Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Making A Charivari

April is the cruelest month for first year students at Dell’Arte International. More tears are shed during April than at any other time of the school year. They are tears of frustration, usually followed by the tearful comment, “I’m just not funny…”
But by the final week of this five week study of Clown, the final public showing is in rehearsal and every student will have at least one brief moment of ‘funny.’

Photos: Students Rosi Hughes (England), Marie-Louise Hoog (Sweden) and Anne Waehrens (Denmark) rehearse their ride in the charivari. Ronlin Foreman gives notes to the cast. (Photos: Joan Schirle)

Clown is the last dramatic territory to be explored in the first year of DAI’s actor-training program, under the direction of Ronlin Foreman. Every bit of skill and insight developed during the previous twenty-five weeks must go into the work— movement, voice, acrobatics, dance, timing, focus, partnering, ensemble play—based in the foundation of our training: to listen, to see and respond, to find delight in the playing.

Each year’s Clown finale includes a charivari, a chaotic circus parade with music. This year’s charivari is based around a vaulting horse (built by our new Technical Director, Daniel Spencer.) Twenty-five clowns leap, dive, roll, straddle, somersault, bounce and more, in a torrent of comic acrobatics. Rehearsals are many, as timing is critical when clown bodies fly in from all directions. Enjoy this video clip, as acrobatics teacher Joe Krienke rehearses the charivari with the Class of 2010.
copyright 2010 Dell'Arte International

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Today was one of those days at Dell’Arte. . .

by Joe Krienke, Director of Admissions

Two weeks ago was the deadline for application to our MFA program and the first round deadline for application to the Professional Training Program. It turns out that we have a record number of applications for this time of the year. Today, February 1, was my deadline for sending out acceptance packets, so for the last two weeks I have been jammed reviewing audition portfolios, conducting interviews, and doing my best to get the right people in the right program.

I arrive at the office this morning with two days of work to do in less than six hours. I begin organizing piles of applicants to accept, waitlist, decline… it seems like every file has at least three actions steps before I can send letters. My list is getting longer and longer and I realize that I need my laptop which is sitting in another office, so I dash out of the door through the hallway… and I am arrested by a vibration.

I’m still for a moment and I realize it is a song, and it sounds so good that it has to be a recording… but the vibration is so resonant that it doesn’t seem possible that a recording could sizzle the air like that. I am pulled back down the hallway and up the stairs a few steps… it’s clear now that this song is being sung in the building and my skin stands up.

I’m sucked up the stairwell toward the studio and the sound is breathtaking… it stops me at the studio door- I question whether I should open it. I want to be a part of it, to witness it, but I’m afraid my selfish interruption will ruin the thing.

I dive in and there they are, the first year students in Daily Practice with our Director of Training, Ronlin Foreman. They are all standing solidly on shared ground reaching out of their backs past the walls of the studio into the world around them singing:

…wings that will take me,
where I want to go.
I’d fly from the utmost,
way out into space-
no, no, no, no, no,
there is no hiding place.

Indeed there is no place to hide and it is glorious. If only the applicants I was writing acceptance letters to could see this… they would understand.

My hand reaches for my cell phone and I am able to catch the end of the song, the tangible silence that follows, and the joyous acknowledgment of the people in the room that they have just touched something larger than any one of them and yet so basely human.

When you’re at Dell’Arte there is always potential bubbling under the surface and somehow you never know what is going to happen on any given day… when you’re going to witness something simply remarkable… when it’s going to be one of those days.

copyright 2010 Dell'Arte International

Saturday, January 23, 2010



An international collaboration in Bali, Indonesia

For the Huasteca people of Mexico, Xantolo is a derivation of the expression "all saints," which is what the Spaniards named the day of death.

The Mexican people transformed this manifestation into one of their most beautiful and popular festivals. During their Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) the heritage of Spanish Catholicism and the solemn ritual of their pre-Hispanic past merge into a single party in which the dead return to eat and dance with the living.

Is this a Death cult? On the contrary, it is a celebration of life ... and the masks are there to confuse Death. Therefore, in the Xantolo everyone wants to wear a mask ... to dance almost to death without ever being recognized.

