Contents of this post:
1/ My Dark Clown productions
2/ Key inspirations
3/ Spirit of Dark Clown
5/ What I talk about when I talk about Dark Clown (a reminder)
6/ Other resonances collected over time
8/ Other random thoughts
Appendix: Video and other publications
1/ My Dark Clown productions include:
2000 Hong Kong Fringe. ‘Hamlet Or Die’ 'deals with extremity, pointlessness and pain ... a dark and disturbing piece of theatre built on the sufferings of others.' - South China Morning Post
2003 Tryfuss Theatre Company, Portugal. ‘The Maids’ - ‘The most meaningful and truthful production of the play I have seen.’ - Pedro Aparício, Academia Contemporâner do Espectáculo
2005 Robbie Gringras' ‘About the Oranges’ - 'moving and gripping' - Sunday Telegraph 'bleakly, blackly funny.' - Sunday Times I directed this piece – Gringras contacted me to direct after attending the Clown & Dark Clown course – some element of Dark Clown was used. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX650lWQZbI&t=6s
2012 Lily served as Dark Clown consultant to Jammy Voo's production ‘Birdhouse’ and ‘Acrojou's Wake’ (neither production was completely Dark Clown).
2013 – ‘Strange Forces’ at Circus Space. ‘Peta Lily directed show at Circus Space last night was terrific. Clowns like wounded refugees from a post-apocalyptic Beckett play.’ The chorus doing the links between the main acts were Dark Clown inspired.
2016 directed award-winning 'Je Regrette' (aka 'La Poule Plombée') for Sarah-Louise Young - Cabaret meets Dark Clown 'hilariously moving' - The List
2018 ‘Famished’ for Lost In Translation Circus - Clowns are forced to deliver a cult seminar event.
2018 Dark Clown Consultant to Hocus Pocus’ show ‘Clown About Town’.
2020 Dark Clown Consultant to Lucia Tong's 'Vegan Gluten Free' at Soho Theatre.
2/ My direct, key inspirations were:
A scene from Pip Simmons’ theatre piece ‘An Die Musik’ – you can google reviews for this amazing courageous production. I mention it in this blog post: https://www.petalily.com/blog-dark-clown-clown-plus/the-comedy-of-terrors-dark-clown-enforced-performance
Also, a scene Lumiere and Son’s ‘Circus Lumiere’, Anyone fortunate enough to have seen the clown scene in UK theatre group Circus Lumiere's wonderful show ‘Circus Lumiere’ many years ago will have a good example of the clown having to offer its suffering for the audience's pleasure. I speak about my memory of it in this blog post: https://www.petalily.com/blog-dark-clown-clown-plus/implicating-the-audience
... other influences:
Absurd theatre contributed inspiration. There is a wonderful scene with a wounded soldier in Ionesco’s ‘Macbett’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macbett
Also see the prologue notes to Jean Genet's play ‘The Blacks’, for a good model of implicating the audience. Of course, the work is nourished by the plays of Samuel Beckett who used Clown and Music Hall influences.
Another key influence for me was the film 'They Shoot Horses Don't They?' about marathon dancing in the 30's in America. The jobless, starving people allow themselves to be a spectacle enduring exhaustion and sleep deprivation to have a chance at the prize or simply to have access to food. It's not comic, but there's a scene (like the ‘shooting gallery’ exercise) where Jane Fonda carries her dying and dead partner through a dance in order to stay in the game.
In my 2000 production of ‘Hamlet or Die’ at the Hong Kong Fringe Club and also in the production of ‘The Maids’ in Oporto which was set in a women’s prison, I was no doubt influenced by Peter Weiss’ play ‘Marat/Sade’, with its play within a play concept.
1984 George Orwell wrote "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." I am not sure whether it is a quote from his dystopian novel 1984 – but much in the novel is relevant: ‘Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.’ I continue to be haunted by the thought that, faced with torture as George Winston was, would I too call out ‘Do it to Julia’.
I saw ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ in my teens – powerful presentation of the obscene absurdity of power and the devastation of war.
In my late teens I read Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’. When I talk about Impossible Choices in the Dark Clown work, perhaps this book had a part to play.
Another influence I have gathered along the way is the scene in the second half of the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ where a German soldier in a hole digging what might become his own grave begins to say how much he loves America. I have now adapted this as a Dark Clown exercise. I write about it in this blog: https://www.petalily.com/blog-dark-clown-clown-plus/dark-clown-talking-your-way-out-of-your-grave
3/ Spirit of Dark Clown
This is something I feel to really be in the spirit of Dark Clown: Woman paints herself white Sept 2016.
