London, Ontario, mind you. And nothing wrong with that. It’s good to have character restaurants in the middle of residential neighbourhoods. With excellent food at reasonable prices, so the day goes on well. Check out their website here.
Blue Lake, California, is a small town in the state’s northwest corner. Rolling in from a steep descent through the Trinity Alps, the town first appeared as a misty valley enclave, wet with the passing rain that had persisted through the middle of the day. Wood slatted houses along quiet streets gave the impression of a town dependent on lumber, though the giant redwood trees of ancient past were now long gone along with the collapse of the local logging economy.
Changing times make for changed circumstances, and the current town’s thousand some inhabitants are bolstered by what developments have come their way. There’s the Mad River Brewery, a successful microbrewery a stone’s throw from the waterway, which when it floods rises tremendously and grows equally wild. Then there’s the theater school in the town’s center, the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater, which has fifty odd students enrolled in it full-time with a handful of teachers to mold them and a spattering of administrative staff to keep all in check. Finally, there’s the greater business, farming.
Nestled not far from the coast in the foothills of the Rockies, farming in this community is a serious business. These are organic farmers, and they are as much homesteaders as entrepreneurs, fiercely protective of their property rights. A Danish student went for a ramble along the river one day and was turned away by an unseen shooter. She fled back to town and reported that she had been shot at, the bullet going near enough to her that she could hear its passage through the brush. The town’s one police officer was involved; they talked and she was assured that this was well within the rights of the landowner and that in the future, she should take special heed not to trespass.
Where the California economy runs well is where the law runs unclear. It is more or less understood that smoking pot in California is something that happens with the consent of the authorities; less certain to the wider world is how in the state it is completely illegal to grow the plant. Dichotomies like this one resolve themselves in the underground economy, which always has a way of sorting out the conundrums of government inadequacies. When legitimate businesses fare poorly, there’s nothing quite like turning to the garden and letting mother nature balance the financial statement. And mother nature is generous and the farmer is grateful.
Pot, like alcohol, can be the balm and muse for the creative soul, and a school of creative types in a county famed for its beauty and annual yield of grass is good business. Albeit, the kind of money one hopes to make when growing a crop isn’t sustained by fifty-odd students, no matter how industriously they fume. The larger population, and market of worth, lies in Southern California.
Two states in one, the north lighter in population, lower in temperature, and both lighter in complexion and lower in immigrants than the south. NoCal and SoCal, the two faces of the same coin, and very much at odds with one another politically. It’s too easy to make generalizations like the ones just made, but given that every single Californian I’ve ever met marks this distinction, either in the state or out of it, at least makes it clear how entrenched the view is.
Beyond regional geopolitics and subterranean economies, Blue Lake’s a tranquil and enjoyable town. Spawned from Commedia Dell’Arte, the medieval masque form of theater performance, the Dell’Arte school is run as a kind of boot camp, with a regimen of daily morning training sessions on top of the normal acrobatic, dance, music, and performance training that is taught. Intense and intimate, the program is also selective and only accepts a few masters students each year. The minority are accepted at first application; the remainder apply during the course of the one year Professional Training Program and, of these, only some are given the nod.
The pedagogical ethos is via negativa, a system that discourages positive reinforcement in critiques. Each week of the school year builds up to a Friday laboratory, where small groups of students present their weekly assignment to the entire program. Nothing encouraging is ever said of the work; the bad is destroyed mercilessly; the good is panned as being not good enough. The system promotes fast collaborative effort and the growth of a thick skin. Both of which, ultimately, develops a strong work ethic and resilience in the physical actor.
Most of the students have an established background in physical theater and other performance styles. The school views itself as a place to hone and elevate what already exists. Students who have undergone the process have a very strong sense of self-reliance at the end of a year—provided they are not first broken by it. Plan, perform, prosper from admonition. This is the cycle, week by week, and then there are larger projects that fit into this as well, such that by the end there is a festival of shows, a few of which may become go on to tour.
The school brings in new people to this small town, which otherwise has a native-run casino to churn tourists, and it’s a happy place. The Mad River Brewery is filled with inhabitants from the area, along with the occasional Hells Angels riders and students who hob knob together, one part of the scene that makes Blue Lake an attractive place that’s hard to leave behind.