Because of Dell’Arte …I started the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

By Lloyd Nyikadzino 

Lloyd Nyikadzino

Lloyd Nyikadzino

Because of Dell’Arte …I started the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

My expedition to Dell’Arte was a life transforming experience. I was introduced to Dell’Arte by Matt Chapman. The first day at Dell’Arte became my transition passage from just being an actor into the majestic world of the actor/creator. To me, Dell’Arte became a consecrated artistic place of deconstruction, self-discovery, embodying the other, inhabiting and DE- VOURING the space.

Because of Dell’Arte, I now appreciate that for the visceral investigation and process of engagement to be fully realized, one has to adopt the notion of discarding or letting go of self for the other to come to life and discover new worlds through the physical body. I am grateful that my time at Dell’Arte, reinvigorated my desire to pursue storytelling through physical theatre and also to be able to share the skills with the students at the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

Because of the creative community at Dell’Arte, I learnt that in the investigation process, you should not hold on to something dearly for too long because in the journey, if you honestly let go of yourself and continue with the research, you will meet thought-provoking and dynamic dimensions to explore. When you let go for the other to manifest, the momentum rises and all will be enjoyable.

Appreciating the sense of community revealed at Dell’Arte, I was triggered to create the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy, a creative platform where actors/creators come to observe, imagine, explore and develop, while constantly challenged to play with conviction and ferocity.

Because of Dell’Arte, the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy is nurturing students so they can awaken to the abilities and mysteries of their bodies whilst encouraging and cultivating the creativity that lay within each one of them. The Zimbabwe Theatre Academy is dedicated to the establishment of a progressive environment for actors and faculty members to intensely explore and tell African stories through the use of the body and voice.

Because of Dell’Arte, I was challenged to walk in the lands I had never imagined, through my body. Therefore the main emphasis of our work at the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy is physical self-discovery. It’s not about individualism, it’s an ensemble, a community in which everyone relies on the other, backed up by a solid training.  

Because of Dell’Arte, it became clear that it’s not all about surviving the journey or getting it right. Rather, it’s about exploration and enjoyment. As Chipo Chikara (former PTP-14 from Zimbabwe) said, “Creativity should provide a safe space to fail and start again. Failure is not the end, but a part of the creative process. When you fail you can always come back to start off and re-create.” This has also provided a safe space for the students at the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy to discover more.

Because of Dell’Arte, I discovered that most of the knowledge I acquired there impacted my life beyond the stage. I learnt to cuddle my vulnerability, thus opening doors for me to step up, have faith in myself and my ensemble and fully know and cheer each and every victory whether big or small.

Because of Dell’Arte, Matt Chapman (faculty member at Dell’Arte) and I initiated a developmental partnership program with the school, which provides a professional educational opportunity for Zimbabwean theatre practitioners to go and study at Dell’Arte and develop their theatre skills. Since its inception, six Zimbabweans (Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi, Chipo Chikara, Teddy Mangawa, Nyaradzo Nhongonhema, Everson Ndlovu and the 2018-2019  recipient Kudzai Sevenzo), have been awarded the African scholarship.

Because of Dell’Arte, I am now sharing what I have learnt through offering an accessible, practical as well as theoretical training to the next generation of young actors/creators in Zimbabwe. Not all of them will be able to travel abroad to train in physical theatre, but those enrolled at the academy will benefit immensely through interaction with those who would have been mentored and learnt at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre through the African fellowship.

Because of Dell’Arte, a lot of young Zimbabwean people who have remarkable creative talent and wholly dedicated to the craft and have challenges in being absorbed into theatre training programs at institutions of higher learning, will get an opportunity and be exposed to the many diverse skills required to initiate or enhance a career in professional theatre though the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

I emerged from the Dell’Arte professional training program convinced that, at times talent and passion alone, deprived of some training, are not enough attributes required for the development of the creative sector. Because of the journey that I took to the small town of Blue Lake in 2011, I am happy to say that I was positively transformed at Dell’Arte International School of physical theatre.

Because of Dell’Arte I’m living in a dream…

By Bob Rosen

Because of Dell’Arte I’m living in a dream…

Bob Rosen

Bob Rosen

…like an endless exercise from Carlo where he keeps coming into the room with a big metal garbage can that he slams on the floor and announces that there is something that has to be done right now.  It can’t wait.  This is the moment!

