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.