Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hi there.
How have you been?
Well I hope.
I haven't written here fora while.
A lot has happened since then.
Oh yes.
A lot.
I've been to Hungary to work on a show with 2 fellow Gaulier-ites which was great. Very funny, very strange and between us we brought something new into the world.
The bouffon experiment went well, I think.
I was happy with it. I'm looking forward to teaching it again.
I've been to Bristol to help a friend plan his show which has started rehearsals and I've also managed to get myself a job with a mask company Vamos Theatre. It's all good.
Rehearsals are in Worcester and we are touring through to June next year.

Wow Mark that's amazing, but why do we care about all that?
Surely that's just you gloating.

Well no, you see I want to keep this blog going. I'm not at school anymore but then it is school that is shaping my ideas on theatre so I think it juste to keep the blog with the same name. And I think it's constructive for me to keep a record of my thoughts.There is something about sitting here typing at the keyboard knowing that there is the possibility that others may read my observations that helps me to focus my mind rather than my noting it in a diary or journal, which I may never re-read. Helps me to cut the metaphorical fat away. Anyway I'm waffling. (I like that word. Say it out loud, it tastes good in the mouth as does the spanish word for joke - chufla) Anyway I digress

I went to see a show last night, "Johnny Come Lately" by Coal, directed by John Wright.
It was brilliant.
Very funny, very dark and at points I wonder should I be laughing at this?
At others I am slapping my thighs at the ridiculousness of the action.

It also makes me wonder what I want out of the theatre.
Do I want politically charged theatre?
Do I want social comment?
Do I want to be challenged and confronted by difficult material?

If I would answer yes to these questions then Johnny Come Lately ticks all these boxes.

But actually this isn't what I really care about in the theatre, I'm not sure if it's my place as an artist to try and appeal to an audience's intellect or their moral character. I'm not saying others shouldn't do it but me, I'm not intelligent enough to try and tackle big questions in my work. 
Me, I have my fun and this is what I can work with and clearly Coal work with theirs too. Not just the actors but the director too. I love John Wright as a director and teacher and in the after show discussion it is clear that the cast love working with him also.
But this blog is about learning not just what I like or don't like and here is the little nugget of gold for any readers. When Coal were describing their process they didn't look for what appealed to their intellect in the process they asked different questions, "what do we like?" and  "what do we find interesting?" and "what do we have fun with?" and "What makes us laugh?"
This is what it should be like when we create theatre, we should be interested, curious, and looking for the fun and recognising what's funny.
Thanks Coal for helping me to start to understand what I like about the theatre.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Workshop announcement

This is the workshop that Clown Lab will be running in the summer.
Really Hope that you can join us. 
It will be amazing. 

Clown Lab presents…


The Bouffon Experiment

An intensive 2 week workshop that delves right into the heart and art of the Bouffon Clown

From out the smoke and smog of the swamps a troop of Bouffon emerge armed with grotesque parody, blasphemy and their beautiful humanity. Limping and laughing, covered in blisters, rags and filth, the banished return to shock the sanctimonious children of God and take a knife to the jugular of the world’s bastards!

This workshop is ideal for anyone wishing to use humour as a weapon in their performance work to create powerful, visceral theatre that engages, shocks and provokes its audience.

Dates: July 23rd - 3rd August (rest day July 29th)

Venue: tbc but will be in or close to central Manchester

Prices: £140 full. £125 concession/early bird available till 1st June

Week 1: Explore the world of the Bouffon through game and exercise to help you discover the bouffon’s sensitivity, humour, extreme body shapes, and the performer’s pleasure to destroy the bastard through fun and parody.

Week 2: Continues your explorations and deepens your understanding by applying Bouffon to scenes from plays such as Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, Mistero Buffo by Dario Fo and Divine Words by Ramon Valle-Inclan culminating in an open showing for invited guests and members of the public.

The workshop will be led by Mark Winstanley, co-artistic director of Clown Lab who has studied intensively with Philippe Gaulier, internationally renowned teacher of Clown and Bouffon.

Attend a Clown Lab course and you will laugh, learn and be more creatively tested, both physically and emotionally, than you ever thought possible! Peter Cox MBE-Screenwriter, Playwright, Director

For more information please email


The beauty of the uglies

Just a quick note following on from my blog earlier this week.
Firstly bouffon with Philippe is without doubt one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Tramps, Trannies, Lesbians and Lunatics telling stories of how they have been spat on, shat on, taunted, teased and twatted by ignorant bastards.
The same bastards that have good jobs, wholesome families, live in nice houses, drive saloon cars, holiday twice a year and can regularly be seen playing golf.
The people who would punch and kick and piss on a homeless for fun, ha ha ha yes, for sport.
And there are many bastards who do such things.
Yes there are.
The drunken nights are full of them. The bloodied cardboard beds, black eyes and piss soaked sleeping bags attest this fact.
And so what if a tramp is given a kicking? What does it matter if these scroungers, these low lives, this gunge and scum of society are kicked and booted around by the bold and the beautiful.
The beautiful can do what they want, even if it's ugly.
And if it keeps happening to these people what then? How many times before the fear is kicked out of you? Before the tears stop flowing, before the frowning changes? The frowns turn upside down, the toothless smiles start and the laughter heaves up.
The laughter of the oppressed.
HWARRRRRRRRR! HHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaa hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaa.
Baaaastards. Ha ha ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahh. Fuckers. hihihihihihhiahhaahahahhaa
Dickheads. Haaahahahah.

