Because of Dell’Arte …I started the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

By Lloyd Nyikadzino 

Lloyd Nyikadzino

Lloyd Nyikadzino

Because of Dell’Arte …I started the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

My expedition to Dell’Arte was a life transforming experience. I was introduced to Dell’Arte by Matt Chapman. The first day at Dell’Arte became my transition passage from just being an actor into the majestic world of the actor/creator. To me, Dell’Arte became a consecrated artistic place of deconstruction, self-discovery, embodying the other, inhabiting and DE- VOURING the space.

Because of Dell’Arte, I now appreciate that for the visceral investigation and process of engagement to be fully realized, one has to adopt the notion of discarding or letting go of self for the other to come to life and discover new worlds through the physical body. I am grateful that my time at Dell’Arte, reinvigorated my desire to pursue storytelling through physical theatre and also to be able to share the skills with the students at the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

Because of the creative community at Dell’Arte, I learnt that in the investigation process, you should not hold on to something dearly for too long because in the journey, if you honestly let go of yourself and continue with the research, you will meet thought-provoking and dynamic dimensions to explore. When you let go for the other to manifest, the momentum rises and all will be enjoyable.

Appreciating the sense of community revealed at Dell’Arte, I was triggered to create the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy, a creative platform where actors/creators come to observe, imagine, explore and develop, while constantly challenged to play with conviction and ferocity.

Because of Dell’Arte, the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy is nurturing students so they can awaken to the abilities and mysteries of their bodies whilst encouraging and cultivating the creativity that lay within each one of them. The Zimbabwe Theatre Academy is dedicated to the establishment of a progressive environment for actors and faculty members to intensely explore and tell African stories through the use of the body and voice.

Because of Dell’Arte, I was challenged to walk in the lands I had never imagined, through my body. Therefore the main emphasis of our work at the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy is physical self-discovery. It’s not about individualism, it’s an ensemble, a community in which everyone relies on the other, backed up by a solid training.  

Because of Dell’Arte, it became clear that it’s not all about surviving the journey or getting it right. Rather, it’s about exploration and enjoyment. As Chipo Chikara (former PTP-14 from Zimbabwe) said, “Creativity should provide a safe space to fail and start again. Failure is not the end, but a part of the creative process. When you fail you can always come back to start off and re-create.” This has also provided a safe space for the students at the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy to discover more.

Because of Dell’Arte, I discovered that most of the knowledge I acquired there impacted my life beyond the stage. I learnt to cuddle my vulnerability, thus opening doors for me to step up, have faith in myself and my ensemble and fully know and cheer each and every victory whether big or small.

Because of Dell’Arte, Matt Chapman (faculty member at Dell’Arte) and I initiated a developmental partnership program with the school, which provides a professional educational opportunity for Zimbabwean theatre practitioners to go and study at Dell’Arte and develop their theatre skills. Since its inception, six Zimbabweans (Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi, Chipo Chikara, Teddy Mangawa, Nyaradzo Nhongonhema, Everson Ndlovu and the 2018-2019  recipient Kudzai Sevenzo), have been awarded the African scholarship.

Because of Dell’Arte, I am now sharing what I have learnt through offering an accessible, practical as well as theoretical training to the next generation of young actors/creators in Zimbabwe. Not all of them will be able to travel abroad to train in physical theatre, but those enrolled at the academy will benefit immensely through interaction with those who would have been mentored and learnt at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre through the African fellowship.

Because of Dell’Arte, a lot of young Zimbabwean people who have remarkable creative talent and wholly dedicated to the craft and have challenges in being absorbed into theatre training programs at institutions of higher learning, will get an opportunity and be exposed to the many diverse skills required to initiate or enhance a career in professional theatre though the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.

I emerged from the Dell’Arte professional training program convinced that, at times talent and passion alone, deprived of some training, are not enough attributes required for the development of the creative sector. Because of the journey that I took to the small town of Blue Lake in 2011, I am happy to say that I was positively transformed at Dell’Arte International School of physical theatre.

Because of Dell’Arte... I know when it’s time to quiet the fear.

by Estela Garcia

Because of Dell’Arte, I know when it’s time to quiet the fear. 

Estela Garcia

Estela Garcia

Because of Dell’Arte, I brought home a new sense of self, a theatre vocabulary and a tenacity to pave the road on my terms.

Because of Dell’Arte, I now live a version of the life I always wanted but didn’t know I could have.

Because of Dell’Arte…I make a living as a freelance actress, teacher, community engagement specialist and general theatre maker in the big city.

The road to today was as windy as highway 299, but it’s been a wonderful adventure! Bear with me as I take you through a collage of thoughts detailing the road since Dell’Arte, 2005.

The night I arrived in Blue Lake-I cried, and cried and cried myself to sleep. What had I gotten myself into! This place was small, cold and rainy. I was a city girl that appreciated nature, but the redwoods were intimidating. I was homesick and so was my Jeep Cherokee-there were many days I cupped water out of my car from the rain that seeped in overnight. Rain, what was that! I was in culture shock, this was nothing like my beloved L.A. I was a chubby Latina girl from the big city with not a lot of professional theatre experience. I couldn’t find myself in other students, in the teachers or in the community. I feared the unknown and felt massively underprepared for training

I had hang ups. I didn’t feel enough. I could barely do morning warm-ups, let alone tumbling.  I had always wanted to be an actor/creator but had allowed my fears and those of my parents dictate my path. In high school I attended a Math and Science Magnet and then went on to receive a BFA was in Chicana/o Studies to avoid a career in the arts. As a 1st generation Latina, I had lots of GUILT. I was poor and educated which clearly meant I was responsible for my community. I had to sacrifice myself and do something less “self-serving”.  I took acting and mask classes, blindly started a college theatre group, I interned at a local theatre and was part of ONE professional production all under the guise of “Extra-Curricular Activities”.

