From Brooklyn to Blue Lake:
Beauty, bounty, brilliance
By Meghan Vogel
Appeared in the Eureka Times-Standard, June 2005
Described as a “festival within a festival,” the National Ensemble Theater Festival kicked off Dell’Arte’s annual Mad River Festival, and was the first of its kind. The NET Fest, which happened the last week of June, featured six days of ensemble theater companies from across North America. Theater artists and enthusiasts flocked to Blue Lake to witness an onslaught of moving and culturally relevant performances.
"One of the most exciting things is that we've put 120 ensemble artists in the same place for one week," remarked Dell'Arte's Festival Coordinator David Ferney on the first night of the NET Fest. "Before it's even started, I predict this will be a success. You put interesting and smart people in the same place and you're bound to just wander around and get into a great conversation with anyone."
And conversation abounded. (As attested to by the heated discussions in workshops and lab presentations - not to mention any noisy night in the Logger Bar, Blue Lake's lone watering hole.) People from ethnic heritages and cultural backgrounds of all persuasions bonded over their love of ensemble theater and its artistic ability to make a difference in people's lives.
During his opening remarks at the festival, Terry Greiss, board president of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, described ensemble work as "being under the radar," an art form intensely tied to its local community and a place where real experimentation and social change can transpire.
"This work in this time really matters," Greiss said.
Dell'Arte's assembling of ensemble theater companies, or artistic reflections of community, evolved into a larger discussion of ensemble theater's role in closing that Rauschenbergian gap "between art and life." From the breath-taking and gut-punching performance of Campo Santo's "Fist of Roses," to the San Francisco Mime Troupe's world premiere of "Doing Good," to Rhodessa Jones' "Cultural Odyssey" and the raging debate during the Art, Activism and Ensemble Panel, the festival was a reflection of the times we live in.
"Aesthetic is important for creating social change," said Steve Ginsberg of the HartBeat Ensemble from Hartford, Ct. "And I've seen it in all of our work here. We are the innovators in the national theater scene."
As Humboldt State University theater student Erik Rez put it: "I'm in heaven right now."
Locals were not the only ones to reap the harvest the NET Fest had to offer. A company member from Playback NYC said the first time she experienced a redwood tree was while watching Dell'Arte's "Paradise Lost," performed in Arcata's Redwood Park. While at first anxious over the signs warning of mountain lions, she said she emerged from the forest "feeling blessed by the trees."
During Playback's "playing back" of the NET Fest on the festival's closing day, the improv freestyle ensemble group from New York asked the audience to throw out some words describing their experience.
"This week has been about complete beauty," said Maurice Turner, co-founder of M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction) from Raymond, Miss.
"It's been a reaffirmation of togetherness, consciousness, artistry, intelligence and freedom," said Michael Goodfriend of New York's Irondale Ensemble Project.
The NET Fest wrapped up with a traditional Yurok salmon dinner in Dell'Arte's backyard, during which visitors to Blue Lake were treated to the uplifting good vibrations of Arcata's Interfaith Gospel Choir. The festivities continued late under the stars after an impromptu band was assembled with Dell'Arte's Joan Schirle on accordion and Turner on trumpet. Dancing, fire spinning and all things magical and Dell'Arte ensued.
"Blue Lake is still a place right on the edge," said Washington Ensemble Theatre's Marya Sea Kaminski. "Where anything could happen."