The laughter in the face of the ignorant. The smiles at the faces of the hateful.

It is the holocaust survivor who laughs at the Nazi's for what they did.
The Tramp who snickers at the drunks who beat him.
The transvestite who giggles at the cunt who hocks green phlegm at them.
The queer who giggles at homophobic wankers.

The power of these people to laugh at their oppressors. Yes this laughter is powerful and the sensitivity of the performer to play this on stage is beautiful.

The beauty of the actor whose delicate sensitivity doesn't push to underline the suffering of these people. But says something in a beautiful way.
We have begun to glimpse this in Lee's light transvestite, in Barbara's charming lesbian, in Mia's staggeringly beautiful transexual and in Duncans disturbing lunatic.
All very different, all very powerful, all incredibly theatrical.
Stroll on imagination, what beauty will you discover in the rags and filth of the despised underclass yet?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

from the old to the new

So, Thursday... for the last 4 weeks we have been exploring the world of the medieval bouffon, the children of the devil whose home is the mud and swamps on the fringes of society, I've written a bit about this but Thursday was very different. A question in class was how do we use this work when we take away the physical deformity and move to contemporary bouffons. A concern of Philippe's was that when we moved from one to the other that it can be difficult, that we can lose something that the physical restrictions give us. He has said this earlier in the week and last week too. We talked quite a lot today. Normally Philippe keeps talking till the end of class but today we discussed the costume of contemporary bouffons

The Bouffon of today, who are they? This was a question that came up last week, they are the homeless, the aids victims, the transvestites, the unemployed, in some countries they are the gay or the outcast prostitute the jew from the ghetto. All people ostracised from society. One thing has to be there for them to be bouffon, the pleasure to blaspheme. A gay who wants to be accepted is not a bouffon, a homeless who wants to work and crawl up of success is no bouffon. No the bouffon are outcast, yes we are outcast, and fuck you God!
The pleasure to mock the great and the good. To parody the bastard. To slay him with humour.

Then we did an exercise in 2 groups where we started as a pack, Philippe had us come forward with Tim doing his parody of an Australian bastard. Philippe got us to stop and then the other members of the group came and took our humps off, unstrapped our arms and removed the rags. There we were a band of outsiders, wearing costume that made us look homeless. I could tell from the faces of my classmates that here was something powerful. He repeated the same exercise with the other group members and we saw that it really was powerful. For me I loved seeing this grotesque image of this group of actors, this bouffon brotherhood, my classmates shift from a twisted otherworldly pack to a band of outsiders of today. Tall, ragged, dirty, boiling with angry humour ready to slay the worlds bastards. Absolutely spellbinding!

So this week we have been exploring the costumes of the bouffon of today, several men in the group have cross dressed to try and find tranvestite bouffon, several girls have gone gay, and others of us have dressed homeless. I experimented a bit with my costume, at the weekend I bought a pair of brown cords a pair of battered brogues, a pair of braces and a string vest, I already had a heavy brown coat from a melodrama module earlier in the year. The whole ensemble has been battered and dirtied by scrubbling it on the walls of the house I'm staying in and the string vest has been kicked around the backgarden, the coat has been hacked at and torn to give it a moth eaten look, and a few spit dribbles of toothpaste have added a bird shit look look giving the whole thing a ragged, lived in appearance. I had a bit of a play with some grease paints too. My thoughts on theatres obsession with naturalism make me think that we actors are missing out on a whole load of fun to be had with make-up and costume. Smearing layers of brown to my face and then shading red across my cheeks to give me a wind chapped life outdoors look with a purple and yellowing bruise below my eye helps to fire up my imagination and stamp the image in the audiences imagination. I was really chuffed when Ed commented that he liked the subtle dried spittle spots of white in the corners of my mouth. You actors who don't experiment with this stuff are missing out on something very..... well..... theatrical.

So yes I love my costume and that is something that being here has helped me learn. That to love ones costume is so important and the little ways it changes and develops, the addition of a slightly different bruise, a new ring or an intriguing photo in the pocket and not because it makes my character more real to me because a character is not and never will be real but rather that it excites me as an actor. It gives me the pleasure to show off my new bruise to the audience, because this audience will see something slightly different than the last one and all this helps me to play with the pleasure of being unrecognisable. It helps me to discover my beauty.
My my my, how enlightened this mad man Gaulier is.
The character is nothing without the actor and the actor has to have pleasure to show his character to the audience, to manipulate him, to tease the audience with this person, a turn of the head creates 1 brushstroke, a sigh a second stroke, a laugh a third. I do not come on to be my character safe in the knowledge that i know who he is. It is always a constant discovery between myself and the audience and that is a most beautiful thing. A most theatrical thing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bouffon across ze channel

Been a few days since the last blog.
I was originally going to try and blog almost every day but it has become obvious to me that this is not a good idea. Firstly it puts undue pressure on me to have lots of interesting things to say and secondly I think my learning is deeper when I allow myself to absorb Philippe's teaching by just being there in class, watching, listening and experimenting in the space rather than frantically scribbling notes trying to grasp at an understanding. I think this was what he was getting at when he told me to stop writing during the clown module. It means my focus is elsewhere and not in the moment.

I do have something that I think is worth saying at the moment though.

