By 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.