I wrote about this in this blog post: https://www.petalily.com/blog-dark-clown-clown-plus/dark-clown-desperate-measures-hard-issues-and-distance
4/ More recent resonances that depict Enforced Performance, Marginalised Emotions but which are not in the style of clown.
Orange is the New Black Episode 5 season 4 ‘Litchfield’s Got Talent’ – not clown but …
‘The prisoners have taken over the prison. On a high, they decide they want the COs to perform a talent show for their enjoyment. The "talents" include singing from CO Dixon, a Mormon-themed magic show from CO Blake, an Italian monologue from Josh (that nobody can understand) and a strip show from CO Stratman. – not clown but wonderful moments of Enforced Performance., people jettisoning their dignity and having to sell themselves out.
Again, not Clown but - In ‘Great News’ season 2 episode 3 ‘Honeypot’ there is one scene where a man forced to dance in front of Tina Fey as Diana – specifically the brief scene in which the male character is called Wayne.
Anna Jordan’s play ‘Chicken Shop’ begins with a tired, fearful, hopeless woman having to perform sexiness for her pimp. She is trapped in sexual slavery – I found the play devastating.
5/ What I talk about when I talk about Dark Clown (just a reminder)
The Dark Clown work I have been exploring and teaching since the mid 1980’s is not Killer Clown or Scary Clown or Crazy Clown (e.g. The Joker) or Creepy Clown or Bad Clown or Grumpy Clown or Sleazy Clown or Cynical Clown. It is rather a comedy of suffering - where the performer offers up not silliness or cheekiness or joyfulness or other qualities often seen when a performer is in Red Nose clown state; but a range of human experience and expression that is on the darker end of the continuum: shame, horror, terror, disbelief, guilt, desolation, despair. All the indignities and failures undergone by Dark Clown are not (like those of the Red Nose Clown) offered up for the audience’s delight, or shadenfreude, but accessed and presented for the audience to witness and to feel implicated.
Red Nose Clown is luckless, hapless; but can, through a creative or rebellious streak convert failure into triumph. Dark Clown is disempowered, under constraint or force and without recourse to any possibility of rebellion or escape and any creative solutions there may be come at a cost – (either punishment or most effectively, the punishment of another) causing the Dark Clown either pain, guilt or shame.
A fuller explication of Dark Clown work is given in my paper Comedy of Terrors – Dark Clown and Enforced Performance delivered in 2011 at Bath Spa University. A list of differences between Red Nose and Dark Clown are available on request.
I also wrote material on Dark Clown for Jon Davison's book, Clown - a reader in theatre practice, Palgrave MacMillan I mention it in this blog post: https://www.petalily.com/blog-dark-clown-clown-plus/the-comedy-of-terrors-dark-clown-enforced-performance
6/ Here are some other resonances I have collected over time:
Not all of these are married specifically with laughter creation or with clown.
The harrowing film ‘Funny Games’ is interesting. Michael Haneke has perpetrators who play comedy and a victimised family who play real suffering. It’s harrowing. It is different to Dark Clown though, because 1/ not done as a Clown piece and 2/ because the performer of Dark Clown must play the tragedy and suffering together with the comedy i.e. use skillful rhythm and audience management to provoke laughter. The aim is to create the kind of laughter where the audiences laughs but asks - 'should I really be laughing at this?'
There is an excellent film called ‘No Man's Land’ – directed by Danis Tanović Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2001 - a Black Comedy about being trapped in an impossible situation - which is very good. directed by Danis Tanović. It is a co-production among companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Italy, France, Belgium and the UK. The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Man%27s_Land_%282001_film%29
One participant mentioned that I should read ‘The Long Walk’ by Richard Bachman, a pen name of Stephen King. I read it – you may find it possibly interesting for atmosphere…raises a question for me as to why the young men choose to walk (deluded? rather than forced, but once they are signed up, there they are definitely enforced).
People sometimes are reminded of the film ‘Life is Beautiful’ – a film that successfully mixes comedy with a horrific setting – in the story simple human ingenuity overcomes horror. I imagine the audience mostly feel pity, horror and uplift. I don’t think the film aims at the same implication of the DC work. It seems to me to be more a Red Nose Clown in a dark context. I need to see it again.