My classmates and I were obsessed with being good students and getting it right. This often got in the way of finding “the thing”, of practicing the school motto “Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!”  These four words were so simple independently of each other, but I couldn’t figure out how to practice them mind-body-sprit. I struggled my first year, Joan called me a “hit or miss”. During end of semester evaluations, I found out teachers had had a bet that I would be among the first to quit. They could see through me, my work was invisible, timid, fearful. I didn’t quit, I slowly began to blossom, and eventually transferred into the MFA program which is when my work took off. This would be one of the many times I would prove Ronlin wrong - what sweet pleasure it was to prove him wrong, even when he was the one to orchestrate that discovery. Sometimes these lessons need time - a summer, a couple of years, a lifetime.

Two and half years of training and an internship later I found myself back in LA - a city that was my city and not my city all at once. It was in the middle of the recession. My plan to be a substitute teacher by day and artist by night failed, schools were not hiring. I was living at home with my parents in the outskirts of the city, unemployed, with student loan debt, no theatre community, in the best shape I’d been in AND a brand new physical theatre injury. I had arrived! LA! I’m home! I’ve arrived! Crickets. Fear. Depression. “Stop it, Estela! Quiet. Effort. Risk. Momentum. Joy?”

Now, instead of searching for “the thing” I was searching for a tribe. Eventually I got a very flexible and well payed part time job as a nanny that allowed me the time and money to be an artist. I found fellow Dell’Artians in the city, took physical theatre classes and plugged myself in. I plugged myself in as I searched for a new famiglia. I even found famiglia in unexpected places - a big budget commercial shoot - using the work in secret.

The first couple of years back were “hit and miss” for me. I had days I felt grounded and more confident than ever. I was hundreds of miles away but felt supported by my Blue Lake famiglia. The very people I once couldn’t see myself in, walked with me in smog filled L.A. By exploring what I didn’t know, I got to know myself more deeply. I left Dell’Arte with a poetic voice, a style of storytelling, and skills that made me unique and marketable in the city. On hard days I can hear Ronlin tell me “I believe, with you, anything is possible. If you say, you are going to walk across the stage and make fire appear, I believe flames will engulf the stage.” Those words, my hustle and the support of my parents afforded me the ability to live cheaply and eventually trade in the nanny gig for a life of teaching, creating work with underserved communities and acting.

9 years have passed and I can finally see my career come together. I’ve learned to get out of my own way. Every year it gets easier to balance gigs, life, art making, admin and the fear that goes with the business.

“Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!”

BIO: A Los Angeles born native, Estela Garcia is an actress, movement coach, deviser, community engagement specialist, mask maker/performer, and teacher. She received her MFA from Dell'Arte in ensemble based physical theatre, is a Movement Professor at CalArts, a Community Liaison for CTG, and a member of LTA/LA. Garcia is best known for her portrayal of surrealist painter REMEDIOS VARO in her one-woman play and Older Esperanza in THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET. Recent film credits include: YOLIS and VALENTINA. Estela has worked with numerous theatre organizations of various sizes, most notably with CTG, SCR and ETC on their community based projects. She loves to cook, dance and make silly faces.

Because of Dell’Arte... I am a teacher. 

By M. Graham Smith

Because of Dell’Arte I am a teacher. 

M. Graham Smith 

M. Graham Smith 

When I was a student at Dell’Arte in my early twenties I knew that I wanted to make Art that would change the world. I sharpened my writing practice to tell stories that motivated change, I rigorously disciplined my body to be the perfect vessel for telling these stories, and I forged relationships with other students with similar goals. We founded a Theatre Company in Philadelphia dedicated to telling transformative stories called Hotel Obligado. I accepted an offer to become part of the Dell’Arte company, acting in, writing, and otherwise generating work that toured the world with social and political agenda. Sometimes these plays were incredibly successful in opening the eyes of an audience to a social cause that was worthy of wider attention; I wrote a play SHADOW OF GIANTS that provided a glimpse of the conflict between working class loggers whose jobs were disappearing, and committed environmental activists willing to put themselves in trees to save them. 

I remember touring Europe with the Dell’Arte Company, performing in a version of Paradise Lost where Michael Fields played Satan, and there were three pairs of Adam & Eve, trying to decode the human genome. A central metaphor for the play was the “loss of innocence” of Milton’s poem re-imagined as the 9/11 terrorist attack. At the international festival in Croatia where we performed, critics immediately dismissed this gesture as both naive and narcissistic, given the many precedents for genocides and terrorist attacks throughout the world that America would have to be blind to ignore over the century. That was an interesting lesson to learn in the middle of a press conference. Also, there is something extremely refreshing about finishing one’s bows onstage and then moving directly to a press conference where reviews of the show are read aloud to the cast, before being given a chance to respond to them. Let’s just say it was very different from any opening night tradition in America. But not unwelcome. 

