In 1910, the year the town of Blue Lake was incorporated, fraternal orders were flourishing all over the United States -- and throughout Humboldt County. The Masons were active, Arcata and Eureka had grand "castles" built by the Knights of Pythias, Blue Lake had its Odd Fellows Hall, headquarters of the local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), an American affiliate of a British fraternal organization founded centuries earlier.
As Blue Lake celebrates the centennial of its founding this year, Dell'Arte marks the occasion with Blue Lake: The Opera, a semi-imaginary history based on the true story of the Odd Fellows who built the building that now houses the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre, and on life 100 years ago in the not-so-sleepy town.
We look back at a time when hogs and other livestock ran wild in the streets, loggers and other rowdies shot up the town and buildings burned down for lack of a proper fire department. The Odd Fellows, on a stated mission "to Improve and Elevate the Character of Mankind," also engaged in arcane rituals dressed in funny costumes, but their grand goal was to tame the town's wildness and bestow the blessings of civilization. As an opportunity to move toward that goal came in the form of an Odd Fellow emissary from afar, love and family came into play.
The Dell'Arte opera was written by Lauren Wilson and directed by Wilson and Dell'Arte Grand Pooh-Bah (or Producing Artistic Director) Michael Fields, who also plays Augustus "Big Gus" DeMotte, Grand High Priest of the Blue Lake Odd Fellows of old.
It should be noted: This is an opera -- the characters sing almost everything (that's what you do in an opera). Tim Gray wrote the music; Tim Gray, Tim Randles and Marla Joy perform the music live as the singers sing. Dell'Arte promises, "The story is big. It's bold. It pushes the boundaries of what is possible (and believable). It is nothing less than operatic."
Blue Lake: The Opera premieres Thursday, June 24, at Dell'Arte's Rooney Amphitheatre (behind the old Odd Fellows Hall) kicking off the Mad River Festival. It continues June 25-27 and Thursday, July 1 through Saturday July 3, with all shows beginning at 8 p.m. To reserve tickets, call 668-5663 ext. 20 or go to www.dellarte.com/opera. For the uninitiated, it also should be noted: The amphitheatre is an outdoor venue. There is very limited seating. Bring a blanket as you will be sitting on the grass, and dress warmly -- chilly winds may blow.