Words from A Foreigner

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Yiouli Archontaki (PTP 2014, MFA 2016):

In the beginning of July, I was in the United Kingdom for a few days (this was after the Brexit vote) while in transit to the United States. On Sunday afternoon, July 2, my friends and I got on the 121 London Overground, following the route from Enfield Chase to Oakwood Station. A middle-aged British lady boarded the bus along with us, and as she made herself comfortable, she had an empty seat next to her. As soon as I approached, she took her bag and placed it on the empty seat, silently signaling me to move away. And so I did. I moved away, and after she made sure that I wasn’t coming back, she removed the bag from the seat, making it available to someone else–maybe another British national. I wasn’t surprised. I’m not surprised. I am A Foreigner. I’ve lived in the United Kingdom for six years as A Foreigner and I’ve seen this behavior and others like it before, and now that Brexit is final, there’s even less pretense for some people to hide their real intentions.

On my way to the States, I got stuck in LAX for a day due to a combination of border control and my foreign identity. I was not surprised. I am A Foreigner.

And then came the news of Alton Sterling’s murder in Louisiana and Philando Castile’s murder in Minnesota. And I remembered the times I visited Minnesota over the past year, as A Foreigner. I had a great time with my hosts, but underneath even the best of intentions, I was always A Foreigner. I felt I could never become part of the closed, White, American circle because it is (in my experience) very difficult for Minnesotans to accept outsiders; it seems they are unprepared to interact with people with different accents, different features, different skin colors.

I remember the time I performed in a New Year’s Eve show in Minnesota–an experience from which I learned a lot and had a great time. My friend Bob (a Black guy; African, not African-American) and I were the only foreigners among a cast of twenty artists. Our audience was mainly, if not exclusively, White Americans.

As a theatre maker, I know that theatre has the power to challenge positive change, to provoke positive change, to teach and to direct positive change. So why not use it? If, for instance, Minnesotan artists want to change their community’s status quo in the wake of Philandro Castile’s death, then they must actively rethink the fundamental conventions of how theatre is made. Theatre producers can create positive change by casting Black artists, by casting non-citizens and expats, by creating space for diversity, by collaborating with non-White audiences and businesses on a regular basis, by writing characters and scenarios for non-White bodies, by providing equal opportunity. And as a result, they will see their audience expand.

There is, however, one “drawback.” This kind of work will likely be branded as “political.”

Therefore I say: please do not be afraid to have your work characterized as “political.” Political Theatre has many faces, and manifests itself in many ways. It is not a propaganda tool of the Hippies, the Guerrillas, and the Communists. It is the type of theatre that has the power to change society’s status quo through action, and it has done so from Aristophanes and Ancient Greece up through today. Here’s an article to get you started.

So: make a change, give equal opportunities, accept us. And as Jim Carrey said, “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

Sincerely,
A Foreigner


Yiouli Archontaki is a theatre artist and architect originally from Athens, Attica in Greece. She is a 2014 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) and a 2016 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Today, Yiouli is based out of Los Angeles, California in the United States of America. Learn more about Yiouli at yiouliarchontaki.com, or connect with her on Facebook.

Stillness in Theater of War

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Kit Fugrad (PTP 2013):

There are people in the world who are blessed with an innate understanding of the characters as which they’re cast. These actors are such a rarity, and directors are often lucky to find them—particularly if they fit the roles, of say, Romeo or Juliet, Happy or Willy, Martha or George. For others, this “innate understanding” comes later, either through experience, intense study, or both.

I had hoped, even felt, early on, that I was one of the former. My exuberance for theatricality translated (in my head) into THE GREAT ACTINGS, and my desire for meaty, seminal roles went unhinged. But what I lacked was perspective. I had experiences, sure, but not enough to merit the roles I sought—and certainly not enough to make a career in theatre work. And being that I was blessed with so much ego and so little understanding, I was in for a major paradigm shift.

At least, I knew I wanted one.