There is truly no better way for a young Artist in their early twenties to spend their life than touring the world with potent, provocative material, in the company of other Artists who also want to change the world. I learned so much and savored every performance, every process, every collaborator.

Throughout this time, I would often find myself on a bar stool at the end of the night with the woman who was often my scene partner, who will always be my most powerful teacher, and whose generous and often hilarious wisdom will stay with me forever. Joan Schirle taught me so much on the road and in the studio. During one of those nightcaps she turned to me and asked me if I’d ever considered teaching. And in my youthful naivety, I told her I was much more interested in making Art that would change the world. She paused and then said: “Now that I’ve been teaching for a while, I’ve seen that the ripples I make as a teacher spread much further than the ones I can make through any given performance.”

As a twenty-four year old often does, I dismissed this notion, but it continued to make waves in my brain, until one day, American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco asked me if I would teach a brief two day master class in Mask Performance to it’s MFA students. I agreed. And then my life changed.

The realness, the honesty, the discovery, the risk, the vulnerability, and the desire of the students to engage with a transformative experience revealed themselves to me in that class, and nothing has ever been the same. The ripples of growth go further, go deeper and reward everyone who engages.

I’ve never stopped teaching. I still teach at ACT, and now also teach at Berkeley Rep, as well as founding a school of theatre in Barcelona Spain, where I teach Movement and Voice several times a year. 

No one is more surprised than I am that teaching rewards my soul not only as much as creating, but often MORE than creating or performing. There’s something I cherish so deeply about the lessons of theatre, that makes every student a better Actor, both in the professional sense, but also in the sense of a human, who must choose actions that best express a desire, a need, or a wish. I see each of my students grow toward knowing their best selves, and communicating that more fully, more precisely, and using those skills to become great lovers, parents, leaders, and perhaps teachers themselves. These ripples of actors living their best lives is perhaps the most crucial part of dreaming our culture forward, so that the world we want is closer every day. 

I remember students who through the world of movement recognized they would be physically hesitant forever until they came out to their family and friends as gay. I remember a woman who faced the truth of physical abuse she’d be hiding under the weight of years until she used the opportunity of a movement class to move through the space of her fear to a space of acceptance and recovery and finally confidence and strength. I’ve been humbled and instructed by these powerful transformations, observing action by action the ripples of students becoming the Artists they wanted to be.

As with many of Joan’s great lessons, she planted the seed early, and promised me that some lessons might take time to take root and for me to realize it was blooming. I’m looking forward to all of the other seeds of Dell’arte continuing to bloom throughout a lifetime of practice. I know that there will be many instances of "Because of Dell’arte” to come…

M. Graham Smith is a San Francisco-based Director, Educator and Producer. He is an O’Neill/NNPN National Directing Fellow, an Oregon Shakespeare Festival FAIR Fellow and a Resident Artist at SF’s Crowded Fire. He grew up outside of New York City and has been based in San Francisco for the last fourteen years. He’s directed in New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Portland Oregon, Washington DC, and venues in San Francisco. He directed the West Coast Premiere of JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA in SF and TRUFFALDINO SAYS NO at Shotgun Players, winning Best Director for the Bay Area Critics Circle.  Recent credits include the World Premiere of Obie winner Christopher Chen’s HOME INVASION in SF, DEAL WITH THE DRAGON at ACT’s Costume Shop & Edinburgh Fringe, Amy Herzog’s BELLEVILLE at Custom Made and Mia Chung’s YOU FOR ME FOR YOU at Crowded Fire. He spent the last five years as Producer of Aurora Theater’s new play development program and festival The Global Age Project, which launched Martyna Majok’s IRONBOUND, JC Lee’s LUCE, and Allison Moore’s COLLAPSE, among many others. He teaches at A.C.T.'s actor-training programs, Berkeley Rep School of Theatre and at Barcelona’s premiere Meisner Technique program in Spain. You can visit him online at

Because of Dell’Arte… I had to take a chance.

by Seth Reichgott 

Because of Dell’Arte…

…I had to take a chance.

Seth Reichgott

Seth Reichgott

A lot of chances. Because the truth is that I almost didn’t make it through my time at Dell’Arte. A month or so into my PTP year I was called into a meeting with then school director Peter Buckley and told that if I didn’t start working harder, if I didn’t start risking more, if I didn’t go there, I’d have to go home. It was pretty bracing and hard to hear. I was older than a lot of the rest of my class, I had been a professional actor for almost 10 years, and I thought I was all that. In truth, I wasn’t much at all. And I was completely unprepared for what Dell’Arte was asking me to do.

This wasn’t really a new thing for me. I’d pretty well coasted all through high school and college on good luck, an excellent memory, and a facility for putting things together quickly. I was smart, and I got good grades—not great, but good—and I figured that was enough. It was the easy way to go, and it didn’t require a lot of real, hard work. During the early years of my professional life I also shied away from a lot of challenges. If something took hard work, it meant risk, it meant the possibility of failure, the chance that I wouldn’t look good, that I’d fall on my face and everyone would point and laugh. But that’s one of the things that a clown has to do, and so if I was going to succeed—at Dell’Arte and in life—I had to do it too. I had to go there.

