Because of Dell’Arte... I’ve embraced failure.

By Kent Jenkins 

Kent Jenkins

Kent Jenkins

Because of Dell’Arte, I’ve embraced failure.

Woohoo! And let me tell you, it feels great.

Growing up as a dancer, I was constantly judging myself. I would practice jazz, tap and ballet for ten hours a week in front of a mirror, trying to be perfect in form. It built up a sense of self-awareness in myself that became ingrained in my performance style and livelihood.

This was magnified tenfold when I created a YouTube account and began sharing personal music videos with the world. I was a huge fan of the Blue Man Group and had created my own homemade PVC Pipe Instrument to perform Blue Man Group-style renditions of popular medleys for the internet. Mind you, I was in a public high school at this time where self-image was becoming very important to be accepted in the social hierarchy. Growing up in a world that is run by a popularity contest of selfies and numbers-of-likes, I only became more self-conscious of what was needed to become “successful” in both my life and my art.

So after completing my undergraduate degree in Theatre Arts at Loyola Marymount University in Southern California, I continued living in Los Angeles and quickly felt isolated and burnt out from attempting to become something. I don’t even know what it was: a Blue Man? a YouTuber with millions of subscribers? a world famous musician? I was numb and lost, but mainly upset with a sense of failure in my now budding career.

Shortly into this period of my life, I learned of this magical place called Dell’Arte, where none of this artificiality seemed to matter. It was all about the exploration of your own journey as an actor-creator. I was immediately curious and took the leap into the Professional Training Program. And to my pleasure, we did exactly that. On our first day of class, I vividly remember our professor James Peck having us fall into the abyss (an exercise in which you stand looking out at the horizon, outstretch your arms, and then “trust fall” forward into the empty air until you can barely catch yourself under your running legs). I had tears swell up in my eyes. It was one of the most incredibly-awakening experiences because it made me realize the commitment, sacrifice and vulnerability required to dive into our best work at this school and beyond – Teetering on the metaphysical edge of life and death, firkling in the playful in-between.

The rest of our academic year was this intense mental and physical battle for me. Trying to let go of this mental image of who I thought I was vs. who I actually am. This bridge slowly forged over the eight months of our studies until I fully connected it with all of my training in our clown project in the old Carlo Finals. My partners, Ginn Fizz, Gaia Mencagli and I, had an idea for a Clown Tea Party which was lovingly pulled apart by our wonderful directors and classmates. “Play with what is real,” our director Lauren Wilson would remind us.

I initially got upset because of the lack of control. My clown costume was funky, our script was stripped down and many prop ideas were taken away. The setup was vastly unaligned with what I, Kent Jenkins, would have traditionally wanted to create as an “artist.” It initially felt uncomfortable and scary to let go of my pre-conceived notions. But thankfully I trusted the process and my ensemble because it was then onstage that a whole new world of performance unveiled itself to me. Everything could go wrong (i.e. a water spill, a wardrobe malfunction, or a forgotten cue) and it would be the most invigorating thing ever. It was as if the moments of failure or spontaneity became a beautiful fountain of possibilities. And the greatest discovery was that I didn’t hate myself for “failing.” By being present and focused on my partners, I found a profoundly elevated level of joy. And all it took was playing with what was real.

Looks like Lauren was right after all.

Ever since then, I have aimed to seek this higher form of presence in my life. From site-specific installations with Fiasco! Physical Theatre (co-founded by DAI alumni Moses Norton, Erin Leigh Crites, Yiouli Archontaki, Maggie Lally and Lucius Robinson) to my various teaching artist gigs and part-time ice cream scooping job, I have found pleasure in freeing myself of old judgments and self-deprecating habits. And while I continue hoping for the best (as the optimist I am) and anticipating the worst (as the pessimist I can often be), I allow myself to simply enjoy this new balance and flow of curiosity on this journey we call life. To let go of my “perfection” and still see positive growth in my career is all I could ask for. Who knew failing could be so fun?


Kent Jenkins is an entertainer, musician and teaching artist based in Los Angeles, California. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Kent received his BA in Theatre Arts from Loyola Marymount University, studied at the Moscow Art Theatre School and trained at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre (PTP 2016). As an actor-creator, he develops physical theatre shows with Fiasco! Physical Theatre, as well as the award-winning Scherzo Theatre Company. Kent is additionally known worldwide as Snubby J (YouTube, TEDx, America’s Got Talent) and can be found playing his RimbaTubes live at 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. Regardless of form, Kent aims to create work that will spread light into other people’s lives in a meaningful way.

www.youtube.com/snubbyj

www.fiascophysicaltheatre.com

Because of Dell'Arte ... I've woken up in Saskatoon!

by Sarah Petersiel (PTP 2003)

Because of Dell'Arte ...  I've woken up in Saskatoon!

Sarah Petersiel

Sarah Petersiel

And Bogotá.

And Aarhus.

And Mexico City. 

And domestic hot spots like Ames, Iowa. 

Drawing a direct line between my time at Dell'Arte and my life now would be easy, even for a dummy. I'm Co-Artistic Director of Under the Table – a small physical comedy ensemble rife (infested?) with DA alums. We've toured a lot, tapping frequently into the family network. Shout-out to Sara Katzoff and her Berkshire Fringe! Shout-out to Tim Cunningham for getting us the in in Norfolk, VA! Shout-out to Michael Fields and his Colombian connections!

For nine years I worked for the Big Apple Circus' Clown Care Unit and am now a hospital clown with Healthy Humor's Red Nose Docs. Clown doctoring is a line of work/passion my classmate Stephanie Roberts turned me onto during our time in the PTP trenches. During a recent hospital shift, a kid shouted at me with glee: “YOU'RE DUMB!!!” Something welled up in me. It was pride.

I'm also a Teaching Artist at the New Victory Theater, where I'm happily pigeon-holed among the physical theatre types. At both Healthy Humor and the New Vic, I work alongside other DA alums. What do I do in my free time? Live with and see shows by and eat food in the shape of: Dell'Artians. I'm not trying to out-DA anybody, just expressin' that the institution has a welcome hold on my life.

So thanks very much Dell'Arte – thanks teachers, classmates, ensemble-mates, fellow alums. While I sometimes dream of being a simple tax preparer and leaving behind the vulnerability and hustle of the theatre world, I'll most likely let that dream die. Dying dreams being the note on which I prefer to end all blog posts, with reiterating my thanks coming in a close second. 


Sarah Petersiel is Co-Artistic Director of Under the Table, “Dr. Eleven” with Healthy Humor's Red Nose Docs, a Teaching Artist at The New Victory Theater, and Dancify That's Official Timekeeper/Grim Reaper. Visit: underthetabletheatre.com

Because of Dell'Arte... I am a Clown without Borders

Because of Dell' Arte, I am a Clown without Borders

By Erin Leigh Crites (MFA 2010)

Erin Leigh Crites

Erin Leigh Crites

I was always being told that I was too sensitive when I was a child. Too shy. Too worried. I had a hard time relating to other kids. I was always asking questions that nobody cared about, taking interest in global things, rather than local. I even developed insomnia by age 11 because I was worried about the world's conflicts... Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan, these issues of the 90's kept me up at night. And I cried, a lot. I cried because I felt helpless. I was too small. The problems and people were far away but I felt them so intimately. I felt like my heart was always being squeezed by a world unable to listen to its own need. But I couldn't articulate that at 11 years old. I was just a kid with no power surrounded by kids who thought I was weird for caring. I felt like that a lot. Weird for caring. I still do. I felt like I could see things about how people interacted that always left me thinking either, “Aren't there bigger things to worry about?” or “I don't think you all are even listening to each other.”

I didn't know what that meant or how it would manifest in my sense of purpose until after I graduated from Dell'Arte. 

I had never taken a dance class, never moved my body in expressive or dynamic ways other than through sports until I went to Dell'Arte at 23 years old. I remember Ronlin telling me, “just sit and speak,” in my audition because I was really “trying” to be physical... and failing. The thing is, when I sat and just delivered my autobiographical piece, I connected. I connected to myself. I connected to the space, and I connected to Ronlin and Joe. And it was because I was talking about the need to connect to others. About the power of theatrical expression to unite people through imaginative play. Through the creation of an interpersonal feedback loop. 

If there can only be one lesson, it's listening.

Flash forward through three years of training. Failing. Wanting to please others. Failing. Breaking my range of comfort. Failing. “Be Funny!” Failing. You get it, there's a pattern. I wanted to “succeed,” even though I wasn't sure what that meant. Now I know more about the semantics of success for myself. And the key word is, “myself.” My art is my “self,” made manifest. My work and level of success centers around this construct, knowing my “self.” Dell'Arte broke me into a space where I had no choice but to create for me. Pleasing authorities was never going to work. And it's where I first tasted the lesson to please myself first. I am still learning this lesson, still using it as a platform to determine my horizon. I don't have to know my path but I want to know my “self.” And if the training had been based on solo creation rather than ensemble creation, I don't know if I could have made it through all three years. Because I need that interpersonal feedback loop to look deeper into myself.

I need to connect. And listening allows me to connect to others and to myself.  

Maybe Adrián picked up on that. He was a Dell'Arte Alum in Blue Lake performing The Misanthrope. We had a late night conversation about theatre and the reasons we do it and at some point he looked at me and said, “You know, I really think you should go on a Clowns Without Borders trip.” I didn't know anything about the organization but as he continued to describe the work, I was lighting up inside. 