High school passed, a couple of years at a community college came and went. And after spending a year at an acting academy in Los Angeles, the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded, and I found myself with thoughts of leaving the theatre for a few years to serve my country. I enlisted in the United States Air Force in October of 2001, and ended up in Basic Military Training in February of 2002.

It was an interesting time for me, being the liberal-minded, arts-focused individual that I was and still am. I grew up in a military environment, so my ability to blend in was put to the test and I passed with nary a scratch. But shortly after my technical training ended, I found myself thousands of miles away from home in an arid, broiling land most hostile amidst a sea of troops in the same situation.

The service I signed up for was putting me to the test.

I learned much in the desert that was Iraq. I listened intently to the friends I’d made—listened to their stories and to the difficulties they were having at work (so to speak) and back home. Sam, an Army buddy of mine had been there for nearing a year, serving as a coroner. The things he had seen ranged from firefights to bodies of the dead, allied and insurgent alike. At home, his difficulties with his (then) wife were coming to a head, and the fact he was deployed hadn’t helped at all. Still, Sam managed to make it through each day with a smile–or at the very least, positive conversation.

Then a few days had passed without me seeing or hearing from Sam. He showed up one night at my tent, quite pale and drawn. In a conversation beneath the clear night sky over cigarettes and bottled water, he told me he had been collecting bodies of seventeen dead soldiers—soldiers whose troop transport had been shot down on the way back to the United States for “R&R” (Rest and Relaxation).

The effect it had on Sam was clear. For the most part, he was not collecting bodies, but body parts. For two days straight.

It didn’t cost me anything to listen. Sam paid more than he bargained for when he enlisted, but he still did his job—a sacrifice of his sanity, his emotional regulation.  The real cost on my part, in that moment (if there was any), was being there for him.  There wasn’t much I could do to shoulder the burden he would bear, but having someone to talk to, to let it out, likely meant the world to him in that time, in that place.

It would occur to me later on, when I had left the military and re-engaged a life as an actor/director/creator, that acting is not necessarily about “doing.” We “do” things all the time without paying others any mind. This type of action is often unintentional, yet it speaks volumes onstage when actors aren’t paying attention to their partners, when they’re in it for selfish reasons. Being still and receptive in a world that rants and rails against us, however, is a kind of strength—a pillar necessary to lift others up against a storm. Sam’s sacrifices were immense, and I would have been less than human to not offer him the service of listening.

Acting is service. Acting is sacrifice. We gain nothing without serving others, and we earn nothing without sacrificing that piece of ourselves that makes a scene complete—our attention, our focus, our presence, our hearts—to those around us.


Kit Fugrad is a theatre artist originally from Riverside, California. He is a 2013 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP), and is a Senior Airman (E4) of the United States Air Force, serving from 2002-2007. Today, Kit is a freelance actor, singer, and director based out of Oceanside, California. Learn more about Kit at kitfugrad.com, or connect with him on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Coffee with Anson

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Anson Smith (PTP 2011, MFA 2013):

I am not sure how to start writing this.

The working title of this article is “Service and Sacrifice,” and the word limit is normally seven hundred words, and the conversation starter is the fact that in February 2015–a couple years after finishing Dell’Arte International’s MFA program–I lost my right leg above the knee, to cancer.

Let’s pretend you’re here across the table, in this coffee shop a couple miles up the road from home. I’m making faces, unsure how to start, what to say.

There’s a long awkward silence at the beginning of the interview, where there’s only the sounds of the espresso machinery steaming milk, the barista chattering with a toddler; nothing to see but the parking lot out the window, under the Humboldt County overcast. And when I find words, a poem-like thing happens with some weird metaphors, which also immediately mentions God.

To bring a person closer to God,
I have become aware
there is a path behind my tongue
that somehow has to rise
up from the
parking lot, first
homeward past
the grocery store,
the school with crossing guards,
that field of cows,
the small white church
and up our driveway
to the carport full of stilts
and burlap and half-done lurking
theater projects,
upstairs to bed
eventually, and then
farther upwards
than the air exists
to breathe,
beyond the
perfect stars:
breathe in.

