June 21, Dell’Arte
Some people hear the name Tim Robbins and immediately think, Hollywood star. Actually, as Robbins himself explained it, this star’s mission is to work against everything Hollywood and corporate media stand for. Along with being famous in the movies and married to the lovely Susan Sarandon, Robbins is a successful theatre actor, and a proponent for live theatre as an alternative to mainstream media. He and some friends founded the Los Angeles-based troupe The Actors’ Gang in the early ’80s (Robbins was uncertain exactly what year) and they’ve been in the radical theatre business ever since.
On Saturday Robbins was in Blue Lake, home to another radical theater company, Dell’Arte. He came to accept an international award called “The Prize of Hope,” something created by a Danish theatre group to honor those who have “fought for human hope in a daring, loving, vulgar, sincere, serious and poetic manner.” The Dell’Arte folks had the honor of choosing this year’s recipient, because, being a daring, vulgar, poetic group, they were given the award a few years ago.
Now, the Prize of Hope may not be quite as prestigious as something like an Oscar, but it seemed right to create an elegant and classy event, Humboldt-style, to celebrate the occasion. No red carpets, but a hundred-or-so-dollar-a-plate dinner for a hundred-or-so well-heeled culturati crowded into the old Red Radish across from Dell’Arte’s ex-Odd Fellows Hall home. There Dell’Artian waiters and waitresses served up an elegant and imaginative six-course meal prepared by Three Foods Café, including a delightful asparagus soup, a Dungeness crab concoction, bacon-wrapped halibut served on a chevre tart and delicate dark chocolate cups with raspberry mascarpone mousse swirled inside.
Robbins and his Actors’ Gang cohorts sat at a king-sized table at the head of the room, but not blatantly in any spotlight. Around the third or fourth course, a jolly fellow named Lars Olsen, founder of the Denmark Institute of Popular Theatre and creator of the Prize of Hope, interrupted the loud bustle of the room by ringing his wineglass to tell the room about an old Danish tradition involving shots of elderberry wine, introductions and shouts of “Skaal!”
Between the many courses and the toasts, things ran behind schedule and Robbins’ talk across the street at the Carlo was delayed. (Apologies to those who tuned into our streaming feed promptly.) There the actor spoke naturally on his personal experiences with mainstream media versus theatre, concluding that film could never portray “the deeper human truth” theatre does. He talked of mainstream media’s ability to warp the truth into whatever it wants it to be and expressed excitement for the change coming with the November election, when some who helped warp the media this way will hopefully be cast out of office.
He spoke with passion of the importance of new technology and the Internet. “This is a great hope for us, a great hope for the ability to inspire change, from us, not from the whims of the major media,” he said, before warning that powers-that-be will work to regain control via censorship.
Returning to the subject of theatre and the Actors’ Gang, he said, “What’s important and makes us survive, is a relentless pursuit of the truth ... We can create on stage — without the permission of television networks or movie studios — we can create stories that reflect the concerns, desires and pain of our audiences. We can reach out to tell stories that we would not be able to tell in the major media. So theatre is absolutely vital to the survival of free expression in America.”
Then it was time for Robbins and his Gang to do what they came to do: accept the Prize of Hope. More speeches were made outside on the stage of the Rooney Amphitheatre, and three masks crafted by Dell’Artisan Bruce Marrs were distributed with much ceremony to the L.A. gang, the Danes and the Blue Lake hosts. All this was done amid a grand work-in-progress set for Dell’Arte’s upcoming loving/vulgar/poetic production, Korbel IV: The Accident, which opens on Thursday. By then Robbins will be back in Los Angeles, where an Actors’ Gang production of George Orwell’s prescient tale, 1984, directed by Robbins, runs until July 6.
Bob Doran also contributed to this review.