That June of 2010, I graduated. That June of 2010, Adrián... well, he was doing too much good in the world and the dark part of the universe was jealous and took him.

I can't say it any other way, because it doesn't feel fair to describe it any other way. And I barely knew this beacon of light. I offer my respect to anyone who holds him dear.

When I listen and connect to others honestly, trust is a byproduct, no matter how short the interaction.  

I trusted Adrián after one conversation. I emailed Clowns Without Borders after my road trip from Blue Lake, CA back home to Louisville, KY. I had already submitted my application, but now there was urgency. I was filling with that childhood sense of helplessness after hearing about Adrián but now, I had an idea of what to do with that energy. My email had a lot of excitement and a hint of desperation. Diana called me and we spoke for a little while and she empathized with me about the work Adrian had done and why I felt a calling to do it myself. 

“Do you have any preferences on where you would like to travel?”

“Nope, just the next available position. I just need to go.”

The conversation ended with her telling me that all of the trips in the near future had been filled already but that she would keep me on the radar. This felt like an important step and it was. 

That November Diana called and said, “Someone dropped out of the next trip to Haiti, it leaves in two weeks.” 

“I'm in,” I replied. 

My first CWB trip to Haiti in 2010 changed everything. I found a deep resonance, an echo from my childhood self. The lonely, only child that wanted to connect with the world stepped into the lives of the people she worried about in the middle of the night. I was no longer helpless. I no longer felt too small or that the problems were too far away. In fact, the problems themselves dissolved in favor of connecting to the people who remained resilient against them. If I could connect to an individual, it magically lifted the crushing weight of trying to “solve” the global problems that were squeezing my heart as a child. That's how connection through laughter operates. The word levity comes the latin “levitas” which translates to “lightness.” If I can connect with one person at a time, through laughter, we all get lighter. And it doesn't matter how short the interaction is or how “small” my contribution is to the grand scheme of the universe. While the nose is on, I am on, and my soul/sole purpose is to connect. The connections matter. Sharing laughter matters. 

When I listen and connect to others honestly, trust is a byproduct, no matter how short the interaction. Laughter accelerates this process and makes us all lighter.   

Love and Laughter,
Erin Leigh Crites MFA 2010
Board of Directors, Clowns Without Borders
Full Time Professor, Idyllwild Arts Academy
Ensemble Member, Fiasco! Physical Theatre


Erin has a passion for performing, teaching and traveling. Internationally, she has taught clown, ensemble play and circus skills in Haiti, Kenya, and Nicaragua on behalf of the humanitarian aid organization, Clowns Without Borders, originated a role in Nobel Laureate, Dario Fo's, La Storia di Qu for the International Milan Expo and facilitated workshops in mindfulness and empathy for the clown care doctors of Risaterapia in Mexico City. She served as the director of graduate studies and head of movement for the University of Louisville from 2013-2015. She has been teaching on and off for the tony award winning Chicago based company, Lookingglass theatre since 2010, having helped students stage seven productions in the educational series, Summerglass. She has given workshops for organizations such as The Kentucky School for the Blind, the Southeastern Theatre Conference, Hunter College, Broad Shoulders Productions, Theatre 502, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, the Youth Performing Arts School and English Volunteers for Change. Currently she teaches full time in the theatre department at Idyllwild Arts Academy where she blends her love of travel and culture into her teaching and directing models for an international population of high school artists. On the weekends, she creates original work in Los Angeles with Fiasco! Physical Theatre alongside other DAI alums Yiouli Archontaki, Moses Norton, and Kent Jenkins. www.fiascophysicaltheatre.com

Because of Dell’Arte... my career has been more varied, wild, and fun than I had imagined it would be.

by Alyssa Ravenwood

Alyssa Ravenwood (photo by: Rob Silverman)  

Alyssa Ravenwood (photo by: Rob Silverman)  

Because of Dell’Arte my career has been more varied, wild, and fun than I had imagined it would be. I was able to travel the country acting as a physical theatre/Commedia/clowning/mask educator and director. My theatre masks have travelled even farther, to 26 countries at last count. I was able to tour a one woman show I wrote; I never would have done that without Dell’Arte training.

Because of Dell’Arte I have famiglia all over the world. I’ve worked with you, stayed on your couches, gone on adventures with you, collaborated with you, enjoyed your shows, and sold you masks. I felt privileged to be your “mask godmother” sharing mask making knowledge and being a link in the chain of the mask making tradition. When I was seriously ill you sent me cards with good wishes and cash to help pay for medical expenses. I’m very grateful to you for that.

My first job after graduating Dell’Arte was directing a play. It was a family drama, all talking heads, as far from the “Dell’Arte style” as can be. I was curious to see how the D’A training would come to play in this style. It turned out to be extremely useful. My training helped me focus the attention of the audience with laser beam precision. Understanding the dynamics of movement helped me create exciting stage pictures even though there was little “action” in the play.

My favorite production that I worked on was as director and mask designer for “Scapin!.” This show took all my Dell’Arte training and put it to good use. I staged the production as a full-blown Commedia piece with everyone in masks. I trained the cast in Commedia, clowning, improvisation, and mask performance techniques before we began regular rehearsals. A grateful tip of my hat to my brilliant Commedia teacher, Ole Brekke. Thank you Ole! I used all my PTP tricks of the trade to make the funnest play I’ve ever done. I was hired by famiglia, thank you Anna! The set of Commedia masks I made for the show won me a Drammy award and they became the start of the collection of theater masks that I sold on my website. (Where my first mask sale was to famiglia!)

I am grateful for the training and for famiglia. Because of them I’ve had a colorful life.


Alyssa Ravenwood is a theatre director and an award-winning mask designer. She began designing masks for theater productions in 1988. She graduated from Dell’Arte in 1992. Her masks have been in numerous theatre productions around the world and in amusement parks; Universal Studios Hollywood and Lotte World South Korea. Her mask and special effects makeup designs have been seen on the TV shows; American Experience, Comedy Bang Bang, and Parks and Rec. She currently makes leather masks for superheroes at www.ravenwoodmasks.com and is working on opening a Makerspace in Eureka CA.

Deviant Art: http://alyssa-ravenwood.deviantart.com/

Because of Dell'Arte... I found something that worked: PLAY.

By Slater Penney (Class of 2004)

Because of Dell'Arte, I found something that worked: PLAY.

Slater Penney

Slater Penney

I went to Dell'Arte in 2003-2004, which was both the school's and my 30th year. Prior I'd won an Emmy for motion capture (*sniff... No biggie) and failed my Cirque du Soleil clown audition (just shoot me), so I was feeling the right combination of arrogance and humility. My buddy Jaron Hollander was at the same audition, and the combination of craft and character work he was doing made me think it's what I wanted, too. He nailed the audition and was a Dell'Arte grad. Sign me up.

Everyone has their own story suffering under the pressure of "Via Negativa" (life in the negative). We're put under relentless pressure, both in and out of the studio, and we either crush or crack. The premise for the school and the teachers is that we do crack and emerge, raw and wiggling, to walk as our awkward vulnerable selves in the world.

My breakthrough happened 8 weeks into the program. The prompt that week was "1 minute of silence" where you'd had to justify a minute of silence on stage. For the previous 7 weeks, I'd experienced failure after failure after failure.

"This piece is flat."

"That's not funny; it's just a weird person."

"No."

"No."

"No!"

8 weeks of failing, in front of the allies and adversaries that are my classmates. Humiliating. Where's the play?

So the prompt was "1 minute of silence," to be shown on Friday. And my group of six was struggling. We'd all tasted failure, and were stuck in a bog of processing. That week, Critical Al showed "Mephisto" on Wednesday night movies, a German film about an actor trying to reconcile with the rise of Nazi power by claiming to be apolitical. Great film, but what struck me was how awful the overdub was. Really inappropriate tone work and accents. Awful studio foley work. So wrong to see a movie about so serious a subject that's distracted by the overdub.

Wait...

THAT'S it! Let's do an overdub scene! Three people are onstage and three people are off! We'll do their voices and sound effects! And the piece will be about something serious, so that it might be funny! Suddenly the work was fun again: we were laughing, unworried, PLAYFUL.

The piece went well. Our silence onstage was filled with laughter in the audience. I don't remember what we did exactly, so just imagine the best piece you can, go make that piece, and give me credit for inspiring you.

And the resulting critique i will never forget: "This was stupid... But it was so stupid, it worked."

Since then I've continued to look for the PLAY. Where is the play in the piece? Sure, i still fail, but as long as the game still goes on I'm cool with that.


Slater Penney has won an Emmy, appeared on TEDx, and successfully toured locally and internationally. He graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a BA in Theatre Arts, trained at the Dell'Arte International School Of Physical Theatre, and continues to specialize in ensemble physical theatre. Notable devised productions include The Submarine Show, The Naked Empire Bouffon Company, California Revels, The Bay Area Children's Theatre, and Lunatique Fantastique. Slater is an Actor-Creator, and teaches regularly at the San Francisco Circus Center, the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre, and the Kinetic Arts Center.

Because of Dell’Arte… I had to take a chance.

by Seth Reichgott 

Because of Dell’Arte…

…I had to take a chance.