I have a prosthetic leg and I do improbable, colorful things like teach stilts to kids and ride on an electric bike that pulls a trailer of shadow puppetry equipment. These are all very fine images to toy with; I can see them like little bright bean bags on the coffee shop table, maybe resting just on the other side of this laptop screen. I pick them up and put them down. If only I could juggle, I think to myself.

Cool.

I should try this more.

About the reality of living life with a metal leg, not to mention a brain still a little fogged-over from chemotherapy: uncomfortable, yes. Everything is tiring, and full of stupid limits. Can’t walk the dog or she’ll pull me into the road when she sees a cat. My leg is a “starter” leg, not the fancy kind the athletes in commercials wear. There is ongoing insurance bullshit to navigate, but in the meanwhile, stairs are not my friend. I used to have a deliberate physical practice of taking the stairs in the Dell’Arte main building two at a time; extra points for doing it in utter silence. Those days are over, and maybe over for good (which is odd to write). And that “path to God” entails considerable climbing to get up past the stars. Yeesh.

That’s one aspect of day-to-day reality; but rather than reality, I prefer to live in a crazy dream. It’s a dream where somehow I can learn to teach theatre to kids, not just any theatre either, but the kind broadly familiar to Dell’Arte alumni. Because devised, ensemble, physical theatre can teach character and collaboration and imaginative boldness and productive failure; because of this, I hold that teaching this theatre can unify these students’ education.

So many things about this plan are unclear, but somehow this helps tip the balance and saves the planet from its doom–and I hesitate to be so bold, but then decide to go for it. Somehow, some way or other, some kind of God is climbed towards. Up there beyond the stars, it’s easier to see what’s going on and be of use.

And it all starts with those piles of crap in my carport.

Burlap bulging out of a tote. A stump with holes in it. Half-built stilts and crutches that are maybe going to become donkey legs for Pinocchio next week. A speaker pole made out of a bicycle repair stand, which I used for yesterday’s mask performance in Fieldbrook. The shadow puppet stage James Hildebrandt made out of PVC and donated Gore-Tex. And speaking of that shadow stage, I need to remember to get it to Synapsis for the dress rehearsal of Rhinoceros in a couple hours…

The carport is at home. T. S. Eliot wrote: “Home is where one starts from.” It’s worth looking that up. And to get to the carport and on beyond, I take the path behind my tongue, whatever that means. I have no idea where the metaphor goes, but I feel I should pursue it; my attempt to reach God, to walk home from the coffee shop I’m sitting in, by way of that path behind my tongue.


Anson Smith is a theatre artist based out of Arcata, California, originally from Michigan and Arizona. He is a 2011 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) and a 2013 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, and also worked for Dell’Arte International as School Administrator from 2013–2014 and Web Manager from 2014–2015. Anson is a freelance teaching artist for children, specializing in stilt-walking, shadow puppetry, and more.

The Worst Moment of My Life, and What Happened Afterwards

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Jared Fladeland (PTP 2010):

I stood in front of the entire faculty and student body of Dell’arte Internatonal School of Physical Theatre, wearing a red dress and a black curly wig, and hearing the instructor call my clown “a disgrace to the student body, the faculty, and anyone who has ever gone through the school.” Less than a week earlier, my wife told me she wanted a divorce.

People sometimes ask me what the worst moment in my life has been; this may be it.

Many of my classmates knew about my soon-to-be-ex-wife, but my instructors didn’t. I missed class. I missed sleep. I was present for rehearsals in body, but definitely not in mind or spirit.

Our performance that Friday was a trainwreck. The concept was weak, the play between actors devoid of any genuine delight; there were no comedic bits, no interactions with the audience, and my clown was completely superficial. Within thirty seconds of starting, the instructor interrupted and commanded us to finish the piece in one minute. And it only got worse from there.

So, what was my response to failure? I went and destroyed walls.