We are in the middle of a class taught by Avner Eisenberg.  We have been working on something and are about to perform some short pieces we worked up in class.

The abrupt entrance and the loud bang of the can hitting the floor directs our attention to Carlo. “We have to do something!” he exclaims.  Avner explains that we are about to show some work and the class period will be over in a short time.  “It has to be done now! Now is the time!” Carlo insists.  There is much protesting on Avner’s part but everything shifts instantly and we move into a new world.  In a few moments, I find myself blindfolded and standing inside the garbage can.  The garbage can/home/mother.  In the dream, I climb out of the garbage can and blindly venture across an obstacle laden room.  Every time I bump into an object I have to find my way home to mother and restart.  The further away I succeed in getting the harder it is to find my way back until, at some point, I am adrift in a sea of obstacles with no clue how to get back home.  The only way is to keep going forward.

So, I keep going forward, navigating the world in the here and now, at the ready.  Available.

Suddenly I’m in a circus tent in Holland with my Dell’Arte pal Ted Keiser.  “Hello” we say in the dream, “we are very funny clowns from Dell’Arte and we want to perform in your circus.”  They tell us that they want to see our very clever clown number and they decide it would be a good idea for us to perform in the matinee that afternoon.  In the middle of our too-long and not-clever-enough-number the ring master blows his whistle, the band strikes up and the ring attendants come running out and begin taking away our props.  The flop of all flops.

I look around frantically, hoping to take refuge in the garbage can but it is nowhere in sight.  A difficult way to begin post Dell’Arte life.  The only way is forward.

We stay with the circus anyway, driving trucks, putting up the tent and performing in the street for publicity.  We get pretty good at the street show. 

The dream skips ahead.  With Ted again and two others performing a street show in France. Things are going well.  We are between shows sitting in a campground in Brittany when, out of the blue, the garbage can slams down on my head and I have an aha moment.  I finally really understand an exercise we did at Dell’Arte two years before. Really?  Two years to understand how that lesson works?   

The dream skips again. I become part of a company.  We make our own work. It takes a while to build momentum. We become known for the comedic side of the work.  We decide to try something serious and tragic.  The critics tell us to stick to the comedy.  We keep making serious pieces until we get good at it.  After a while, we miss the comedy so we make a funny piece again.  The critics tell us to stop making stupid, infantile comedy and stick to the beautiful, poetic, tragic pieces.  We keep making comedy just to piss them off.  Then we make funny tragedies.

In my dream, I am directing the devising of a piece with the company.  After two weeks of work I come to the conclusion that nothing we have created is very good. I feel panic but something happens.  The aha moments keep raining blows on my head and through a long process of commedia osmosis I begin to understand and trust the instinctual lessons of the training.  Get out of your own way and play. Something will happen. I get stuck in the creative process with other shows but begin to learn not to be afraid of being lost in a sea of obstacles cut off from the safety of the garbage can.  Trust what you have learned and keep moving forward.

I begin to teach because I love experimenting with exercises and I love what comes out of the minds and bodies of the students.  I love what there is to be discovered - beautiful, poetic, profound and funny moments.  The students and the classes also become my teachers.

Through teaching I remember what drew me to Dell’Arte in the first place.  The joy to play and create.  The craft of improvising with others, of giving life to inanimate objects, the total physical and tactile exploration of things.

I want everyone to be curious, investigate, be fearless.  I want them to learn the art of playing.

“Just play” Carlo used to shout.  And I want to shout it at my red-nosed students.  Don’t you understand that we don’t care about the story?  The theme could be two donuts and a pencil sharpener.  Just play and the story will make itself.  You have to think ten steps ahead while being in the moment playing a glorious stupid who is three steps behind.

In my dream they all have that aha moment many years later.

In the meantime, the company disbands.  I climb out of the garbage can again and suddenly I’m out in the debris field, bumping into obstacles.  It’s scary and invigorating at the same time.

In my dream the world is populated entirely by commedia characters. 

They are the crazies and the irrational, the ones who reinvent the rules and propel us forward.

I set off again in search of the damn thing – the nameless thing we are always striving to achieve – the moment – the thing that makes it all go or make sense.  It cannot be defined.  We have to go looking for it.