Seth Reichgott

Seth Reichgott

A lot of chances. Because the truth is that I almost didn’t make it through my time at Dell’Arte. A month or so into my PTP year I was called into a meeting with then school director Peter Buckley and told that if I didn’t start working harder, if I didn’t start risking more, if I didn’t go there, I’d have to go home. It was pretty bracing and hard to hear. I was older than a lot of the rest of my class, I had been a professional actor for almost 10 years, and I thought I was all that. In truth, I wasn’t much at all. And I was completely unprepared for what Dell’Arte was asking me to do.

This wasn’t really a new thing for me. I’d pretty well coasted all through high school and college on good luck, an excellent memory, and a facility for putting things together quickly. I was smart, and I got good grades—not great, but good—and I figured that was enough. It was the easy way to go, and it didn’t require a lot of real, hard work. During the early years of my professional life I also shied away from a lot of challenges. If something took hard work, it meant risk, it meant the possibility of failure, the chance that I wouldn’t look good, that I’d fall on my face and everyone would point and laugh. But that’s one of the things that a clown has to do, and so if I was going to succeed—at Dell’Arte and in life—I had to do it too. I had to go there.

So I pulled myself together, took a deep breath, and did one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I took a chance. And in the end, I made it through my year, and created some good work along the way. I failed a lot too, but I learned that it’s okay to fail, that sometimes it’s even desirable. It was a huge step forward. My year at Dell’Arte peeled me like an onion, and forced me to look at who I was and who I wanted to be. It was far more than just a year at physical theatre school; it was a life-altering event. I came out the other side a different person.

Dell’Arte takes you and shapes you, but you have to be willing to go on the journey. And when it’s over the thing you know more than anything else is how better to be you, or at least how to start. I remember Daniel Stein once saying that to truly succeed you need to step off the edge and hope that the net appears. And sometimes it doesn’t. But the paradox is that the more willing you are to take that step, the more accepting you are of the fact that there might not be a net, the more you can embrace that you might land hard and look silly, the more likely it is that none of that will happen, and that you will, in fact, soar.


Seth Reichgott is a Philadelphia-based actor, director, and writer. He has worked with the Wilma Theater, Interact, the Lantern Theatre, Cape May Stage, the Arden Theatre, Mum Puppet Theatre, the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, and the National Theatre of the Performing Arts, among many others. Seth has twice been a co-recipient of the Barrymore Award for Outstanding Ensemble, and was nominated for a Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his performance as Faustus in Wittenberg at Rep Stage. Each year Seth tours his solo Greek mythology show, Chariot of the Sun, to elementary and middle schools across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. He also works as the Artist Services Manager for Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern PA, helping to bring the arts into hundreds of schools every year. Seth is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.

For more, visit www.sethreichgott.com.

Because of Dell’Arte... I booked this commercial.

By Christopher Lueck

Thanks Daniel Stein!

But in the big picture this PSA urging parents to navigate invisible barriers toward openly talking to their kids about sex is not that big of a deal.

The big deal thing I learned at D’A (which the commercial is representative of) was how to create. How to not just be creative, but to be a creator. And this goes not only for creating art - it’s also for creating life, creating community, relationships, and just plain creating things I like.

I am working now on creating my life from my heart. I’ve done a lot of brain creating in the past. Now I want to bring the heart, intuition, and in-the-moment living I learned on stage and in the studio to “the real world.” It's interesting. After 15 years of performing, I now run an ad agency in New York City with my wife. We work with commercial theater productions and nonprofit theater companies - designing their posters, building their websites, booking their ads, and marketing them overall. It's a lot of fun, but it's a ton of work. More work than my big, smart brain can handle.

About two years into working at the agency all my usual tricks were used up and while business was good and growing, I was exhausted. All the tools I had used in the past to get things done were spent and actually ineffective. My wife and I realized we needed some new ways of approaching the work and challenges other than working hard on them. It was then that we began to draw upon the feeling of creating in-the-moment, be it on stage or in the studio. The ease of just doing. The joy of discovering. The beauty of knowing without thinking. The power of the mask. The flow of it all. Connecting with people. We remembered to breathe. We took off our shoes.

We asked “How can that stuff happen in an office? How can I allow myself that joy and freedom in a suit-and-tie-style ad meeting?”

We are not there yet. But we have started to drop the things we thought defined us. We continue through difficult moments. We trust the process. We are creating, not just working.

All that, is shit I learned at Dell’Arte.


Christopher Lueck has been an educator, copywriter, artist, entrepreneur, and an award-winning clown. As diverse as all of those seem, they are deeply linked by creativity and the business of shifting people’s point of view. Whether through teaching, advertising, or laughter, Christopher is driven by discovering creative ways to inspire people to see things differently. He has a MA in education from NYU and a BFA in acting from Brooklyn College and is a graduate of The Dell’Arte School of Physical Theater. Currently he is the Creative Director at the Pekoe Group. 

www.thepekoegroup.com

Because of Dell’Arte... Stupid is a good place to start.

by Ariel Lauryn

Picture it: Clown block, a formative time for most Dell’Artians.

Ariel Lauryn

Ariel Lauryn

We were told to find a costume up in the racks. I decided “it would be a good challenge for me” not to do the first thing that came to mind. I was determined (I’m a very determined individual) to push myself. One could say that mine would be a concept piece to prove something.  Brilliant.

My first brilliant idea didn’t hit. I was told to go back up to the racks again. And again. And--you get the idea. Nothing was hitting. Over and over and over again. I was feeling desperate and frustrated and incapable (not a good place to start).  

So then I was mad. Insert existential crisis. Of the daily DA variety.

After I had gotten my fury out by running, or screaming at the river, or throwing heavy rocks[1], and after bemoaning my lot, self-assured that, according to all the evidence, I was utterly worthless and didn’t belong and would never get it, I was empty. 

This is a good place. It doesn't seem like it when I am there, but, because I have nothing left to prove, sometimes I can see my immediate surroundings more clearly.  Maybe starkly, but more clearly.

I went back up to the costume racks.

In this empty state, I picked out items that sparked any sort of delight:

1. Oversized Converses.[2]
2. Baggy pants with suspenders.
3. Porkpie hat.[3]
4. Bushy mustache and eyebrows.

I faced the mirror. I started to move, or really, be moved—a prance of sorts, that included the mustache and eyebrows. I laughed—I, Ariel, not the clown, laughed. It was so stupid, so simple; unoriginal—the typical “tramp clown.”  Old hat, if you will.  It was, in fact, that first idea I had abandoned all that time ago (a week ago, but ages in DA time). How lame.  Whatever.  It’s late.  And I have to show up with something.

I showed up the next day wearing this stupid thing that I loved.  The funny thing is, it’s sometimes scary wearing something you love. When you wear something someone else told you to wear, you can hide behind the fact that you are just doing what you were told.  When you wear something that is your idea, but you’ve worn it before and you know it works, you can hide behind that, too. Even when you wear something that is a brand new idea of yours, but you don’t really care about it, you get to say, “Well, I tried something new and that’s brave and original and brilliant.” But when you come out wearing something so simple, seemingly unoriginal, and for whatever reason, you like it, but you cannot justify it…I guess that is vulnerability.

I got up behind the flat, still not knowing what I was going to do. I entered. And it was a hit!  And then it wasn’t.  Because, as soon as people laughed, I tried to do more.  Ronlin Foreman, leading that class, saw this.  He had me start again.  When I simply entered and moved the way the mask led me to move, it was a hit.  When I tried to do something, it was confuddled because I was putting my ideas, my brilliance, in front of the clown.  See, I wanted my ideas to be funny.  My ideas are known, so I can hide behind them.  But I do not know what will come out when I allow The Other to work through me, when I am led rather than doing the leading. I know what my ideas are, but I do not know what will come out when I listen to, and do, what comes to me.  It’s scary, but that is what we want to see. And maybe that is why we want to see it.

Eventually, I got the hang of just going for the ride.  Then I fell, not on purpose, right on my butt.  What a gift! It got a laugh. I looked down, trying not to force the next moment, to let the clown do his thing, but also not just go limp–it’s such an annoyingly fine line.  My mind reeled for what to do next, straining to listen in this loud silent no man’s land of possibility and nothingness.

 Ronlin asked, “What do you say from this place?”

“Ouch.”

As I said it, I thought, “That is so stupid and simple—is that all you could do?” As I was thinking that, people rolled to the floor in guffaws.  For a week after that, people would come up to me, chuckling, and just say “Ouch.” Of course that’s what you’d say after falling on your butt!  Simple as that.  How could I not see that before?

Don’t get me wrong—I am brilliant. Rather, I can be. Rather, I think about things a lot more than might be necessary, in case you couldn’t tell.[4] And I’ve come to love that about myself.  But there’s something pretty wonderful about being Stupid. At a certain point, logic doesn’t make sense anymore. Maybe we don’t always need to see someone be smart.  Maybe we just need to see someone be moved and affected by something outside of oneself, earnestly, without thinking, without proving; to see someone care about something beyond any logic or agenda.  Maybe “stupid” is just caring about something that positively delights you for no reason other than it delights you. And maybe that is enough. At least, it’s a pretty good place to start.  

