Aug 3rd, 2020

Barbara June Dodge, SoCal educator and performer

Dear Dell'Arte

I am writing in response to the call for responses to the collective action taken by faculty, supporters, and alumni of the school.

 

I have only seen a part of the elephant at Dell'Arte; but, have had a long-time relationship with the company, and the school, dating from 1984, so perhaps my few observations might be helpful. I will also add that I know, and have dear friends, within the cohort of faculty who felt it was important and urgent to make a statement. I will offer that my experiences were those of a student in summer workshops, for a couple of weeks at a time, and as a performer in one of the Mad River Festivals. I have always loved, and been grateful for this most unique and storied institution - before it was ever institutionalized.

 

I recall in the 80s,  that when discussing with Michael, Donald, and Joan Mankin, the history and place of Dell'Arte in the community, that the initial ruptures in relations between the school and the town, came from a sense that the school was an elitist institution arbitrarily placed in the midst of a struggling economy of working class families. The distrust was palpable, and the traditions of the Annie and Mary Parade was one of the events meant to honor the town, and its history.

 

In a workshop, the participants were asked to collaborate in the parade, and Ralph Hall, one of our instructors talked about the various characters who might take part. He described lumberjacks, trees, and Annie and Mary themselves. He made reference to the rumor that Annie and Mary might have had a sideline to book-keeping that had to do with perhaps selling their favors.

One of the Canadian members of the class - a wonderful woman who had a clown persona, and filled the space with a ferocious energy-  erupted. She accused Ralph of calumny towards people who could not defend themselves, and further asserted that there was no shame in prostitution as a way of making one's way in the world - particularly the world of the early 20th century.

 

Ralph of course apologized, and said that indeed, he had no idea if this  rumor were true. At that moment, I realized that the students who came to study were from everywhere, and had points of view that were decidedly "woke" for 1984. In the ensuing years, I have always encountered a variety of sensibilities when attending workshops at Dell'Arte, and have come to expect that as a place that accepts a diverse student population, the school would always maintain a willingness to accommodate and to move in advance of the mainstream in education.

 

Throughout the years of my association, I have witnessed the ongoing outreach of the school to the larger community, and to underserved communities as well. I have enjoyed the theater of place, and the outdoor performances, which take in the character (for lack of a better word) of the area, and its inhabitants. The signatories of the letter are urging a refresh on how Dell'Arte sits within the physical and spiritual place in the community. They are asking for an expansion and revision of how the school honors place, and the ancestors of that place. 

 

The area of Humboldt is demographically homogeneous, and I have heard of the challenges students have faced in living in the area while attending school. That the faculty should not only understand the challenge of BIPOC's reality in relation to that homogeneity is crucial; but increasingly, the need for a diversity in the members of administration - those who make decisions about curriculum, recruitment, and faculty hires and retention is also crucial.

 

I am one who understands that collaboration and inclusion is messy. I have friends who often thought their heads would explode in meetings at Cornerstone Theater, as the method of consensus was long and excruciatingly inclusive and precise: all must be heard, and all ideas truly considered in the whole.

 

I know that the organization is at a turning point: the economy (and I use that term advisedly), is decimated. Arts programs throughout the world are in free-fall. However, addressing the concerns as outlined in the open letter can only bring positive results. I believe in the truth of what has been said about cultural appropriation, discrimination, lack of safety in the workplace/space, and the exclusion of voices in decision-making.

 

Dell'Arte had a hair-pin turn from Dell'Arte School of Physical Comedy, to Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre. For so many years, a few people did everything. There comes a time when expanding the circle of influence, of offering others to help (with recompense when possible), is a perfectly professional, and trusting way to move forward. 

 

I sincerely hope that my commentary is taken in the spirit in which I've given it: a dispassionate way to support the group who have spoken not just from their own experience, but in support of everyone who might benefit from an equitable solution to the issues raised. I do feel passionate about Dell'Arte, and to the people past, present and future, who make it nonpareil in the field of rigorous and joyful training and work.

 

I wish you the very best, as a collective, and as individuals - I value your work and what you have given to the school, and the world,

 

BJ Dodge

Friend of Dell'Arte

July 17, 2020
Arcata Playhouse


To Whom It May Concern;
Thank you for pushing this conversation out into the light and
for urging us to look at what we are doing in our organization
that fosters white supremacy culture and to look at the ways
our organization could better support anti-racism.
We are committed.
We are committed to learn about the history of our region
and our nation.
We are committed to creating anti-racist policies.
We are committed to creating anti-racist strategies that can be
enacted, nurtured and encouraged.
We will do the work, within our own organization, so that we
can truly embrace anti-racism and community building ignited
by this revolution and the current state of affairs, past the
social media posts and corporate platitudes, and into a just
and inclusive society.
We are committed to moving the dialogue towards action, with
trainings, discussions and rewritten policies.
We are hopeful that within Equity Arcata and the Equity
Alliance, we can find the means to help local arts
organizations and artists engage in anti-racist actions, at a
time when the need is great but our financial stability as a
sector is suffering.
Our greatest hope is that in the arts community and beyond
we will hear and respect all the voices striving for justice and
take actions to move toward truth and healing.
The Staff and Board of Playhouse Arts

July 6th, 2020

Cooperation Humboldt stands with and supports the 9 present and former students and teachers of Dell 'Arte who crafted the statement below. Acknowledging the reality of white supremacy and racism is the first step in dismantling these constructs, but it is not enough.