So I pulled myself together, took a deep breath, and did one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I took a chance. And in the end, I made it through my year, and created some good work along the way. I failed a lot too, but I learned that it’s okay to fail, that sometimes it’s even desirable. It was a huge step forward. My year at Dell’Arte peeled me like an onion, and forced me to look at who I was and who I wanted to be. It was far more than just a year at physical theatre school; it was a life-altering event. I came out the other side a different person.

Dell’Arte takes you and shapes you, but you have to be willing to go on the journey. And when it’s over the thing you know more than anything else is how better to be you, or at least how to start. I remember Daniel Stein once saying that to truly succeed you need to step off the edge and hope that the net appears. And sometimes it doesn’t. But the paradox is that the more willing you are to take that step, the more accepting you are of the fact that there might not be a net, the more you can embrace that you might land hard and look silly, the more likely it is that none of that will happen, and that you will, in fact, soar.

Seth Reichgott is a Philadelphia-based actor, director, and writer. He has worked with the Wilma Theater, Interact, the Lantern Theatre, Cape May Stage, the Arden Theatre, Mum Puppet Theatre, the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, and the National Theatre of the Performing Arts, among many others. Seth has twice been a co-recipient of the Barrymore Award for Outstanding Ensemble, and was nominated for a Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his performance as Faustus in Wittenberg at Rep Stage. Each year Seth tours his solo Greek mythology show, Chariot of the Sun, to elementary and middle schools across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. He also works as the Artist Services Manager for Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern PA, helping to bring the arts into hundreds of schools every year. Seth is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.

For more, visit

Because of Dell’Arte... I booked this commercial.

By Christopher Lueck

Thanks Daniel Stein!

But in the big picture this PSA urging parents to navigate invisible barriers toward openly talking to their kids about sex is not that big of a deal.

The big deal thing I learned at D’A (which the commercial is representative of) was how to create. How to not just be creative, but to be a creator. And this goes not only for creating art - it’s also for creating life, creating community, relationships, and just plain creating things I like.

I am working now on creating my life from my heart. I’ve done a lot of brain creating in the past. Now I want to bring the heart, intuition, and in-the-moment living I learned on stage and in the studio to “the real world.” It's interesting. After 15 years of performing, I now run an ad agency in New York City with my wife. We work with commercial theater productions and nonprofit theater companies - designing their posters, building their websites, booking their ads, and marketing them overall. It's a lot of fun, but it's a ton of work. More work than my big, smart brain can handle.

About two years into working at the agency all my usual tricks were used up and while business was good and growing, I was exhausted. All the tools I had used in the past to get things done were spent and actually ineffective. My wife and I realized we needed some new ways of approaching the work and challenges other than working hard on them. It was then that we began to draw upon the feeling of creating in-the-moment, be it on stage or in the studio. The ease of just doing. The joy of discovering. The beauty of knowing without thinking. The power of the mask. The flow of it all. Connecting with people. We remembered to breathe. We took off our shoes.

We asked “How can that stuff happen in an office? How can I allow myself that joy and freedom in a suit-and-tie-style ad meeting?”

We are not there yet. But we have started to drop the things we thought defined us. We continue through difficult moments. We trust the process. We are creating, not just working.

All that, is shit I learned at Dell’Arte.

Christopher Lueck has been an educator, copywriter, artist, entrepreneur, and an award-winning clown. As diverse as all of those seem, they are deeply linked by creativity and the business of shifting people’s point of view. Whether through teaching, advertising, or laughter, Christopher is driven by discovering creative ways to inspire people to see things differently. He has a MA in education from NYU and a BFA in acting from Brooklyn College and is a graduate of The Dell’Arte School of Physical Theater. Currently he is the Creative Director at the Pekoe Group.

Because of Dell’Arte... I Started a Theatre Company

Jared Fladeland

Jared Fladeland

By Jared Fladeland

I almost quit theatre completely during my undergrad. I was fed up with 4th walls, psychological realism, “method acting”, auditioning, writing pages of character analysis for class, being at the whim of a director. I thought to myself, if this what my career will be, I should look for other work.   But then I was cast in Comedy of Errors, and for the production, we had a workshop on physical comedy with Dell’Arte alum Matt Chapman.  And my life was completely changed.

Everything about working with Matt was the antithesis to what I had been studying:  I was having fun, I was engaged physically, creating characters out of thin air as fast as I could adjust my body physically.  Then, to close the workshop, we had a Q and A with Matt about his work with his company, Under the Table. 

I still remember him showing us a few clips from a show his company created, and I was blown away.  It was highly physical and acrobatic, hilariously crude at times, and poetic in other moments.  I had never seen anything quite like it.  I would meet Matt again at the Region V American College Theatre Festival my senior year of college, taking his workshop and having lunch with him about this school he was recruiting for:  Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.  I knew that if I ever decided to do more training post-college, this was the school for me.  And it seemed almost instantly after I made that declaration to myself, the universe aligned to make it so.  It wasn’t much longer after graduation that I found myself chatting with admissions about enrolling.

Introducing a Whole New World

And then I found myself in a tiny town of Blue Lake, California.   I was in for quite the ride.  The concept of Actor-Creator was foreign to me.  I had never heard of Fringe festivals until I studied at Dell’Arte.   I didn’t know much about devised theatre.  Now, I was being asked to create a new piece of theatre on a weekly basis around an assignment given on Monday.  I was being pushed physically further than most of my undergrad dance classes pushed me.   I was failing (gloriously sometimes) constantly.   The successes were spread far apart.   But in the process, each day I gained clearer insight into what I was interested in as a theatre maker.   I was inspired by my ensemble, and also inspired by the MFA classes and alumni who I met along the way. 