That's the game-- death wants to live just for the love of being alive, and the people who play with her know they'll never die. --Alicia Martinez Alvarez

Day of the Dead masks come to Bali

Cremation ceremonies honoring the dead and marking their passage to the unseen world are a major part of the Balinese ceremonial and family life. During DAI's annual Study Abroad: Bali 2010 program, our special guest mask teacher from Mexico City, Alicia Martinez-Alvarez, has been teaching us how to dance the masks of the Day of the Dead festivals from several regions of Mexico.

Alicia Martinez-Alvarez coaches the Xantolo dancers.

Alicia will offer a demonstration of Dia de los Muertos masks to the Balinese mask community on January 28.

Alicia is the director of the Laboratorio de la Mascara, a center for research into the mask; she taught in DAI’s MFA program in 2006. She has brought with her 16 traditional wooden festival masks from the regions of Mexico where Day of the Dead festivals take place. During the cultural exchange, "XANTOLO," she will speak about the Mexican death rites, show photos and videos, and dance several of the masks.

Participants in DAI's Bali program, including our DAI’s 3rd year MFA students, will also dance these masks. Balinese mask dance as well as mask carving have been part of their program as well.

Photo: Program participant Marte Synevaag, a costume designer from Norway, dresses one of the students in festival mask.The dancers must be completely disguised, with natural materials added to their costumes as final touches.

XANTOLO is a three-way collaboration between DAI, Laboratorio de la Mascara, and Setia Darma, the House of Masks & Puppets in Mas, Gianyar, Bali Indonesia. Setia Darma is a new museum for wooden masks and puppets from around the world . At the end of the event, the 16 masks will become the first Mexican masks to join the permanent collection at Setia Darma.

The address of the House of Masks & Puppets is:

Br. Tengkulak Tengah, Kemenuh, Sukawati

Br. Tegal Bingin, Mas, Ubud

081 760 22234

Photo: Alicia adjusts costuming for one of the oldest festival masks, the Goat.

Photos: Patrick Pasquier, Joan Schirle

copyright 2010 Dell'Arte International

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

managing your talent

"To grow and develop and sustain as an artist is harder than being young and willing to starve doing what you believe."
-Richard Foreman, Ontological-Hysterical Theatre

The self-management of your talent is a giant challenge in making a life as an artist. Promoting yourself as a professional actor, director, writer or teacher takes bravery and strategy. Thanks for this contribution from Dell’Arte MFA ‘06 grad Stephanie Roberts, now an assistant professor at the University of Missouri/Kansas City. She reflects on one of Dell’Arte’s key pedagogical proposals—“Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy”—and how this progression continues to guide her work as a theatre-maker. --Joan Schirle

From Stephanie Roberts....

At Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, where I received my MFA, we sweat. A lot. After an attempt to be the ocean, or an eagle, or a forest fire, we would wait, out-of-breath and spent, for the critique. It usually went something like this: “Our proposal of the theatre is that it has the power to move the world; Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!” It was these critiques that kept me going and, as a generative theatre artist, that still keep me going in this uncertain, and often-undervalued profession.

Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy, a credo proposed by Dell’Arte founder Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, has guided me not only in creating and teaching theatre, but in promoting myself as a professional artist.


“I’m very lucky.” I say that a lot when talking about my job as an assistant professor at UMKC Theatre Department.
I teach Clown, Commedia, Mask —all of the things that I love—and I’m grateful. And yet…I worked damn hard to get this job! It was the effort of two degrees, countless classes and workshops, years of performing, directing, teaching and volunteering my time, and pages of applications, resumes, and letters of interest. Yes, there have been serendipitous events that have brought me here, but those moments would not have happened without the effort and discipline required of the profession. As baseball great, Don Sutton said: “Luck is the result of busting your fanny.”


“I hate networking”. I look back at how many times I have said or thought this. What I really meant was: “I fear networking”. It took years for me to realize that networking doesn’t have to mean being pushy, self-serving, and forcing myself on others. It sounds absurdly simple, but I finally got it when a friend said to me: “They’re just PEOPLE!” Putting it in this perspective has made the risk less risky. I go to theatre events that interest me, I introduce myself to people who make theatre, and I tell them about my own. In this way I’ve changed my vocabulary and turned “Networking” into “Building My Community”.


