During the fall semester of 2022, Brayden Stallman ‘23 had a spark of inspiration, which led to the development of a long-form video project, created with the intention of making a serious difference in the world of the performing arts. The project, titled “Ars Moriendi or The Art of Dying,” is a documentary on performers’ bodies which examines the relationship between the body and performance, as told through the perspectives of performers and educators working on the Muhlenberg College campus.
“I’ve watched so many friends throughout my time here involved in the performing arts destroy their bodies for the sake of their art, and it’s something that’s always been in the background of my experience here, and I wanted to shed a light on it, because it’s always been there, but we’re never really talking about it,” continued Stallman.
“I tried to arrange the stories in a way that organically moves through topics in order to make an overall cohesive story.”-Brayden Stallman ’23
In terms of composition, Stallman arranged the footage in a very specific way when editing the production together, highlighting the stories of faculty and students who replied to his interview request.
“It kind of moves through vignettes of topics because there’s so much substance behind the subject that I wanted to touch on everything without breaking it up into too many segments,” continued Stallman. “So I tried to arrange the stories in a way that organically moves through topics in order to make an overall cohesive story.”
“I think something brilliant that this documentary emphasizes is the idea of selling your body and perfecting it to an ideal that exists,” said Allison Mintz ‘23, an interviewee whose responses were featured in the piece. “There’s still so much work to be done in theater in this community, striving to improve the body image conversation and helping ourselves and others when we need it.”
Stallman explained that the inspiration for the title, “The Art of Dying,” stemmed from the fact that when one does art with one’s body, one is always in a state of active deterioration, and furthermore accelerating that state of deterioration for the sake of furthering one’s art or participation in art of others.
“I hope people see how people are destroying their bodies, and are forced to look at their bodies not only as something to be reshaped and molded and told that it’s wrong, but it’s something that is disposable, which is what the art world tells performers about their bodies,” expressed Stallman. “I hope people take away that your body is not disposable, that your body is your tool–your instrument; And you should take care of it.”
“There’s still so much work to be done in theater in this community, striving to improve the body image conversation and helping ourselves and others when we need it.”-Allison Mintz ’23
Lily Knowles ‘23, another interviewee whose responses were featured in the piece, said, “I hope the audience gets from this documentary the message that performance can live in our bodies, but it’s not always ethical. Performers are in a constant state of perception of themselves, as well as from others, which is tremendous pressure.”
Mintz elaborated, “I want people, particularly those who aren’t necessarily as ingrained in the arts, to understand the sacrifices that people make for their physical and mental health, for the art of art, if you will.”
This documentary is publicly available on Youtube.