The dream goes on… like an endless exercise, but the training of Dell’Arte is more than an approach to making theatre. It’s a way of seeing and being in the world.  It’s a way of life.

Bob Rosen is a director, performer and educator based in Minneapolis. In 1979 he assisted in founding Theatre de la Jeune Lune where he served as co-Artistic Director from 1985 through 2006.

Bob is credited with acting, writing, directing and/or lighting over 100 productions, with Jeune Lune and other companies. Bob has conceived and directed many original works including: Circus, The Golem, The Description of the World, Circus of Tales, and several works for the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In 2008 he established Studio 206, with inter-disciplinary artist Shawn McConneloug. dedicated to the creation of new work and the ongoing training of performing artists. He is also co-founder of The Gymnasium, a consortium of creative risk-takers who are using the arts as a nexus for connections with science, industry, business and innovation. Bob was a 2010-11 Playwrights’ Center McKnight Theatre Artist Fellow and serves on the faculty of the University of Minnesota and Macalester College. He is currently working on the creation of a new piece called Juracán, a Puerto Rican folktale of politics and hurricanes, created with and for Ricardo Vazquez in association with Ten Thousand Things theatre company and the Minnesota State Arts Board.


Because of Dell Arte... I learned how to die so I could be reborn again.

By Henry Austin Shikongo

Because of Dell Arte: I learned how to die so I could be reborn again...

I doubt one ever knows exactly what they will learn at Dell Arte. One may have an idea, but that idea quickly dissipates as one begins to engage in ‘the work’. 

Henry Austin Shikongo

Henry Austin Shikongo

The Sabbath (or 7th day of the week) is commonly referred to as the holy day of rest, when God finished creating all that is. In a poetic sense of the word, Being at Dell Arte was like being with God during the other 6 days of creation, in that the work was continually a celebration of the inner workings of life and the intricacies of art.

There is a momentum at this educational institution, unlike anything I have ever seen before. They have an unusually attractive way of describing the work. Very often they speak in metaphors, talk in riddles, they ask more questions than they provide answers for, and the works of our greatest poets, writers, philosophers, historians, visionaries, directors, and actors are endlessly echoed throughout the walls of the studio spaces. At any given moment, your instructors might be screaming and yelling in artistic rapture, taking you on a journey of 24 hours of silent observation of nature deep in the redwoods, helping you discover the limits of your body and go beyond them, speaking passionately about the 'impossible theater', writing/performing their own creative work, or sending you out on various projects to connect with the greater community.

The grounds are charged with a spontaneous kind of energy. As this energy begins to affect you, one starts to open up, as per the uncompromising, rigorous first 10 weeks of training. One then begins to sense how recognition of ‘the other’ begins to awaken deep, rich, unconscious behavior in one’s own artistic work.

I had numerous moments of inspiration and breakthroughs at Dell Arte, but I wish to only share one of the most influential. In the first place, I earned an MFA degree before coming to Dell Arte. The degree resulted in having a chip on my shoulder, which was preventing me from further growth. Mid-semester during my PTP training, a local high school was invited to visit and work with the first year ensemble in the studio. We were split up into groups and I was paired with one of my peers and two high school students. My initial reaction was that the students had little to no training and had much to learn. Clearly, I was missing the point. We were assigned a Lecoq-inspired improvisation and we presented it in front of the entire school. I mainly worked opposite one of the younger actors. What we discovered together and what he evoked inside of me was transformational. The young actor stirred a deep sense of reality in me by moving past all my social masks, and touched me in my very core.  I felt like I had died and been reborn from the sheer immediacy of the contact. That day, I realized I could learn from anyone, anywhere, and from anything. And failure to do so would hinder me from making contact with the most authentic part of myself that only wishes to learn and grow. The work at DAI was a continuous journey of physical self-discovery.

Since training at the Dell Arte International School of Physical Theater I have performed and taught workshops in Greece; I've taught for summer programs at Northwestern and Yale University; I've done commercial, film and TV work in Toronto, Montreal, and NYC; I've directed 6 plays; I'm currently enrolled in an Alexander Teacher Training Certification Program, and I'm in my fourth year of a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing.

At Dell Arte you learn much more than just acting. You learn how to move onto the stage with the spirit of your ancestors, make contact with the real, and learn how to die so you can be reborn again. For me, that is the spirit of Dell Arte...