[1] Thank you, Joe Krienke, for teaching us how to do this without hurting ourselves.
[2] If you didn’t know me before Dell’Arte, I had always wanted Converse shoes, but I never allowed myself to wear them, because they are cheaply made, too expensive for what they are, too trendy, and bad for your feet. If you know me now, you know that is all I wear.
[3] Like Fozzie. Thank you, Alex Blouin, for loaning me yours.
[4] For example, I have re-written this post for hours: Alternate Post Ideas:
Because of Dell’Arte, I delight in paradoxes.
Because of Dell’Arte, I practice the art of Seeing. There is always something more.
Because of Dell’Arte, I see the necessity of The Work.
…I aim to reach the full extent of the gesture.
…I developed a vocabulary for my Voice.
…I ran out of excuses.
…I strive for the impossible, even though I know it is impossible. …I never fear being at a loss for ideas. …I value my own perspective. …I cultivated a joy of moving and a love of my body. …I know the value of dropping everything to have a good cry behind a flat.

Ariel Lauryn (MFA 14) is a Brooklyn based Actor-Creator-Puppeteer. She has performed with The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show  (Acorn Theater), The Talking Band, Columbia Stages, LES Shakespeare, The Ume Group, and Puppet Kitchen Productions. Her DA Thesis, Whether We Like It or Not (created with Lucy Shelby) has been at Flint and Tinder (The Tank), Mad River Festival (DA), the New Orleans Fringe Festival, and CSSSA.  Through and in between, she creates works ranging from slapstick shorts (Dixon Place, Bindlestiff Variety Show) to a web series, Illuminutty, to puppet pieces (Puppet Playlist), and coaches monologues on the side. She builds puppets, to boot!  (Best random job: Virtual Tour Guide of The Jurassic World Exhibit by Imagine Exhibitions.) She runs the IG account of The Physical Comedy Lab: @nycphysicalcomedylab www.ariellauryn.com

Because of Dell’Arte... I Started a Theatre Company

Jared Fladeland

Jared Fladeland

By Jared Fladeland

I almost quit theatre completely during my undergrad. I was fed up with 4th walls, psychological realism, “method acting”, auditioning, writing pages of character analysis for class, being at the whim of a director. I thought to myself, if this what my career will be, I should look for other work.   But then I was cast in Comedy of Errors, and for the production, we had a workshop on physical comedy with Dell’Arte alum Matt Chapman.  And my life was completely changed.

Everything about working with Matt was the antithesis to what I had been studying:  I was having fun, I was engaged physically, creating characters out of thin air as fast as I could adjust my body physically.  Then, to close the workshop, we had a Q and A with Matt about his work with his company, Under the Table. 

I still remember him showing us a few clips from a show his company created, and I was blown away.  It was highly physical and acrobatic, hilariously crude at times, and poetic in other moments.  I had never seen anything quite like it.  I would meet Matt again at the Region V American College Theatre Festival my senior year of college, taking his workshop and having lunch with him about this school he was recruiting for:  Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.  I knew that if I ever decided to do more training post-college, this was the school for me.  And it seemed almost instantly after I made that declaration to myself, the universe aligned to make it so.  It wasn’t much longer after graduation that I found myself chatting with admissions about enrolling.

Introducing a Whole New World

And then I found myself in a tiny town of Blue Lake, California.   I was in for quite the ride.  The concept of Actor-Creator was foreign to me.  I had never heard of Fringe festivals until I studied at Dell’Arte.   I didn’t know much about devised theatre.  Now, I was being asked to create a new piece of theatre on a weekly basis around an assignment given on Monday.  I was being pushed physically further than most of my undergrad dance classes pushed me.   I was failing (gloriously sometimes) constantly.   The successes were spread far apart.   But in the process, each day I gained clearer insight into what I was interested in as a theatre maker.   I was inspired by my ensemble, and also inspired by the MFA classes and alumni who I met along the way. 

When I left Dell’Arte, I didn’t set out to make a company right away. I was filled with gusto to create, but at first I was doing it the old fashioned away:  Getting cast in productions.  But something was different now.   When I was in a show, I made it my mission to bring as much delight into the process as possible, and I was going to make big physical choices.  I was going to find the game in any moment with other actors on stage. The spark, that was lost for a time in my undergraduate studies, was back. My next goal:  Find an ensemble. 

The Life of a Nomad

I moved to Los Angeles, and found ensembles to work with. I was enjoying making theatre with them, but there was a problem: I was limited to the creative impulses of those companies.   When they were making work, I was happy.  But if they were on hiatus until their next project, I was sitting around with nothing to do.  It got to the point that I decided, I needed to make a solo show for myself. At least then, I’ll have a project I can work on when no one else is doing anything. I had sketched out some bits when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2012, but in 2014 I really began to devise a show that captured my heart and imagination:  A show about a clown struggling with addiction called “Origami Swans.”

Life took me on another turn after a brief stint trying to move to Portland, Oregon, and I found myself back in my hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota at the beginning of 2015.   And after a few days of thinking it through, writing feverishly about what theatre means to me (something I do off and on since leaving Dell’Arte), I decided to create a theatre company.  And January 15th, 2015, Conduit Theatre was born.

Having a Company…

I knew a little bit about what that entails, having worked with a number of artistic directors of small companies in Los Angeles in various capacities.  But in the end, I knew nothing about business.   So I set out to learn business.  The universe put me in social situations with recent graduates of the University of North Dakota who studied business, and when I told them I wanted to learn everything I could about business, one person in particular brought to my apartment a large stack of books he liked from his studies.  And I began to see how I made make a viable company while also producing theatre that did one thing:  Connect people.   I realized the type of theatre I’ve always loved, forges relationships between audience and actor (I’ve always loved Grotowski’s work after all, which stresses this dynamic).  Which is why clown resonates.  And immersive theatre.  And commedia.   And why I have an open distaste for the 4th wall.  

So here I am, nearly two years later, and I have a theatre company.   And people have hired me to devise work for their entertainment, or to create a whacky character to walk around an event, or to perform “Origami Swans”.   I have a new solo show, “The Mystery” I’ve written and I am in the process of building it to premiere in 2017.  

I have never been so scared as the time I premiered “Origami Swans” back in the fall of 2015.   I remember finishing the performance, and after a very brief curtain call, I ran backstage because I felt very nauseous.   The videographer for the show came backstage, and I began apologizing profusely for “how bad it was”, but he told me it was amazing, he had never seen anything like it.  And once I had cleaned up my clown makeup, I headed back into the house, where half the audience was waiting to talk to me, and congratulate me.   The compliments I’ve received from the show when I perform it are unlike anything I’ve experienced as a performer.   People open up about their own struggles around addiction (Whether they’re own, or someone they know).   The show connects folks, and they feel inspired to open their hearts to me after.   It is a far better feeling than any compliment I’ve received from most of my other work as an actor.   Because this show was uniquely me in every aspect of its script, design, direction, and performance.  

I found myself becoming very brave about sharing my own personal story with addiction as well.  This has led to organizations approaching me to share my work or create work specifically about addiction.  I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to share this part of my life so publicly, except that I had failed so much at Dell’Arte that I had almost become numb to the idea of failure.   One lesson I took away from my year of study is that, if I’m going to fail (gloriously), then I should at least pursue the type of stories I love because in the end, it is that passion which will help me bounce back.   It is also that passion that, when I find success, will attract people to my work.

I’m about to embark on my first fringe experience as a producer.  I’m hoping to take my work to at least a couple of festivals in 2017 (I’m doing a slow and steady growth rather than jumping into as many festivals as I can fit in a year).   And grow from there.   I’m also settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota to pursue some of the other aspects about Conduit Theatre I hope to achieve (creating interactive, immersive entertainment for companies and organizations, for example).   I’m being more brave than I ever expected to be.  I have a need to express the stories that are swimming deep within.    And I owe that to the school.   I am no longer an actor for hire.  I am an Actor-Creator.  And that has made all the difference.             


Jared Fladeland is the founder and Artistic Director of Conduit Theatre, recently re-located to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He has taught workshops, consulted on festivals, charity fundraisers, and other entertainment; and spreads his story about addiction, bringing awareness to issues and stigmas surrounding it.   He strives to Create, Curate, and Collaborate to make theatre that connects people.  You can find him and Conduit Theatre on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

http://www.conduittheatre.com

Because of Dell’Arte I learned vulnerability.

Maggie Cino

Maggie Cino

By Maggie Cino

Because of Dell’Arte I learned vulnerability.

I am currently a Senior Producer for The Moth, a storytelling organization based out of New York City.  On the surface, what I do every day looks like the antithesis of what is taught at Dell’Arte.  It’s one person onstage speaking directly into a microphone with very little movement.  The person is not speaking gibberish, is not imaginatively improvising, and is not doing anything overtly political. They are telling a true, personal story in the most simple and unadorned way possible.  It is my job to find people with interesting life stories, some of whom have never been on a stage before, and help them to stand in front of sometimes thousands of people with the confidence that what they have to say is worthwhile. 

Dell’Arte is where I first learned to do this work.

Dell’Arte works to peel back everything about the person onstage that isn’t real.  It’s a disturbing, harrowing and often confusing process.  As a student I was certainly over identified with my blocks.  I didn’t understand at times that I was holding onto anything; let alone how to let go.  But this process of working to drop everything unnecessary and open myself up to the work, and being able to witness my classmates go through the same process, forms the foundation of the story directing I now do every day.

