Staff Q&A: Stephen Fisher & Angela Norris

Stephen Fisher & Angela NorrisPhoto credit: Mark Stehle

Stephen Fisher believes that most communities are filled with people who want to get involved, but don’t know how.

So Fisher and business partners Angela Norris and James Peniston decided to make that easier. Their new venture is Studio 34, a bright, 5,000 square-foot space where people can meet to share ideas, practice their art and glide peacefully into downward dog.

Located at 4522 Baltimore Ave., in the heart of West Philly, Studio 34 features art on display, roomy yoga studios big enough to attract national yoga events, and four smaller rooms where local wellness practitioners can do various types of massage, Reiki and bodywork. “It went from a yoga studio with a community lounge, to a yoga studio with a community lounge and art shows and more of a wellness bent,” says Fisher, who manages a biology lab on campus, has a Ph.D. in psychology and has studied under yoga masters Joan White and Ana Forrest.

Norris, also a yoga instructor, envisions utilizing her Penn training as a Nurse Practitioner to organize preventative health events and disseminate information for people who are uninsured. A Nurse Practitioner at HUP, she specializes in the care of adults with HIV/AIDS and has taught classes on nutrition, diabetes management and obesity prevention. “When we were in the dreaming phases, those were my thoughts about really empowering [people] to take interest in their own health in whatever fashion is going to work for them,” she says.

Studio 34 also has a lounge open to anyone from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. “We prefer that people don’t come and sit and do work ... but have this as a space where you can just be when you’re not working, when you’re not at home,” says Fisher. “Ideally, this will become a community building space.”

Q How did Studio 34 begin?

A SF: I had completed a Forrest yoga training, and I started a studio in my house and started looking for commercial storefronts. About six months into that process, I realized that it was beyond me and I needed help. That’s when James and Angie came into the picture and they’ve had their own visions of mixing in art and wellness. Throughout all of that we kept talking to local wellness providers and our vision kept changing. It went from just yoga to yoga-plus-Pilates-plus rooms to support wellness practitioners-plus an expanded community space, which ends up having a conference room and stage for shows and performances. We’re trying to add more of a family component as well.

Q What’s the connection between yoga and art?
A SF: The yoga and wellness is a pretty common connection. The art piece, I think, is a little less obvious to some. Many artists get similar things out of practicing art as many people do out of practicing these things like yoga. One of the more transparent ways to connect the two is just the idea that people who might show up for an art show, might show up for a dance performance, or for repeated music events in the space. One of our hopes is that they become more comfortable with the space and in becoming more comfortable with the space, they will then be more open to trying things they wouldn’t normally try.

Q Were you committed to settling down in West Philly?
A SF: Yes. We all live within two blocks of the space. When I moved to Philadelphia four or five years ago, I lived out in the ‘burbs and I spent a year deciding if I wanted to stay in Philly and if so, what part I wanted to live in. I realized West Philly was really my neighborhood.

Q How did both of you find yoga?

A AN: I did it consistently for a period and then I went back to school [at Penn] to be a Nurse Practitioner. I started practicing with Stephen and that was the first time I participated in Forrest style yoga. For me, it was a perfect fit. I’ve always been physically active my entire life—biking, running, skating, going to the gym, playing racquetball, and for me, yoga is the first time I feel like I’m taking care of my entire body and mind in a way that is promoting healing of injuries that I gained doing those other forms of exercise. It’s the first time that I feel kind of preachy about what I do.
SF: For me, it was actually during grad school. I started doing a mindful mediation in grad school dealing with my stress and from there, I started reading about Daoism, which just made a lot of sense to me as a philosophy. That led me into the tai chi, the qi gong, the yoga.

Q You are an environmentally sustainable place, as well, right?
A SF: We are dedicated to doing what we can to promote environmental wellness and in that vein, we use all windmill power for electricity. Our mugs that we’re selling for $10 are made out of corn plastic, which is biodegradable, and when you’re done with them after a few years of use, you throw them in your compost bin. We offer another discount to people who use SEPTA regularly.
We also don’t sell water bottles. Instead we invested in the water filter. Hopefully us doing it and promoting it and doing a little extra, it will get out there to the general population.

Originally published April 10, 2008

Originally published on April 24, 2008