Another instructor was remodeling his house, and offered beer to anyone willing to help him with the demolition after Performance Lab. I had, two years earlier, helped my in-laws with the demolition and remodeling of their home, so I was familiar with the labor. He didn’t know about my personal situation, and I didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, we talked about Clown. And we tore out sheetrock. When we finished, he invited me to join him and his family for dinner: a homemade pizza. And since I was the only one who showed up to help, he split a generous amount of beers with me to take back home.

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, that night of demolition, pizza, and beer probably saved my life.

Saturday, I arrived at the studio to work. During Clown, students were working every spare moment to find a “successful” clown. At the time, I couldn’t tell you what that meant.

Other members of my class ran from the costume shop to the studio, trying combinations of goofy clothing and weird mannerisms. I sat in front of a mirror, and just looked at myself. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. I didn’t think about what kind of clown I wanted to try next. I wasn’t rolling through clever gimmicks. People were deep in thought, coming up with comedic bits and new personages, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Then something snapped. As if a divine force was moving me, I stood up, walked to the costume shop, found a pair of Zubaz, and stuffed them with body pillows. My legs looked massive. I happened to be wearing a long-sleeve blue-striped shirt, and the clashing patterns made me smile. Me, Friday’s trainwreck: smiling. I walked back into the studio; a classmate saw me, laughed, and fetched a bizarre-looking sports helmet. I put it on, and immediately, when I looked in the mirror at my goofy proportions, it all felt right.

As I walked around, I began to act like a needy football player. Organically, a lazzi emerged where I would refer whomever I was with as “coach” and desperately defer to their status. Something about it all just worked. And then another lazzi: when someone wanted to distract me, they would knock on my helmet, causing my new clown to pause, stand at attention and ask earnestly: “Hello?”

Bradley–as he came to be known–was an exaggerated embodiment of who I was, particularly in that moment of my life: a helpless oaf, desperately in need of someone to tell him what to do, easily-distracted, with huge legs.

That harrowing Friday felt like major failure at the time. Failure as a student. As a performer. As a husband. I was at rock bottom, but instead of pushing harder, I became meditative. I stopped trying to make something “successful.” I allowed myself to be. And I followed my heart for guidance. I let things build organically, and found success in the process. That feared “rock bottom” only led to experiences far greater than I ever dreamed for myself.

Today’s “failure” is not failure. It simply returning to the ground, to firmly place your feet down, as you prepare to leap back into the great wide open.

It wasn’t a failure; it was the beginning of success.


Jared Fladeland is a theatre artist from Grand Forks, North Dakota. He is a 2010 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Jared is Artistic Director of Conduit Theatre; connect with Conduit Theatre on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Give the Character Credit

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Tyler Olsen (PTP 2000):

There’s a funny thing that happens often when quoting plays–particularly plays from really good playwrights.

Once I was working on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in one of the advertisements for the performance, the company posted a quote from the show, with credit for the quote going to William Shakespeare.

But Shakespeare’s not the one who said it. Bottom said it.

I was talking recently with a friend about playwrighting, and they asked: “is it hard to write a play?” I had to think for a second: is it hard to write a play?

Yes. And no.

The beginning is hard, certainly. I often beat my head against my computer in the early stages of writing, wrestling with theme, characters, form, et cetera. This process can go on for much longer than I’d care to admit. When I finally get to writing, it’s often that the first twenty pages that get rewritten about six times before I get something I’m remotely happy with.

But then one of the characters starts to talk for themselves.

And they start to surprise me.

And suddenly I’m trying to keep up.

For people who don’t write, this can often be an “oogly boogly” concept. “What do you mean they surprise you, Tyler?” Example: there was a point in writing my latest adaptation of Frankenstein where the character of Victor was suddenly saying things I had no idea he was capable of saying; doing things that were beyond my control. Gone was the wrestling with text and plot. No more was I racking my brain for ideas. I had gone from being a “creator” and been relegated to stenographer, simply recording the text and actions of Victor as fast as I could. It was terrifying and frustrating; trying to keep up, trying to get it all down.

It was awesome.

