Thursday 29 April 2010

First Thoughts about the End

My three-year research project on clown/actor training is coming to an end. What are my final questions?

Here are two that are occuring to me at the moment:

1. Does Clown/Actor training work?
2. What is the best name for a new Clown Company?

Though they might not seem related, these two problems encapsulate everything I’ve been questioning over the last two and a half years. The first question brings me back to something very essential, perhaps the big question for a clown/actor/peformer, which is about how we actually perform. How do we do it? How do we prepare for it? And what exactly is performing? Diderot’s paradox and Stanislavsky’s search for truth, as well as most 20th century and previous methods of actor training, are concerned with the same issue.

I’m happy to have come back to such a simple question, because it allows me to throw onto the rubbish heap a lot of nonsense that I’ve come across lately, particularly in the world of academic practice-as-research. I recently received an email from some students who were canvassing opinions and reactions amongst staff and students, on the concept of “abandonment”. We were asked to relate this to our own performance practice. Obviously, we can find just about everything within the world of theatre or performance, but that doesn’t make it important or worth researching. Picking a word at random from the dictionary and then researching it in a performance context does not make any sense. It addresses no issue of pressing interest to performers or audiences.

Despite some interest in new technology, mixed-genre, or site-specific work, etc. even these current fashions do not in any way bear upon anything of real interest. But then, of course, such thumb-twiddling is easily bred in academia. The advantage of asking irrelevant questions is that no-one will challenge you on them, since no-one will be interested. On the other hand, asking whether actor training works will be swiftly challenged.

My second question has been gaining in importance over the last couple of months since we decided to convert some of the clown numbers we’ve been workshopping into professional-standard performances. If this research is to have any use, it must prove itself to improve the quality of clown performance. Anything else is purely academic.

The problem of finding a suitable name encapsulates several problems. The split in the clown world between those who are seen to be not funny and those who have pretensions not to be funny is vast. I see no point in adding any more clowning to either camp or faction. The only way forward is down the middle. But how? The status of clowning today is wretched. It is either denigrated or hijacked. How can clowns reclaim our own art and still engage with society as a whole? How do you describe good clowning in a way that people will recognise?

… to be continued…