When I left Dell’Arte, I didn’t set out to make a company right away. I was filled with gusto to create, but at first I was doing it the old fashioned away:  Getting cast in productions.  But something was different now.   When I was in a show, I made it my mission to bring as much delight into the process as possible, and I was going to make big physical choices.  I was going to find the game in any moment with other actors on stage. The spark, that was lost for a time in my undergraduate studies, was back. My next goal:  Find an ensemble. 

The Life of a Nomad

I moved to Los Angeles, and found ensembles to work with. I was enjoying making theatre with them, but there was a problem: I was limited to the creative impulses of those companies.   When they were making work, I was happy.  But if they were on hiatus until their next project, I was sitting around with nothing to do.  It got to the point that I decided, I needed to make a solo show for myself. At least then, I’ll have a project I can work on when no one else is doing anything. I had sketched out some bits when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2012, but in 2014 I really began to devise a show that captured my heart and imagination:  A show about a clown struggling with addiction called “Origami Swans.”

Life took me on another turn after a brief stint trying to move to Portland, Oregon, and I found myself back in my hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota at the beginning of 2015.   And after a few days of thinking it through, writing feverishly about what theatre means to me (something I do off and on since leaving Dell’Arte), I decided to create a theatre company.  And January 15th, 2015, Conduit Theatre was born.

Having a Company…

I knew a little bit about what that entails, having worked with a number of artistic directors of small companies in Los Angeles in various capacities.  But in the end, I knew nothing about business.   So I set out to learn business.  The universe put me in social situations with recent graduates of the University of North Dakota who studied business, and when I told them I wanted to learn everything I could about business, one person in particular brought to my apartment a large stack of books he liked from his studies.  And I began to see how I made make a viable company while also producing theatre that did one thing:  Connect people.   I realized the type of theatre I’ve always loved, forges relationships between audience and actor (I’ve always loved Grotowski’s work after all, which stresses this dynamic).  Which is why clown resonates.  And immersive theatre.  And commedia.   And why I have an open distaste for the 4th wall.  

So here I am, nearly two years later, and I have a theatre company.   And people have hired me to devise work for their entertainment, or to create a whacky character to walk around an event, or to perform “Origami Swans”.   I have a new solo show, “The Mystery” I’ve written and I am in the process of building it to premiere in 2017.  

I have never been so scared as the time I premiered “Origami Swans” back in the fall of 2015.   I remember finishing the performance, and after a very brief curtain call, I ran backstage because I felt very nauseous.   The videographer for the show came backstage, and I began apologizing profusely for “how bad it was”, but he told me it was amazing, he had never seen anything like it.  And once I had cleaned up my clown makeup, I headed back into the house, where half the audience was waiting to talk to me, and congratulate me.   The compliments I’ve received from the show when I perform it are unlike anything I’ve experienced as a performer.   People open up about their own struggles around addiction (Whether they’re own, or someone they know).   The show connects folks, and they feel inspired to open their hearts to me after.   It is a far better feeling than any compliment I’ve received from most of my other work as an actor.   Because this show was uniquely me in every aspect of its script, design, direction, and performance.  

I found myself becoming very brave about sharing my own personal story with addiction as well.  This has led to organizations approaching me to share my work or create work specifically about addiction.  I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to share this part of my life so publicly, except that I had failed so much at Dell’Arte that I had almost become numb to the idea of failure.   One lesson I took away from my year of study is that, if I’m going to fail (gloriously), then I should at least pursue the type of stories I love because in the end, it is that passion which will help me bounce back.   It is also that passion that, when I find success, will attract people to my work.

I’m about to embark on my first fringe experience as a producer.  I’m hoping to take my work to at least a couple of festivals in 2017 (I’m doing a slow and steady growth rather than jumping into as many festivals as I can fit in a year).   And grow from there.   I’m also settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota to pursue some of the other aspects about Conduit Theatre I hope to achieve (creating interactive, immersive entertainment for companies and organizations, for example).   I’m being more brave than I ever expected to be.  I have a need to express the stories that are swimming deep within.    And I owe that to the school.   I am no longer an actor for hire.  I am an Actor-Creator.  And that has made all the difference.             

Jared Fladeland is the founder and Artistic Director of Conduit Theatre, recently re-located to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He has taught workshops, consulted on festivals, charity fundraisers, and other entertainment; and spreads his story about addiction, bringing awareness to issues and stigmas surrounding it.   He strives to Create, Curate, and Collaborate to make theatre that connects people.  You can find him and Conduit Theatre on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Because of Dell’Arte… I headlined at the Big Apple Circus as a masked clown.

By Seth Bloom

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone in The Big Apple Circus. Photo Credit: Florence Montmare 

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone in The Big Apple Circus. Photo Credit: Florence Montmare 

Because of Dell’Arte… I headlined at the Big Apple Circus as a masked clown.

There are other “because of Dell’Arte” openings: 
because of Dell’Arte… I spent years in Afghanistan.
because of Dell’Arte… I recently performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
because of Dell’Arte… I met my wife.

But the dream of mask making, mask performing, and clowning in the circus is the clearest lineage to Blue Lake. 

