ok so one has the concept (look at the rickety yet seemingly effective bridge that has brought her here)...
but now getting the thing done...
Jet lag has been useful. Sleeping few hours and waking sharply and definitively at 4,5,6,7am, I have had the benefit of extra quiet hours at the computer - planning setups for improvisations, collating, elaborating, making connections. Pulling up images as inspirations and examples. Our rehearsal time is limited to a couple of evenings and weekends so elegance of time is paramount. For devised work you need props (well, if you are choosing to work with props). You need to play with them before the full potential unfolds.
I have an idea of the 'world' but not all the detail yet. There will be minimal dialogue so movement and objects will create the action. The detail evolves in the devising. Erm, but the rules of the 'world' need to inform the devising!
On Monday, I sat with one of the company members ordering the first round of props online, from China. I found myself dithering, nervous...'if this prop, what convention is installed/destroyed?' 'when mime and when prop?' Some props you know you want - others have to prove themselves. If we don't buy we can't play. Some stupid element (object) may provide a later payoff - something sublime. Another purchase might be a mistake. Instinct, risk, foot over cliff.
Problems are good. The Fringe Mime and Movement Laboratory liked the concept matter of the show, but the 'scary clown' phenomena is not well known here. So - I have devised a film 'script' - a sequence of images and graphics to set up the concept of a witch-hunt for clowns. This will be shown as part of the action during the piece.
It will give the set-up / backstory with some but not complete reference to the outer world. A 'what if'. 'What if' the appearance of a scary clown had caused a round up of Clowns. There is another 'What if' I have already committed to . 'What if clowns were clowns 24/7?' Clowns by DNA, as it were. The play is set in an alternate, Absurd or Clown reality. Different rules of logic will apply. We can /need to use clown tropes but are we going to a meta level - we need to be cleverer, adapt the clown tropes to serve the narrative. I usually say in my clown workshops 'avoid narrative'. To serve the arc. The step by step logical progression (the unfolding of an illogical logic?? The dramaturgy of stoopid?? The presentation of compelling visual images/ metaphors??) Mamet says character is plot. Does a Clown pursue a 'specific, acute goal?' Yes. No. A clown only wants to be a Clown, to play. Even in the most dangerous of situations...
Forget Drama, turn to the Absurd. my faithful friend Wikipedia identifies these characteristics of Absurd Theatre : 'broad comedy, often similar to vaudeville, mixed with horrific or tragic images; characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions; dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense; plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive; either a parody or dismissal of realism, and the concept of the "well-made play". The concept / world of The Death of Fun (Chinese Title: 樂於嚇人 ‘Pleasure to Scare You') needs to be realised at the level of buckets, buzzers, boings and balloons.
Practical problems. Language barrier and budgetary issues mean that the designer is coming on board later in the day. I have felt nervous without access to a designer to force me to articulate more clearly, to offer alternatives, developments, challenges and offer solutions (I lack making skills). With each online purchase comes the question of colour palette! I am using the poster photoshoot as a template and keeping my fingers crossed.
The theme of the hijacking of the Clown (by horror films and other corporations) offers possibilities and implications in terms of world order (every day I see an image of one of the western leaders with clown makeup superimposed). But to step into that world means a commitment to satire. Yes there can be satirical clowns. For me, satire is too sophisticated for 24/7 clowns - the piece must be solved with its own elements. And with more heart than satire seems to afford. The basic 'what ifs' are the things that need to be served. We are building a bridge with buckets and balloons.
A Facebook friend, Ralf Wetzel, is a Belgium-based performer who recently has had the great good fortune / resourcefulness to work with the inspiring and deeply human Keith Johnstone.
"As quick as you are trying your best, you’re in control mode and you prevent something else from happening. If you try to be average, you prevent becoming stressed and stiff. You allow the universe to give you something." Keith Johnstone, London 2017.
Reset goal for average. Allow some empty space.
The Fool card. Humility. Optimism. Allowing each emotion to pass through. There company of faithful, playful companion(s). Just taking the next step. One foot after the other. Even when there seems to be no sure footing.
About the Absurd
In his 1965 book, Absurd Drama, Esslin wrote:
'The Theatre of the Absurd attacks the comfortable certainties of religious or political orthodoxy. It aims to shock its audience out of complacency, to bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation as these writers see it. But the challenge behind this message is anything but one of despair. It is a challenge to accept the human condition as it is, in all its mystery and absurdity, and to bear it with dignity, nobly, responsibly; precisely because there are no easy solutions to the mysteries of existence, because ultimately man is alone in a meaningless world. The shedding of easy solutions, of comforting illusions, may be painful, but it leaves behind it a sense of freedom and relief. And that is why, in the last resort, the Theatre of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair but the laughter of liberation.'
Sentences. Construction. Finding one's way.
Well, it's true what I read (who said it?) - in order to write about something, you don't need to know what you are going to say; you will find that out in the process of writing.
I often sit down thinking I don't dare write a blog post. I would love to possess a finer level of Academic thinking. Humility. But it's a fine practice to aim to articulate. Optimism. To explore. Foot over cliff.
Devising a show / writing a blog.
I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't sure whether I would have the brain space /time to sustain a process blog / reflection log. The jet lag is abating. Eight hours sleep last night, thank you for asking.
Another evening rehearsal session tonight. Onwards. Honk.
Currently in Hong Kong, a few days before rehearsal begins on The Death of Fun, the production I will be devising with The Fringe Mime and Movement Laboratory.
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.
Yup, it's me. Circa 1994/1995 on a previous visit to Hong Kong when I attended (with great gratitude and humility - the work is so detailed and demanding) workshops with Cantonese Opera Performer Master Yung Kim Wah, culminating in the privilege to undergo the full costume experience - wig, makeup and then costume. It took hours. This is not a comic character, but the Female Warrior or General.
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Peta Lily is a performer, theatre maker, director, playwright, script doctor, teacher and Creative Mentor. She pioneers a unique body of practical research in Dark Clown. Her paper The Comedy of Terrors - Dark Clown & Enforced Performance was delivered at Bath Spa University. The work is cited in Clown - a reader in theatre practice by Jon Davison, Palgrave MacMillan.