I was in London last weekend.
On a trip.
2 of our classmates were performing at Sandra's Sunday Dinner Club in Bethnal Green.
It was a really strange moment to see my classmates up there with crippled bodies, dirty faces and blackened teeth. We see it everyday in class but here are a room of strangers, yes some support from 5 or 6 Gaulie-ites but thats it in a room of 50-odd.
Out comes Mia holding a London map in her "good" arm and muttering about "De Beyeg Clok. De Beyeg Ben" and then Ling appears with a plastic bag and an umbrella. I'm not going to tell you what happened in the performance, there was certainly a lot of laughter and the piece needs work but Ling and Mia seem to play well together.
For the purpose of this blog I'm more interested in th audiences reaction. As far as I could gauge, it was a mixture of confusion, joy and "what the fuck is this".
It was definitely challenging and some of the laughs were out of confusion but if you could take these 2 actors who play beautifully together, and if they can really find the spirit of the outcast and downtrodden and have something to say, and they say it in a beautiful way then wow, this could be really powerful stuff. Magical stuff. Otherworldly stuff. Stuff that can only be conceived in the games of players, born on stage, to live in the imaginations of the audience and that for me is where this work is moving towards. Tentative steps out of school. A shuffle becomes a limp, becomes a dance. A grunt that turns into a song. An inspired idea becomes art.

These beautiful outcasts from another time, from another world, a higher, more beautiful world come to deliver messages to the audiences of now.

And how can they fail to be beautiful for as Philippe says Galileo is a friend of the bouffon, Mozart, Da Vinci, the scientists and artists deemed heretical or unnatural are the bouffons allies.
In the maestro's words, "Ze Bouffon he 'as ze beauty of ze devil."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Did I tell you your voice was orreeble?

This is a bit of a re-cap of sorts today.
Anyone who is a regular reader.
Regular reader? Ha, doesn't that sound grandiose?
(Hmmm nyes regular readers of my column will note that I  am slowly... almost un-noticably....mmmm...nyes... one might, indeed, say, imperceptibly. Nyes most definitely the word... imperceptibly hmm....nyes slowly, indeed, imperceptibly disappearing up my own arse.)

But those of you that are regulars will note earlier blogs about fun and the actors need to find this in everything they do on stage.

Every so often something happens in class that sends a Ding of clarity echoing round this puzzled cranium of mine and today was one of those moments.

The exercise was simple enough: to parody a soap opera
3 or 4 bouffon to do this. There were several successes today. And in general people had fun.

For me my voice has long been something that I have struggled with. Not that I have a bad voice. There is no medical condition that prevents me from speaking and apart from a little sybilance (I think thats how you spell it) there is nothing particularly strange or unpleasant about it.
However, for some reason, on stage, I am at war with it. It grates on me when I am on stage, when I use my own voice and my own cadences and rhythms, consequently I feel dull and boring and as a result become dull and boring. I am sure there is some psychological reason why this is. Sigmund and I blame Mr. Mercer for kicking me out of the school choir at 12 and thus this dramatic event caused me to become self-conscious about one of my main acting instruments, the bastard!

Anywaythe fun that I need seems to evade me vocally, now Philippe has several exercises to try and help the actor discover their fun with the voice and I have done these and found things but the real lesson has never truly struck me till today.

The parodyof the soap opera..... 4 Ross beefs get up to have a bash at parodying Eastenders.
We stand backstage waiting for the drum to kick us off.
I think of my best cockney.

I am on...
I tell yer. I've 'ad enough. Enough I tell yer. Oh. right up to ear I've ad it.
Charles joins me on stage
Whassamatter. wha'iz it?

Hardly Shakespeare I know, but about on a par with some soap writing
Boom goes the drum, signalling the end of this attempt.

Your voice is too realistic for zis exercise.

And at that the sparks explode behind my eyes.

Hallelujah. The revelation I've been waiting for.

I was trying to do my best cockney. A good cockney. Not once did I focus on the fun.
Yes I may have fun to be in the space. I may have fun to play with my partners. Fun to move. Fun to dance but unless I have fun to speak I will never find true freedom on stage.
My focus on being a good actor will always hold me back.
My work will never truly live in the imaginations of the audience because my realistic voice will keep me anchored and prevent me from soaring.
So now this is part of my work.
I either become a mime or else allow laughter, jokes, games and joy to flow from my voice.
To have vocal fun this is my challenge and my work.

Lets see what colours I can find there.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Searching for a bastard

Blogger seems to have changed the layout, so if the last blog was a little difficult to read, lacking paragraphs and spaces, apologies. I do understand grammatical conventions, not perfectly, but well enough not to simply write a block of text. Will try and rectify the situation from now on.

Right then, as the title suggests I'm currently on the hunt for bastards.
Definition of a bastard: Someone who would write to the gestapo to say, excuse me Monsieur Gestapo (they are very respectful and use capital letters and everything) but my neighbour has a big nose and I think he may be a you know what.
Nothing like a war and the persecution of a people to bring out the bastard
Apparently there is a library somewhere in Paris where the letters of these shining examples of humanity are stored. A sort of shrine to the bastard! The evidence of thousands of bastards.

And it is these bastards that are cannon fodder for the bouffons artillery; parody, satire and savage humour slay the bastards dead and show them for the pathetic wastes that they really are.

And so part of our training is learning how to fight.

The bouffon spirit, the spirit of the downtrodden and the outcast rising up to say fuck you to the powers that be, fuck you to the racists, the sexists and the homophobes, to those that would order the creation of the ghetto's and those that would follow orders by rounding the outcast up to fill them.
A middle finger to the hypocrisy that exists in the walls of power, to churches that hide paedophiles and encourage homophobia, that claim abortion is sin and do so in the name of the lord. A flick of the V sign to royalty that claims a holier than thou image while vice and murder live and breathe in its recent past and to governments that claim to look after the people while really defending the interests of a tiny few.