In short:
Christina Gelsone (Dell Arte, ’98) tracked me down via the internet at a social circus program I was building in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003. We met, as you do, in front of a destroyed building under an old tree near an orange dented Volkswagen surrounded by dust.

Both of us wanted to street perform in Europe. Both of us were in love with mask work.  We wanted to bring some version of it back to life as street performers on the streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe.  Partnership formed!  Thank you, Dell’Arte.

I’m a good mask maker. Thank you, Joe Dieffenbacher.  I cast our faces, and I built two half-masks based on real clowns painted by Toulouse-Lautrec.  Christina wanted a butt she could bounce on; our costume designer figured that out.  I padded the shit out of my belly.  

We looked good. We thought we were hot. We did the rehearsals, the practicing, we had the acrobatics, the juggling, and the grammelot down. We thought we would kill it in Edinburgh.  

Turns out no one cared. 
We sucked. Failed. Failed again. And again.

Long story short, 4 years later we headlined with this act at the Big Apple Circus.

Lots more happened to get us there - touring in China and Korea, performing across Europe, competing at circus festivals - but it’s the disillusionment and the hard knocks of the street that propelled us forward. Dell’Arte gave us the truth, the truth didn’t work out, we fought for every hard-earned laugh, we broke all the sacred rules, we reinvented the form, we got the big gig, we were wildly successful, and in the end… no one cared that we were the only circus clowns to perform in half masks. But we were funny. We did our job.  

If you want more of the details, I know a great bourbon bar on 10th and 48th in New York City.  Right now, I gotta ship 27 road cases to Melbourne. 


Bios: (Since my career took off after meeting Christina my bio is joint with hers.)

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone met at a circus in Afghanistan, were engaged while street performing in Scotland, and married in China. Since becoming clown partners in 2006, they have created five shows together, competed in international circus festivals, performed in over 20 countries, juggled on Letterman, and were featured in The New York Times. Seth is a former professional juggler who graduated from three clown schools and makes each clown mask by hand. Christina is a former professional ballerina who graduated from Princeton to become a clown. The couple lives in Harlem in New York City. Currently Seth and Christina are touring their new show Air Play all over the world. 

Seth is a graduate of Wesleyan University ('00), Ringling ('93), Dell'Arte ('97,) LISPA (MFA '05) and has performed in 27 countries.

Because of Dell'Arte I was recently hired to be Physical Comedy Director for a unique production of Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe in London.

By Joe Dieffenbacher

Because of Dell'Arte I was recently hired to be Physical Comedy Director for a unique production of Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe in London. The fact that I am working at such a prestigious theatre - and the circumstances leading up to getting the job - still have me shaking my head in wonder.

Joe Dieffenbacher

Joe Dieffenbacher

My last year teaching at Dell'Arte was 1998. I taught Maskmaking and Performance, lead the Clown style block, taught Slapstick-Acrobatics throughout the entire school year, worked on lazzi and physical comedy during the Commedia block as well as coaching in the final show. It was also my third year of teaching full-time and many things came together for me in regards to my understanding of the work and how to articulate it to students. Plus the fact that it was my last year brought a poignancy to every single hour of every single class.

It was an amazing crop of students, many of whom have gone onto great success (I run into a few of them whenever they tour on this side of the ocean). One of them is Shenoah Allen, one half of the highly acclaimed and madly hilarious Pajama Men comedy duo. I taught Shenoah when he was nineteen, coming to class every day wearing his pajamas. He struggled with the work and what he wanted to do with it, but showed a passion for it which encouraged me to give him the lead role in the final student Clown production. That year I also performed my show, "PEEL (When the Id Comes Marching In)," a complicated piece I had been developing during my years at DA. Shenoah loved the show and how it brought together many of the things he was struggling with at Dell'Arte. We talked about it all, said goodbye at the end of the year, and many years later, after I had moved to Oxford, England, he showed up performing at the Soho Theatre in London with the Pajama Men.

I went to to see the show and was blown away. I laughed hard at a brilliant comedy creation and enjoyed catching up with him after the performance. I thought back on our time at DA - the things both of us struggled with in Art and Life and how our careers (and lives) had evolved - and was deeply happy. From a small town in northern California to one of the top theatres in London for comedy acts, there was Shenoah - still in his pajamas! - making a success of it.

It's one of the things I love about this work and part of the gospel of Dell'Arte: though part of a community, you are responsible for making your art (and your life). You must engage with the struggle, wrestle the demons and argue with the muses. You must approach the work with the mindset that everything has potential. Wearing pajamas to class could come across as laziness, “He can't even bother to get dressed!” And then someone turns it into an imaginative theatrical device, a sales gimmick, a badge of honor, business attire, work clothes. An act of imagination, invention, playfulness and yes, perhaps laziness. Everything has potential! (even laziness).

The Pajama Men played in London every winter for five years. I missed the last four, spreading the gospel as Director of Clown Conservatory at Circus Center-San Francisco. Last year I decided to let it go to spend more time working in Europe and be home with my lovely wife, Minna (whom I met at DA). So I was in the UK last winter and went to see the Pajama Men again. Shenoah introduced me to his wife, Caroline Byrne who was newly hired to direct a production of Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe. She had asked Shenoah to help her with comedy duos - he's in one, he must know all there is to know! Instead, he told her, "You need to talk to Joe." Luckily, by sheer fate, I was home this past winter. Caroline and I met at the National Theatre in London (that same night Minna and I went to see another DA grad, Kathleen "Mooky" Cornish perform in the hit show, La Soirée at the Southbank Centre), had a chat about physical comedy, Shakespeare and Shrew, and an hour later she offered me a job.