People up on a stage telling a personal story and a clown have a tremendous amount in common. Both have to rely on their singular presence to captivate an audience.  Both need to tell the truth and follow their interest.  Both rely on the bounce - the ability, no matter how dark things get, to in the next moment find a new way, a new path and a new understanding.  And both need to be vulnerable.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the word “vulnerable” in the context of storytelling, clown work, and life.  And where I’ve landed is:  the ability to be true to your feelings and experience, no matter how inconvenient or illogical those might be. 

Vulnerability is not weakness.  Weakness is fragility without strength.  We might rally to protect someone weak but we don’t fundamentally trust him or her.    There is ferocity to vulnerability, because it involves following your truth no matter how scary as well as the courage to share that feeling with a person, collaborator or an audience of people who have power over you. After all, they might judge you for loving something silly or shy away from you for sharing something difficult!  

But vulnerability recognizes the danger in too much strength.  A clown or a storyteller who does not admit fault becomes monotonous, or they set themselves up for the very derision they are trying to avoid.  In life, a friend who can’t admit when they’ve done something wrong probably won’t be a friend for much longer.

And most importantly vulnerability is a practice, not a state of being.  It is the choice to drop defenses and be true to your curiosity and passion.  To trust that your joy or your truth is something that another person will join you in celebrating, and also trusting that sorrow is important and that people want the catharsis of sharing it.  Because in the end, trying to connect and failing is morally stronger and more aesthetically compelling than protecting yourself from hurt.  And as a performer, it’s the hardest thing of all:  trusting that honest communication is enough and there is no need to manipulate a response.  And if it doesn’t connect, it’s okay, because the next moment is coming and there is always something new to share. 

The comprehensive way Dell’Arte training applies to all live performance and most of life is something I am very grateful for!


MAGGIE CINO is a Senior Producer for the Peabody and MACEI award-winning organization, The Moth.  She is also a writer (and former actor) based out of New York City.  Warm Enough for Swimming, her full length play about family and the financial crisis, was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights conference; a successful production was part of FringeNYC and the FringeNYC Encore Series.  The full script is published by IndieTheaterNow and excerpts appear in Best Men's Stage Monologues 2015 and Best Women's Stage Monologues 2015.  She also won the FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award in Playwriting for her full length play, Decompression. Her one woman short, Ascending Bodily, is published by the New York Theater Experience, and her contribution to Piper McKenzie's Dainty Cadaver project This Is a Brick is published in the Midway Journal.   She was nominated for the Doric Wilson Independent Playwrighting Award and was a 2015 Indie Theater Person of the Year. 

Because of Dell’ Arte I… have to write this blog!

By Shenoah Allen

Because of Dell’ Arte I… have to write this blog! Alright then, what can I say? Nearly 20 years ago I piled onto a Greyhound bus in Albuquerque, New Mexico and took a 3 day ride to the town of Blue Lake which lies, often shrouded in fog, on the banks of the Mad River and is about as far north as you can get and still be in the state of California and is home to a DIY comedy arts school that is offering one heck of an education.

Shenoah Allen

Shenoah Allen

I had no idea what I was getting myself into nor did I know what I wanted from the school, I thought I wanted to be an actor, but (due in part to my experience at Dell’Arte) I thankfully never became one and in fact, apart from the few actors that bring real creativity to their craft, my opinion of the profession is low at best. Anyone can memorize something someone else has written spit it out and come across as kind of smart or interesting. Who cares!?!

While Dell’Arte does offer solid actor training their greatest pedagogy is the way they encourage their students to create their own work and to cut their own paths. As someone who had spent a lot of my high school career in suspension for mouthing off to my teachers when I disagreed, I needed something different. Dell’Arte’s approach, which encourages self expression, was very refreshing to the younger me. Don’t get me wrong, the training at Dell’Arte is rigorous, exacting and sometimes painful but because so much focus was put on my own creativity and that I was handed the responsibility of creating my own work, I was able to form a different and infinitely more fruitful relationship with both education and theatre. 

After graduating Dell’Arte, having been rinsed of any desire to do interpretive work, I set about creating my own thing. I, along with my dear friend Mark Chavez, have been creating shows and touring the world for sixteen years. We have written over ten original works, performed in venues as far flung as a heavy-metal bar/Laundry-mat in Saskatoon to the Sydney opera house. We’ve been on giant rock and roll stages and little theatres in the middle of nowhere. We’ve performed in castles and comedy festivals, Steppenwolf Theatre, Second City, New York’s St. Anne’s and London’s West End, and hundreds of other little joints across more countries than I can list without sounding like a total D-bag.

And believe me when I say I’m only listing these achievements because I was asked to, I don’t think anyone ever says, I think I’ll pour myself a glass of red and read this guys resume, but they’re worth mentioning because I do credit Dell’Arte with giving me the right kind of kick up the wazoo and getting me off on the right foot. I could have ended up in LA or New York auditioning or trying to make it as a writer. Instead I just do what ever I want and I’ve been able to earn a living for more than a decade doing comedic theatre. 

Along the way I’ve had only a few rules, but I’ve stuck to them: commit, be funny, be original and don’t pander. Dell’Arte helped galvanize that approach for me.

I have had the good fortune of collaborating with many wonderful people over the years and have self started numerous creative projects that have built community and even created jobs, all of which has been gratifying and kept me leading a strange and dynamic life. So thanks, Dell’Arte, I can’t recommend you highly enough. 


Shenoah Allen is one half of the world renowned comedy duo, Pajama Men, with whom he has developed more than ten original stage shows. These anarchic, character driven, narrative, comedies have appeared on London’s West End, in Chicago at both Steppenwolf and Second City, St. Anne’s Warehouse in New York, The Sydney Opera House, The Largo in Los Angeles and countless clubs, pubs, theatres and festivals around the globe. He's written commissioned screenplays and television pilots for, HBO, BBC, Film4, Paramount, and Scott Free and has collaborated as a writer with Paul King (Director of Mighty Boosh, Paddington) and James Bobin (Director of Flight of the Concords, The Muppets, Through The Looking Glass). Shenoah is a Creative Associate of London’s Soho Theatre and is co-director of the indy film and television company, Skeletrain.

www.pajama-men.com

Because of Dell’Arte… I headlined at the Big Apple Circus as a masked clown.

By Seth Bloom

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone in The Big Apple Circus. Photo Credit: Florence Montmare 

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone in The Big Apple Circus. Photo Credit: Florence Montmare 

Because of Dell’Arte… I headlined at the Big Apple Circus as a masked clown.

There are other “because of Dell’Arte” openings: 
because of Dell’Arte… I spent years in Afghanistan.
because of Dell’Arte… I recently performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
because of Dell’Arte… I met my wife.

But the dream of mask making, mask performing, and clowning in the circus is the clearest lineage to Blue Lake. 

In short:
Christina Gelsone (Dell Arte, ’98) tracked me down via the internet at a social circus program I was building in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003. We met, as you do, in front of a destroyed building under an old tree near an orange dented Volkswagen surrounded by dust.

Both of us wanted to street perform in Europe. Both of us were in love with mask work.  We wanted to bring some version of it back to life as street performers on the streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe.  Partnership formed!  Thank you, Dell’Arte.

I’m a good mask maker. Thank you, Joe Dieffenbacher.  I cast our faces, and I built two half-masks based on real clowns painted by Toulouse-Lautrec.  Christina wanted a butt she could bounce on; our costume designer figured that out.  I padded the shit out of my belly.  

We looked good. We thought we were hot. We did the rehearsals, the practicing, we had the acrobatics, the juggling, and the grammelot down. We thought we would kill it in Edinburgh.  

Turns out no one cared. 
We sucked. Failed. Failed again. And again.

Long story short, 4 years later we headlined with this act at the Big Apple Circus.

Lots more happened to get us there - touring in China and Korea, performing across Europe, competing at circus festivals - but it’s the disillusionment and the hard knocks of the street that propelled us forward. Dell’Arte gave us the truth, the truth didn’t work out, we fought for every hard-earned laugh, we broke all the sacred rules, we reinvented the form, we got the big gig, we were wildly successful, and in the end… no one cared that we were the only circus clowns to perform in half masks. But we were funny. We did our job.  

If you want more of the details, I know a great bourbon bar on 10th and 48th in New York City.  Right now, I gotta ship 27 road cases to Melbourne. 

-Seth


Bios: (Since my career took off after meeting Christina my bio is joint with hers.)

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone met at a circus in Afghanistan, were engaged while street performing in Scotland, and married in China. Since becoming clown partners in 2006, they have created five shows together, competed in international circus festivals, performed in over 20 countries, juggled on Letterman, and were featured in The New York Times. Seth is a former professional juggler who graduated from three clown schools and makes each clown mask by hand. Christina is a former professional ballerina who graduated from Princeton to become a clown. The couple lives in Harlem in New York City. Currently Seth and Christina are touring their new show Air Play all over the world. 

Seth is a graduate of Wesleyan University ('00), Ringling ('93), Dell'Arte ('97,) LISPA (MFA '05) and has performed in 27 countries.

www.acrobuffos.com
www.airplayshow.com

Because of Dell'Arte I was recently hired to be Physical Comedy Director for a unique production of Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe in London.

