Because of Dell’Arte I’m living in a dream…

By Bob Rosen

Because of Dell’Arte I’m living in a dream…

 Bob Rosen

Bob Rosen

…like an endless exercise from Carlo where he keeps coming into the room with a big metal garbage can that he slams on the floor and announces that there is something that has to be done right now.  It can’t wait.  This is the moment!

We are in the middle of a class taught by Avner Eisenberg.  We have been working on something and are about to perform some short pieces we worked up in class.

The abrupt entrance and the loud bang of the can hitting the floor directs our attention to Carlo. “We have to do something!” he exclaims.  Avner explains that we are about to show some work and the class period will be over in a short time.  “It has to be done now! Now is the time!” Carlo insists.  There is much protesting on Avner’s part but everything shifts instantly and we move into a new world.  In a few moments, I find myself blindfolded and standing inside the garbage can.  The garbage can/home/mother.  In the dream, I climb out of the garbage can and blindly venture across an obstacle laden room.  Every time I bump into an object I have to find my way home to mother and restart.  The further away I succeed in getting the harder it is to find my way back until, at some point, I am adrift in a sea of obstacles with no clue how to get back home.  The only way is to keep going forward.

So, I keep going forward, navigating the world in the here and now, at the ready.  Available.

Suddenly I’m in a circus tent in Holland with my Dell’Arte pal Ted Keiser.  “Hello” we say in the dream, “we are very funny clowns from Dell’Arte and we want to perform in your circus.”  They tell us that they want to see our very clever clown number and they decide it would be a good idea for us to perform in the matinee that afternoon.  In the middle of our too-long and not-clever-enough-number the ring master blows his whistle, the band strikes up and the ring attendants come running out and begin taking away our props.  The flop of all flops.

I look around frantically, hoping to take refuge in the garbage can but it is nowhere in sight.  A difficult way to begin post Dell’Arte life.  The only way is forward.

We stay with the circus anyway, driving trucks, putting up the tent and performing in the street for publicity.  We get pretty good at the street show. 

The dream skips ahead.  With Ted again and two others performing a street show in France. Things are going well.  We are between shows sitting in a campground in Brittany when, out of the blue, the garbage can slams down on my head and I have an aha moment.  I finally really understand an exercise we did at Dell’Arte two years before. Really?  Two years to understand how that lesson works?   

The dream skips again. I become part of a company.  We make our own work. It takes a while to build momentum. We become known for the comedic side of the work.  We decide to try something serious and tragic.  The critics tell us to stick to the comedy.  We keep making serious pieces until we get good at it.  After a while, we miss the comedy so we make a funny piece again.  The critics tell us to stop making stupid, infantile comedy and stick to the beautiful, poetic, tragic pieces.  We keep making comedy just to piss them off.  Then we make funny tragedies.

In my dream, I am directing the devising of a piece with the company.  After two weeks of work I come to the conclusion that nothing we have created is very good. I feel panic but something happens.  The aha moments keep raining blows on my head and through a long process of commedia osmosis I begin to understand and trust the instinctual lessons of the training.  Get out of your own way and play. Something will happen. I get stuck in the creative process with other shows but begin to learn not to be afraid of being lost in a sea of obstacles cut off from the safety of the garbage can.  Trust what you have learned and keep moving forward.

I begin to teach because I love experimenting with exercises and I love what comes out of the minds and bodies of the students.  I love what there is to be discovered - beautiful, poetic, profound and funny moments.  The students and the classes also become my teachers.

Through teaching I remember what drew me to Dell’Arte in the first place.  The joy to play and create.  The craft of improvising with others, of giving life to inanimate objects, the total physical and tactile exploration of things.

I want everyone to be curious, investigate, be fearless.  I want them to learn the art of playing.

“Just play” Carlo used to shout.  And I want to shout it at my red-nosed students.  Don’t you understand that we don’t care about the story?  The theme could be two donuts and a pencil sharpener.  Just play and the story will make itself.  You have to think ten steps ahead while being in the moment playing a glorious stupid who is three steps behind.

In my dream they all have that aha moment many years later.

In the meantime, the company disbands.  I climb out of the garbage can again and suddenly I’m out in the debris field, bumping into obstacles.  It’s scary and invigorating at the same time.

In my dream the world is populated entirely by commedia characters. 

They are the crazies and the irrational, the ones who reinvent the rules and propel us forward.

I set off again in search of the damn thing – the nameless thing we are always striving to achieve – the moment – the thing that makes it all go or make sense.  It cannot be defined.  We have to go looking for it.

The dream goes on… like an endless exercise, but the training of Dell’Arte is more than an approach to making theatre. It’s a way of seeing and being in the world.  It’s a way of life.


Bob Rosen is a director, performer and educator based in Minneapolis. In 1979 he assisted in founding Theatre de la Jeune Lune where he served as co-Artistic Director from 1985 through 2006.

Bob is credited with acting, writing, directing and/or lighting over 100 productions, with Jeune Lune and other companies. Bob has conceived and directed many original works including: Circus, The Golem, The Description of the World, Circus of Tales, and several works for the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In 2008 he established Studio 206, with inter-disciplinary artist Shawn McConneloug. dedicated to the creation of new work and the ongoing training of performing artists. He is also co-founder of The Gymnasium, a consortium of creative risk-takers who are using the arts as a nexus for connections with science, industry, business and innovation. Bob was a 2010-11 Playwrights’ Center McKnight Theatre Artist Fellow and serves on the faculty of the University of Minnesota and Macalester College. He is currently working on the creation of a new piece called Juracán, a Puerto Rican folktale of politics and hurricanes, created with and for Ricardo Vazquez in association with Ten Thousand Things theatre company and the Minnesota State Arts Board.