Friday 23 October 2009

Clown Research Workshop, Year 3, No. 3, 22/10/09

Having got the chair onstage, what happens next?

I think it is still very much an open question in clown dramaturgy just how we construct the action. There are plenty of models to choose from, from theatre and cinema: variety (one self-contained piece after another), linear narrative, episodic narrative, or indeed from music: classical sonata form, Wagnerian climaxes, to name a few of the most obvious ones. The most developed clown entrées, from the ‘golden age of clowning’ c.1890-1945, if we follow Rémy’s judgement (Rémy 1945, 1962), last around 20 minutes, being based on a single, strong premise. The same holds true for vaudeville, as here discussed in reference to Harry Langdon:

Though Langdon’s vaudeville act was, as a comedy sketch, based upon a narrative format, Langdon was accustomed to working within the standard twenty minutes allotted to each act on a vaudeville bill. … This twenty minutes or less included at least one song by Langdon’s wife and the specially staged curtain call. This left only enough time for Langdon to establish a single, simple situation as the premise for his performance. (Rheuban 1983: 46)

Another form of premise-driven comedy is the TV sitcom, which, in its most highly developed state in the USA, fills 22 minutes in a 30-minute slot, broken down as follows:

Sitcom format: Credits - Story (Teaser/Cold Open) – Commercial – Story – Commercial - End of Story – Commercial – Tag – Credits (Sedita 2006: 8).

In other words, one idea will last you approximately 20 minutes, as long as you know how to develop it.

Having got our chair on, I now wanted to see a change of rhythm, and maybe a series of problems and attempted solutions. We tried playing with jumping over chairs and tables, or otherwise passing by them. Since I did a workshop with the Russian movement teacher, Natalia Fedorova, I have been intrigued by jumping over furniture. One of her classes consisted in just that, taught with a refreshing simplicity and without any neurosis about safety.

As with the previous week, we ended up with two devised pieces. Both had something but were incomplete, but both demonstrated the importance of rhythm when working in such a basic physical way. I think I would like to see a build up to a climax in this second scene, which could lead to a chair collapsing or some other big surprise.

Next, in theory, it seems to me that we will want a third and final scene, which will bring the action to a satisfying fulfilment. A kind of end of Act I, perhaps.

Works cited:
Rheuban, Joyce (1983) Harry Langdon: the Comedian as Metteur-en-Scene, London: AUP.
Sedita, Scott (2006) The Eight Characters of Comedy, Los Angeles: Atides Publishing.
Rémy, Tristan (1945) Les Clowns, Paris: Grasset.
Rémy, Tristan (1962) Entrées clownesques, Paris: L’Arche.

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