By Joe Dieffenbacher

Because of Dell'Arte I was recently hired to be Physical Comedy Director for a unique production of Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe in London. The fact that I am working at such a prestigious theatre - and the circumstances leading up to getting the job - still have me shaking my head in wonder.

Joe Dieffenbacher

Joe Dieffenbacher

My last year teaching at Dell'Arte was 1998. I taught Maskmaking and Performance, lead the Clown style block, taught Slapstick-Acrobatics throughout the entire school year, worked on lazzi and physical comedy during the Commedia block as well as coaching in the final show. It was also my third year of teaching full-time and many things came together for me in regards to my understanding of the work and how to articulate it to students. Plus the fact that it was my last year brought a poignancy to every single hour of every single class.

It was an amazing crop of students, many of whom have gone onto great success (I run into a few of them whenever they tour on this side of the ocean). One of them is Shenoah Allen, one half of the highly acclaimed and madly hilarious Pajama Men comedy duo. I taught Shenoah when he was nineteen, coming to class every day wearing his pajamas. He struggled with the work and what he wanted to do with it, but showed a passion for it which encouraged me to give him the lead role in the final student Clown production. That year I also performed my show, "PEEL (When the Id Comes Marching In)," a complicated piece I had been developing during my years at DA. Shenoah loved the show and how it brought together many of the things he was struggling with at Dell'Arte. We talked about it all, said goodbye at the end of the year, and many years later, after I had moved to Oxford, England, he showed up performing at the Soho Theatre in London with the Pajama Men.

I went to to see the show and was blown away. I laughed hard at a brilliant comedy creation and enjoyed catching up with him after the performance. I thought back on our time at DA - the things both of us struggled with in Art and Life and how our careers (and lives) had evolved - and was deeply happy. From a small town in northern California to one of the top theatres in London for comedy acts, there was Shenoah - still in his pajamas! - making a success of it.

It's one of the things I love about this work and part of the gospel of Dell'Arte: though part of a community, you are responsible for making your art (and your life). You must engage with the struggle, wrestle the demons and argue with the muses. You must approach the work with the mindset that everything has potential. Wearing pajamas to class could come across as laziness, “He can't even bother to get dressed!” And then someone turns it into an imaginative theatrical device, a sales gimmick, a badge of honor, business attire, work clothes. An act of imagination, invention, playfulness and yes, perhaps laziness. Everything has potential! (even laziness).

The Pajama Men played in London every winter for five years. I missed the last four, spreading the gospel as Director of Clown Conservatory at Circus Center-San Francisco. Last year I decided to let it go to spend more time working in Europe and be home with my lovely wife, Minna (whom I met at DA). So I was in the UK last winter and went to see the Pajama Men again. Shenoah introduced me to his wife, Caroline Byrne who was newly hired to direct a production of Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe. She had asked Shenoah to help her with comedy duos - he's in one, he must know all there is to know! Instead, he told her, "You need to talk to Joe." Luckily, by sheer fate, I was home this past winter. Caroline and I met at the National Theatre in London (that same night Minna and I went to see another DA grad, Kathleen "Mooky" Cornish perform in the hit show, La Soirée at the Southbank Centre), had a chat about physical comedy, Shakespeare and Shrew, and an hour later she offered me a job.

I was a bit stunned: I thought she wanted to meet to get some advice, I never dreamed a job was in the offing. The whole long, crazy route that led to myself and Caroline even meeting in the first place! The fact that this scrappy clown / physical comedian was being asked to direct slapstick, lazzi and physical comedy in a production of Shakespeare at such a prestigious theatre ... My mind raced all the way back to my time at Dell'Arte, in particular performing with Los Payasos Mendigos, always feeling a little like an outcast from "legitimate theatre" yet knowing the physical was what made live theatre unique, what truly thrilled audiences and actors alike.

The job at the Globe was like a gift from the comedy Gods & Goddesses, dropping bombs of accident and chaos but also ones of joyful play and well-earned opportunity; a series of chance meetings over lifetimes combined with over thirty years of disciplined study and focused play. I believe chance has a nose for those who are committed, that luck is drawn towards dedication. The so-called "lucky break" is transformed into something wonderful by those who - through hard work and imagination - are able to make full use of it. All the shit you had to put up with could just remain a big stinky pile of manure, or it could become a steamy-rich pile of compost that eventually feeds you, if you prepare the soil beforehand. The digging deep is hard, dirty work. But nothing grows without it. It's toil and determination married to an act of faith because without the study you wouldn't know how to handle the luck when it comes.

For me, Dell'Arte is less a school and more like a complex, multi-storied, messy art supply shop: a lot of the things on sale you're not sure what to do with, the salespeople are helpful but they don't know everything, and there are plenty of times you have to fend for yourself and engage in a solo struggle to figure out what to do with the things you find in the shop. I’m just so glad it is there, that so many have dedicated so much of their time and energy into making it live and breathe. When I think about how difficult it is to thrive as an artist in America, Dell’Arte stands out as a singular achievement. I appreciate Dell'Arte when I think about how rare it is for actortraining to incorporate lessons in how to use the physical and the visual in developing a character and telling a story - the God of the Script & the Spoken Word dominates all - if only he would shut-up once in awhile! When I think about the joy it has brought to thousands in northern California via it's many DA-devised shows, and thousands more all over the world who get to witness the play and influence of its graduates, I remain ever grateful for the gifts it continues to bring to my Art and my Life.

luck & laughter,
Joe


Joe Dieffenbacher is known for his stage, street and cabaret work under the name nakupelle. He was Director of Clown Conservatory-San Francisco, Master Teacher at the Dell'Arte School, has taught at Belfast Community Circus, Northern Ireland, Teater Studion, Stockholm, Sweden, Wuqiao International Circus Festival, Shijiazhuang, China, Circus Factory, Cork, Ireland, and ACT-San Francisco. He’s collaborated with British pop sensations, Take That, and featured in the Closing Ceremonies for London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. He’s directed Physical Comedy at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, commedia dell’arte at Coastal Carolina University, and collaborated with artists and ensembles all over the world developing original material for stage, street, cabaret and circus.

www.joedieffenbacher.com
www.nakupelle.com

Because of Dell’Arte I live my life well.

Adina Valerio

Adina Valerio

Because of Dell’Arte I live my life well. Not to say that I’m rich or famous or successful by any conventional measure, but I am generally happy and healthy and enjoying the range of experiences that life has to offer. During my year at Dell’Arte, I learned a lot about performing, devising work, and styles of theatre. But more importantly, and perhaps more usefully, I learned how to take care of myself, body and mind. I learned how to communicate and collaborate with just about anyone. I learned the importance of being of service to a community.

            Dell’Arte taught me so much about my body and my movement. I learned the basic necessities of regular exercise and feeding well, but also how to use my body most efficiently and usefully. I’m always looking for the causes of those little pains that can be corrected by a small adjustment in movement, or even just by paying attention. I still pull my navel in and think forward and up while letting my neck be free as I walk up a flight of stairs. Wednesday afternoons off for Life Repair was a saving grace of the year and I still make time for life repair days. I’m writing this on a life repair day. It absolutely saves my sanity.

            I’ve taken the being of service idea quite literally by waiting tables. Honestly, I’m awesome at it. I was at Canter’s Deli in LA for four years, and now I’m coming up on four years at Veselka in NYC. These are generations-old, family-run places with regular customers who come in every day - sometimes two or three times a day - and we, the staff, know their names, what they eat, and how they like their coffee.

People often tell me how much it means to them that they ate at Veselka as a child and are now bringing their own children to continue the tradition. Because it is a relaxed atmosphere staffed with people who like each other, we’re free to be playful, which enriches everyone’s experience. My employers ensure that I make enough money in a week and support my involvements outside work by being wonderfully flexible with my schedule. We all take care of one another as much as possible. The restaurant as a whole is the community I serve.

I often think of taking an order as a collaboration between me and the customer with the goal of getting them exactly the meal they want. Every table is an exercise in presence and communication. Then there’s the timing and coordination it takes to get all the pieces out to the table. At Canter’s, it was constant choreography, because food came from four different places and often had to go from one to another before it was ready for the table. At Veselka, it’s a matter of maneuvering within a small space packed with a lot of people. This is all an opportunity to think about my movement. I have to be fast, efficient, and well-balanced while maintaining a pleasant demeanor, not always an easy feat while carrying three large bowls of borscht.

In the early weeks of Dell’Arte, we had those classes in which we walked and walked around the room and had to stop, change direction, and/or jump at the clap of Ronlin’s hands. This ability to move in any direction at any time, while keeping awareness of the room to avoid collision, is invaluable in both waiting tables and walking the streets of New York City.

In the ten years since I graduated Dell’Arte, I’ve had a variety of performing experiences. Some were fantastic; some were lousy. Some were scripted, some devised. Some ensemble, some solo. On stage, on camera, voice-over, and once I danced in the NYC Halloween Parade. I’ve paid my bills with money from performing a few times, but I’ve never gotten the hang of performing as a fulltime job. Recently I’ve found my love of being onstage dwindling. When I watch shows now, I just experience the enjoyment of the performance, without that nagging envy of the people onstage that was always present for as long as I can remember. I’ve realized that I love being in class more than I love pursuing a career. I love the practice and the journey more than any possible destination.