The Dell 'Arte Board of Directors  has an opportunity-- and a responsibility-- to engage in a healing, restorative practice to address the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) who have been harmed, and who have had the courage to step forward. 

The next step is for the Board to reciprocate with the courage and humility to recognize it's mistakes, and to make amends. 

 

With hope for healing,

Cooperation Humboldt Board of Directors
Argie Munoz, David Cobb, Ruthi Engelke, Ron White and Tamara McFarland.

 

June 26th, 2020

in response to a public letter from the Board Chair, printed in the North Coast Journal.

Centro del Pueblo

In support of the artists and workers affected by Dell'Arte International:
The letter published on Friday 6/26 (after an irresponsible silence of several days, and just before the weekend) tries to discredit the veracity of the testimonies of our community members. But we know the integrity of these artists and the damage that your actions has caused on them, therefore we say:
1. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN "INVOLUNTARY COMPLICITY", the accomplice is as guilty as the one who executes.
2. Neither ignorance nor misunderstandings are justification for hurting with discrimination against anyone.
3. There are no "perspectives" on racism and discrimination, in this act there are victims and perpetrators. Justice is not relative, it doesn't have a side B or are you trying to impose a version of history from the white supremacy perspective? AGAIN?
4. NO, you are not an anti-racist organization and you are not making efforts to be one either.
With his letter and public statements you offends our fellow artists by trying to call them "liars"

when you state “the Staff I have had the pleasure of getting to know at Dell’Arte are fine people that to the best of my knowledge and belief would never harm another in some of the ways described."
NEVER are definitive words that are not use in this case, you lie!

This is how you showed that you are not willing to tell the truth and apologize, but to continue reproducing the same scheme of violence in which the voice of people of color is minimized.
NOT! This is not a worthy answer, it is a letter to try to impose "your supposed prestige" over the honest word of our artists community members.
STOP symbolic, verbal, labor VIOLENCE against communities of color, and dell'arte workers, stop the practices that despise and diminish the testimonies of those affected.
No to dialogue without an APOLOGY.
We trust you dearest artists,

En apoyo a los artistas y trabajadores afectados por Dell'Arte International:
Su carta publicada el viernes (después de un silencio irresponsable de varios días, y justo antes del fin de semana) intenta desacreditar la veracidad de los testimonios de nuestros miembros de las comunidades en Humboldt. Pero los grupos que conocemos la integridad de estas personas y el daño moral que les ha causado la directiva de esta escuela, decimos:
1. NO HAY TAL COSA COMO UNA "COMPLICIDAD INVOLUNTARIA", el cómplice es tan culpable como el que ejecuta.
2. Ni la ignorancia ni los malentendidos son justificación para herir, discriminar racial y ocupacionalmente a nadie.
3. No hay "perspectivas" sobre la discriminación, en este acto hay víctimas y culpables. La justicia no es relativa, no tiene un lado B u "otra perspectiva" o ¿acaso intentan imponer una versión de la historia desde la perspectiva de la supremacía blanca? ¿DE NUEVO?
4. NO, dell’arte NO ES una organización antirracista y tampoco está haciendo esfuerzos para serlo.
Con su carta que ofende a nuestros colegas artistas al tratar de llamarlos "mentirosos" cuando jura que conoce a las "finísimas personas que dirigen Dell'Arte International y que este grupo en el poder NUNCA se atrevería a lastimar a nadie". Solo nos muestra que no están dispuestos a decir la verdad y pedir disculpas, si no que pretenden seguir reproduciendo el mismo esquema de violencia en el que minimizan y quieren silenciar la voz de las personas afectadas por su comportamiento.
¡NO! Esta no es una respuesta digna a los artistas afectados, es una carta para tratar de imponer "su supuesto prestigio" a la palabra honesta de los trabajadores.
DETENGA LA VIOLENCIA simbólica, verbal, laboral, contra las comunidades de color, y los trabajadores, detenga sus prácticas que desprecian y disminuyen los testimonios de los afectados.
No al diálogo sin disculpas.
Confiamos en nuestros colegas SU VERDAD ES LA NUESTRA.

Centro del Pueblo is currently partnering with Dell'Arte International on the Voz Project, funded by the California Arts Council