I was a bit stunned: I thought she wanted to meet to get some advice, I never dreamed a job was in the offing. The whole long, crazy route that led to myself and Caroline even meeting in the first place! The fact that this scrappy clown / physical comedian was being asked to direct slapstick, lazzi and physical comedy in a production of Shakespeare at such a prestigious theatre ... My mind raced all the way back to my time at Dell'Arte, in particular performing with Los Payasos Mendigos, always feeling a little like an outcast from "legitimate theatre" yet knowing the physical was what made live theatre unique, what truly thrilled audiences and actors alike.

The job at the Globe was like a gift from the comedy Gods & Goddesses, dropping bombs of accident and chaos but also ones of joyful play and well-earned opportunity; a series of chance meetings over lifetimes combined with over thirty years of disciplined study and focused play. I believe chance has a nose for those who are committed, that luck is drawn towards dedication. The so-called "lucky break" is transformed into something wonderful by those who - through hard work and imagination - are able to make full use of it. All the shit you had to put up with could just remain a big stinky pile of manure, or it could become a steamy-rich pile of compost that eventually feeds you, if you prepare the soil beforehand. The digging deep is hard, dirty work. But nothing grows without it. It's toil and determination married to an act of faith because without the study you wouldn't know how to handle the luck when it comes.

For me, Dell'Arte is less a school and more like a complex, multi-storied, messy art supply shop: a lot of the things on sale you're not sure what to do with, the salespeople are helpful but they don't know everything, and there are plenty of times you have to fend for yourself and engage in a solo struggle to figure out what to do with the things you find in the shop. I’m just so glad it is there, that so many have dedicated so much of their time and energy into making it live and breathe. When I think about how difficult it is to thrive as an artist in America, Dell’Arte stands out as a singular achievement. I appreciate Dell'Arte when I think about how rare it is for actortraining to incorporate lessons in how to use the physical and the visual in developing a character and telling a story - the God of the Script & the Spoken Word dominates all - if only he would shut-up once in awhile! When I think about the joy it has brought to thousands in northern California via it's many DA-devised shows, and thousands more all over the world who get to witness the play and influence of its graduates, I remain ever grateful for the gifts it continues to bring to my Art and my Life.

luck & laughter,

Joe Dieffenbacher is known for his stage, street and cabaret work under the name nakupelle. He was Director of Clown Conservatory-San Francisco, Master Teacher at the Dell'Arte School, has taught at Belfast Community Circus, Northern Ireland, Teater Studion, Stockholm, Sweden, Wuqiao International Circus Festival, Shijiazhuang, China, Circus Factory, Cork, Ireland, and ACT-San Francisco. He’s collaborated with British pop sensations, Take That, and featured in the Closing Ceremonies for London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. He’s directed Physical Comedy at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, commedia dell’arte at Coastal Carolina University, and collaborated with artists and ensembles all over the world developing original material for stage, street, cabaret and circus.

Because of Dell’Arte I live my life well.

Adina Valerio

Adina Valerio

Because of Dell’Arte I live my life well. Not to say that I’m rich or famous or successful by any conventional measure, but I am generally happy and healthy and enjoying the range of experiences that life has to offer. During my year at Dell’Arte, I learned a lot about performing, devising work, and styles of theatre. But more importantly, and perhaps more usefully, I learned how to take care of myself, body and mind. I learned how to communicate and collaborate with just about anyone. I learned the importance of being of service to a community.

            Dell’Arte taught me so much about my body and my movement. I learned the basic necessities of regular exercise and feeding well, but also how to use my body most efficiently and usefully. I’m always looking for the causes of those little pains that can be corrected by a small adjustment in movement, or even just by paying attention. I still pull my navel in and think forward and up while letting my neck be free as I walk up a flight of stairs. Wednesday afternoons off for Life Repair was a saving grace of the year and I still make time for life repair days. I’m writing this on a life repair day. It absolutely saves my sanity.

            I’ve taken the being of service idea quite literally by waiting tables. Honestly, I’m awesome at it. I was at Canter’s Deli in LA for four years, and now I’m coming up on four years at Veselka in NYC. These are generations-old, family-run places with regular customers who come in every day - sometimes two or three times a day - and we, the staff, know their names, what they eat, and how they like their coffee.

People often tell me how much it means to them that they ate at Veselka as a child and are now bringing their own children to continue the tradition. Because it is a relaxed atmosphere staffed with people who like each other, we’re free to be playful, which enriches everyone’s experience. My employers ensure that I make enough money in a week and support my involvements outside work by being wonderfully flexible with my schedule. We all take care of one another as much as possible. The restaurant as a whole is the community I serve.

I often think of taking an order as a collaboration between me and the customer with the goal of getting them exactly the meal they want. Every table is an exercise in presence and communication. Then there’s the timing and coordination it takes to get all the pieces out to the table. At Canter’s, it was constant choreography, because food came from four different places and often had to go from one to another before it was ready for the table. At Veselka, it’s a matter of maneuvering within a small space packed with a lot of people. This is all an opportunity to think about my movement. I have to be fast, efficient, and well-balanced while maintaining a pleasant demeanor, not always an easy feat while carrying three large bowls of borscht.