Henry Austin Shikongo is a professional actor/teacher from Ottawa, Ontario. He has performed in Canada, the United States and has toured internationally in Russia. Past credits include a musical adaptation of the Imaginary Invalid by Moliere which won multiple theater festival awards in Russia. Back in Canada he was cast in back to back productions of Twelfth Night, Blood Brothers and Hamlet all of which were nominated and won in several categories for the Capital Critics Circle and in Boston he was cast in Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge at the ART which was ranked in Boston's top 10 shows of 2013. Henry is a graduate of the Ottawa Theater School Acting Conservatory, holds an MFA degree in Acting from the Institute of Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University, studied physical theater dynamics at the Dell' Arte International School of Physical Theater in Blue Lake California and studied at the Moscow Art Theater School in Russia. In his spare time Henry is an avid reader, researcher and student of the sciences.

Because of Dell’Arte... I know when it’s time to quiet the fear.

by Estela Garcia

Because of Dell’Arte, I know when it’s time to quiet the fear. 

Estela Garcia

Estela Garcia

Because of Dell’Arte, I brought home a new sense of self, a theatre vocabulary and a tenacity to pave the road on my terms.

Because of Dell’Arte, I now live a version of the life I always wanted but didn’t know I could have.

Because of Dell’Arte…I make a living as a freelance actress, teacher, community engagement specialist and general theatre maker in the big city.

The road to today was as windy as highway 299, but it’s been a wonderful adventure! Bear with me as I take you through a collage of thoughts detailing the road since Dell’Arte, 2005.

The night I arrived in Blue Lake-I cried, and cried and cried myself to sleep. What had I gotten myself into! This place was small, cold and rainy. I was a city girl that appreciated nature, but the redwoods were intimidating. I was homesick and so was my Jeep Cherokee-there were many days I cupped water out of my car from the rain that seeped in overnight. Rain, what was that! I was in culture shock, this was nothing like my beloved L.A. I was a chubby Latina girl from the big city with not a lot of professional theatre experience. I couldn’t find myself in other students, in the teachers or in the community. I feared the unknown and felt massively underprepared for training

I had hang ups. I didn’t feel enough. I could barely do morning warm-ups, let alone tumbling.  I had always wanted to be an actor/creator but had allowed my fears and those of my parents dictate my path. In high school I attended a Math and Science Magnet and then went on to receive a BFA was in Chicana/o Studies to avoid a career in the arts. As a 1st generation Latina, I had lots of GUILT. I was poor and educated which clearly meant I was responsible for my community. I had to sacrifice myself and do something less “self-serving”.  I took acting and mask classes, blindly started a college theatre group, I interned at a local theatre and was part of ONE professional production all under the guise of “Extra-Curricular Activities”.

My classmates and I were obsessed with being good students and getting it right. This often got in the way of finding “the thing”, of practicing the school motto “Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!”  These four words were so simple independently of each other, but I couldn’t figure out how to practice them mind-body-sprit. I struggled my first year, Joan called me a “hit or miss”. During end of semester evaluations, I found out teachers had had a bet that I would be among the first to quit. They could see through me, my work was invisible, timid, fearful. I didn’t quit, I slowly began to blossom, and eventually transferred into the MFA program which is when my work took off. This would be one of the many times I would prove Ronlin wrong - what sweet pleasure it was to prove him wrong, even when he was the one to orchestrate that discovery. Sometimes these lessons need time - a summer, a couple of years, a lifetime.

Two and half years of training and an internship later I found myself back in LA - a city that was my city and not my city all at once. It was in the middle of the recession. My plan to be a substitute teacher by day and artist by night failed, schools were not hiring. I was living at home with my parents in the outskirts of the city, unemployed, with student loan debt, no theatre community, in the best shape I’d been in AND a brand new physical theatre injury. I had arrived! LA! I’m home! I’ve arrived! Crickets. Fear. Depression. “Stop it, Estela! Quiet. Effort. Risk. Momentum. Joy?”

Now, instead of searching for “the thing” I was searching for a tribe. Eventually I got a very flexible and well payed part time job as a nanny that allowed me the time and money to be an artist. I found fellow Dell’Artians in the city, took physical theatre classes and plugged myself in. I plugged myself in as I searched for a new famiglia. I even found famiglia in unexpected places - a big budget commercial shoot - using the work in secret.