 A cry of fuck you to dictators that order the forced sterilisation of its poor and so many many other corrupt and immoral acts committed against the vulnerable. The bouffon, the ugly outcast with license to openly decry these and other terrible acts. To show the bastards who they really are. To really laugh at them . The power of laughter can be so effective in the spirit of the bouffon, to parody a nazi, a racist or a god loving paedophile, to show him in the midst of his hate and then to laugh. The laugh of the oppressed the laughter of the bouffon. To curse religion and blaspheme because they are "the children of the devil" who have the laughter of the devil never far from them and so potent it is to remind at reminding the great and the good who they really are and what they are capable of... the bastards!

To help us develop this spirit Philippe wants us to find a bastard, one from our lives, a bastard that we know and one that we can have fun to assassinate. A teacher, a boss, a school bully but a bastard that the bouffon will take pleasure in parodying.
Oh what joy to show the bastards sex life, to play with him taking a shit to maneouvre him into situations with the purpose of making him look as ridiculous as possible.
Once people see bastards as ridiculous they begin to lose their power.
It is harder to fear someone you view as riduculous and that you laugh at.

The problem that I and other members of the group have with bastards is that if they really are a bastard we try to get away from them as soon as possible. I want nothing to do with them. These bastards.

And so my search continues tracing back through my life, still none come to mind, I think I'm going to have to amalgamate a series of moments of bastardness into 1 uber bastard. When I find him I shall let you know, until then, wish me Happy Hunting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hallelujah for the bouffon!

Since I last wrote we have been exploring the various bouffon body shapes, these include the dwarf, the hunchback, both of which I mention in earlier posts plus the big stomach, the the big bottom and the heretic priest. Philippe has asked us to choose one that we feel good in as we will be sticking with these for several weeks. We need to discover how we move in this different body shape. What it is capable of and how it can surprise. "Ze bouffon are always surprising" says the master. And already there have been one or two. For me some of the most succesful and indeed surprising moments were in the group scenes. that have been developing. Particularly a rather disturbing piece with Duncan sat on Ben's knee while Ben spoke some text from one of Philippe's bouffon plays. There was something very paedophilic about that at moments was uncomfortable to watch but at the same time intensely compelling. Very strange as an audience member to be both pushed and pulled from something at the same time. I am sure this would be a wonderful reaction to get in the theatre where an audience want to get up and leave outraged but they cant because the performance is so engaging. Part of this I think, is to do with the beauty of the bouffon, that these ugly outcasts are brimming over with humanity. We have looked at the heretic priest. Our way into this was to first parody a preacher, I had recently looked at an American Evangelical Preacher called Benny Hinn who has has the spirit of the Lord in him. If you don't know this practiser of religious quackery and all round charlaton feel free to check him out, I'd recommend starting with this this video: Anyway, freshly wound up after watching the aforementioned shyster, when Philippe asked for someone to parody the priest I felt quite excited to do the exercise and wanted to get up. I have learned not to be too confident, or at least to try and push the feeling aside at times like these because inevitably that leads to a fantastic flop. A quick word on confidence, it seems that whenever I have been too confident I either push too much becoming fanatical and heavy or else I am so confident in my ideas that Im alone with them and not with the audience leading me to become more and more distant from them. If you didn't realise, this is bad. Bad for acting and particularly bad for theatre. How often have we seen a performer so confident in what they are doing that they might as well be on stage alone. Not generous at all. No we need to be with an audience, even when we don't address them directly. We still need to sense them, feel them and react to them. I want to tell you about the moments when I have soared the most. They have been when I was excited and nervous to get up on stage, when I have thought that an idea is funny but am still unsure what others will think. I can only imagine it is a similair feeling to doing a high wire act without the safety net. The safety of security is removed and the senses are more aware. Listening more, reacting more, feeling the audience out moment by moment. In this sensitive and unsure area beautiful things can be born. So armed only with my excitement at trying the exercise, the phrases "Praise God", "Hallelujah" and a book to be my bible I set out. The exercise went well with praise Gods and Hallelujahs aplenty then Philippe stops me. "Yah, eez not bad. We lak eem, non?." He then gets me to do the same thing but this time as if I have a serious pain in my balls but I don't want to let on to the congregation about it. It gets laughs. Great. Duncan is really good as the Preacher and he plays really well off the audience. Because he looks so innocent he is more dangerous as a result. Most of the exercises we have done are concerned with parody. Parodying the posh, the pope, models, the nouveau riche, the beautiful, the rich and the powerful, now we are in search of bastards. The people with the power, politicians and aristocrats, heads of business, the problem is that these people are generally fucking boring and with the exception of Boris Johnson and 1 or 2 others, step forward John Prescott and Prince Phillip who are basically like parodies already it is hard to get a handle on where to start with them. Good 'ol Dave who should be perfect bouffon material is just about as bland a person as you can get and apart from being the head of the country there isnt a single interesting thing about him, ergo, he's the perfect person to stick in charge. I have to wonder what his Spitting Image puppet would look like, at least the when John Major was in charge they could emphasise how boring he looked and sounded, the little love rat, imagine going down on Edwina Currie, ugh makes me feel ill, like i've got salmonella. boom boom. But what do you do with bland old Dave. How do you make bland funny? Can bland be edgy? Imagine Cliff Richard on crack or Michael Mcintyre ketamined out his mind having his prostate massaged by a thai ladyboy. It doesn't quite work does it? or does it. Maybe that could be a key surprise the audience with Dave's perversions. That coule be fun. Maybe I've written myself a way in but it needs a lot more thought. I've been watching some Louis Theroux recently too in search of my bastards and there are some horrible people in the episode where he meets the Nazi's, they seem such an obvious target but having said that with the first round of the french election having just passed and Marie Le Pen's front national party having received almost 20% of the national vote maybe the obvious targets are the best ones.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to teach lightness

