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.