With the students of the Acting Collaborative and Devised Pathway at RCSSD, we explored Red Nose Clown and Dark Clown sharing the same world - very interesting experiment! I wrote a blog post on this: https://www.petalily.com/blog-dark-clown-clown-plus/when-red-and-dark-meet
8/ Other random thoughts – of interest for varying reasons:
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a practice where horrors are contemplated as a way to enlightenment or compassion. Blog post: https://www.petalily.com/blog-dark-clown-clown-plus/on-tibetan-buddhism-horror-and-dark-clown
Martin Sherman wrote a play set in Dachau called ‘Bent’.
Robert Le Page’s ‘Seven Streams of the River Ota’ has a section depicting artists in a concentration camp.
I admire the use of the lack of fourth wall in Forced Entertainment’ show – ‘Speak Bitterness’. I wonder whether ‘Speak Bitterness’ was influenced by Peter Handke’s play ‘Offending the Audience’ is interesting and obliquely assonant.
review 2018 https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/07/14/batshevas-version-of-offending-the-audience-mirrors-our-cultures-fractured-discourse/
There is a scene in Italian film ‘The Great Beauty’ where a young girl is forced to do a painting to entertain her wealthy parent’s guests. She paints and sobs.
Someone mentioned to me Enda Walsh’s play ‘The Walworth Farce’ as having some kind of relevance or resonances, but I have not read it yet.
There is a heart-breaking story of enforced action in ‘The White Hotel’ by D M Thomas
The Ernst Lubitsch film ‘To be or not to be’ has been recommended to me – it’s an intelligent satire set in WW2 (but not having the flavour of implicating the audience, apparently) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Be_or_Not_to_Be_%281942_film%29
‘Scaramouche Jones’ by Justin Butcher – the titular character is born with a clown-like ‘white face’ and storytells his life. Black humour and Tragedy are juxtaposed. I have not seen a live production.
On the nature of human kind’s lack of ‘humanity’ ‘Blindness’ by José Saramago is a very good read.
‘Far Away’ by Caryl Churchill has a scene of a fashion parade, which some students have mentioned makes a kind of resonance – the 2020 production at the Donmar (run sadly cut short by COVID-19) captured the Enforced Performance of this moment very well – one of the performers was a student of my Dark Clown work.
Concerning the Armenian Holocaust and enforced actions, the film ‘Ararat’ is devastating.
Just a beautiful film on the Holocaust by a Hungarian film maker ‘Fateless’ (2005) "Sorstalanság" (original title) – more of an essay on the ability of the film’s protagonist to see beauty and kindness amidst all the horror – an antidote to Dark Clown!
Hanoch Levin is an Israeli playwright whose work is existentially bleak – his works are currently only available in a poor translation.
Enforced Performance in ‘Goodfellas’ - Joe Pesci forces a boy to dance by shooting at his feet.
People who had not done my workshops suggested the Company Derevo – I only managed to see one of their shows – I am not sure how to describe it (dramatic, tragic, abstract) but it is not what I call Dark Clown. http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2010/derevo-harlekin/
A concise description of the psychology of the perpetrator – not my point of focus with the Dark Clown work but interesting as a philosophical/psychological adjunct (pages 12 and 13) and of the effect of having been the recipient of harsh conditions and brutality on (pages 24 and 25) in Geoff Dyers lovely book ; But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz’.
Also on the perpetrator’s mentality – this was the first book that explained to me how an ordinary official could slide into terrible deeds (the banality of evil). ’The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts’ by Louis de Berniers. It is set in South America.
The Kander and Ebb musical ‘The Scotsboro Boys’ has chilling scenes – the nightmare about the electric chair, the ‘I don’t know nuthin’ song is a perfect example of someone forced to sell themselves out in an attempt to save their lives. There is the element of Enforced Performance, in the bitter Minstrel show which the show uses 'turn(ed) on its head' to point up the horror and ghastly injustice in the story.
I am a fan of ‘In Bruges’ but when I saw Martin McDonagh’s play ‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’, I was very very very disappointed. I dissuade Dark Clown students away from the grotesque and the satirical. I felt this review was spot-on:
Maguy Marin’s work has resonnances in its depiction of oppression and abjection - expressive, existential and soulful.
‘Daughter of Spanish immigrants, her work is a joyful and furious punch in the face of barbarism. Her career and his political positions lead to audacity, courage, combat. The journey of the choreographer Maguy Marin, a vast movement of bodies and hearts, an adventure of our time, immortalized and transmitted in turn by the image of cinema.’