"Lat on your feeeeeeeeeeet!"
This sentence has left the mouth of monsieur Gaulier a lot over the year. And once it does an imaginary whip cracks behind the guilty party and yes, for a short while the feet get lighter.
Then sure enough, a few days later, someone in the class puts on a pair of heavy socks and the same call emerges from under that grey gallic beard.

This idea of lightness features heavily in Philippe's teaching, his book is called the tormentor - light theatre.
In the workshop we are stopped if we are too "'Eavy."

Not just heavy in the way we walk and move but if we are heavy in the way we play or even in the way we handle props.
Non, there is no room for heaviness in this lightest of theatres.

The question of how to teach this is an interesting one and one that our current movement tutor Carlo is addressing in a way that I find totally different to the other teachers.

Many of the other teachers have focussed on fun using a variety of different means to access what they feel is necessary for us at school. Some through dance, others through acrobatics, others using other techniques they have learned and yet Carlo is the only one to address lightness specifically in class.
We practise the horse cantering with specific focus on our feet being silent. We jump the camel jump, a high jump bringing the knees to the chest and landing with a cat like pad on the floor. Some of us are more succesful at this than others. My favourite game of his so far was a game of musical chairs, well sort of, we had chairs and music played. When the music played we had to lift our chair off the floor and dance with it, staying light and tall. When the music stopped we had to place our chairs on the floor and sit on them as quietly as possible. It is surprising when the element of game enters an exercise as simple as moving a chair quietly the results are really noticeable. I also really enjoy his version of the walker game, you may know this one. everybody sits in a chair with the exception of 1 player who is the walker. there is one empty chair and the objective is for the walker to sit in the empty chair, everybody else has to keep the walker out of the empty chair by getting out of their own chair and sitting in the empty chair before the walker sits in it.
I've both played and facilitated this game a lot and have my own "outcomes" from it (I don't like the word outcome as it suggests that I'm actually a bit closed off to what else could be in the game, however in reality thats probably true. Carlo's version stresses that any excessive noise will be penalised by the noise makers removal from the game. So diving into chairs heavily without control suddenly becomes a no-can-do option. Also once the game gets going he introduces a spy. The spy is a person who is there to help the walker sit down in the chair by "accidentally" making a mistake or some other such means. Obviously we all have our eyes closed when he goes around to pick the spy but the spy rule is great because suddenly the whole groups awareness lifts we are all doubly aware as we not only want to keep the walker out the seat but we also want to catch the spy.

We have also looked at balance with Carlo, again this is continuing to train us in lightness and physical control. Balance through an exercise as simple as stepping over a bench in slow motion. What is it to be balanced asked Carlo before going on to say that it was easy to feel and one way to tell was to do something and then ask yourself if i stopped could i do it in reverse? so off we went trying first to step over a giant egg and then onto the bench. Then for added difficulty the same thing but with a book or a shoe balanced on a part of our body. then trying to swap the objects with our classmates.

One of my favourite things so far was the slow motion forward roll. stopping halfway and reversing it.

What is all this concern with lightness for, you may ask yourselves? Why lightness why not heaviness? Why not weight?

For me, when light things take flight, they dance on the winds and flit through the air carving out beautiful patterns that enchant and mesmerize us.
Lightness can do this. In our imaginations, we can soar and take the audience with us, to dream lands filled with the ghosts of beauty and desire. Heaviness cannot do that,as soon as it stomps in it brings the imagination crashing back to earth, back to naturalism and back to the 4 walls of the theatre. And we are reminded that we sit in our seats watching heavy people thud about.
Lightness does the oppositte.
Lightness can set us free

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To dream or not to dream, that is the question

It's been a good couple of days.
Our explorations into te world of the bouffon are deepening more and more.
On Monday we started exploring the dwarf, Tuesday and today we looked at the hunchback.
Backstage,huge mounds of cloth and whatever materials we can lay our hands on are strapped and belted onto our bodies to form the humps. Again our hands are bound and our legs taped or tied together above the knee to restrict movement.
Faces are muddied and ruddied and our teeth blacked out, to make us look as ugly as possible.
Then the group (the 10 students who are working) come on stage, I don't remember seeing an uglier sight since I have been in Paris.
You can almost kiff the stink of the swamps that clings to their clothes.
They stand sheepishly centre stage and Philippe asks the group to first play football.
This is hilarious as the actors struggle to get used to the physical restrictions imposed on them by their new bodies. Some fall over and can't get up. Othersmove incredibly slowly, some are surprisingly agile but what is clear is that restrictions such as these significantly change how the body is capable of moving.

Then, the first exercise, parodying the bastard, the fascist.
The first person to do this, Vicky is absolutely hilarious, her bound legs and arms make the goose step look even more ridiculous as she marches up and down the space, screaming, and shouting orders in an agressive high pitched German, the whole thing is made even funnier by her hat which keeps falling down over her eyes and she has to move it back with her restricted arms. She looks so stupid. Surely a good start.
Her pleasure is wonderful and we love her.
We can all learn a lot from this pleasure to play and her fun to be in the space.

