I am continuing to compile notes and organise my thoughts towards the coming production, which will be (despite the title of this blog post) in the style of Clown, Dark Clown and the Absurd. This show is going to be an experiment, in the same way that the production of Hamlet or Die (produced 2000 for Mime Lab) was. Hamlet or Die was an experiment in whether one could make a full length show in Dark Clown style. The challenge with The Death of Fun, is to make a Clown show about Clowning - or, more specifically addressing some of the recent threats to the art / profession of clowning. You can google 'scary clown' to throw up a number of online articles on this subject.
How much of a threat is posed to Clowning by the phenomenon of the Scary Clown (pranksters, thugs and horror films) and by the fact that Coulraphobia (fear of Clowns is on the rise, or has become , as they say, a 'thing' - despite the words Greek roots, it is a neologism, circa 1980's). I have been reading and collecting these articles - and was pleased to read this rather wonderfully comprehensive and thoughtful Smithsonian article on the subject today.
This post is somewhat undisciplined (it has a split focus).
In part it may serve as the first of a series of posts making a rough log of the production process (we'll see whether time allows for both doing and reflection).
It's also an informal wondering brought on by working here in Hong Kong.
I read some (not yet all) of J Crump's book Chinese Theater in Days of Kublai Khan (Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies. I wanted to be more informed about Chinese clown heritage (one of the characters in The Death of Fun will be inspired by a comic Chinese performer). It struck me, reading through the scenarios in Crump's book, that there are some similarities between the comic aspects of Chinese Opera and Commedia dell' Arte. Both forms have a 'family' of well-defined / stock character types. Chinese Opera plots are more concerned with historical stories and myths, and seem more devoted to delivering a moral message than Commedia does. The Chou (likeable, foolish characters in Chinese Opera) are given some license to improvise and have comic exchanges using copious puns. I have seen a delicious video where a character meets his own double.* I think Barry Grantham gives, in one of his books, a script where Harlequin meets his twin.
Director William Sun creates works putting Chinese Opera and Commedia together
I'd love to find someone who has done the due research and writing on all the similarities and differences between these two forms. Googling for books or articles on the subject, I found that a director, William Sun, worked with the Shangai Theatre Academy to create a fusion of Chinese Opera and Commedia. You can see a youtube clip where he speaks about it here.
Western Clown and Chinese Clown
And to continued to be undisciplined / split focus - while thinking of similarities and differences - it's interesting that while the Western clown is most usually signified by a red nose, the defining characteristic of the Chinese clown's makeup is a small patch of white around the nose. In Chinese culture, apparently this represents either a mean or secretive nature or a quick wit.
* the clip is 'The True and the Fake Wu Dalang' - first he gives a clever story with lots of rhythmic repetition, introduces himself, then at about 2.56 he meets his twin. Check the demanding skill to play the whole thing crouched! Thanks to my friend Yang Wei Wei for her translation.