There is also the sad true story of North American Native peoples having to perform their cultures in shows for the pleasure of the dominant culture, the people who had decimated their culture. Enforced cultural performance – people were offered the option of performance – or prison. Buffalo Bill hosted the shows. Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds explains: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRutY6Yy5WE
‘Son of Saul’ – not seen yet By László Nemes. John Patterson in Guardian guide says it ‘abuses neither history, memory, nor the audience itself. That may be a welcome first in Holocaust dramas. He also said that Life is Beautiful and Jakob the Liar, which claimed to look yet saw nothing beyond banality, kitsch and false comfort.
There is a depiction of ghastly existential hopelessness for the character played by Gael Garcia Bernal at the end of the film ‘Desierto’
Someone recommended Peter Barnes play: ‘Laughter’
I included Brecht’s 'The Baden Learning Play' in Portuguese company Meta-Mortem-Phase’s production of ‘Bertolt’. Wonderful clown vehicle exploring inhumanity.
‘… the interpretation is ‘clownesque’, spiced with erotic interludes. A genius moment is the mutilation of a man by two women, a grotesque scene which brings together the Brechtian art of the parable with the desperate laughter of Beckett.’ ARTES & ÓCIOS do PÚBLICO, PORTUGAL
Regarding the embodying of shame
This is from wikipedia, about the Native American clowns Heyoka: "Principally, the heyókȟa functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviours to mirror others, and forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. Heyókȟa have the power to heal emotional pain; such power comes from the experience of shame—they sing of shameful events in their lives, beg for food, and live as clowns. They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair, and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are."
Recent historic events (continuing proof that 1984 is alive and well)
After the horrors of the Holocaust, The Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s regime, Argentina’s Dirty War… inhumanity continues e.g.:
‘At a police station in western Beijing, Ouyang was stripped and interrogated for five hours. "If I responded incorrectly, that is if I didn't say, 'Yes,' they shocked me with the electric truncheon," he said.
Then, he was transferred to a labour camp in Beijing's western suburbs. There, the guards ordered him to stand facing a wall. If he moved, they shocked him. If he fell down from fatigue, they shocked him.
Each morning, he had five minutes to eat and relieve himself. "If I didn't make it, I went in my pants," he said. "And they shocked me for that, too."
By the sixth day, Ouyang said, he couldn't see straight from staring at plaster three inches from his face. His knees buckled, prompting more shocks and beatings. He gave in to the guards' demands.
For the next three days, Ouyang denounced [Falun Gong's] teachings, shouting into the wall. Officers continued to shock him about the body and he soiled himself regularly. Finally, on the 10th day, Ouyang's repudiation of the group was deemed sufficiently sincere.
He was taken before a group of Falun Gong inmates and rejected the group one more time as a video camera rolled. Ouyang left jail and entered the brainwashing classes. Twenty days later after debating Falun Gong for 16 hours a day, he "graduated."
"The pressure on me was and is incredible," he said. "In the past two years, I have seen the worst of what man can do. We really are the worst animals on Earth."
Peta Lily © 2013
Appendix: Video links
Peta Lily course teaching:
Dark Clown - http://youtu.be/lfipLaQ01AI
Red Nose - http://youtu.be/eO9LncnnRmk
2013 Degree Show at Circus Space – hosted by a Dark Clown ensemble – Strange Forces praised by Lyn Gardner http://vimeo.com/74054956
A Dark Clown inspired show I directed for writer Performer Robbie Gringras ten years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX650lWQZbI
Clowns and Power Symposium at Circomedia 2015 https://vimeo.com/143601205
Documentary: 'Dark Clown; Taking Laughter to the Limits'. The film, made by the remarkable photographer and documentary filmmaker Robert Golden is 26 minutes long and traces the journey of taking a group on the Clown & Dark Clown Course journey, from the light to the dark. https://vimeo.com/203375301
Peta Lily in performance – various clips, unrelated to Dark Clown on my youtubechannel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOgEB33xdaSrP-MW7IGJM6g
From my Costume in Performance work at London College of Fashion, this piece The Government Inspector - Myrto Sarma designed and realised this Costume Design explored a marginalised, victimised character. ‘Her transparency and her continuous presence stand for the phantom- spectrum of a dead democracy. Her clothes have the colours of a wound, she has decorative elements of stitches , and ripped tights instead of lace.' Not clown, but a marginalised figure.