Philippe goes through the whole group of 10 people that are up. At the end there are 10 minutes left he asks for 2 guinea pigs. Myself and Yuichi jump up, keen to do something.
He asks us to put a costume on.
We do.
And to get the school shopping trolley.
We do.
I am dressed as a hunchback and Yuichi a dwarf.
Philippe uses us to demonstrate how this powerful image of these 2 bouffon could be used to start a show.
1 bouffon pushing a trolley another trying to thumb a lift. they meet and the story begins.
Philippe reminds us that we see these guys in every city. The people with the shopping bags full of more stuff. What do they have in there we wonder. Why so many bundles of papers? How many clothes do they have on? All these things that tickle the imagination are food for us theatre creators. These are the images that transport our imagination and generate dreams.
Isn't this is what we want our audience to do?
To dream with us.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Good evening one and all.
If this is your first time here then welcome.
If you have visited before then thanks for coming back.
My my my, a hell of a lot has happened since I last left you.
3 major things, firstly the Arts Council said yes to my application to do Bouffon at the Ecole Philippe Gaulier.
This feels great for a number of reasons and the main one being that it feels like Clown Lab are starting to be taken more seriously. Clown Lab will be 3 this year and since we started we have constantly invested time and money into our development and training as performers and teachers. As well as this we have brought some really high caliber teachers to the North West to share their knowledge and further develop a burgeoning clown community. We have also tried to keep the cost of our workshops down so that they can be as inclusive as possible to people because we really do believe in the benefit of the work to performers so to finally achieve some kind of recognition for our hard work is great.

As John Wright said on a workshop that I did with him last year regarding clowning... "We are at the fag end of Art."
Well if that is true then lets hope someone drops it into a puddle of petrol so that we can light up the night with our fun and laughter.

The second good thing to happen was the success of the Occasional Cabaret.
Those of you that were there will know what a good night it was, especially for me as my mum and stepdad were in the audience and evcen though as a compere there were a couple of ropy moments the event as a whole was a success and we are already thinking about the next one. Halloween cabaret anyone?

The third thing and the reason for this blog being back up and running is that I'm now back in Paris having just completed day 1 of Bouffon.
This blog will be online for the next 10 weeks minimum as I try and record, once again my process studying here, my successes, failures and thunkings around this workshop with Philippe Gaulier.

So, no time like the present, off we go.
Class started in the usual fashion. 10 minutes of Samual says, this time allows us to contact each other, to look around in the eyes of classmates and see who is up for playing, who looks tired, who looks hungover,and who is in a giddy mood.

Philippe tells us that historically the bouffon are the outcasts of a society, the downtrodden, the people banished to the swamplands and the forests, spurned by the powers that be in a city. In medieval times these people, the dwarf, the mad, the gay, the prostitute, the jew, the mongel, the gypsy and the heretic priest they absolutely had to be kept away from good society. From Godly society. It's obvious isn't it, if god made man in his image then this ugliness must be the work of the devil. In fact if we are all Gods children then these things could only have been fathered by Lucifer, the evil one. And so it follows how this evilness must be kept away from good society, polite society, god loving society.
To the swamps and murky woodlands for you lot. And while you're at it wear this bell around your neck so that we goody goody god lovers can tell when you're near, so we can cover our good little childrens eyes, we can't have their young minds polluted with the sight of you.
Yes Ring-a-ling-a-ling the toll that sounds the coming of one of lucifers little ones.
Run away or you might catch something nasty.
And then some days the children of God wouldn't be want to go away from the ringing. No, sometimes they would come armed, with sticks and clubs and sneers to beat the children of the devil. Just for fun, you see, for kicks. Ahahaha. Yes. Club to the face, punch to the stomach, stick up the arse.
Ahahaha look at how his head splits when it makes contact with this bat!
Ahahaha, look at all that blood and listen to how it screams, ahahahaha!
Oh it's not moving anymore. Oh for Christs sake it's not moving anymore.
Bloody devil-child fancy going and dying on us. Ruining all our good clean fun.
What fun it must have been to beat and kill them and its all totally guilt free I mean if God doesn't love them, then why should you?

Shut out of the church, shut out of society, living in those nice clean swamps with bells constantly clanging and the occasional beating, yes it wasn't really much fun being a child of the devil not for 364 days of the year at least (363 in a leap year). But they do say that every dog has its day, and seeing as how Dog is the reverse of God then therefore the devil is the dog, so it follows that every dog/devil has his day and this day which eventually became known as carnaval in France was the day that the church was open to the Bouffon.
On this day of the year the doors of the church were thrown open and the children of the devil allowed to pour in and blaspheme to the ugly black hearts content, it really was all go here, defocating on the christ figure, humping the Virgin Mary, pissing in the holy water, total anarchy in the pews.
The one day that the children of the devil could mock the priets and the powers that be of the goodly society.
Still it was worth it, after a bit of a clean and mop up, the children of Gods consciences could remain unsullied for another 364 days.
Our exercises today concerned with trying to make our first steps into the world of the bouffon. The world of the ostracised and downtrodden.

Philippe explains that in the swamps the bouffon wore lots of clothes to protect themselves from the elements so we wrap several layers around ourselves, bind our arms, sit on our haunches with a skirt covering our legs, dirty our faces and blacken the teeth to give us the look of a dwarf from the swamps.

