Go Deeper

Jenna Horton And The Birth Of Etna

Posted April 23rd, 2013

“I never thought I’d be doing solo-performance. I have a love/hate relationship working alone.”

Hello Etna Mounting!

Hello Etna Mounting!

Jenna Horton, a Philadelphia-based performing artist, brings her one-person performance work Mounting, Etna, May 13 and 14 to Jumpstart, the annual FringeArts showcase designed to identify new and emerging talent in the field of live performance. 2013’s Jumpstart features six artists/companies performing short works, and we here at FringeArts Blog thought we’d catch up with them. Today’s artist—Jenna!

Since attending the Headlong Performance Institute in 2009, Jenna Horton has worked with a number of local companies, including Inis Nua, The Berserker Residents, Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, The Bearded Ladies, Applied Mechanics, and Shakespeare in Clark Park.  She is currently a resident artist at Plays and Players Theater and holds a B.A. in performance studies from Brown University. Check out her website:, if you’re into that sort of thing (checking out websites, that is).

FringeArts: Why is your show title Mounting, Etna? What inspired its creation?

Jenna Horton: The title is intentionally multivalent, as is a lot of the poetry in the show. For starters, there’s the physical action of mounting, as in mounting Etna as if she were a horse—your horse—or a person—your person [as in belonging to you]. Or you could be mounting her on your wall like you would a painting. Or maybe she’s doing that to you. Mind you, I’m also mounting the show of Etna. Not to mention, there’s a volcano on the east coast of Sicily named Mount Etna that’s very active and provides for the fertile soils surrounding the area. My parents also live in Etna, New Hampshire; but that’s more of a coincidence.

The birth of Etna came from the crashing of two things. I started a notebook a while back and labeled it “bad poetry” and have been putting stuff in it since. When I looked back over it, I realized many of the poems were cut from a similar cloth and could be interesting in a grouping. I started to get an idea for a woman that might host a cooking show, but she wouldn’t be in a kitchen. She’d be in a library and would pull out whisks from desks and smash eggs in books. The piece didn’t quite end up that way, but that was the initial impulse, which eventually combined with Carl Cork, another character of mine. He’s an older man who’s a hermit and deathly afraid of the world, so runs a radio show out of his basement to reach out to people. Anyway, I was working on him a lot, and getting tired of playing this guy who was SO sensitive and SO sad and SO scared and just SO, SO stuck. Instead, I kept wanting to be a WOMAN and a HUNGRY woman at that, who wasn’t as scared of the world but wanted to eat it and kill it even.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up?

Jenna Horton: I grew up in Denver, Colorado. Denver is beautiful, the weather is amazing, and the people are kind. And you can’t beat the close access to the Rockies or the amount of BIG SKY out there. Too many malls though. And everything is spread out and lots of new development, which I like less.  Lots of health nuts that wear their outdoor gear and bike or run. When I was a kid, there were a lot of prairie dogs there too.

FringeArts: How did you go about creating this work?

Jenna Horton I actually started developing this piece for the first EAR FUZZ. What Scratch Night is to FringeArts, EAR FUZZ is to the EAR Residency over at Plays and Players, something I had the good fortune of being a part of this year—it’s a night for members of the Emerging Artist Residents to show anything they’re working on. So I did a first showing of it back in December. The material was pretty stark and raw, so I was nervous. But I got some excellent feedback, and—though I didn’t know it at the time—found my director Mark McCloughan at that showing.

Mark and I started getting in a room together, went back into the textual material, did a little more research—he brought me a few more poets like Adrienne Rich and Heather Christie and I was looking more in depth at Karen Finley’s work—so we could clarify what world we were already working in. At that point, Mark had certain inklings and interests towards pushing the piece and what Etna was doing in it towards a more formal place, or at least more formal than it was in it’s initial iteration, which I liked. From there it was really about finding the physical score that accompanied the poetry, and what worked and what didn’t.

FringeArts: What kind of performance is Mounting. Etna?

Jenna Horton: It’s an obligatory dinner party. It’s a poetry reading. It’s performance art.

Jenna Horton performing On Air.  Photo: Jason Chen.

Jenna Horton performing On Air. Photo: Jason Chen.

FringeArts: When did you start doing one-person shows?

Jenna Horton: I never thought I’d be doing solo-performance. I have a love/hate relationship working alone. It’s certainly not as fun as working with other people. But on the other hand, when writing and developing these one-person shows, because I don’t direct a whole lot of other work, I do like the sense of singular authorship. In a way, I’ve been using these forays into solo-performance to test out my artistic voice when left in its own echo chamber. In that chamber, I have to answer to two things: the piece and myself. There’s a challenge and a trap in that. When you’re alone making the work and also in the piece, you can’t always see what the piece is asking and needing and wanting. That’s why having Mark as a director on this project is a huge improvement over the last one.

FringeArts: You attended the Headlong Performance Institute in 2009, how has this influenced your work since?

Jenna Horton: Exponentially so. Basically, I didn’t really know about how to go about creating original work before going to Headlong. I had hunches but no concrete tools, no way to map or chart stages of a process. Headlong gave me those tools. The material, the resources, the strategies you get from those folks keep on giving and unfolding. Just the other day, I was going back to some of the tenets Andrew [Simonet] introduced in his Creative Process class, and hot damn, is some of that stuff right on. And beyond the concrete exercises and vocabulary they give you around devised work, there’s something special about the pedagogy over there at Headlong, and VERY bottom-up, in the sense it asks you to start—before technique, before preconceived notions, and habits—by being openly curious, or as Mary Oliver puts it in her poem Wild Geese,  “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” And while that doesn’t sound very scientific, it goes a long way if you actually listen.

FringeArts: How do you like to spend your last 15 minutes before showtime?

Jenna Horton I haven’t landed on a routine that I do for every show I’m in. Usually, I’ll be doing some kind of stretching, a sun salutation, or some sort of partnering pat down.  And right before going on stage, I’m usually sensing the world through my character’s body and trying to plug into that particular relationship.

Thanks Jenna, have a great show!

Monday May 13 + Tuesday May 14 at 7pm
Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
$18 / $12 Students + 25 and under