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has moved from the stage to the screen…

In 2011, Dell’Arte International staged the world premiere of Mary Jane: the Musical at its annual Mad River Festival in Blue Lake, California. Partnering with twelve 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 with Emmy-nominated filmmaker, JohnHowarth, Dell’Arte has transformed Mary Jane the Musical into a film  exploring different facets of the marijuana industry in Humboldt County. Mary Jane examines all aspects of the local pot culture, from its regional economic importance to the grim particulars of violence and environmental degradation. The film re-imagines the stage play as a movie, and includes documentary footage of the marijuana-growing world to illustrate the reality behind the fiction.

“Behind its original songs and humor, the play about marijuana cultivation is a bittersweet, multi-generational tale that celebrates the plant while laying bare the industry’s dark side.” – L.A. TIMES


-lyrics from Why is Whiskey Legal by Tim Randles

The legalization of marijuana in the United States, including new enterprises in Colorado, Washington and now other States, 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 film maker (The Lost World) and BAFTA-shortlisted for his work on Walking with Dinosaurs, proposed the idea of a movie 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 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 has worked with Joshua Meisel, 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 offered script consultation on generating an inclusive community narrative, and Kym Kemp, a local cannabis blogger.

Dell’Arte’s Michael Fields says the film looks 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 it’s 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.”  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.”  Now that story is being taken to a larger audience through this film.