In physical theatre one uses the momentum of the body to facilitate a dynamic action with ease. I’ve found that producing and promoting oneself is often a matter of giving in to the momentum of the project. Here’s an example: A year and a half ago I had an idea for a theatrical band. I told a colleague about this idea, who emailed a Conservatory of Music professor, who posted the idea on an email group, which led to me finding two musicians. I kept talking about the project, which led to more band members, which led to jam sessions, which led to rehearsals, which led to a gig, which led to recording our songs, which led to a MySpace page, which led to more gigs, which led to more exposure…and so on.


As my students are sweating with the effort of their work I remind them to smile. And in an instant the work becomes…lighter. As I write press releases, and create facebook groups, and battle with deadlines and schedules and unexpected events, I sometimes look above my desk at a photograph of my mentor. He is naked, covered in white (butoh-style), mouth agape, eyes wide open, and wearing a huge red nose. I am reminded that this, all of this, is taken on for the sake of joy. The joy in creating and sharing my work. A joy that is the result of the effort, risk, and momentum of the creative act.

Stephanie Roberts (MFA ’06) reflections on Dell’Arte’s “Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy” initially appeared in the blog introducing UMKC artists: Used by permission.

Dell'Arte International
Blue Lake, CA 95525
copyright Dell'Arte 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A New Season...
from founding artistic director Joan Schirle

It's the beginning of our season, so we haven't posted for awhile, but you can look for us to be more present as we go through the year. Our summer involved very full workshops, a lot of travel, a new play development, and even some down time. There were lots of weddings in the Dell'Arte famiglia this summer and new arrivals, including a new son for Marketing Director Gannon Rogers, born Oct. 10. Our Mad River Festival brought back for a 30th anniversary one of the Dell'Arte Company's most popular works, Intrigue At Ah-Pah, a Scar Tissue Mystery-- it proved as topical and entertaining now as it was in 1979.

We kicked off the 2009 Mad River Festival with a Lifetime Achievement Award and salute to the great stage, film and tv actor Rene Auberjonois, who credits early work with Carlo as key in his development as a transformative actor. (Photo: Rene with Michael Fields, Joan Schirle, and Jane Hill)

Part of my summer involved the continuation of my voice studies, made possible by the generosity of the Fox Foundation/TCG grant for professional development. I was able to return to workshops with a couple of my favorite voice teachers, Richard Amstrong and Patsy Rodenburg, and to encounter for the first time the voice work of Dudley Knight and Phil Thompson. Richard's wonderful workshop was in Banff, Canada--a glorious spot in the middle of Canada's national park. The other two workshops were in New York, and this year with Patsy I did her Level 3 workshop where we spent four days doing nothing but Hamlet. It was a superb workout. Dudley and Phil have a very physical approach to the work with articulators, accents, and phonetics. Though it was a lot to digest in their six-day workshop, I came away with a much greater awareness of how each of us physically produces our unique sound through the combination of our many parts as well as our experience of language.

Our 2009-10 season opened Friday night with the play the Company has been working on all year, INVERTED ALBA: A Fable & Rondelay After Images of Federico Garcia Lorca. Though still an infant in the way devised plays are when they first emerge, INVERTED ALBA is on its way to being a full-fledged original piece, and we have two more weeks of playing it before revising it yet again prior to beginning its touring life. Working on Lorca for this long has made me think even my own thoughts more poetically; his images are so strong and so evocative, it makes me want to write of insects, flowers, rivers, and how the dawn counts out the tree leaves.... And his prose is as clear and articulate as his poetry. It has been quite a ride to work on this piece with Ronlin Foreman (who also directs and designed the piece), Laura Munoz and Richard Newman as actors and co-writers, and with design team as we moved into production time. I'll write more about this production in my next blog, but I'd just like to thank Sabrina Hamilton of the Ko Festival for giving us the chance to work on the piece for three weeks in August in Amherst. It was there that we were able to develop the movement figures for the piece, working with Donlin Foreman, Ronlin's twin brother, and an amazing dancer/mover/teacher. And that time away from home gave us the research and writing time to forge the many aspects of Lorca's work into one unique piece.

