Sargon Bacchus. (left to right) Zuzka Sabata, Pratik Motwani, Meridith Baldwin, Janessa Johnsrude and Joyce Hough. Dell?Arte International, 2012.
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BLUE LAKE >> Dell’Arte is making a film. In partnership with Emmy-nominated film maker John Howarth, they are transforming their highest-grossing live show, Mary Jane the Musical, into what they’re calling a “Musical Potumentary,” combining the live show with footage of real-life issues facing Humboldt Country and its residents. Those real-life issues surround the growing of marijuana at its epicenter in Northern California. The musical documentary will feature 15 original songs, composed performed by professional actors and musicians who live in the real-life communities of Humboldt County’s ‘Emerald Triangle.’

In 2011, Dell’Arte International staged the world premiere of Mary Jane: the Musical at its annual Mad River Festival in Blue Lake. Partnering with 12 local songwriters, the show featured Humboldt County-centric characters facing various issues in the marijuana milieu. Mary Jane quickly gained notoriety, sold out all its performances, and became the highest-grossing show in Dell’Arte’s 35-year production history. ‘MJ’ won the hearts of local followers who demanded Dell’Arte bring it back for a second year, which they did in Mary Jane the Musical II: The Diva Returns.

Now, in partnership Howarth, Dell’Arte is in the planning stages for a film project exploring different facets of the marijuana industry in Humboldt County, with initial fundraising through crowdsourcing on Kickstarter. Mary Jane sought to examine at all aspects of the local pot culture, from its regional economic importance to the grim particulars of violence and environmental degradation. The film aims to fuse the staged production and its artistic perspectives with documentary footage of the marijuana-growing world, illustrating the reality behind the fiction.

The legalization of marijuana in the United States, including new enterprises in Colorado and Washington and the widespread legal use of medical cannabis in California and beyond, is raising questions about the future of the national pot industry. California’s marijuana market is the largest in the country and Humboldt County has garnered a global reputation as the nation’s cannabis hotbed – both in production and through its often-quirky cannabis culture. With potential corporatization and federal regulation around the corner, widespread environmental damage from irresponsible grow-operations, generational change-over, and the uncertain future of Humboldt County’s place in marijuana production, Dell’Arte’s film stands to raise awareness, create discussion, and span a spectrum of local and national issues around marijuana – one of the hottest topics in American culture today and one of the most significant topics in Humboldt County.

John Howarth, a BBC veteran of 25 years as well as an Emmy-nominated filmmaker (The Lost World) and BAFTA-shortlisted for his work on Walking with Dinosaurs, proposed the idea of a live performance-meets-documentary after seeing Mary Jane to Michael Fields, producing artistic director of Dell’Arte and Mary Jane script developer/director.

According to Howarth, “The show was exceptionally effective in illuminating the fascinating world of the pot industry in Humboldt County through characters and song, bringing a human element to the story. I was particularly impressed that as well as celebrating all the positives, the show also acknowledges and explores the darker side. I think now is the perfect time to bring this story out to a broader audience and Dell’Arte is the group of artists to make it happen.”

The film will use ‘The Emerald Ball’ — a fictional cannabis-awards ceremony which opens the stage musical — as a framework for the project featuring footage to be recorded at a live performance in 2015. The story spotlights Mary Jane, the title character and first-generation grower played by Dell’Arte’s founding artistic director Joan Schirle, who reflects on her relationship with the development of ‘the industry’ throughout the piece and her final words address the imminent possibility of federal legalization.

Dell’Arte is also working with Joshua Meisel, an associate professor of sociology at Humboldt State University and the founding director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research (HIIMR), Dale Maharidge, professor of journalism at Columbia University and Pulitzer Prize awardee, who will offer script consultation on generating an inclusive community narrative, and Kym Kemp, a local cannabis blogger.

Dell’Arte’s Michael Fields says the film’s intent is to look at all sides of the marijuana industry and hopes it will serve to examine how it is ingrained in our daily lives, for better or for worse. “Dell’Arte’s mandate since its inception in 1974 has been to create theatre about where we live, for the people who live there,” says Fields, “But now, where we live is the focus of a national debate.” Dell’Arte is hoping to raise $10,000 on Kickstarter to jump start the project, which will begin pre-production in 2015.

Fields adds, “Theater tends to be on the forefront of waves of social change, and our regional story is both timely and relevant. By understanding the history, motivation and impact of the Humboldt marijuana phenomenon, California and national audiences will be better informed and better prepared to consider marijuana’s significance and impact on the national stage.”

For information, and to donate to the project’s Kickstarter campaign, you can go to Dell’Arte’s website at www.dellarte.com or find them on Kickstarter by visiting kickstarter.com and searching “Mary Jane: a musical potumentary”. If you’re interested in contributing directly, contact Dell’Arte at 707-668-5663.

Dell’Arte International located in Blue Lake, CA, focuses on ‘theatre of place,’ with a scope that is both local and global. DAI is a world-travelled theatre company, yet the organization maintains a commitment to bring accessible theatre to Humboldt County. DAI is also the premiere US training center for the actor-creator, offering the only MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre in the world, and proudly produces the popular annual Mad River Festival which welcomes international and local performing artists to Humboldt County each year.

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