Idyllwild Arts: Doing Handstands

Published : Tuesday, June 27, 2017 | 1:49 PM

“I was in my twenties and I’d never done gymnastics or acrobatics, but I learned!”

The words tumble out of Erin Crites at a pace that gives away her excitement about the physical theatre she has taught at Idyllwild Arts Academy for the past year.

“There was also melodramatic gesture like you see in the early silent films, miming, and clown and mask work. All new to me!”

This was the three-year curriculum at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, in Blue Lake, California, which awarded Erin her Master of Fine Arts degree in 2010. Her energy—which may have been kinetic, since it was hard to imagine her sitting still—threatened to ignite the phone line as she spoke from her parents’ home in Kentucky, where she had graduated from the University of Louisville in 2005.

Citing research by UCLA Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian that suggests fifty-five percent of our communication is nonverbal, Erin explained the centrality of physical theatre to a “devised Hamlet.” That’s what she calls Who’s There—a Reimagining of Hamlet, a creative adaptation and performance by the Academy’s Theatre students that she facilitated earlier this year.

“We have international students, but Shakespeare’s language can seem foreign even to native English speakers. The students had to decide on the most important elements in the original Hamlet and reimagine how to tell it, focusing on nonlinguistic sensory qualities.”

That focus is crucial to her interactive ensemble performances with Clowns Without Borders in refugee camps and other trauma-affected areas where little English may be spoken. In three summers with The Dario Fo Project, she helped bring similarly physical comedy to the piazzas of Italy and originated a role in the late Nobel Laureate’s final play, performed for Milan’s international Expo 2015.

Erin reports that “about half of my Idyllwild students have learned how to do handstands.”

She is excited to continue turning conventional theatre upside down by giving creative ownership to her Idyllwild Arts students.


Idyllwild Arts, 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild, CA 92549-0038, (951) 659-2171 or visit






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