By Chad J. Stender
Because of Dell’Arte I became a River Boat pilot, a Mark Twain Impersonator and a Clown nose Maker.
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?...how 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.