And that wasn’t the only time it’s happened–not by a long shot. In the thirty-some-odd plays I’ve written, there is a whole universe of people that somehow have clawed their way out of the ooze of nothingness and become real, honest-to-god people whom I have no control over whatsoever. I write their name on the page, followed by a colon, and they do the work for me.

Oogly boogly.

Is it hard to write a play? Sometimes. Often, it’s just hard to keep up. It demands me to humbly step out of the way and follow the characters, typing furiously with my unorthodox typing technique, just trying to keep pace with these beings who have entire worlds to explore and experience. And I can’t imagine I’m the only playwright that feels this way.

So, when I see “William Shakespeare” credited for something that Bottom the Weaver actually said, it strikes me a little weird. Yes, I guess technically Shakespeare in fact wrote it, but I’d have to imagine that someone as prolific as Shakespeare had an army of characters that waiting to speak and act, and that he may have felt the same thing as me: he wasn’t the voice of Bottom, he was just the transcriber.

All of which is a long way to say: “give the character credit, too.” They are, after all, the one who said it.


Tyler Olsen is a theatre artist from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a 2000 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, and performed with The Dell’Arte Company from 2002-2009. Tyler is Artistic Director of Dangerous Productions; learn more at dangerousproductions.org.

We need to talk about 10 Cloverfield Lane

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Christopher Kehoe (PTP 2013, MFA 2015):

Throughout my three years at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, a sizable amount of the education came from observing and being audience to other class years’ performances. One production, in particular, had a profound impact on my trajectory as a student, and continues to inform my perspective as an artist today.

It was February of my first year at Dell’Arte. The piece was an adaptation of Shel Silverstein’s poem “The Devil and Billy Markham”; one of three works comprising an evening of the second-year MFA class’ research into theatrical adaptation–staging literary works which were written without the intention (or ability) of ever being performed live.

The Devil and Billy Markham seemed to just scream along, featuring provocative and fun characters, an engaging story, and a clever use of the space. The three actors continually twisted and reconfigured themselves around a three-foot cube center stage, and at no time (save once) did any of them get more than two steps away from this only set piece.

In talking with the ensemble after the show closed, they admitted to feeling stuck for most of the seven-week development process. It was only when a member of the faculty instructed them to use the cube that the piece finally clicked. Suddenly, they claimed, the characters (which had always been there) and the story (which was published long before) made the sort of theatrical sense which had been escaping them for six weeks prior. This simple addition–the cube–introduced a logic to the physical play of the characters, organizing the performance into something comprehensible and enjoyable.

This phenomenon was introduced to me as “container,” but in the years since seeing The Devil and Billy Markham, I’ve struggled to convey practically what I understand container to be, and its importance in organizing play in live performance.

So…10 Cloverfield Lane?

10 Cloverfield Lane is a simple suspense film (still in movie theaters, as of publication) with some outstanding writing and acting, with most of the film taking place in a fallout shelter. Yet it also packs some of the highest adrenaline and most genuine the-audience-has-forgotten-to-breathe engagement this side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How can this be possible, with only three characters, three rooms, a hallway, an air duct system, and a relatively minuscule $15,000,000 budget?

Container.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a story that derives its power from the limitations it imposes on itself. Antagonism breeds and evolves from within the shelter, rather than relying on a relatively weaker string of unfortunate incidents from the outside, and the characters need to solve their problems with only the items and tools one might realistically find in an actual modern fallout shelter. Sure, the shelter acts as a literal “container,” but the story’s stalwart belief in its setting becomes an intangible and more powerful “container.” The film slavishly adheres to its own logic, and the result is a visceral adventure for the audience. In fact, by the time the film’s more unhinged character reveals a weapon that threatens that sense of “realism,” 10 Cloverfield Lane has totally earned the leap, and what might have come off as “generic Bond villain” in a lazier film instead feeds back into the character’s paranoia and volatility.