The exercise. 10 bouffon in the space.
Philippe goes down the line. Can you impersonate the prime minister of your country, next a toff.
Then we sing together. A religious song. which builds and builds until we all end up in an orgy singing the hymn, humping one another and laughing manically.
We apologise to the audience for our behaviour. Naughty bouffons. I think that the smile should never be far away.
We smile today because the children of God smile and we parody the children of God.

The final exercise is an exercise in mocking a classmate.

1 person stands in the centre of the room and Philippe asks them questions. Once we think we could have fun to mock this person we go up and mock them.
Its similar to a clown exercise except clown was for fun bouffon is going for the jugular.

Philippe talks quite a bit today, about a workshop he did in Edinburgh with members of Graeae (greyeye) theatre and how brilliantly an actor called Jim played God, about special schools set up in french coastal holiday resorts where the kids aren't allowed out of school during the holiday months.
He talks to us about the bastard and how we have to try to think of 3 bastards who we can parody. The bastard is the kind of person who in war time france would right to the gestapo to say hello there monsieur gestapo, my neighbour is a jew would you come and take him away please. The bastard.
I don't know any bastards. Not personally. I'm glad. Maybe I'm the bastard.
Anyway this will be a challenge to find three bastards
Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Bush, Sadam, Murdoch, these are all fairly conventional targets. I think i need to do some trawling online, go on the hunt for my bastards. I'll take my trusty weapons of parody and mockery and see if i can slay a few bastards once I have them in my sight.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On knowing

Question: Whaddayou know Joe?

Answer: Nothing.

"If you know something you are an idiot," says Philippe. "Every idiot, he knows something."

I have thought about this a little recently, it is starting to make more sense to me, for knowing implies something concrete, fixed, immovable. It is heavy.

It lacks thelightness in the joy of discovery for there is nothing left to discover once you know.
As artists can we ever allow ourselves to know, is that not the death of us?

It is hard to admit that we don't know something, we have to know because when we know we are clever, intelligent and can be rewarded.
But the unknown is where creativity lives and thrives. We have to learn to embrace the unknown, to love the unknown, to live in the unknown, it is the the unknown that will reward us, the unknown that will nourish us and the unknown where we will make discoveries for ourselves, where our spirits and imaginations can play.

It can be scary in the unknown, when things are unknown they are new, the new can be scary, scary because we don't know, because we haven't got a frame of reference, because there might be surprises.

Surprises? Gah! Run and hide!

Oh no! Give me the comfort of routine and the safety of the same old shit.
Let me tread the same known ground, repeating the same known ways and the same known approaches. At least I'll be safe.

But the safety the known grants is worthless. Worthless because it can't enrich lives, the known can't surprise an audience, it can't rock them and ask that they believe in magic because once we know how magic is done we immediately take away the magic and all we are left with is a trick.

To be truly alive is to live in the unknown
Our thrills come from the unknown, life breathes, in the unknown.
And it is only in the unknown that we can begin to discover our freedom.

So in class, trust the unknown, have faith in casting off and not knowing where we will go today. Embrace that part that is scared, hold its hand, build its confidence, learn to have courage in the unknown by constantly hanging out there. Take pleasure in it. Love it. Then you will discover new things, new ways to play, new ways to create, new ways to live, new ways to be.
And maybe, just maybe, you might be discover your way to be great.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The washing machine

"Pour diner ce soir" Christine tells me, Soup de chouflour est broccoli est crevettes de chinois.
I love their soup especially on this cold January night but the thought of eating chinese ties concerns me.
Oui. Regarde.
She opens the fridge and instead of revealing a plastic tub of sweet and sour neckwear she shows me an ornate dish full of spicy deep fried prawns.
Ah, france.
ces't foridable.
She tells me that Francois is unwell , that he has been chewing too much gum and has upset his stomach. The 2 untouched baguttes on the worktop testify to this fact. He normally eats about 2/3rds of a baguette in an evening so if they are untouched it must be serious.
Christine opens a bottle of red "from the loire" she says "near where francois grew up.
I pour her a large glass and me a larger one, take a glug and then top it back up again.
I've been looking forward to this.
I'm very lost at the moment.

Very lost.

I have no idea what acting or theatre are anymore.
I explained it this way to a friend earlier.
"It's like all my ideas are in a tumble dryer and I can hear them rolling over one another as the dryer spins but when i open the dryer there is nothing inside, so i close the door and i hear the cycle start again."
And if that makes no sense to you now, then I'm not sure it did to him either but I think what I'm trying to get at is that averything is being turned on its head, spun around and around and all I know is that I don't know anymore.
Wow what a place to be!
My ideas of theatre are constantly being challenged by the wonders of the classroom.

It's like the discovery that the world isn't flat, I don't know what to do, it's all new territory.
And it occurs to me that we all have a couple of choices, either retreat back into our little villages ignoring this new discovery or forge our world and ourselves a new in the light of the discovery.

A new world. A dream world where the music of the wind dances in the chimes.
A world where conventional acting and convential theatre are just that, conventional.
Conventional; ordinary, the accepted form, general consent.

Conventional acting, the obvious route or as Philippe so concisely put it today, "anybody can do that. Even my sister could do that."

Yes I accept that I am a conventional actor.

I don't want to be conventional anymore.
I want to be great.
I want to be special.
I want to be beautiful.
I want to be Free.
Beautifully free.

Right now my conventional ideas are tumbling in the drum of a dryer.
Actually no, not a dryer, a washing machine and not just my ideas, my whole being.
I'm being cleaned, rinsed, and bleached and when the door opens I will be cleansed of the dirt of convention.