Photo: Donlin Foreman working on Inverted Alba with actors Richard Newman & Laura Munoz, at the Ko Festival

Dell'Arte School is starting its 35th year, with the 3rd year MFA's developing A Commedia Christmas Carol as interns with the Company; the 2nd year MFA's are working on Adaptation Projects with new resident faculty member Lauren Wilson. Lauren's play, The Golden State, which was commissioned by the Dell'Arte Company in 2006, was published by Dramatists Play Service this year, and we'll present a reading of her new play, Suicide Pact, on November 13.

Another new addition to the MFA curriculum this Fall is Archery, taught by our resident Tai-Chi/Alexander Technique teacher Phillip Gerstner. I told him that there are probably dozens of acting schools that require their students to read "Zen & The Art of Archery" but I don't know any others that actually have them learn the art!

Meanwhile, the wind is kicking up outside for the first storm of the Fall...gotta go turn on that heater pilot light and take down the porch umbrella.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Clowns Without Borders South Africa - Update from Sudan, Part 1

Jamie Lachman and
Elisa Lane are both graduates
of DAI
School of Physical Theatre.
Used with permission.

Dear Friends of Clowns Without Borders South Africa,

I hope this email finds you well. CWBSA thrilled to announce that we have been extremely busy sending clowns here, there, and almost everywhere!

While Lulu Ngcobo, our Programmes Administrator, and I were representing South Africa at the annual CWB International Meeting in Brussels last week, we had a team (Sibongile Tsoanyane and Kim Paul) in Lesotho working with children and guardians affected by HIV/AIDS and one in Sudan (Gavin Stockden joining Elisa Lane and Gwen Rooker from CWB-USA) performing for orphans, refugees, and even prisoners.

Next week, we begin a 3-month training of Ingwavuma Orphan Care in our intervention methods with the Njabulo Residency Programme. All in all, we are thrilled to be working in so many different areas awakening joy and laughter in the hearts and minds of children and their caregivers.

Below is a brief update from Elisa Lane about their first week on Project Sudan. They have been working with the International Rescue Committee and Confident Children Out of Conflict to bring emotional relief to children affected by the war in Sudan. Hope you enjoy!

Peace and laughter,

May 21, 2009 - Juba, Southern Sudan

Visiting Youth in Prison

Today we performed in Juba, Sudan, for the very first time, for an audience of youth prisoners. Beforehand, our minds raced with the possible challenges we would be met with once we were inside. We heard that young men had remained shackled together during a cholera outbreak. We imagined hardened criminals. What actually happened there has changed us.

As we entered the courtyard we saw the prisoners roaming around. Wewere informed that all the prisoners were invited to attend the show,not just the youth. Some men were shackled, others had intense tribal scarring on their foreheads, and some had what appeared to be staph infections. The youth were all sitting on the ground in the only spot of shade in the whole courtyard, and the youngest of them looked to be about 10 years old. They had been waiting for us. We sat in front of them while our partner organizations, Confident Children Out of Conflict and International Rescue Committee introduced us and gave an informational talk on Aids.

We begin our show by playing our musical instruments, and the prisoners’ immediate response was laughter. Throughout the show eyes were wide and grins were huge. They supported our performance with punctuations of applause and laughter. We were a hit!

All the inmates we brought onstage for the audience participation sections were respectful, cooperative, and funny. The section they liked the most is when our South African clown partner, Gavin, juggles three toilet bowl cleaners. They were also impressed by his ability to ride a unicycle!It’s probably the only unicycle that has ever been to Sudan.

After the show, the prisoners surrounded us, wanting mostly to try out the unicycle, but also to say thank you and to ask us many questions. I probably should have felt nervous about being surrounded by murderers, criminals, and lunatics, but these men and boys made us all feel very much at ease.

When I looked into their eyes smiling back at me all I could see were humans. Warm, kind, welcoming, humans.

PS Also at the prison, I broke my personal record for most terrifying
outhouse used. But that is another story entirely that I’ll save for
only the bravest souls.

- Elisa Lane

Please Support Us!

Clowns Without Borders depends on the generosity of individuals like you to continue bringing emotional relief and laughter to children and their caregivers affected by crisis.

85% of every contribution goes directly to project costs in the field.

We maintain a strong commitment to making your donation go straight to the communities where laughter and emotional relief are needed most by keeping our administrative expenses as low as possible.