Because of all this realizing, I am not currently performing. I just finished getting certified as a yoga teacher, because what better way is there to be in class, barefoot, in comfy clothes all the time? It was a ten-week program with classes only three days a week, while we lived our regular lives the other four. Classmates keep saying what a transformative experience it was and how it was the most amazing and challenging thing they’ve ever done. I liked it a lot and found it very interesting. Hopefully it will lead to a new path in my life, in which I can use all the skills I’ve gathered to help people in their yoga practices and their lives. But I know that nothing can or will ever compare with the year I spent at Dell’Arte. It was the most challenging, the most rewarding, the most significant experience of my adult life and I carry it with me all day, every day, in everything that I do.


Adina Valerio lives in Brooklyn and teaches with Yoga to the People at St Mark's, 38th St, and Brooklyn locations. Connect on Facebook and or Instagram.

Because of Dell’Arte I ended up becoming the artistic director of the largest New Year’s Eve Festival in Rhode Island...

ADAM GERTSACOV

ADAM GERTSACOV

I jokingly like to say that I’m one of the most educated clowns in America (barring certain elected officials)  I have degrees from one Ivy League school, one master’s program (now an MFA degree), one entrepreneurship program, two acting conservatories, two clown training programs Ringling Clown College, Dell’arte, and master classes with a number of theatrical luminaries, including Dario Fo, Avner Eisenberg, Ctibor Turba, and Tony Montanaro.  Oh yes, and the Boston School of Bartending.

In 2003 I’d completed a lot of this education, and I was working as asolo clown and performer.  In my home state, I was a regular performer for First Night Providence, the New Year’s Eve Festival.  It was one of the few gigs I still did in Rhode Island.

In late September of 2003, First Night announced that they could not go forward with the event as planned.  A group of artists got together to see if there was something that we could do.  I was one of those artists. We agreed to plan our own festival which we called Bright Night Providence. Partially because I owned a computer and was willing to work on spec, and mostly because of the skills in production and performance that I gained at Dell’Arte, I became the lead instigator of the project. 

Starting on October 15,2003 with nothing, we managed to put on a festival on December 31, 2003 that featured over 125 performers, 12 different stages, had a budget of $100,000 and included two fireworks displays.  Nearly 60,000 people enjoyed one of our free events, (And we sold nearly 6000 tickets to our all-you-can-see extravaganza) That artist-run festival was about half the size of the previous year’s festival, but was about 1/5 of the budget, and the money was raised in 1/4 of the time. Nothing burned down, nobody was maimed or killed, and we didn’t lose our shirts.  In fact each group that performed with us got a bonus above and beyond their contract.

I ended up running the festival for 10 years, before my family needs made me take a step back from the Festival. (By then I was living in NY, and running a local artist-run festival from 200 miles away was having a draining effect on me.)  During every season but one, we managed to pay every artist contracted more than their contract. (And that was the year that it snowed 8 inches on our festivalat minus 4 degrees, and our turnout was 50% lighter than anticipated.  We still managed to pay everybody their contract!)

It was the skills I learned at Dell’arte that allowed me to be successful at the festival. 

• As the organizer of the wood-chopping brigade (yes, when I went to Dell’arte you had to chop the wood for the fire—there was no central heat) I knew how to schedule people fairly and with precision.

• At our first artist meetings, I knew what questions to ask because I had produced a ton of my own shows and performed at a ton of festivals.

 • Having helped produce our Dell’arte final tour through the Redwood Forest (The Better To Eat You With, directed by Jeff Raz) I knew about budgets, and publicity, and tech requirements.

 • And because of Life Repair Wednesday’s and the dozens of collaborative soirees we produced I knew how to negotiate with other artists, and make decisions that were aimed at creating a win/win/win situation for the artists, for the festival, and for the public.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a lot of education as a performer, but I really believe that it was what I learned at Dell’Arte that helped make my work with the festival successful.

Thank you Dell’arte!

Adam Gertsacov
Dell’arte 1990-91.
Commedia Master Class with Carlo, Joan & Arne Summer 1995
Corporeal Mime Master Class with Daniel Stein Summer 1997


ADAM GERTSACOV is the most educated clown in America (barring certain elected officials.) He wears many hats, including those of a professional clown, an author and publisher, a P.T. Barnum impersonator, a flea circus impresario, a dad blogger, and the esteemed hat of the Clown Laureate of Greenbelt, Maryland. Adam was the founding Festival Director for Bright Night Providence. He currently lives in Chicago, IL.

WEBSITES:
http://www.acmeclown.com
http://www.clownlink.com
http://www.dadapalooza.com
http://www.trainedfleas.com

Alumni: Terence Cranendonk (PTP 1986)

Monday nights. That’s the first thing I think of when I remember my time at Dell’Arte. Monday night Bits and Pieces—every week we had to create something to perform in front of the entire Dell’Arte faculty and student body. It was a crucible in which we had to muster every true and creative impulse, let go of every inhibiting and procrastinating block, and actually make a short performance of value—and (oy vey) usually with a small group of other people. When I look back, it was these Monday night Bits and Pieces, more than the mask and mime technique, more than the acrobatics and clown work, more than the commedia and melodrama, that prepared me for my future life as an actor-creator. My whole career of devising new work, through both ensemble creation and working alone, and of interpreting written texts as well, was shaped by those Monday nights.

One particular Monday afternoon (it was during the clowning segment, I think) I had gone in to Arcata for something that I no longer remember, and I somehow missed my ride back. I ended up walking all the way back to Blue Lake, and at a clipped pace too, because I was due to perform in a Bits and Pieces piece that evening. I ran through the piece in my imagination dozens of times as I walked—what we had worked out in rehearsal, what we were leaving to improvisation—until I reached H Street. I literally walked in off the street, up the Oddfellows Hall steps, and into the piece that my partners were nervously preparing to begin without me. Although I don’t recommend the practice, my long walk was the extreme extension of what we were being asked to do at Dell’Arte: follow a path of rigorous preparation, up to the edge of the abyss, the moment of creation—then jump. See your partners, don’t look back, react, create, don’t be afraid of falling on your face (don’t worry, you will).

When I was young, I wanted to be a great realistic actor, doing Chekhov and Tennessee Williams. By my third year of college, however, I had fallen in love with experimental theater, and in particular, the work of Jerzy Grotowski. I saw in Grotowski’s work the rigor and precision that I found lacking in the little contact I had had with the professional world of realistic theater. I wanted to touch something essential in my art, be the conduit for it, through precise investigation in rehearsal, without having to produce instant results. And I wanted something concrete to hold on to—a physical, practical, doable approach in the work room, that at that time I didn’t find existing among realistic theater practitioners—it all seemed a matter of chance. But I also loved American Vaudeville, clowning, Buster Keaton, Lucille Ball, Danny Kaye, Abbott and Costello. As my graduation approached, Dell’Arte appeared in my field of vision, and somehow fulfilled in one package my desires for experimental work, rigorous training, and comedy (in fact, the school I entered in 1985 was still called The Dell’Arte School of Mime and Comedy, though the name changed by graduation).

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Dell’Arte was a place where I began to develop the ability to pursue my own artistic interests. After graduation from the Physical Theatre Program in 1986 (there was no MFA program at the time), I returned to New York and founded the Mustard Seed Theater Lab. We indulged in a kind of dark, intellectual, at times perverse, vaudeville, and broke apart after three years. I sought out Grotowski, studied privately with Ryszard Cieslak of the Polish Lab Theatre, took lessons with Richard Armstrong of the Roy Hart Theatre, enrolled in the Michael Chekhov studio. I eventually moved to Akron, Ohio to join the New World Performance Laboratory, led by Jim Slowiak, a long-time assistant to Jerzy Grotowski. I was a full-time company member for seven years and I continue to collaborate with NWPL on projects. And it was during my time with NWPL that I started working on the piece that I am performing at the DAI Reunion, I Dreamed of Rats.

I Dreamed of Rats is a solo work that I have performed on and off for the past 18 years. It has become my artistic love, my most defining work thus far. For a period of time I used it as my daily training, my structure for investigating a sequence of detailed physical actions—as a way of understanding the nature of physical action more generally. With Rats, I’ve ended up doing what one newspaper critic called “intelligent physical comedy” (see below). Perfect! Some alchemy of my work has synthesized my interests in disciplined training, experimental theater, Stanislavski, and silent movies. “Intelligent physical comedy”—it’s like I’ve invented a new genre. But it is, and could only be, uniquely mine. I consider this alchemy, which found its beginnings at Dell’Arte, one of the best things that could have happened to me—a realization of impulses which for thirty years I have been working to get out of the way of, and allow to happen.

I am also a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (GCFP) and my current work is in the relationship between action, energetic flow, and acting for the theatre. Specifically, I am looking at the intersection of Konstantin Stanislavski’s “physical action”, the work of somatic awareness and unblocking of Moshe Feldenkrais, and the work of Austrian physician Wilhelm Reich. I believe these three areas of work have deep and significant points of contact, and I am researching their application to actor training and creative work. I share this work in a workshop that I lead called “Action and Energetic Flow.”

Incidentally, I also do serious stuff (“intelligent physical seriousness”?) and my interest in theatrical realism has reignited. I am back again doing Shaw, Albee, Ariel Dorfman. So things have come full circle, and with a richness that I did not anticipate. And I couldn’t have done it without those Monday nights.

