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’.
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.