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.