Senior Amber Layne’s experience with Soul Sessions, a citywide performance series, began in June. Brian Washburn, a fellow dancer in the Boston-based Urbanity Dance Company, asked her to collaborate with him in a hip-hop dance for a Soul Sessions event.
“That night was a really special one because everybody was feeling it,” Layne said. “I asked, ‘how can I get involved?’”
Layne began performing regularly at Soul Sessions and eventually became the program’s marketing director. Now, she plans to bring Soul Sessions to Emerson and hold its first event on campus on Oct. 19.
“I saw its worth and value, and I wanted to see it grow and expand,” said Layne, a marketing communication major. “[Soul Sessions] is like a family...you watch them grow.”
Layne described Soul Sessions—founded by Chien-Hwe Hong in July 2013 and now a regular event at various spaces around the city—as similar to an open mic, but with a strong focus on connectivity and collaboration.
“[Soul Sessions] is in an intimate setting where you have the familiarity of being in your best friend’s living room,” Layne said, adding there is no so-called fourth wall that prevents performers from directly addressing the audience.
To test the waters, Layne invited a variety of Emerson performers, including comedy troupe SwoMo, a capella groups Noteworthy and Treblemakers, and Emerson Dance Company to an event on Sept. 28, which took place at Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge.
The walls of the tiny gallery were cramped with various photographs and paintings, and holiday lights laid across the floor created a makeshift stage.
After each performance, the audience broke out into raucous, foot-stomping applause. A DJ blasted music from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” to Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” as performers and audience members danced energetically.
Lea LeBlanc, a sophomore marketing communication major who plans to dance at Soul Sessions’ Emerson event on Oct. 19, said that the variety of performances drew her to the event.
“[Layne and I] always talk about how we wish we had more performing opportunities at Emerson,” LeBlanc said. “[Soul Sessions] is all-encompassing…it doesn’t matter whether you’re a dancer or actor, there’s something for everybody.”
Layne said one of her favorite aspects of Soul Sessions are ‘soulaborations,’ which are on-the-spot collaborations between multiple performers. She remembered one ‘soulaboration’ between a spoken-word artist, violinist, break dancer, and drummer that was particularly inspirational.
“It was awesome because it was happening live,” Layne said. “It’s an environment where you feel comfortable enough to take risks.”
Celia Lechtman, a senior performing arts major who performed with the a capella group Noteworthy during the Sept. 28 event, agreed that Soul Sessions provided a comforting and encouraging atmosphere.
“There’s a spirit of inclusion that you can really feel. It’s apparent that everyone is seen on equal footing,” Lechtman said. “After we performed, we got ecstatic feedback from some of the other performers we saw, and it was a very empowering cycle of art appreciation.”
Layne said that her goal is to bring the intimate, encouraging setting of Soul Sessions to Emerson’s campus on a regular basis.
Carolina Saverin, a sophomore performing arts major who performed with Treblemakers, agreed that Emerson was the “perfect environment for Soul Sessions.”
“It’s a free space where people can come in without judgement and be yourself,” Saverin said. “That’s what people do [at Emerson] every day, so it’s nice to have a space to do that in.”
Erica Mixon, the Arts Editor of the Beacon, contributed to the reporting of this article.