Department of Theater Presents devynn emory Artist Residency

Last weekend, the Department of Theater presented a residency headlined by interdisciplinary artist devynn emory. Collaboratively sponsored by Colgate and Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, the multi-day event celebrated emory’s work across multiple platforms—film, dance, visual and performance arts.

An email from the Department of Theater describes emory as a “choreographer, dancer, bodyworker, teacher, healer and registered nurse who worked in acute medicine, then COVID care, and currently integrative medicine.” It is this medley of experiences that emory drew from to create their programming for Colgate, which consisted of a movement workshop called “land somatics: moving grief and re-connecting,” a screening of their film “deadbird” and the installation of their traveling grief altar, “can anybody help me hold this body,” at Onondaga Lake Park in Syracuse. According to emory’s website, “land somatics” is a practice meant to encourage “building awareness with our bodies in connection to the land we are living on.”

On Friday, Oct. 14, participants of all skill levels were welcomed to Ryan Studio for this workshop, in which emory demonstrated how movement can be a channel to process grief as well as foster intrapersonal, interpersonal and natural connections.

That same evening, emory’s film, “deadbird,” was shown in Golden Auditorium. It stars emory as themself in conversation with a medical mannequin called manny, who acts as a stand-in to tell the stories of lost patients and friends of emory’s in a setup parodying daytime talk shows. After each segment, emory performed a movement number emulative of their work as a bedside nurse to reclaim these often traumatic memories as a vessel for emory to heal from them. In the final scenes, emory does not interview a patient but a friend, rockstar fantasy, whose final wish is crowd-surfing; emory honors this by lifting manny’s body into the forest. Supplementing the viewing was a question-and-answer panel discussion with emory, Upstate Medical nurses Caitlin Nye and Liz Jorolemon Smith, Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies Meika Loe as well as Associate Professor of Theater Christian DuComb.

During the panel, emory revealed how the creation of deadbird helped them move through a period of great personal tragedy.

“I lost both of my matriarchs, my grandmothers, to COVID, and as a trans person, I’ve lost so many people in my community. So I think I wanted to create a space for myself to make sure I’m still on my pathways,” emory said. “I have a lot of pathways that I am called to be present for in this life and I want to stay present and connected, which means I have to move through it and move with it.”

Emory also shared how they applied teachings from their Lenape and Blackfoot ancestry to their experiences as a nurse in conceptualizing the film.

“In my Indigenous lineage, change, which is death, is very common […] it is an honor and change is all around us,” emory said. “The leaves are so gorgeous here […] they’re teachers to us at all times and thus in our daily ways we grieve. I wanted to also create a space for us to be in conversation about death before the moment of crisis, which is where I often see it in the Western medical setting at the bedside.”

Professor DuComb spoke about the choice to invite emory to Colgate, and why the residency, which required all attendees to wear masks, was fitting in today’s climate.

“We have been grateful and excited to go back to living and learning in person without masks, that in making that transition we haven’t taken the time to collectively process what we’ve all been through in the past two and a half years,” DuComb said. “It seemed necessary to me to find a space to do that; and where better than at the intersection of arts and healthcare? [Healthcare] is dealing with the loss from COVID much more intimately than any other field and the arts are a space to reflect on our joys and our griefs.”

Junior Gianna Woods, a theater concentrator, expressed a reaction echoing DuComb’s vision.

“I thought it was very eye-opening to see the world of medicine through someone with such an in-depth spiritual touch on the world and I appreciated being able to talk to them to understand their thought processes,” Woods said.

On Saturday, Oct. 15, Colgate provided transportation to Onondaga Lake Park for a viewing of emory’s traveling grief altar, “can anybody help me hold this body.” Participants were invited to bring an offering of personal meaning to engage with the ceremony. At 3 p.m., emory closed the altar with a ritual, concluding a meaningful weekend of programming.

More information about emory’s film and grief altar project can be found at