The first couple of years back were “hit and miss” for me. I had days I felt grounded and more confident than ever. I was hundreds of miles away but felt supported by my Blue Lake famiglia. The very people I once couldn’t see myself in, walked with me in smog filled L.A. By exploring what I didn’t know, I got to know myself more deeply. I left Dell’Arte with a poetic voice, a style of storytelling, and skills that made me unique and marketable in the city. On hard days I can hear Ronlin tell me “I believe, with you, anything is possible. If you say, you are going to walk across the stage and make fire appear, I believe flames will engulf the stage.” Those words, my hustle and the support of my parents afforded me the ability to live cheaply and eventually trade in the nanny gig for a life of teaching, creating work with underserved communities and acting.

9 years have passed and I can finally see my career come together. I’ve learned to get out of my own way. Every year it gets easier to balance gigs, life, art making, admin and the fear that goes with the business.

“Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!”

BIO: A Los Angeles born native, Estela Garcia is an actress, movement coach, deviser, community engagement specialist, mask maker/performer, and teacher. She received her MFA from Dell'Arte in ensemble based physical theatre, is a Movement Professor at CalArts, a Community Liaison for CTG, and a member of LTA/LA. Garcia is best known for her portrayal of surrealist painter REMEDIOS VARO in her one-woman play and Older Esperanza in THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET. Recent film credits include: YOLIS and VALENTINA. Estela has worked with numerous theatre organizations of various sizes, most notably with CTG, SCR and ETC on their community based projects. She loves to cook, dance and make silly faces.

Because of Dell Arte ... I’m a Risk junky.

By Ross Travis

Because of Dell Arte …

Pictured: Ross Travis Photo by: Eric Gillet of Shoot That Klown

Pictured: Ross Travis
Photo by: Eric Gillet of Shoot That Klown

… I’m a Risk junky.

The year before I went to Dell’Arte in 2009, I was taking classes with these mind-bending clowns in Chicago called 500 Clown (there’s actually only three) who have a no-holds-barred relationship with the audience and each other and perform on contraptions that fall out from under them. Their tenets are: Action, Risk, Audience, Humor. Brilliantly simple. One of them (Paul Kalina) had gone to Dell’Arte, so I took the plunge and moved to Blue Lake the next year.

Risk is also one of the tenets of Dell’Arte’s pedagogy: Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy. And during my time at the school I got to hone my appetite and aptitude for being a danger ranger. My chief interest and joy swiftly became toying, pushing, flicking, prodding, trampling and destroying that ‘sacred space’ between audience and performer - that ubiquitous fourth wall. I also became interested in that moment where nobody in the theatre space - audience and performers alike - is sure of what’s going to happen next. When a performer makes a mistake, is caught by surprise, forgets their line, gets heckled by the audience; when something happens unexpectedly - a moment of pure reality.

I learned at Dell’Arte that another way to find this moment is by playing onstage as an athlete and to approach scenes as games. The risk of failure and how players navigate it is a main reason sports are so popular, that risk is what makes crowds sit forward, choose sides, scream and yell. I used to dream of a day where theatre shows could have the same effect as a football game and take place in a stadium with the audience painting their faces, waving foam fingers and cheering and jeering the actor players. The closest modern theatrical medium I’ve found to this is the circus and that’s where I’ve ended up.

After I left Dell’Arte I was inspired to take my risk adventuring to the next level. I did this in two primary ways. First, while at Dell’Arte, I had read about this obscure form of grotesque physical theatre called Bouffon in Jacques Lecoq’s book The Moving Body. That stuff looked ballsy and right up my alley. So when I got to San Francisco I joined the only company at the time exclusively dedicated to bouffon in the United States and studied the form extensively with master teachers Giovanni Fusetti and Dodi Desanto. I was driven to become as much of an expert at this form as possible. Bouffon - in my mind - is the riskiest theatrical territory because it requires every single tool in an actor’s toolbox often all at the same time. Bouffons, in their pure essence, are beings that can do and be anything; they are funhouse mirror reflections of the world around them, which requires a performer to be hyper aware and empathetic, reflexively sharp, have a large performative skill set, elite physicality, fearlessness of looking stupid, commitment to portraying taboo subject matter and an immense pleasure in seeking out risky situations like a fiend.