Jamie McLaren Lachman
Founder and Director
Clowns Without Borders South Africa

"no child without a smile"

CWBSA is sponsored by Imperial Car Rental-Europcar for ground transportation in Southern Africa.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Memories Are Important?

Dell’Arte Third Year MFA Student Brian Moore chose to do his Thesis Project based on stories of the Great Depression. Here is Brian’s account of working with non-professional actors in their 90’s. The Thesis Projects run May 14 – 24. Used with permission. --JS

What Memories Are Important?

By Brian Moore

The original intent of my thesis was to write a play that used only historic documents and interviews as text, such as the transcribed and recorded interviews conducted by Studs Terkel for his book Hard Times. Since I proposed that idea my thesis proposal has morphed a bit, or grown. My intention is to still us historic material to create a play, but the material I am now working with is not words captured on paper or on the tape recorder, I am working with flesh. My cast is made up of 7 – 10 senior citizens who have survived the Great American Depression. They come from all over the country and have one way or another ended up at Timber Ridge Assisted Living Center in Eureka, California.

In my original proposal I mentioned that I wanted to use a more mature cast. When I imagined this I saw three to five actors in their late sixties. I thought that using older actors would add more gravity and authenticity to the characters we would bring to life. They would be older but I never imagined them to be so old that they would have lived through the Depression! Maybe they would remember stories their parents told them, a sort of survivor once removed. These actors would be able to move about on stage, stand on set pieces, memorize lines, and put on the mask of the character.

The cast I have found, chosen, and am determined to work with is not the one I imagined. The majority of them are well over ninety. Some have Alzheimer’s, most have trouble getting around without a walker or a wheel chair, they all have trouble seeing and hearing, they have been living together for years but can’t remember each others name, and some don’t know where they are all the time.

Unfortunately, along with their myriad of problems, ailments, and disorders they also have everything I would ever want in a cast for this show. They show up to rehearsals three days a week eager to work with my partner Liza and I. They jump into exercises with commitment and laugh hard and often when they can’t remember what I told them twenty seconds before. Though they might not remember what day of the week it is they remember the Depression viscerally; I couldn’t get that from a recording. They are eager to share their stories with me and with each other.

When we share stories the memory of one participant often brings someone else’s lost memories to the surface. There is a drama that you see occur in the body when something lost is remembered. You can see the memory travel up the spine taking the storyteller by surprise when it reaches her lips. The other day we were talking about the tastes they remember from the Depression. We were going around the room when suddenly I saw the tiny frame of 89 year-old Helen shudder violently. Her face twisted into a terrifying mask, and I was afraid she was having a stroke. She opened her mouth spat and said “Rutabaga! I remember the taste of rutabaga! For weeks and weeks that is all we had to eat. I’ll never ever eat one again. Even today.” When she finished she sat back and smiled, happy to know that memory is still there.

The power and the fragility of memory is what surprises me every time I work with the cast. For some the past and the present slide into each other. Tom Morgan talked to us the other day about hobo-ing around the country when he suddenly realized everyone he ever knew was dead. He was sitting forward on his chair caught up in his story. The revelation doubled him over at the gut, sunk him back in his chair and brought tears to his eyes. The man is 99 years old and the best times of his life were cutting hair in Arcata.

Some others can’t let go of the past and carry it with them everyday. Lori, a nurse at the center, approached us as we were leaving one Thursday. She told us about her father, and how he lived on an Indian reservation during the Depression. She recorded some of his stories before he died two year ago of leukemia. She asked us if his stories might be something useful to the play. When we said yes she began to cry, explaining to us how much it would mean to her if he lived on in that way.

What memories are important? Right now we are headed into hard times, and these might be worse than the last. Talking to members of my generation, and interviewing students at nearby Humboldt State, I have found that almost all the information we have received about those times is from the media. Here I have the direct sources, and they won’t be around for long. I have the chance to ask them how they did it, and they have the chance to tell us what they think will be important for us to remember. History has come to the present to speak to the future.

Photo of Brian Moore by Jen LaMastra.
Photo of 96 year-0ld cast member Ann Cusamano by Brian Moore.

Copyright Dell'Arte International 2008
PO Box 816, Blue Lake CA 95525
(707) 668-5663