But what makes 10 Cloverfield Lane such a great case study in container, for me, is when the film takes it all away. And I’m not talking about a container compromised; I’m talking about a container obliterated. Pundits have come down on both sides that the 90-degree turn 10 Cloverfield Lane makes in what can only be called its “fourth act” is either the natural escalation of the film’s themes or a clear indicator of some interference by studio executives. I’m not here to step into that quagmire. I only want to call out the fact that the first three-quarters of the film feel markedly different than the last fourth, and “container” is the culprit.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Container (even an arbitrary one) is a powerful ally for devising theatre artists, but it takes perseverance and a bit of courage to see it through. “The easy way out” will tempt you out of whatever container you’ve made for your work; don’t listen to it. Re-pattern the “limitations” of your container into opportunities to be more reverent or cavalier with your engagement.

Maybe the promise of container is this: “The answer has been staring you in the face this whole time. A good container simply locks you in the room with it.” Go see 10 Cloverfield Lane, remember why you love John Goodman, and learn all about container first-hand.


Christopher Kehoe is a theatre artist based out of Eureka, California, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a 2013 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) and a 2015 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Christopher is a freelance performer, playwright, and director. Connect with Christopher at christopherkehoe.net and on Twitter.

What I (Re)Learned in Grants 101

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Kaitlen Osburn (PTP 2013, MFA 2015):

I received my first scholarship as a senior in high school. It was a raffle at a meet-up for prospective freshman at Western Kentucky University. Right before they drew the winning ticket, I had this strange feeling; somehow, I knew they were going to call my name. And they did. $1,000. All mine.

I later realized there were (of course) strings attached. This scholarship in particular could only be applied towards my tuition and living expenses for my first semester at WKU–and only WKU. But this experience introduced me to the world of scholarships and grants; or, to my naïve eyes, the world of “free” money.

As I moved from undergrad student to emerging professional to graduate student, I kept searching for scholarships and grants like a bloodhound. I imagined there were piles of money ready for the taking, and with every extraordinary opportunity, I gladly sacrificed part of a project to make it eligible. Or, I invented some entirely new project to fit the guidelines of the funder.

I became comfortable treading a slippery slope. My desire to have my work subsidized routinely disfigured any original artistic intentions.

I recently attended a grant-writing workshop at Humboldt Area Foundation, a community foundation which serves the counties of northern coastal California. To my surprise, out of two dozen people attending, I was the only participant representing an arts organization–almost everyone else worked in the healthcare industry! I appreciated being in the minority in the room; it wasn’t an afternoon of good information geared specifically for working artists, it was just good information in general. And I’m not sure I learned anything new, so much as re-learned some things that I had conveniently forgotten.

Here’s what I mean…

1. Grants are not free money.

A grant is not a gift, nor a donation. Rather, a grant is a partnership. Foundations and government organizations give grants because they are required to by tax and/or federal law. Corporations distribute grants as another corner of an advertising strategy. Your grant proposal is just that: a proposed relationship between you and the funder. They have money but lack skills, and you have the skills but lack the funding.

2. Know your own price tag.

It is crucial to weigh the cost-benefit analysis of writing grants, especially as an independent artist. Put a theoretical price on your time; schedule it out, track your hours. Shelly Mitchell, the professional grant writer and reviewer who led the workshop, claimed it takes 160 hours of work to write a winning grant. Is it worth it, all the time and effort you will put into writing? Are those resources better spent in the studio instead?

3. Everybody loves a Cinderella story.

Funders love to be the last bit of money you need to wrap up a project; that final contribution that lofts the whole endeavor out of hand-wringing and into the promised land. This means, though, that you should already be well-underway with the development of the project when you submit a grant proposal. How will you complete the project if you don’t receive funding? Funders want to know this, too.

4. Don’t get creative.

Directions are really important. Take the time to read them, and take the time to follow them explicitly. 12-point Helvetica versus 14-point Times New Roman can mean the difference between $15,000 and $0. A grant proposal is often graded on a strictly-numeric scale, and the grant reviewers know exactly what to look for. It’s far less about a motivational or inspiring project narrative and far more about determining whether or not you followed instructions.

The rest comes easy. Write your proposal from a place of confidence and strength. Nothing whimsical. Few adjectives. Be concise. Even if you don’t feel it, make yourself look neat, put-together, and coherent. No one will invest in something if it appears disparate and desperate.

