Because of Dell’Arte... I’ve embraced failure.

By Kent Jenkins 

Kent Jenkins

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.

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.