March Drama Intensive

The Art of Active Transformation

Guest Faculty: Ethan (Kobayashi)-Hsieh, Gavin Struempler, Claire DeCoster, Peter Daniels

Viroqua, Wisconsin – March 4-24, 2024

The Art of Active Transformation is a course designed for aspiring actors and theater artists who feel that a multi-year conservatory program may not be for them, as well as those wishing to study the art of acting but not forgo a liberal arts experience, or other related modes of inquiry prudent to human flourishing.

We are seeking up to 8 student participants, interested in living together for 3 weeks, in a large family home, cooperating with and encouraging each other, studying the art of acting, vitality, and active transformation.

This course is recommended for participants over the age of 18 and older who can live independently, pick up after themselves, have varying levels of theatrical experience, or an affinity still to discover in the course content.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until February 1st, 2024 or until the program is filled.
Standard Oil Octopus

Cadmus Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth, Maxfield Parrish

 COURSE OVERVIEW: The Art of Active Transformation

The course will integrate offerings from guest faculty alongside work from Thoreau faculty, fellows, and our scholar-in-residence, together embracing an embodied rhythm of mindfulness practice, reading and discussion, cooking or baking, some shared meals, and physical activity through rehearsal, set building, acting study, and more.

Course will proceed as follows:

A seminar-style class focusing on the History of Acting Theory from 1880-1920, as well as in movement and physical intensives to engage the body (moving through space), and voice (speaking and being).

Students will also assist a master carpenter in the design and construction of the set for a professional theater production of A Doll’s House. 

A daily routine of morning stretching and meditation, forecasting of the day, and team communications, will follow with a twice-weekly session where students will be able to develop important skills and capacities for mindfulness and presence that directly relate to their work on stage, as well as in their own lives.

Participants will synthesize the fruits of their studies into their own rehearsal process for a selection of one-act plays by Anton Chekhov, culminating in 2 performances during the final weekend of the program.

Course Components:
  • Academic exploration of the development of realism in modern theater, Gavin Struempler
  • Rehearsal and performance of The Bear and The Proposal by Anton Chekhov, Gavin Struempler
  • Stage voice and movement, Claire DeCoster
    • Working with LaBan, Lessac, Linklater, Grotowski, Michael Chekhov
  • Set design and construction for Jones Theater production of A Doll’s House, Peter Daniels
  • Participation in a three-week TIAMAT workshop (The Integrative Approach and Methodology for Active Transformation) including practices for cultivating wisdom through mindfulness, dialogue, movement, and the imagination, led by the creator of TIAMAT, Ethan (Kobayashi)-Hsieh

Winter Cooking
Winter Campfire
Blackhawk Rock Winter Sunrise
Philippe Mesly

Instructor: Ethan (Kobayashi)-Hsieh

The Integrative Approach and Methodology for Active Transformation

Ethan (Kobayashi)-Hsieh is the Artistic Director of 5ToMidnight International.

Working in the intersection between actor training, 4(+2)E cognitive science and post-Jungian psychoanalysis, he has developed The Integrative Approach and Methodology of Active Transformation (TIAMAT) through practice-as-research with the company, conducting workshops in five countries around the world.

Ethan attended the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts  for a MA in Professional Practice: Theatre and Drama Facilitation and will be continuing the research of TIAMAT as an ecology of practices for wisdom cultivation for his Ph.D. He is a Life Coach, Yoga Instructor and Bodywork Healer with coaching clients in China, Thailand, and Australia.

Instructor: Gavin Struempler

Gavin is an Alaskan-born theater maker and educator currently holding a creative home in Chicago.  He found his way into the arts via choral music and touring internationally with his father’s community singers. Gavin attended PACE University, then transferred to Northern Illinois University for his BFA.

In the classroom, Gavin works experientially incorporating a wide variety of techniques and training methodologies. Through technique, we will hone dynamic, specific work rooted in honesty and infinite possibility. Our rehearsal room will be a means to approach awakening emotional life, with an emphasis on truth, vulnerability, and connection to the self and others.

Since moving out to Chicago Gavin’s worked with GreatWorks Theater Company, Candlehouse Collective, and most recently as a repertory member with Jones Classical Theater performing here at the 2nd Annual Viroqua Shakespeare Festival.

Philippe Mesly
Philippe Mesly

Instructor: Claire DeCoster

Course Description

Claire is a body-centered actor and director. She found ballet early and it brought her to NYU where she did modern dance, mind/body, and contact improvisation. In Minneapolis she worked with The Palace Theater, a Grotowski-influenced theater, and Theatre de la Jeune Lune for Commedia del Arte mask work.