There is funding out there for everyone and everything, trust me. Jif Peanut Butter has a “Most Creative Sandwich” contest that gives the winner $25,000 for college. In New York, a funder fronted $5,000 to create a Feline Art Grant in order to create “paw-sitive representations of cats in mainstream culture.”

Really, all it takes is some dedicated hunting. Thank God we have Google.


Kaitlen Osburn is a theatre artist based out of Eureka, California, originally from Nashville, Tennessee. She is a 2013 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) and a 2015 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Kaitlen is a freelance performer, director, and grant writer. Connect with Kaitlen at kaitlen.net.

Dating in Ensemble

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Christopher Kehoe (PTP 2013, MFA 2015):

On an unremarkable Monday night in mid-December 2012, the four theatre artists of a nascent ensemble sat in a 24-hour diner in Northern California. I was one of them. My girlfriend–our relationship a very recent development–was another.

Someone ordered fries, surely, but I can’t remember who.

While not a state secret, my girlfriend and mine’s courtship had not been advertised publicly in the way that others sometimes are; at the end of the day, we are both (still) rather introverted people. Through a series of outlandish circumstances, however, we had been outed in front of our peers and community in probably the most entertaining way possible (for all parties involved). People approached us afterwards desperate for confirmation, and melted into a puddle when we gave it to them. We were officially adorable. Mission accomplished.

This Monday night in the diner, though, was the first time the ensemble met following our unexpected publication, but my girlfriend and I had planned to break the news to them that night, regardless. It was true that our personal lives were none of their business, but it also felt like what we had stumbled into was at the epicenter of their business. The four of us were only just beginning a three-year opportunity to create work together, and this development suddenly seemed like a liability, if not an outright threat, to our tacit promise to always be able to come back to the work-at-hand as creative and inspirational partners.

When the conversation hit a lull, we broke the ice. There was some initial fumbling, but my brain eventually found the words that I needed to say: “We just want to make sure you guys are okay with this.” And it wasn’t lip-service; for a handful of seconds, our relationship was really and truly in their hands. They were immediately and enthusiastically supportive, and the pile of concerns and hand-wringing suddenly vanished.

I still remember this night, some three years later, as being bizarrely politic. In the “regular” world, people start dating and (as long as they’re not hurting anyone) it’s ultimately nobody’s business but theirs. But within a creative body as intimate and rigorous as a theatre ensemble, I’ve come to believe there’s another layer of decorum that should be acknowledged. Business and pleasure are being mixed, work spaces and home spaces will get blurred, and favoritism is now inescapable. These issues require active maintenance, not one-and-done solutions. And if the relationship falls apart, the ensemble–a thing which innocent people outside the relationship have poured time and blood into–will be endangered through no fault of its own. That’s a heavy burden to put on a new relationship.

So if you push me for a definitive stance on dating someone with whom you make art, I’d likely say “don’t do it”–and that hypocrisy still puzzles me today. The risks outweigh the benefits, my rational brain maintains, and when heartache mixes with work ethic it’s far, far easier and more indulgant to play the Jilted Lover (war) than the Supportive Artist (peace). Plus, nobody talks about that unique flavor of doubt two romantically-involved artists-in-ensemble get to look forward to: are we staying together for our sake, or for everyone else’s?

Some relationships-in-ensemble click and other relationships-in-ensemble crash. We’ve survived seemingly by little more than a cosmic coin-flip, which isn’t all that comforting.

While driving, I tell my partner that I’m thinking about writing this article, and she doesn’t disagree with any of my conclusions. There’s a brief silence as I navigate a series of quick turns at stoplights, but once we’re back on the freeway, she muses out her window, “but, you know, it would have happened sooner or later.” She looks over at me and smiles, raising her shoulders in a slight shrug. “Us.”

