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November 10, 2005

Stage Matters

Puente de risas


With the foretaste of Halloween foolery, the season of fantasy and the-child-in-all-of-us entertainment begins in earnest this month. North Coast Rep premieres the musical version of the Princess and the Pea fable in Once Upon A Mattress on Nov. 17, the Dell' Arte Company's Myth-O-Maniac holiday show commences on Nov. 25, followed by HSU's physical theater photo of Los Payasos Mendigos, with Rudi Galindo centeroriginal, Immortal Steel: Fable, Fantasy and Fights (Lots of Fights) on Dec. 1. Then, marching like little tin soldiers, the Christmas pageants, Messiahs and Nutcrackers join the year-end parade.

It all gets off to a rollicking start with the Dell'Arte Youth Academy's benefit, Circo Stupendo, this coming Saturday afternoon, Nov. 12, at the Arcata Community Center. Performing along with academy students will be Kathleen Cornish of the Pickle Family Circus and Cirque du Soleil, jugglers and clowns from the San Francisco Clown Conservatory doing their tricks for you and, coming out of retirement for this event, Humboldt County's own Los Payasos Mendigos, featuring Rudi Galindo.

Left: Los Payasos Mendigos, with Rudi Galindo center.

"We'll put on our tights, suck in our bellies and go out there and do some of our old routines," Galindo confirmed. After a five-year absence, Galindo and partners are resurrecting the clown characters of Lupita Feminita (the feminine one), Guapo (the handsome one) and El Excremente (the "sensitive" one). Audiences can expect an acrobatic routine that Galindo describes as "very stupid" and a "danger leap": "One of us is going to jump through flaming machetes."

With or without his compatriots in Los Payasos Mendigos, Rudi Galindo has been clowning around the North Coast for about a quarter century, and his association with Dell'Arte also goes back some 25 years.

"I was this poor Latino boy who had just moved to Humboldt County. I happened to get involved in clowning, and because there was a clown school in Blue Lake I was always hanging out there." Though he didn't take formal classes, Galindo got a part in a Dell'Arte holiday show, "and after that I never left."

Eventually he would perform and teach in association with Dell'Arte, a partnership that includes his latest endeavor, funded by a Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest grant obtained by Dell'Arte: Los Puentes Project is "basically an outreach program, designed to increase arts participation among the Latino community in Humboldt County." Tu Casa Service Center in Eureka, which works with Latino youth, is another partner.

Part of the project involves forming alliances with other Latino organizations and collaborating on community events. Another aspect is an apprenticeship program for young Latino adults to learn how to create, produce and tour "their own theatre of place." So far, Galindo has been most active in a third component: Working with grade school students to create and produce a theater piece and present it to parents and the community.

Galindo is in his second year of residency at Jefferson Elementary in Eureka (which has around a 30 percent Latino population) as well as at South Fortuna Elementary and Eagle Prairie Elementary in Rio Dell. He's hoping to take this program to three more schools next year.

At Jefferson, he's working with fourth and fifth graders, both in a classroom (on a scripted Christmas play to be presented in December) and in an after-school program that uses classic vaudeville-style sketches to teach basic theatrical structure and also to allow students to "voice their own thoughts and feelings."

Though the girls often grasp the idea of creating character, the boys "for the most part want to fight," Galindo said. "I allow them the time to let that out -- that's what I was into at that age. But eventually I tell them, two guys fighting each other is not very interesting. But it would be, if you both had a ladder and you were trying to change a light bulb, and you create a situation with accidents and consequences. So you can beat each other up, but it's more than that."

"I'm teaching them that a classic sketch has a beginning, a middle and an end," Galindo said. "If you're just fighting, all you have is a beginning and a middle. But if two people discover how to get along and accomplish the goal, or some other consequence, then you've got theater."

Within a classic structure that begins with a situation and develops into physical comedy and slapstick, students improvise in rehearsals, which become the basis for the choreography of the final performance. "So they've created it," Galindo said, "and they own it."

As most arts programs in schools do, especially those involving participation, this one can help create a new and knowledgeable arts audience. "Even for the parents who come and see this, maybe they'll get accustomed to going to performances."

Galindo is looking forward to the apprenticeship program with older Latino youth. His goal is to "bring together young adults from various communities -- someone from Fortuna, Arcata, Blue Lake, Eureka, Humboldt State, Hoopa -- develop something with all of them, and take it to all their communities for a free performance." Galindo is recruiting for this part of the project now, so those interested in participating can contact him at 668-1976, or e-mail

Circo Stupendo runs one day only, Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Arcata Community Center across from HealthSport. The carnival-style midway opens at 1:30 p.m. Circus showtime is at 4 p.m. Admission is $10, $5 for children 16 and under, kids under 4 free. Families of four or more, $5 each. For more details call 668-5663.


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