North Coast Journal


Paris and Blue Lake

There are two cities in the world that offer students a school dedicated to the study of physical theater. One is Paris - the other is Blue Lake.

Just what is the zany collection of characters known as Dell'Arte Inc. doing in the slightly red-necked logging town of Blue Lake?

The answer can be found in this month's cover story, "Coming of Age " by Lisa Ladd-Wilson.

This is a significant year for the denizens of Dell'Arte. They are having a mortgage-burning party on their home, the Oddfellows (no pun intended) Hall. They are embarking on a major capital drive to finance a building expansion and renovation project. And they are marking the fifth year for one of the fastest growing cultural events in the county, the Mad River Festival.

Dell'Arte is really made up of many parts. The Dell'Arte School of Physical Theatre attracts 30 students per year from around the world (Denmark to New Zealand). The Dell'Arte Players Company tours nationally and internationally performing from a repertoire of 15 original works. The Mad River Festival, which got a significant boost for three years from a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest grant, now seems ready to fly on its own. And, its education-through-art partnership with Humboldt County schools has become a model outreach program targeting at-risk children.

Together, these parts have a significant economic impact on the city of Blue Lake and on the county. Dell'Arte generates $600,000 per year in direct income. And it employs more people than any other Humboldt County arts organization. These accomplishments are particularly meaningful during a time of financial insecurity being experienced by most of our art and cultural organizations.

A note about this month's cover: As we were sifting through piles of photographs, we ran across an old black and white that was just what we were looking for - something to illustrate and represent not only what they do there in Blue Lake, but to capture the energy and exuberance of the people behind the success of Dell'Arte.

But it was black and white. And with the wonderful color capabilities of our printer in Fortuna, we were a little sad.

So at the last minute - literally, because the students were leaving town to entertain the community of Zenia (Trinity County) and we were nearing our press deadline - we called Dell'Arte to see if we could restage the photograph in color. Artistic Director Joan Schirle replied, "If you can get here in 10 minutes, we'll see what we can do."

I arrived with camera in hand to face a scene of relatively organized chaos - students and support crew, tossing bags and props into a van, teachers shouting last-minute instructions. Then, on cue, a half-dozen students grabbed colorful masks from the prop room and flopped into a human heap on the deck behind the Dell'Arte building.

All I had to do is point and shoot. It would have been hard to take a bad picture.

Judy Hodgson, Editor and Publisher

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