The following transcript is based on conversations with a closed friend who is an alumni from Dell’Arte International. Our conversations centered around her training and the benefits of it. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

–What made you decide to enroll in Dell’Arte International?
I was applying to MFA programs and my college theatre director shared information about Dell’Arte with me. She suggested I audition as she believed it would be a good fit for me. One of the co-founders (of the academy) happened to be working as a resident artist near me an auditioned me herself. The process was welcoming and supporting from the beginning. I visited Blue Lake to tour the school and to meet some people there. I felt in love with the area and the program. I deferred traditional graduate school in order to to attend Dell’Arte.

–What program were you in? When I joined the school, they were in the process of obtaining accreditation for the MFA program. When I enrolled I believe the program was called PTP-Physical Training Program. It was a one-year program and those of us who graduated received a certificate of completion. This program and the accreditation has changed a lot since 1998.

–What classes did you take? So many! Our learning was broken into blocks of study with the second semester culminating in a public performance. There were several different classes each day. There were no books but we journaled everything and were able to take notes as necessary. I have several notebooks full.

Our class size was 40 and people came from all over the world. The specific blocks of study included Commedia, Clown, and Melodrama. We took classes or work in “Contact Improv, Dance, Tango, Acrobatics, Mime, Commedia, Clown, Melodrama, Physical Acting, Voice, Poetic Dynamics, Mask Making, Bunraku Puppetry/Manipulation of Objects, Tai Chi, Improv, Feldenkrais, Yoga, Alexander Technique, Generating and Devising New Work, and coaching and preparing for devising and touring two new works as a final project. 

All of the classes incorporated various ideas and explorations in body/mind/soul connection and we were constantly devising, creating, experimenting, failing, and starting again. We also had a devise performance assignment for presentation each week, based on a set of “guidelines.” 

The last block of programming included pairs or groups working together to form production companies of traveling performers. Each pair or group created their own piece as part of the whole production that toured through Northern California and Southern Oregon on a beautiful, portable Commedia stage. The tour was a block learning, each student held a different position (production manager, tour manager, food crew, accommodations, transport, etc.) as well as devised work for the production. Our group traveled with a truck that carried all of our gear for outdoor shows and living on the road during tour. We camped on tour and it was an intense experience with nearly 40 people across many rural communities. It was life changing. 

We spent time in class Monday thru Friday and also spent time in the studios outside of class in the evenings and weekends rehearsing our devised pieces for class and/or performance. We were constantly moving and working and creating. 

–What did you learn? I learned so much about myself the most. I grew and evolved in ways that I didn’t realize and hadn’t expected. When I saw some college friends during a Christmas visit, they comment about the change in my physical form, how I walked, and how I interacted with the world. 

The experience within and outside of the training was life-changing for me. I met people from all over the world and learned about performance through them. I met expert instructors from all over and learned all kinds of new ways to use my body, my voice, my mind, and my soul on stage.

–Was there a class that became your favorite? Poetic Dynamics with Daniel Stein. It was a focused study on the movement of the body and connecting the physical and metaphysical; movement within space and through space; affecting the metaphysical through the physical and the physical through the metaphysical. It was an awesome class and it influenced my work when directing and devising. Daniel Stein’s expertise and training is second to none, and it was the greatest honor and privilege to learn from him. Through his class I learned to feel the movement in specific parts of my body, when it wasn’t happening and where it was happening. I learned to communicate in a very specific way through the smallest but most controlled physical choices. 

–Did you complete the program? Yes. 38 out of 40 of us made it to the end. The program wasn’t for the faint of heart. 

–What did you do after graduation in relation to the academy? I wrote and performed several short, physical solo pieces in various locales. I also worked on several projects as a movement coordinator or movement director in Nebraska and Illinois. I directed several youth theatre productions using the physical work from Dell’Arte to drive not only blocking for scripted works, but also to create highly physical/stylized devised work for scripted and/or devised productions. I also wrote and performed a physical theatre piece that was produced as a work-in-progress while getting my MFA at Arizona State University.

–How did the academy prepare you for an artistic career? It gave me permission to experiment and fail in ways that I hadn’t had permission before. It taught me to take pieces that don’t fit together and make them fit. It gave me permission to create outrageous art. It pushed me off the cliff of traditional approaches that performers “study.” It made me fall and fly at the same time to see new ways of creating. It provided me language that I found difficult to translate back in the “real world.” It was hard to go back to traditional programming that didn’t trust or understand my new language of performance and experimentation, and physical storytelling. 

I found the most success working with teenagers, they got it quickly while the adults in the room had a hard time letting go, to have permission to play. Higher education was the most confused and unsupportive once I went back for my MFA. Though there were some (students) that were also exploring the physical training/teaching path and that helped. 

–Was the program worth it? I cannot think of anything I’ve done that has been more valuable to me as an artist and human. 

–Is this (Commedia/Physical Theatre) something you would recommend to theatre artists? It is a lot of work and it is not for everyone. I came from a very conservative and closed environment and it was difficult for me to let go in the work, but I was also open and ready for new ideas, and thinking processes, and experiences, and people. It is an amazing experience if the individual is willing and open. 

–Is there anything you would like to add? The classes and training were the reason we were all there, but it became so much more than that. We grew into the very tiny town around us. We flipped pancakes at the Grange for the local community, and they flipped pancakes for us. We drank beers at The Logger Bar. We filled sandbags with residents as the rivers rose during the winter; we hiked the forests and swam in the streams and lakes and rivers. We taught classes to rural kids and traveled the area to bring joy through performance. I am still in touch with several classmates doing amazing things in multiple countries and across the U.S., and my life is rich beyond words from this opportunity and experience. 

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