Two years ago I started my own company called Antic in a Drain where bouffon has become the heartbeat of my work. These days we don’t wear the stereotypical ‘humps and bumps’ that you’ll see on a lot of bouffons - in my experience it’s more subversive and risky to hide the distortion and I’m interested in using aspects of forms of theatre like bouffon, clown, circus, commedia, etc as means to an end in expressing my own unique vision not as the end all be all vehicle for that vision.

The second way I upped the stakes on my journey to Peril Road was by going to the San Francisco Circus Center where I began an (eight years now) pilgrimage to becoming a specialist in Chinese pole, one of the most risky and difficult of circus apparati. The risk of acrobatics is real physical risk. This year I sprained my left wrist, sprained my right finger and broke my right pinky. In the words of my former coach Master Lu Yi, “Training is bitter but the performance is so sweet.” And it’s true: there is no better feeling than hearing an audience roar when I do one of my drops on pole, the energy is palpable and it makes the endless hours in a room training by myself worth it. I live for taking those risks so the audience can experience them.

Truth be told, a lot of the time the audience is probably feeling it more than me because I’m often working hard to quiet the voices in my head that are questioning my life choices and predicting what might happen if I accidentally miss. This is another aspect of chasing risk, battling the inherent existential voices - my coach Dominic calls them the “Funny Friends” - that tell me I’m going to fail, that I’m not good enough, that it doesn’t make sense to do it that way. And battle them I do, for these Funny Friends are who will disperse the risk, make me fall, and cause me to make the ‘safe’ choice. For years I’ve been practicing the art of tuning out my Funny Friends, or acknowledging them and making fun of their existence; in doing so I risk going against my own reasoning.

I feel grateful to Dell’Arte not only for giving me one of the best years of my life but for helping to foster my addiction to physical and emotional risk which has become the cornerstone of my artistic trip. You’ve made me an addict Dell’Arte! Great job! A few years ago I won the Artistic Risk Award at the Vancouver Fringe Festival for my show The Greatest Monkey Show On Earth. That was probably the most meaningful award I’ve received to date because it acknowledged what I’ve been driven to do all these years. None of my artistic heroes are conformists to one particular style. They have unique visions. Because of my training in the styles at Dell’Arte, and my training and experience since, I’ve acquired enough tools and perspective to channel together my favorite aspects of bouffon, clown, circus, commedia, tragedy and melodrama to create an artistic vision that takes the risk of being authentically mine.

Ross Travis is an Actor/Creator, Bouffon, Physical Comedian and Circus Performer specializing in Chinese pole. He recently co-created and performed in Circus Veritas (2017) Inversion: Circus Disobedience (2016) and Salvage (2015) with Kinetic Arts Productions. He has been the ringmaster and Chinese pole artist for Flynn Creek Circus for their 2016 and 2017 seasons. He has toured two seasons with Circus Bella, San Francisco’s premiere one ring circus and has worked with Sweet Can Circus, Velocity Circus, Earth Circus, Vau de Vire Society and Le Cirque Boheme. Ross has co-created and performed in multiple shows with Firefly Theatre and Circus in Edmonton, Canada, including Craniatrium, Panache and Panache: Part Deux. Ross has a performance company called Antic in a Drain which has been touring internationally with The Greatest Monkey Show On Earth; a primate circus extravaganza that takes a satirical bite out of animal/human agency. Antic in a Drain just premiered it’s latest work in the spring of 2017 called Bucko: Whaleman! which shanghaied the audience into a whaling voyage where they became colluders in a destructive plot to kill a record number of whales to harvest their oil for capital gain. Ross' work has received numerous awards including a Theatre Bay Area Award the San Francisco Best of Fringe Award, Theatre Bay Area's Titan Award and the Artistic Risk Award at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Ross works for the Medical Clown Project bringing joy and agency to patients in hospitals in the Bay Area. Ross is a graduate of the Professional Training Program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, as well as the Professional Acrobatic Program at the San Francisco Circus Center.

Because of Dell’Arte... I am a teacher. 

By M. Graham Smith

Because of Dell’Arte I am a teacher. 

