Greenwood’s Bess Park has long had a wide variety of interests, including theater, dance, massage therapy, yoga and more.
At 55, she’s exploring ways to combine all her creative passions through her Institute of Creative and Healing Arts and the nonprofit Wild Hare Productions, both in Greenwood.
This fall, Park said she has big plans for both endeavors.
The Institute of Creative and Healing Arts encompasses bodywork through massage therapy, yoga classes, aromatherapy and more.
Healing Arts Yoga class offerings are expanding and Park is added more teachers. Park said she's "joining forces" with Mat Works Yoga of Greenwood in the fall. Also, one of Park's fellow yoga practitioners - Rachel Davis - is teaching at the Institute studio now.
Wild Hare Productions produces innovative theater and dance performance training. It’s in its fourth year and celebrating its one-year anniversary as a nonprofit. In the coming months, Wild Hare has plans for offering new and classical theater in a black-box theater space.
Park has been operating out of 308 Main St., Suite B, upstairs from Allura Bella women’s boutique on Main Street in Greenwood. However, in early October, Park plans to expand the institute in a new location — 115 Main St., in the newly renovated Hampton Place Shopping Center.
“It’s been a dream since my 20s,” Park said. “It’s bringing everything together — performing and healing arts. We need to be aware of our sensations and feelings and not numb those. Having a conversation with them is a lot of what the creative process is about. I also believe it’s what needs to happen for health and well-being in the body.”
“I’m a massage therapist, a clinical sports massage therapist and a somatic experience practitioner, but I’m also an artist,” Park said. “I’m not a therapist and I don’t pretend to be, but I think all of those creative acts can work together.”
For example, Park said if you have chronic back pain, but there is nothing physically wrong, there might be something emotionally that can be worked out in an artistic way.
Greenwood Country Club tennis professional Gary Agardy has known Park since the two of them were in high school — he was a student at Greenwood High School and she was at Cambridge Academy. Agardy sought her out for sports medicine massage after bouts of tennis elbow.
“I experienced it once after training for a pro-am event and again in November 2016, after yard work and playing guitar, of all things,” Agardy said. “Changing rackets and strings helped a lot with tennis, but I sought out massage after resting and icing didn’t work after guitar.”
Agardy said he made adjustments to his guitar neck and went in for massage.
“I let her work on my left arm and it was amazing,” he said. “I went back because I had a tournament coming up and my arm is 100 percent.”
Agardy said Park is an avid tennis player, too.
Park started studying yoga at age 12.
“My sister-in-law at the time was a yoga teacher, instructing classes here at the Y, when it was on South Main Street,” Park said. “I was given two books — one on massage therapy and another on yoga. There weren’t a lot of resources here at that time for those, but in the dance and theater world, those were embraced.”
Park said she completed advanced yoga instructor certification in Asheville, North Carolina several years ago, and she’s working toward therapeutic yoga instructor certification. She started studying massage in her late 20s in Charlotte, North Carolina, while enrolled in graduate school in Greensboro, North Carolina for dance and theater.
“I saw how powerfully yoga and massage influenced my creative work,” Park said. “I spent more than 20 years training in everything I possibly could. Now, it’s time to put this plan in action.”
That plan also includes Park’s goal of eventually locating her dance company to Greenwood — feMo — Feminine Energy in Motion.
Yoga practitioner Rachel Davis of Hodges met Park when she was teaching classes at Mat Works Yoga Studio in Greenwood.
Davis is working toward becoming a certified yoga instructor herself, currently logging instruction hours.
“Bess is really great at ‘reading her students’ and suggesting adjustments to either simplify poses or ways to make them more challenging,” said Davis, 33. “The positive and loving energy of her teaching style always reminds me, no matter how I showed up on my mat on any particular day, the important part is that I showed up and was kind to myself.”
Davis works in marketing and is also helping Park with the social media presence for her classes and offerings.
Husband and wife Byron and Lou Hilley are also among Park’s yoga students and they are involved with her through Wild Hare Productions.
Bryron, 57, is a retired band director and farmer, serving on the board of Wild Hare Productions. His wife, Lou, 56, is an occupational therapist with Greenwood School District 50.
“My wife, Lou, convinced me to try yoga and it has literally changed my life, both physically and spiritually,” Byron Hilley said. “Plus, it just seemed the natural thing for us to do. We raise our own meat on our farm, go to Mother Earth News Fair every year and I drive a ’71 Volkswagen bus.”
Lou Hilley said yoga has increased strength and flexibility, while reducing joint pain during everyday activities. Plus, techniques help with stress management.
On the drama front, Park recently wrapped up Wild Hare Productions actors for an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at Wyatt Farms for the South Carolina Festival of Flowers.
Lou Hilley credits Park with "giving her the courage" to try acting, alongside Byron, noting it has made a "big difference" in quality time the couple spends together during their "empty nest years."
“How many towns our size can have a Shakespeare in the park series?” Byron Hilley asked. “If we only get 40 patrons at a performance, who cares. That’s not the point. With Bess and Wild Hare, it’s all about the art.”
In September, Wild Hare and The Museum have plans to collaborate on a “Murder on the Orient Express” fundraiser.
Hilley said Wild Hare is a valuable community outlet for different kinds of performance art.
Park also is directing Wild Hare’s production of the acclaimed groundbreaking stage play “Next to Normal,” about a woman's struggle with bi-polar disorder and depression. Plans are for performances to be in January 2018.
With book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, and music by Tom Kitt, the play received a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2010.
Park said the subject matter is “handled frankly” in the play and that its pop-rock music score is “exquisitely beautiful.” The play is not a downer, Park said. “The play was incredibly moving the first time I encountered it and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do that show.’"
Park said actress Alice Ripley won critical acclaim and the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Diana in “Next to Normal.” Ripley was a guest artist and speaker at a Southeastern Theatre Conference Park attended.
“She said the preparation for this show was intense,” Park said.
“Next to Normal” deals with mental health disorders, grief, suicide, drug abuse and ethics of modern psychiatry.
Park is in her third year of doctoral studies in depth psychology and somatic studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, not far from Santa Barbara, California. She said “Next to Normal” meshes well with her research.
“I’m learning to more authentically and deeply access the imagination, on a physical and mental/emotional plane, so that work that arises is creative, artistic and deeply healing,” Park said. “My doctoral work is about how we can knit together a cohesive and supportive experience.”
“The healing of one individual soul is part of the healing of the world,” Park said, describing her studies. “The subject matter of this play is hard. It lends itself to talk-backs after the show, about mental health.”