I began this last workshop of the term with what had always been my usual way: asking everyone for their thoughts since last time. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done that, I’m not quite sure why, perhaps I gave up due to a lack of response?
My next question was, ‘how should we proceed? What is the best way to work with the entrées?
Some requests were:
Perform the action-without-words version.
Learn all the steps first.
Don’t mess around with the basic action, the numbers are already good and we probably won’t improve on them to begin with.
Work in order: first learn the text (alone), second learn the actions (together), third perform it as a clown (your own clown), fourth find the relationships (together).
I’d go along with all of those.
Each clown in The Bottles has an objective which defines their role. Loyal wants the show to go well. Clown wants to show off his trick, and August wants the bottle. In this session we worked with just these three roles, so let’s leave the two counter-augusts aside for the moment.
All these objectives must be really clear to the audience, and if each clown can make us laugh just by embodying their objective, things will go fantastically. When working together, it’s the relationships which are important. One way to milk that more is to wind each other up! The conflicts happen because each role sticks to their own objective. Don’t give in! At the same time, you must leave each other space, setting up your companions so they can shine. It’s what is expressed so well in the French term ‘faire-valoir’, usually used to denominate the clown who makes the august look funny. But it applies equally to all kinds of clowns. This is real playing, in Gaulier’s sense. No role is deliberately out to sabotage another, but simply wants what he wants. I mentioned Meisner recently. And here we are again with some very simple, Meisner-ish instructions for the actor.
So what the audience witnesses in a good clown show is the performers themselves, and not their interpretations or ideas. We feel the performers, as people, and we laugh at their stupid desires, feeling and thoughts. In a bad show, we only see the performer’s ideas, their constructions that they want to show us, their own desire to show us their clever creativity, and we are very quickly bored.
In this session we worked on the first part of The Bottles, up until just before the entrance of the two counter-augusts. We did 8 different versions, rotating the roles, and began not only to get a grasp on the action, inevitably, but, more importantly, to glimpse the subtleties of the relationships. I strongly believe that these entrées are highly delicate and subtle pieces. But if you play them with characters, they descend into cheap imitations of clichés of clowns, that no-one wants to watch. They become parodies of clowns. But if you play them for real, they become delightful studies of human behaviour.
Thus we come to the end of the first term of the third year of the project. What lies ahead? I would like
- Serious rehearsing of the entrées and get them performed as much as possible.
- Settle on a Method of performing/rehearsing.
- Analyse the entrées to make them learnable.
- Revise other actor training, Meisner, etc.
- Continue to devise with tables and chairs.
In addition, there is new work to be started:
- Clown music: what is it?
- What can we learn from Commedia dell’arte scenarios?
- What long forms are appropriate to clown? Hollywood movies, Wagner, Mozart, Black and White Minstrels?
Meisner, Sandford (1987) On Acting, New York: Vintage Books.
Rémy, Tristan (1962) Entrées clownesques, Paris: L’Arche.