M. Graham Smith 

M. Graham Smith 

When I was a student at Dell’Arte in my early twenties I knew that I wanted to make Art that would change the world. I sharpened my writing practice to tell stories that motivated change, I rigorously disciplined my body to be the perfect vessel for telling these stories, and I forged relationships with other students with similar goals. We founded a Theatre Company in Philadelphia dedicated to telling transformative stories called Hotel Obligado. I accepted an offer to become part of the Dell’Arte company, acting in, writing, and otherwise generating work that toured the world with social and political agenda. Sometimes these plays were incredibly successful in opening the eyes of an audience to a social cause that was worthy of wider attention; I wrote a play SHADOW OF GIANTS that provided a glimpse of the conflict between working class loggers whose jobs were disappearing, and committed environmental activists willing to put themselves in trees to save them. 

I remember touring Europe with the Dell’Arte Company, performing in a version of Paradise Lost where Michael Fields played Satan, and there were three pairs of Adam & Eve, trying to decode the human genome. A central metaphor for the play was the “loss of innocence” of Milton’s poem re-imagined as the 9/11 terrorist attack. At the international festival in Croatia where we performed, critics immediately dismissed this gesture as both naive and narcissistic, given the many precedents for genocides and terrorist attacks throughout the world that America would have to be blind to ignore over the century. That was an interesting lesson to learn in the middle of a press conference. Also, there is something extremely refreshing about finishing one’s bows onstage and then moving directly to a press conference where reviews of the show are read aloud to the cast, before being given a chance to respond to them. Let’s just say it was very different from any opening night tradition in America. But not unwelcome. 

There is truly no better way for a young Artist in their early twenties to spend their life than touring the world with potent, provocative material, in the company of other Artists who also want to change the world. I learned so much and savored every performance, every process, every collaborator.

Throughout this time, I would often find myself on a bar stool at the end of the night with the woman who was often my scene partner, who will always be my most powerful teacher, and whose generous and often hilarious wisdom will stay with me forever. Joan Schirle taught me so much on the road and in the studio. During one of those nightcaps she turned to me and asked me if I’d ever considered teaching. And in my youthful naivety, I told her I was much more interested in making Art that would change the world. She paused and then said: “Now that I’ve been teaching for a while, I’ve seen that the ripples I make as a teacher spread much further than the ones I can make through any given performance.”

As a twenty-four year old often does, I dismissed this notion, but it continued to make waves in my brain, until one day, American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco asked me if I would teach a brief two day master class in Mask Performance to it’s MFA students. I agreed. And then my life changed.

The realness, the honesty, the discovery, the risk, the vulnerability, and the desire of the students to engage with a transformative experience revealed themselves to me in that class, and nothing has ever been the same. The ripples of growth go further, go deeper and reward everyone who engages.

I’ve never stopped teaching. I still teach at ACT, and now also teach at Berkeley Rep, as well as founding a school of theatre in Barcelona Spain, where I teach Movement and Voice several times a year. 

No one is more surprised than I am that teaching rewards my soul not only as much as creating, but often MORE than creating or performing. There’s something I cherish so deeply about the lessons of theatre, that makes every student a better Actor, both in the professional sense, but also in the sense of a human, who must choose actions that best express a desire, a need, or a wish. I see each of my students grow toward knowing their best selves, and communicating that more fully, more precisely, and using those skills to become great lovers, parents, leaders, and perhaps teachers themselves. These ripples of actors living their best lives is perhaps the most crucial part of dreaming our culture forward, so that the world we want is closer every day. 

I remember students who through the world of movement recognized they would be physically hesitant forever until they came out to their family and friends as gay. I remember a woman who faced the truth of physical abuse she’d be hiding under the weight of years until she used the opportunity of a movement class to move through the space of her fear to a space of acceptance and recovery and finally confidence and strength. I’ve been humbled and instructed by these powerful transformations, observing action by action the ripples of students becoming the Artists they wanted to be.

