Elise Luce Kraemer’s artwork centers around yoga practice. She’s been involved with the practice in different capacities and at different levels for three decades, and recently, it led her to integrate her love for painting and storytelling into her 2011 Philly Fringe show, Yoga Stories. We caught up with her last week to ask her how it all came together.
What led you to yoga practice?
A very groovy teacher in junior high-school teacher in 1980. It was an elective, and I liked the teacher, so I took her elective. An English teacher. It was in North Jersey. I grew up in Maplewood, N.J., and went to South Orange middle school. I’ve taken yoga sporadically since then, and gotten pretty involved in the last 5 to 10 years. My practice started more about the physicality, about wanting to be stronger, to deal with injuries. As I got older, I got more into the spiritual and meditative aspect of it. Since having kids it’s a wonderful “me” time. I tend not to do yoga at home. It’s a space where I can have physical and spiritual practice.
After the jump: the connection between painting, storytelling, yoga, and collaborative writing.
What led you to painting and storytelling?
I was a fine arts major in college, and ended up going to law school. I really started getting back into painting a couple years ago. I’m really interested in portraiture and documentary and narrative, and I love shows like This American Life and The Moth. I started meeting with people who did yoga and with yoga instructors. I’d interview them—take audio tape of interviews, and take a few pictures. Based on what they said about their practice, I created these yoga portraits that were supposed to reflect something deeper about them. It culminated in a show at first Friday in May. The paintings were lined up in a space with their edited interviews playing, like a yoga class. It was a pop-up venue called Power Station Lab, in Old city.
For you, what’s the connection between images and stories?
When I started doing this, I thought it should come to life in a play. But I didn’t make the play out of the materials I recorded. Instead, I cast actors involved in yoga practice and each of them worked on, and then collaboratively we developed, their characters and stories. The interaction with these people made what is a very rich story, which is the script.
We started rehearsal without a script. We did exercises so people would become these characters. We did writing exercises, we shared interviews. We were able to pare it down to the most poignant and funny things that emerged. The collaborative process for me was almost as important as the end result.
What’s the connection between art and yoga?
I’m a project artist. The project before that was a painting for the Haggadah. I like to work on a subject, and then on a project on that subject. Yoga seemed so natural because I have a lot of experience with it. It works well because you have the visual asanas, and there are a lot of interesting stories about what brings people to yoga. Out of that sprung something I had to do. I was compelled to do it. At the time I had a job, my kids—I made this project just because I had to do it.
Why did you decide to produce this show?
I quit my day job! It was important because I felt compelled by the yoga model. The people I talked to, the stories were so interesting. The images came to me and the project had momentum, and it just felt like it had to keep going. It took a life on of its own. for me personally, I’m transitioning. I was a lawyer for a long time, and for the past five years I worked at the University of Pennsylvania law school as a career counselor. It was a good transition for me to go from a job with a lot of interpersonal relationships into a collaborative project.
Any other collaborative ideas the future?
I do have an idea but it’s secret. I’m not ready to reveal it–it’s a little racy.
Elise’s Yoga Stories runs tonight at 8:00 pm and tomorrow at 2:00 pm at Dhyana Yoga, 68 N. 2nd Street, Old City. The show also runs on September 11 at 6:00 pm and September 16 at 8:00 pm at Philly Power Yoga, 2016 Walnut Street, Rittenhouse Square, and on September 17 at 7:00 pm at Amrita Yoga Wellness, 1204 Frankford Avenue, Fishtown. All shows $10.