Saturday 25 February 2012

Mickey Mouse and Julius Caesar, Two Clowns Busking on the South Bank, London

Looking for a busking pitch on the South Bank, where officially permission must be sought from the owners of this privately owned piece of land. But not getting any reply from the owners, it's a question of trial and error.  Next to a couple of fancy human statues who have put a lot of work into their costumes we find the ubiquitous Mickey Mouse. Everyone wearing a Mickey Mouse costume that I've seen seems to have the same gestural language. I don't just mean that they all wave, but that they also all have the same kind of shuffling movement, combined with a lack of fixed points probably brought on by the way the weight of the costume is distributed. In contrast, the posh statues have a mime-trained look, displaying their technique with pride. Not being a fan anymore of such clean-lined gestuality (I had a good year doing mime in the Theatre Jeune de Narbonne, partly as my French wasn't good enough to speak on stage) I find I am not prejudiced aesthetically in favour of either Mickey or Julius Caesar. They appear to me as equal contestants, and my impression is that they both work on the same fundamental principles. Leaving aside quesitons of aesthetic superiority, people are attracted to Mickey and Julius becaue of .... what is it exactly? The strangeness of these other-worldly beings, arrived from another world, the world of the dead, or the never having been born? Mythical incarnations, sent to bless, or to scare us. Isn't it that essentially what makes them tick? My own field, clowning, surely then comes into the same category. Appear as a clown, and you are a clown. Let us place two clowns side by side. One, who has trained with several world-reknowned teachers, spending large sums on workshops to gurus who sometimes deliver and sometimes do not, travelling internationally to improve his/her understanding and practice of clowning, seeking out the truth of their own vulnerability in the moment, exposing their inner clown to the audience, and costumed thoughfully, drawing on ocntemporary and historical fahions of clowning, but always looking for what makes them as an individual work best and appear mot ridiculous. The other, costumed in an off-the-peg multi-coloured, synthetic-fabric outfit, no training, no thought. Both clowns.

Today, I don't fancy competing with the statues, I've come to play music, so I choose the other side of Hungerford Bridge, placed strategically to allow viewing and litening from those descending the bridge, those in the terraces outside the Royal Festival Hall, and anyone else strolling along the river on this sunny-ish lunchtime. It's the ideal spot, there's enough space not to annoy anyone who doesn't want to listen, but excellent sightlines. The only drawback is it isn't permitted here, so I last half an hour at most. Still, it's worth it for the positive reactions from those who frequent these spaces dedicated to high art. They are generally an appreciative and discerning audience. I wonder if they prefer Mickey or Caesar?