Maybe that’s the big takeaway here; good relationships can and will happen anywhere, under any circumstances, and if two people find one another as artists-in-ensemble, then all anyone can really expect is that the relationship will be an extension of the ensemble-artists’ practice: to be present with one another amid developing and dynamic circumstances, to give space to the other’s needs and desires, to practice patience in the face of uncertainty, to celebrate boldness and passion even when misapplied, to prevent ego from interfering with something beautiful, and to catch one another when we inevitably fall short of our own intentions.

Essentially, to love the people you’re in the room with.


Christopher Kehoe is a theatre artist based out of Eureka, California, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a 2013 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) and a 2015 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Christopher is a freelance performer, playwright, and director. Connect with Christopher at christopherkehoe.net and on Twitter.

In Search of the Golden Mistake

Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Jeff Raz (PTP 1980):

[Ed. note: The following is an excerpt from the soon-to-be published book Building a Clown: A backstage tour of Cirque du Soleil and The Clown Conservatory (working title). Building a Clown is fiction created from the decade that Jeff spent directing The Clown Conservatory in San Francisco. This excerpt is from the point of view of Jake, a student at clown school.]

In a corner store, I mindlessly juggle three oranges. A little boy, black-haired and whiny, sees me and freezes. I juggle for him, he hides behind his dad’s leg and I stop. As I put the oranges down, Dad says: “Hey, that was good. Know any tricks?”

Ego aflame, I pick up the fruit again and do a few moves from my ball-juggling act. The little boy slowly comes out of his hiding place behind Dad. Seeing my audience hooked, I get a little cocky, trying a 360-degree turn in the cramped aisle.

An orange pops out of my hand and hits the floor.

I feel the sting of shame that hits me every time I drop in performance, knowing that even this little boy can see I’ve failed. But the boy is smiling and picking up the orange. He throws it to me, I catch it in the juggling pattern and he is hopping up and down, laughing. He holds out his hands and I soft-toss him another orange. He drops it, laughs, picks it up and throws it back for me to juggle. He screams with delight. We throw back and forth, the boy dropping every throw and me juggling.

Finally, I bring the orange back into my pattern and I look up to see Dad beaming, the storekeeper giving a big thumbs up from behind the register, and the other four or five customers staring at me. Another 360-degree turn, this time I catch the orange with a flourish, and the corner store erupts in applause.

I give the boy an orange, take a little bow and–thrilled, but a little embarrassed–bring my basket to the checkout. The storekeeper doesn’t make me pay for the oranges, and as I’m leaving, Dad yells: “Thank you. You made our day.” The boy is trying to juggle his orange as I turn the corner to home.

The next day at school, the Director is excited to hear my story. “When you dropped that orange, you created the possibility for a connection with the boy. The boy sees an orange coming to him and is thrilled. He thinks ‘My turn to play!’ and throws it back to you, which is the start of something beautiful.

“That drop wasn’t a mistake,” he continues, “a moment when we see that you are less than perfect, a chink in the armor of a professional juggler. That moment is a chance to connect: a Golden Mistake. Clowns live or die by Golden Mistakes. And it takes hours of rehearsal for a clown to be ready to make mistakes golden. My formula is one hundred hours of rehearsal for every minute of material onstage.”

He pauses to let that number sink in. I do the math; even if you were working forty hours a week, by this formula it would take three months to make a five-minute clown routine.

“I know my formula sounds crazy to you. It is crazy. Clowns are a little crazy–but not for the reasons most people think. We’re crazy to work so hard to make such short acts. We rehearse and rehearse and try to be perfect so that we can be fully aware onstage, moment to moment. A professional clown should go into every show both well-rehearsed and prepared for Golden Mistakes. You need to say to yourself, when something goes wrong, I have the chance to make my show get even better than what I rehearsed; I have the chance to make a unique and beautiful connection with these people, right now, right here.

“A clown is both a workhorse and a hummingbird.”


Jeff Raz is a theatre artist based out of Alameda, California, originally from Berkeley, California. He is a 1980 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, and performed with The Dell’Arte Company in 1980 & 1981. Jeff is Co-Founder of The Clown Conservatory in San Francisco, California. Connect with Jeff at jeffraz.com and on Facebook.