In the early weeks of Dell’Arte, we had those classes in which we walked and walked around the room and had to stop, change direction, and/or jump at the clap of Ronlin’s hands. This ability to move in any direction at any time, while keeping awareness of the room to avoid collision, is invaluable in both waiting tables and walking the streets of New York City.

In the ten years since I graduated Dell’Arte, I’ve had a variety of performing experiences. Some were fantastic; some were lousy. Some were scripted, some devised. Some ensemble, some solo. On stage, on camera, voice-over, and once I danced in the NYC Halloween Parade. I’ve paid my bills with money from performing a few times, but I’ve never gotten the hang of performing as a fulltime job. Recently I’ve found my love of being onstage dwindling. When I watch shows now, I just experience the enjoyment of the performance, without that nagging envy of the people onstage that was always present for as long as I can remember. I’ve realized that I love being in class more than I love pursuing a career. I love the practice and the journey more than any possible destination.

Because of all this realizing, I am not currently performing. I just finished getting certified as a yoga teacher, because what better way is there to be in class, barefoot, in comfy clothes all the time? It was a ten-week program with classes only three days a week, while we lived our regular lives the other four. Classmates keep saying what a transformative experience it was and how it was the most amazing and challenging thing they’ve ever done. I liked it a lot and found it very interesting. Hopefully it will lead to a new path in my life, in which I can use all the skills I’ve gathered to help people in their yoga practices and their lives. But I know that nothing can or will ever compare with the year I spent at Dell’Arte. It was the most challenging, the most rewarding, the most significant experience of my adult life and I carry it with me all day, every day, in everything that I do.

Adina Valerio lives in Brooklyn and teaches with Yoga to the People at St Mark's, 38th St, and Brooklyn locations. Connect on Facebook and or Instagram.

Because of Dell’Arte I ended up becoming the artistic director of the largest New Year’s Eve Festival in Rhode Island...

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I jokingly like to say that I’m one of the most educated clowns in America (barring certain elected officials)  I have degrees from one Ivy League school, one master’s program (now an MFA degree), one entrepreneurship program, two acting conservatories, two clown training programs Ringling Clown College, Dell’arte, and master classes with a number of theatrical luminaries, including Dario Fo, Avner Eisenberg, Ctibor Turba, and Tony Montanaro.  Oh yes, and the Boston School of Bartending.

In 2003 I’d completed a lot of this education, and I was working as asolo clown and performer.  In my home state, I was a regular performer for First Night Providence, the New Year’s Eve Festival.  It was one of the few gigs I still did in Rhode Island.

In late September of 2003, First Night announced that they could not go forward with the event as planned.  A group of artists got together to see if there was something that we could do.  I was one of those artists. We agreed to plan our own festival which we called Bright Night Providence. Partially because I owned a computer and was willing to work on spec, and mostly because of the skills in production and performance that I gained at Dell’Arte, I became the lead instigator of the project. 

Starting on October 15,2003 with nothing, we managed to put on a festival on December 31, 2003 that featured over 125 performers, 12 different stages, had a budget of $100,000 and included two fireworks displays.  Nearly 60,000 people enjoyed one of our free events, (And we sold nearly 6000 tickets to our all-you-can-see extravaganza) That artist-run festival was about half the size of the previous year’s festival, but was about 1/5 of the budget, and the money was raised in 1/4 of the time. Nothing burned down, nobody was maimed or killed, and we didn’t lose our shirts.  In fact each group that performed with us got a bonus above and beyond their contract.

I ended up running the festival for 10 years, before my family needs made me take a step back from the Festival. (By then I was living in NY, and running a local artist-run festival from 200 miles away was having a draining effect on me.)  During every season but one, we managed to pay every artist contracted more than their contract. (And that was the year that it snowed 8 inches on our festivalat minus 4 degrees, and our turnout was 50% lighter than anticipated.  We still managed to pay everybody their contract!)

It was the skills I learned at Dell’arte that allowed me to be successful at the festival. 

• As the organizer of the wood-chopping brigade (yes, when I went to Dell’arte you had to chop the wood for the fire—there was no central heat) I knew how to schedule people fairly and with precision.

• At our first artist meetings, I knew what questions to ask because I had produced a ton of my own shows and performed at a ton of festivals.

 • Having helped produce our Dell’arte final tour through the Redwood Forest (The Better To Eat You With, directed by Jeff Raz) I knew about budgets, and publicity, and tech requirements.

 • And because of Life Repair Wednesday’s and the dozens of collaborative soirees we produced I knew how to negotiate with other artists, and make decisions that were aimed at creating a win/win/win situation for the artists, for the festival, and for the public.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a lot of education as a performer, but I really believe that it was what I learned at Dell’Arte that helped make my work with the festival successful.

Thank you Dell’arte!

Adam Gertsacov
Dell’arte 1990-91.
Commedia Master Class with Carlo, Joan & Arne Summer 1995
Corporeal Mime Master Class with Daniel Stein Summer 1997

ADAM GERTSACOV is the most educated clown in America (barring certain elected officials.) He wears many hats, including those of a professional clown, an author and publisher, a P.T. Barnum impersonator, a flea circus impresario, a dad blogger, and the esteemed hat of the Clown Laureate of Greenbelt, Maryland. Adam was the founding Festival Director for Bright Night Providence. He currently lives in Chicago, IL.