss creativity, embodiment, neuroscience, and healing through the arts with the Vassar community. Panelists included Carolyn Palmer, Leslie Dunn, and moderator Heesok Chang, who together represented the fields of Psychology, Somatic Therapy, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Media Studies, English, Women’s Studies, and Disability Studies.
SKIN Residency/Impacts and Assessment
Students and faculty responded to Singsen’s residency in powerful ways:
- One student raced home to choreograph her own story of healing.
- Another wrote and posted a love poem quoting the play.
- Two students invited the team back to campus for their vocal concerts.
- A drama major/math minor interviewed Singsen on pairing science with art.
- A student investigating bullying started to explore the links between vulnerability and shame.
- People of all walks said the play helped in healing the effects of sexual violence.
- Students and faculty alike said SKIN gave voice to their struggles and breakthroughs in academic writing.
“Anyone writing a thesis should see this play.” – Vassar College Administrator
“Thank you for bringing your crackling creative/critical intelligence to Vassar! I’ll be mulling over SKIN in the weeks and months ahead - especially when I teach To the Lighthouse (for the hundredth time) next semester. Your play – as a reading of Woolf’s text, which I think it also was – ignited my own thinking.”
—Heesok Chang, Director of Media Studies and Professor of English
“Thanks too for the memorable workshop... a collective exploration of creativity. I do hope you can return to Vassar someday to share that exploration with more students; the ones who came were inspired (as was I).”
—Leslie Dunn, Professor of English, Women’s Studies and Disability Studies
“SKIN left me speechless. It is such a powerful exploration of self, touch, time, and healing. It took my breath away.”
—Taylor, Vassar class of ‘19
“There is something truly magical in the way you’ve managed to combine love, hardship, passion, and memory into art. SKIN was one of the most engaging and honest shows I’ve ever seen.”
—Jacqui, Vassar class of ‘19
“I’ve never been so moved by a play. I share very similar experiences and I’ve never met anyone who ...with such kindness and gentleness ...told their story so raw. It was incredibly beautiful and I don’t think I’ll ever feel alone in this again.”
—Anonymous, Dutchess Community College class of ‘18
Read the Vassar review of SKIN:
About the Artist
Hope Singsen is a New York actor, writer, and singer/songwriter, who has appeared in numerous films and TV shows as well as on the national stage. Select credits include Disney’s College Road Trip (opposite Martin Lawrence), Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Collar, and the New York Premiere of José Rivera’s Sonnets for an Old Century at The Barrow Group, where she is a frequently contributing member. For more information and for booking inquiries, contact SKINthePlay@gmail.com.