The following conversation with Tony Fuemmeler (interim head of training programs) took place over zoom. The content has been edited for clarity and space.

–What can you tell me about Physical Theatre training for the actor?

In general, physical theatre offers a lot through the play of mask, a sense of specificity and clarity for the actor. Whether or not they (actors) play directly in the mask, or whether they ever find a mask again, physical theatre offers a window into physical storytelling, and also just an interest of the human condition and the human comedy.

How we might understands some modes of the play for the actor as driven by the body and driven by a very visceral idea rather than by emotions or by a psychological idea. In commedia, it isn’t the psychology that drives the play, it is actually elemental forces, the drives and contradictions of human nature, which play at full force and rhythm, then collide and give us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves.

–Let’s talk about “Clown work” or Clown Training.

Clown is interesting because it has the smallest mask of them all, which is the nose, the red nose. Clown is a study of vulnerability, placing yourself in the line of vulnerability in terms of being on stage, being truly present with your own particularities and being in a vulnerable spot with the audience. You get in that vulnerable zone and give, rather than hold back, or hiding, or restraining. And by playing in this kind of height and vulnerability, the audience can see the humanity within the character, which is the clown, which is the actor, which is, at the end, the human. 

But to reach that, actors need training, lots of individual and ensemble physical training. That is another great aspect of commedia, ensemble training, where we find ways to understand that you are not only trying to listen to yourself but you are also listening to the room and to others around you. 

–How does a young actor, or an actor who never heard of commedia, may benefit from training in commedia and physical theatre?

Hmm. Well, commedia and physical theatre are an approach that are not necessarily literary theater. It is but it isn’t necessarily. It can be applied to scripts, and it can be applied to generating or interpreting work, but they can also be a very strong (tools) for creating work, and for putting the stories you want to put out there with the same kind of strength, or narrative, or journey that can be manifested through a scripted work.

Commedia and physical theater can give you the capacity to create your own work and a capacity for transformation, which is hard to access in scripted work alone. Trying a mask for the first time is a very freeing experience and once you’re there, you can then explore with other elements in any kind of acting work, whether it’s the costume, a prop, the image of the character they trying to build. Commedia helps them with that, helps them to find a medium, to transforming themselves through physicality, finding a strong sense of connection, a strong through line of non-literary work and comedic work, that helps them artistically explore their intuition and develop characters. 

–Is commedia and/or physical theater an influence in our lives or a necessary in our lives?

There is a long legacy of both commedia and physical theater in the United States. From Vaudeville to musical theatre and from sitcoms to movies, even animation. You can find it in any comedy sitcom, you can find it in shows like, “Adventureland” and “Futurama.” You can find commedia and all these things playing out. People may not know is happening, but it is there. And if they were to know it or discover it, it would give them a new awakening, a new way of looking at the world. 

–So when it comes to Dell’Arte International, could you tell me about its accreditation? 

We are accredited with NAST, the National Association of Schools of Theatre, and we are a certificate program. We previously had an MFA program and we were able to maintain it for about 15, 17 years but we stopped it because of the pandemic. We are looking to see if this is something we can bring back up. But right now we are still accredited and students earn credit hours for transfer to universities. 

–Anything else you would like to add to this conversation?

Dell’Arte International works in two different ways, as a producing company and as an artistic company. We a have a long tradition of a Summer Theater festival, which has had different experiences, different sizes depending on the nature of the year. It is the Baduwa’t festival, which is the (indigenous) name of the river here; it was known as the Mad River Festival, and it has been going on for decades. We often have companies touring in, as well as the residence company show that happens in our amphitheater. This show is produced by the company and the company traditional includes the founding members of Dell’Arte, as well as various alumni and local artist. We have a residence show, which also tours around the area. Our MFA students work on a project to create a family show, produce it, and tour it, as well as learning everything that goes along with creating and producing such experience. Of course that is in hiatus right now. And because of the pandemic, well, we are in flux at the moment, trying to see what we can bring back or not, and what we can add as new. We also have a very good relationship with Cal Poly Humboldt (University.) 

–Speaking of universities, what is the make of your faculty and students?

Our students come from different backgrounds and experiences, just as our faculty. We have a very multilingual faculty and sometimes students, however, no matter where our students come from, they all have to have a basic level of understanding and communication in the English language.

–Any last words?

Well, I know you are going on sabbatical and will be in Italy so I hope you get to visit the Sartori Museum and hopefully you get to meet Paula Pizzi or Sarah Sartori. They are both wonderful people. 

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