Claire attended DePaul Theater School and acted with a number of Chicago theaters. Then she found Playback Theatre, an improvisational storytelling form where audience stories are enacted on-the-spot by an ensemble of actors and musicians. It pulled together Claire’s interests. Playback is applied to community building, social justice, healing, celebration and more. Today Playback Theatre is an international form and is part of a larger body of work called Applied Theatre.

Claire co-founded and directed River’s Edge Playback Theater in Minneapolis for 10 years. Claire taught voice and speech at the Academy for Film and Television in Minneapolis. Claire, Frank Wildingway, and others did Playback here in Viroqua for a few years.

Instructor: Peter Daniels

Course Description

Facilitator Peter ‘pita’ Daniels brings a holistic commitment to creating healthy learning environments, influenced by his time in the scene shop at Montana State University teaching and learning stagecraft, as master carpenter for Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, and technical director for the Milwaukee Players.  Currently, Daniels lives in Viroqua in service as Manager of the Landmark Center Theater, in a 100-year-old converted public school near the Thoreau Campus.

Philippe Mesly

Thoreau Faculty

The Thoreau faculty, fellows, and scholar-in-residence are a dynamic intergenerational team that weather all seasons and all programs at Thoreau College.

This team will support the drama intensive by preparing healthy meals for the benefit and enjoyment of all, serving as hosts for guest faculty and students, participating in select courses, working backstage or otherwise, and more.

They will also continue to manage Thoreau facilities, gardens, and animal flocks, while undertaking curriculum and program planning for the Thoreau College Field School and Fall Gap Semester Program.

Field School Students - Sittin Pretty Farm

Program Details


We are seeking up to 10 participants in this program, which will begin on Monday, March 4 and culminate with performances at the Landmark Center Theater on the weekend of March 22, 23, and 24. 

Participants should plan to arrive in Viroqua, Wisconsin no later than Friday, March 1st.


Step 1: Application Form

Completing this form will tell us about your background and interest in our program.  To get a sense of you as a performer, you will be asked to submit a short video of yourself telling a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Finally, we will ask you for the contact information for at least 1 personal reference, ideally a director or drama teacher.  

If you have any questions or would like a Word/PDF version of this application, contact us at

Step 2: Interview & References

If it seems like you might be a good fit for the program, you will be invited to participate in an interview with members of our Admissions Circle, which includes faculty and alumni of earlier programs. Interviews can take place in person or via Zoom as circumstances allow. Applicants who are able to visit us in Viroqua are encouraged to do so! During this phase we will also contact personal references submitted.

Step 3: Admission Decision and Further Coordination

Upon acceptance of offer, communications and arrangements will be made to coordinate travel and arrival, what to bring, what to expect about the town of Viroqua and where you will be staying, etc. A financial pledge agreement conversation will be initiated…

The priority application deadline for this program is December 31, 2023. If the program is not filled at this point, applications will be accepted until February 1st, 2024, or until the program is filled.


Housing for non-local participants is available at the Thoreau College Campus, which includes both private and shared rooms.  The Campus is located on a semi-rural 6 acre site within walking distance of most locations in Viroqua, Wisconsin.  Lunches will be provided and eaten together on Mondays-Fridays during the course.  Participants will be responsible for other meals, for which they will have access to full kitchen facilities.


Thoreau College is committed to making our programs financially accessible to as many qualified participants as possible.  Your financial pledge will cover program fees, supplies, and 15 weekday lunches during the course.  

Campus housing is available for an additional $400

As a guide for thinking about what a reasonable contribution might be for you, please consider this three-tiered sliding scale:

Supporter Tier:  $2,000
If you move through the world with financial ease and the means to fulfill many of your wants as well as your needs – you are able to eat out when you want, abundantly meet your needs through employment or can comfortably not work, have access to family wealth, own property, etc. – consider paying at this level, which will help us ensure the long term sustainability of our programs while keeping our offerings accessible to those with access to fewer resources.

Sustainer Tier: $1,600
If you are able to meet your needs with relative ease while budgeting your educational and entertainment spending – for instance, you are able to take classes and eat out occasionally as long as you are mindful – consider paying at this level, which will help sustain the work of the college at a modest level.

Supported Tier: $1,200
If you struggle to fund your basic needs and have limited access to resources in your family and community, or if you would not be able to access this program without a discounted payment option, consider paying at this level. We value your presence and contributions to our community and do not want any economic circumstances to be a barrier to attendance!

Thoreau College is an equal opportunity employer and complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination. Thoreau College is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.

“No method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on the alert. What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.”