UI professor George de la Peña takes the stage in ‘God’s Fool’

University of Iowa professor of dance George de la Peña is performing Martha Clarke’s ‘God’s Fool,’ at the Ellen Stewart Theater in New York City.


Contributed photo of George de la Peña.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

From Iowa to New York City — University of Iowa dance professor George de la Peña is taking the stage at the Ellen Stewart Theater to perform God’s Fool. Written by Martha Clarke, well-known for her work as a director and choreographer, the musical intersects various forms of the performing arts.

God’s Fool follows Saint Francis of Assisi, a historical religious figure, at the end of his life. The performance tackles questions of life, nature, and humanity, which de la Peña said was one of his favorite parts of the show.

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“It’s the last hours of life, so he’s living many deep moments of his existence and what made him the passionate man,” de la Peña said. “It’s celebrating nature and humanity and compassion.”

Initially, God’s Fool was intended to take stage three years ago. However, due to COVID-19-related concerns, the opening date was pushed back. The show opened on June 12 and will close July 2.

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De la Peña said his involvement in this project came out of a casual conversation. Clarke, the creator and director of God’s Fool, asked de la Peña what his availability was like. At the University of Iowa, de la Peña said that the university was very flexible, allowing him time to work with Clarke on this piece.

As a dancer, de la Peña said working with Clarke on the performance process was an educational experience. He said Clarke’s thorough creative strategy makes for streamlined and efficient rehearsals.

“One of the great things about working with Martha is that her process is so incredibly well researched,” de la Peña said. “She does extraordinary research before she begins anything. She’s so well informed on the subject and the subject matter that it’s easy for us to develop the scenes.”

De la Peña said the entire cast was full of talent. God’s Fool intersects a multitude of arts, including dance, poetry, and music. De la Peña attested to the talent of the entire team. He said that from the lighting to the director herself, he is honored to be able to work with such a gifted cast.

“Martha always attracts very, very talented people, so the cast is extraordinarily gifted,” de la Peña said. “Singing multiple languages is very demanding vocal work, but also everybody is an excellent mover.”

De la Peña also noted the professionalism the entire team brought to the show. As a professor, de la Peña said he takes his professional experiences and brings them to his students. In this instance, de la Peña said the expertise he witnessed throughout this process was something he intends to pass on to his students.

“It’s such a great gift to work with such an incredibly talented cast of eight people — seven men, one woman — and they are all triple threats. They can do so much of the performing arts,” de la Peña said. “Bringing that professionalism back to the students at the university and that experience is, I think, invaluable… I get to pass that on to students in what they do.”

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