As with many of Joan’s great lessons, she planted the seed early, and promised me that some lessons might take time to take root and for me to realize it was blooming. I’m looking forward to all of the other seeds of Dell’arte continuing to bloom throughout a lifetime of practice. I know that there will be many instances of "Because of Dell’arte” to come…

M. Graham Smith is a San Francisco-based Director, Educator and Producer. He is an O’Neill/NNPN National Directing Fellow, an Oregon Shakespeare Festival FAIR Fellow and a Resident Artist at SF’s Crowded Fire. He grew up outside of New York City and has been based in San Francisco for the last fourteen years. He’s directed in New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Portland Oregon, Washington DC, and venues in San Francisco. He directed the West Coast Premiere of JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA in SF and TRUFFALDINO SAYS NO at Shotgun Players, winning Best Director for the Bay Area Critics Circle.  Recent credits include the World Premiere of Obie winner Christopher Chen’s HOME INVASION in SF, DEAL WITH THE DRAGON at ACT’s Costume Shop & Edinburgh Fringe, Amy Herzog’s BELLEVILLE at Custom Made and Mia Chung’s YOU FOR ME FOR YOU at Crowded Fire. He spent the last five years as Producer of Aurora Theater’s new play development program and festival The Global Age Project, which launched Martyna Majok’s IRONBOUND, JC Lee’s LUCE, and Allison Moore’s COLLAPSE, among many others. He teaches at A.C.T.'s actor-training programs, Berkeley Rep School of Theatre and at Barcelona’s premiere Meisner Technique program in Spain. You can visit him online at

Because of Dell’Arte... I became a River Boat Pilot, a Mark Twain Impersonator and a Clown Nose Maker.

By Chad J. Stender

Because of Dell’Arte I became a River Boat pilot, a Mark Twain Impersonator and a Clown nose Maker.

Chad J. Stender

Chad J. Stender

These days when someone asks me what I ‘do’ I usually tell them “I make clown noses’. Then they pause with a confused look on their face and say, “What?...why? did you get into that?” This conversation is always fun, tracing back the events in the last ten years of my extra-ordinary life. Further explanation is always necessary. I have made the mistake of telling people I make clown noses when I didn’t have the time to explain myself. No matter what the story is always abbreviated.

It goes something like this: I started making noses for a character that I perform; a clown version of Mark Twain. I was getting mistaken on the street for other famous, white-haired, old, white men who I won’t bother naming. I had the big hair and the white suit and the moustache and wore a slightly elongated red nose but something was missing for people to know who I was. Naturally, it was the cigar but I did not want to smoke in front of adults. The next unique thing that makes Mark Twain visually recognizable was his nose. Its tip is pointed and angled downward slightly covering his moustache. It is fine nose and worth noticing.

Now for the moment of truth: I went to Dell’ Arte as a member of the 3-Year Masters Program and after the first year it was decided I was not a good fit. Besides this moment being the biggest bummer of my life, I had never thought about what I might do with myself besides go through that program. I remember sitting on the couch in ‘The Brothel,’ tears welling up and my new best friend turned to me and said, “Well, now you can go down the Mississippi with me!” And my heart started turning back on. In that year of struggle and frustration and epic failure at Dell’ Arte I made a special friendship. A partnership. And it just so happened that they had this damn fine idea. It was an idea that presented an obstacle just as rewarding and just as challenging as two more years of intensive, graduate, theater training. This was the silver lining to what was one of the saddest moments of my life.

We became The Unseen Ghost Brigade: a traveling, circus-inspired, anarchist theater company. We built a river boat from salvaged junk, devised a historical tragi-comedy and spent six months floating and sinking through the heart of North America. My character in that show was Mark Twain and the whole project was exactly what I went to school for: to create relevant, community engaging theater and to bring it directly to the people.

This trip would ultimatly become the completion of my training and an initation into the rest of my life. A life where I take it by the horns, face my fears and dive in. The difference was that my campus was the fourth largest river in the world, our community was everyone who lived on the river banks and our teachers were each other. All floating together into the unknown. The motto of Dell’Arte is Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy. I feel like I still followed that same formula. That could have been the motto for the Unseen Ghost Brigade.

Today I work to expand my clown nose buisness (Red Nose Factory) to help clowns help the world and to help me be Twain everyday instead of a bartender. I also work to accept my weaknesses and to improve myself with the help of my people.

Chad J. Stender Oakland, Ca. September 2017

Chad is an actor, fisherman and craftsman from the San Francisco Bay. He studied physical theater at The University of California Santa Cruz and The Dell' Arte International School of Physical Theatre. He currently lives in Bend Oregon making clown noses, catching trout and loving his new wife.


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.

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:

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.

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 and is working on opening a Makerspace in Eureka CA.

Deviant Art:

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."




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.


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

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.

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?”


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

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.

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.

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. 


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.

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 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.