I will climb out anew, discover my wings and soar.

I have every faith that this will happen.

Let's go Monsieur Gaulier
Where will you lead us?
What will we discover?
What winds will chime in us?
What will spark our individual poetry?
What fires will ignite our freedom?
What games will we play?
What rhythms will we play with?
What lands will we dream?

So many questions?

And for now I happy to be disorientated, tumbling round and round knocking my head on the drum, getting bruised and battered as the machine washes me.

It's good to be lost.

For only when we are lost can we truly find our way.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pronunciation: /ˈvʌlgə/ adjective
1: lacking sophistication or good taste:a vulgar check suit

2: making explicit and offensive reference to sex or bodily functions; coarse and rude: a vulgar joke

3:(dated) characteristic of or belonging to ordinary people.

The above is from the Oxford English Dictionary.

The word of today, according to Philippe an actor should never be vulgar but what does this mean? Well we can immediately rule out number 2, so many plays since plays began have characters that make explicit references to sex or bodily functions, in fact monsieur Gaulier often makes jokes that are of this nature, non, this is not what is meant by an actor never being vulgar.

And we can think of characters whose clothes are vulgar; Malvolio in his cross gartered yellow stockings immediately springs to mind, so this leaves us only with number 3, a dated meaning but one that made so much sense in class today.

The exercise; to enter and to paint little brushstrokes, tiny flecks of character that colour the canvas of the audiences imagination.

There was a "writer" in the corner, another class mate who had to help the actor if they got stuck.
Philippe asks for a volunteer.
I stand.
I walk off stage with absolutely no idea what to do.
frantically look for something to go on stage with.
I grab a pink plastic bag and a toilet roll as Philippe bang his drum bumbumbubmbubmbubmbubmbubmbubm..bum...bum...BUM!

And I'm on.

I stop.

Look around.

Take in the space.

Move to the chairs.

Take off my hat.

I shout...Norman.

Wait for a response.





I look cheesed off. Then look at the chair and tut. Take the roll of toilet paper out the pink bag, tear off a strip and start to wipe down the chair.
Suddenly I'm cleaner man, pleased at having found something to do on stage, oh yes this acting lark is easy.

Philippe rings a doorbell on his i-pod.
I go off to see who it is. He stops the scene.

Not a good start.

Maybe the choice of toiet paper was a metaphor for the shit I just did.

He goes on to explain that i killed myself the moment i took my hat off, that when i entered he was happy to be with me. That he was happy to dream around me. But that within 30 seconds i had killed myself.
That an audience has to dream around the character for 2 hours.
2 hours?
And i lasted 30 seconds. Ay-ay-ayit's a bit like when I fuck. ( is that vulgar?)

He told me that cleaning the chair was vulgar, I wasn't sure I knew what he meant.
He told me to leave and to whisper words offstage very fast.



"Now you enterrr."

"And you cry."

"You say "to be or not to be" whilst crying."

"Shut up."

"You come forward singing a love song like a music hall star."

I went a bit Bill and Ted and sang every rose has its thorn.

"You ask someone out here for a mescal."

I do.

"Louder and you are drunk."

Can i have a mescal.

"Louder and you are drunk."

And you don't wipe your mouth.




He plays some music.

It is fast and full of life.

And you dance.

I do.

I dance on top of the chairs.

"And don't be so heaveeee!"

"You play lighter."


"And you say a poem."

"A love poem."

I start. Stop all the clocks...


"Like Mark 5."

"More gay."


I deliver the poem lighter.
...I thought that love would last forever... I was wrong

I take a step back.

...I was wrong.

"and you leave rhispering I was wrong."

I walk back up stage centre.

Hold there for a second.

I smile.

And as I leave.


Boom on the drum.

I come back out.

"He could have stayed longer at the end, non, Pon Pon?"

Ya, replies Michiko.

"We like him like this, non?"

The class agree.

"Ya. But when you touch your mouth as a drunk it is nuffing. It is vulgar. Anybody in the world could do this. I play drunk I wipe my mouth. So cheap. It is the job of the actor to be better. That the spectator, he thinks, i could not have done that, he is better than me.
I think on this. He is right how can we dream around a character if we only see cliche and obvious choices? For the spectators to dream we have to show them the unexpected, so they think "oh-la la who is this person" bif we only give them what they know how can they dream> They can't because they already know it, non.
So to anyone reading this; don't be vulgar on stage, don't do what anybody coud do, find a way to be special, then you are an actor, and your character lives in the audiences imagination, non?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paris... part 2

I'm back.
Huzzah! Hurrah! Oom-pa-paa!
Yes, term 2 comenced a couple of days ago and now here I am about to go to movement to se our new teacher Martin (pronounced Martine).
I now have a new favourite game, very simple too everyone stands in a circle one person throws a ball to someone across the space and shouts the name of another person in the circle, they then change places (the one who called a name and the one whose name was called). the person who catches the ball throws it to someone else calls another name and changes places with them.
The game continues.
It may not sound exciting on the page, these explanations rarely do, just play it, and let the energy and confusion follow, I love it.

I'm going to try and write a lot less about school this term, following the advice that i was given but i do like to write so quite what this will be, who knows...
"You will see what you will see!"

I do have a couple of quotes from yesterday though...

"If we see too much the character, the character dies."

"The actor has to tread on eggshells in the imagination of the audience."

I'll leave you to figure out what they mean.

For now

Au revoir