In this workshop I wanted to try another of Rémy’s entrées, The Cakes in the Hat, one that is structurally less clear than William Tell. This one doesn’t have two separate parts (prologue and action). But two functions are present. We can extract the action (the cake trick done twice) from the remainder, which provides the context of the clown trying to show his skill, and the august trying unsuccessfully to emulate him. Here, the august has more of an objective, though at first he as in William Tell, simply reacting to the proposals of the clown. But the august soon wants to adopt the same objective as the clown, of doing the cakes trick, with disastrous results.
Our rehearsal method was to first block the piece without using any of the dialogue. The question is, how much can we do without the spoken words? I excluded the use of pantomime as a substitute for words (especially those gestures that seek to make others do as you wish, such as signals for ‘come here’, ‘wait’, etc.) Also forbidden were non-verbal sounds. And finally, all the performers must appear to be normal, intelligent people, and not imbeciles.
All of these warnings originate in my seeing these boundaries crossed time and time again by clown students and performers. How many countless times have you seen clowns tell each other, and the audience, what to do? Or use pantomimic gestures, as if the audience were so stupid they didn’t understand! Each performer, as in any theatre, must only worry about their own role, and retain their independence, allowing their partners to be themselves, thus creating the conditions for drama, conflict and fun. Likewise, performers should leave the audience to comprehend by themselves. After all, they are just as intelligent as you are.
We then had a kind of ‘action-script’. Anything that appears in the text, but is not an actable action, must be omitted. So we don’t attempt to act any non-actions. What is a ‘real action’, then? The first one in The Cakes in the Hat is when the august hides his hat from the clown. That’s real, in that it can be done by the real body in real, present space. And we can add the motivation in the way that we do this action. But without the action this would be impossible, to show only the emotional drive for the action but without the action itself. In the moments immediately after his real action, we can add some more business that is a consequence of the real action. In this example the clown shows his lack of interest in the august’s hat, and the august is offended. But it would be impossible to show only this ‘offence’. Moving on, we will need to get to the next real action, and so on.
Having got this far, we then added back in some of the spoken text, but only if you feel that the words will add to the audience’s pleasure.
Rémy, Tristan (1962) Entrées clownesques, Paris: L’Arche.