Here is a review of I Dreamed of Rats from the Cleveland Plain Dealer: http://my.en.com/~herone/Rats.html. But I hope you come and see it in person at the DAI 40th Reunion Celebration. I look forward to meeting you there!

Terence Cranendonk

PTP 1986

Terence Cranendonk in "I Dreamed of Rats". Photo by Miriam Bennett, Moving Studio Productions. 

Terence Cranendonk in "I Dreamed of Rats". Photo by Miriam Bennett, Moving Studio Productions. 

Alumna: Nicholette Routhier and Alumni Company: Uplift Physical Theatre

 By Nicholette Routhier (MFA ’10)

I’m writing from the floor of my yurt on a farm in Menomonie, WI, which feels odd because I don’t have electricity, running water, or the Internet. Before moving to Wisconsin last July, I lived in Blue Lake for almost eight years. I arrived in the fall of 2007 for the PTP; then I matriculated into the MFA; and in 2010, I became the Dell’Arte School Administrator/Registrar.

My path has been unique to me, but it’s a common thread: Dell’Arte alumni pursue unique paths. Even if we arrive with similar visions and goals, after we leave Blue Lake no two paths look alike. I think this originates with Dell’Arte’s admissions process. Sure, it’s an international school, so we have people from lots of different cultures, but we also come with diverse backgrounds and experiences – from theatre to circus to botany. And there’s always some “wild card” – that person who seems to come out of nowhere and yet becomes vital to the ensemble. It’s thanks to this diversity in our PTP and MFA ensembles that we come to know ourselves and leave with a strong sense of who we are. With eight years at Dell’Arte under my belt, I definitely came to know myself. Of course, I didn’t recognize it until after I left, but it became clear when the opportunities kept coming and it took me no time to establish myself in Menomonie.

While at Dell’Arte, the three projects that influenced me the most were my Character Project in the 2nd year, and my Community Based Arts (CBA) project and Thesis project in the 3rd year.

For my Character Project, I created “Albert McFee.” He thrived long after the project’s culmination. You may have heard of him – he hosted over a dozen Dell’Arte Cabarets and events, as well as local burlesque shows, benefits, and shows at the Logger Bar, Arcata Theatre Lounge, and throughout Humboldt County. He was on the local news, newspapers, and the radio. He had a following that required his own Facebook page. (One time, someone invited me to dinner and then asked if I would come as Albert!) He created several comedy acts, wrote two songs, and created three burlesque acts. Albert McFee was one of my greatest successes at Dell’Arte, and I’m forever grateful for that. Right now, he exists in a garment bag in my yurt, but it wouldn’t take much to revive him. He has a life of his own!

For my CBA Project, I collaborated with two members of my MFA ensemble, Julie Douglas and Genesee Spridco, and we partnered with the women of the Emma Center, which provides on-going, holistic healing to women who have experienced trauma. I was extremely passionate about this project and it inspired me to pursue future CBA projects. Last month, I produced, directed and performed in a benefit production of The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler alongside five women from the Menomonie community as a part of V Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. I have a deep passion for service in the community and I will continue to produce theatre that reflects that passion.

My thesis project continues to be my most impactful experience at Dell’Arte. I collaborated with Julie Douglas, Elizabeth Colon Nelson and Gabe McKinney. The final product of our piece was an adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People, but the success of our collaboration was rooted in our creative process. We brought together all production elements (i.e. costumes, sets, props, music etc.) from Day 1; we created via “uncensored play,” which is a term I coined to turn off our internal censors and grant our creative “geniuses” full authority; and we brought the audience into our rehearsal process. Since then, I’ve given presentations on our creative process to PTP classes, summer workshop participants, and college students; I conduct workshops rooted in uncensored play; and I practice that creative approach in all of my rehearsal processes.

Today, I am a part of an ensemble that honors our unique Dell’Artian paths: UpLift Physical Theatre. There are nine of us in the ensemble: Joe Krienke (PTP ’95), Andrea Martinez (PTP ’13), Audrey Leclair (PTP ’13), Juliana Frick (PTP ’13), Jerome Yorke Jr. (MFA ’14), Hannah Gaff (PTP ’09, MFA ’15), Alyssa Hughlett (MFA ’15), Moses Norton (MFA ’15), and me. We span five PTP classes and six states/provinces (California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Montreal.) Something unique about us is that we have never worked together at the same time. In fact, a few of us have never met in person! We may never perform in one show together, but because of our collective vocabulary and foundation of trust, any combination of us can devise and perform together. Recently, Alyssa, Hannah, Andrea and Moses devised a benefit performance in Bali while participating in the full time Dell’Arte Abroad: Bali program.

Our ensemble formed around three performances. The first was the Spring 2012  New Works Cabaret at Dell’Arte. Joe Krienke and I had been collaborating as acrobatics instructors for a few years by then and we wanted to see what our artistic collaboration would look like. We chose to create a piece of theatre inspired by a “Dramatic Acrobatics” assignment he gave to his acrobatics students at the end of the first 10 weeks. We created a short piece about a man who lost his wife at sea. The audience loved it. We knew we were on to something.

Fast forward to the morning of Carlo’s birthday in December 2013… Joe and I sat in awe as we watched Alyssa, Andrea, Audrey, Juliana, Moses, and Christopher Kehoe (MFA ’15) perform their Dramatic Acrobatics assignment. Their piece had skill and depth that superseded any group I could remember. Within a month, Joe asked these folks if they would join us in a new work for the Mad River Festival that summer.  All but Christopher joined us and so began our journey together.

During that time, we researched other acrobatics-based ensembles, such as Les 7 Doigts de la Main. We noticed that our collective training at Dell’Arte, our physical storytelling and ability to understand the forces underlying the acrobatics (i.e. push/pull; effort/momentum; explosion/release) set us apart from these ensembles. That’s when we coined our work “acrobatic theatre.”

That summer, we premiered Between the Lines to sold out houses. With a late-night slot in the Carlo Theatre, we had no idea how well we would be received. I’ll never forget the charivari on opening night: We took our bow, the energetic music started, and the audience collectively exploded out of their seats like a wave! They stood and clapped to the music as we tumbled and danced. They were still standing and clapping after we left the theatre, and we weren’t sure whether or not we should go back on stage! I had never experienced anything like it before. The next day, we learned that we’d received an extension to perform another weekend, and that weekend practically sold out. We were on top of the world!

It wasn’t long before Joe had booked us another late-night slot in the Mad River Festival the following summer. By this time, Juliana, Andrea and Audrey had settled into the Bay Area, Puerto Rico and Montreal, respectively, and Dell’Arte wasn’t able to fund their travel to rehearse and perform with us. Alyssa, Moses, Joe and I were still in Blue Lake, and we asked Hannah Gaff and Jerome Yorke Jr. to join us.  We started rehearsing and training together in the fall to aid us in expanding our acrobatic skill vocabulary and reduce injury. (I don’t have time in this blog to go into the injuries from the previous summer, but let’s just say that all of us were on the mend by the end of the run. Injuries ranged from a sprained ankle to a broken rib.) I think it worked – the majority of our injuries were minor and post-show recovery seemed speedy for all of us. Unfortunately, Joe suffered an injury that took him out of the run of the show. That was rough for me, as he was my main acrobatic partner, but he became our “outside eye” and designed all of the music, which allowed the rest of us to focus on devising and training the show. The new piece was called Taken Away and, again, the run was well attended and appreciated.

Today, Hannah, Alyssa and Moses are in their third year at Dell’Arte and the rest of us have gone our separate ways. Being an ensemble rooted in such a physical dynamic, it was hard to imagine how we would be able to continue working together, but thanks to modern technology, we’re still going strong.

About a month ago, Juliana and I traveled to Blue Lake to rehearse with the folks at Dell’Arte and the rest of our ensemble joined us via Google Hangouts. Because of the time we put in during those three flagship performances, we were able to jump right back into the dynamic of our ensemble with no hesitation. We rehearsed for 15 hours in a 36-hour period of time and we were safe, productive, and creatively fruitful. It was awesome!

We’re now planning a 2015 summer tour, which will include the Dell’Arte Alumni Reunion and the Minnesota Fringe. We have a few new faces in the mix: Jared Mongeau (AEP ’16) will join us in our Alumni Reunion show and Christopher will be back to produce us in the Minnesota Fringe! We’re finding our footing with the business side of becoming an ensemble. We’re developing ensemble agreements and designating roles. We’re navigating through email as our primary means of communication. It’s a big learning curve, but we’re meeting it with grace.

In about a month, I’ll be moving into a tipi in the woods to help mentor a student for a year through ReWild University, where I am currently an instructor. I love that I can do just that – live a life immersed in nature and mentor people on uncovering their own true nature, while at the same time, create and perform with people with equally adventurous and passion-filled lives. This is the power of Dell’Arte and I’m deeply grateful.

Photo: Arnista Photography. Moses Norton (MFA '15), Nicholette Routhier (in the air - MFA '10) and Hannah Gaff (MFA '15) from "Taken Away" at the 2014 Dell'Arte Mad River Festival.

Photo: Arnista Photography. Moses Norton (MFA '15), Nicholette Routhier (in the air - MFA '10) and Hannah Gaff (MFA '15) from "Taken Away" at the 2014 Dell'Arte Mad River Festival.