Sunday, September 1, 2013

Carlo's Revenge - a project honoring my teacher Carlo Mazzone-Clementi

I am in Italy, the country of Carlo's birth. This project "Commedia Toto" owes much to Carlo and is a transference of his energy. Carlo was complex and I understood early that he was like a fire and if you got too close you might get burned. There are others who could tell drastically more about Carlo than me but that is up to them to write or not to.

Carlo was the person who first told me about Toto the great Italian clown. In Australia around Christmas SBS would show a Toto movie annually. A few years ago for the new generation SBS began to show Roberto Begnini's Pinocchio instead. Carlo was also my initial teacher in Commedia dell'arte.

"Commedia Toto" reflects my own interest in a holistic integration of clown and commedia dell'arte. This is counter to the teaching in theatre about 'styles' in which there are claims that 'clown' is a 'style' and that clown is separate or distinct from 'commedia'. Such distinctions are only one way of understanding theatre.

I have found that teaching categorical separation of 'styles' in theatre is Cartesian (Rene Decartes) in that it separates rather than integrates.

In many ways I use Shakespeare as the ultimate theatre fulcrum. Shakespeare integrated clown, commedia, tragedy and comedy. I disagree with the clear distinctions of Shakespeare's works as tradition maintains it as: tragedy, comedy, history plays. For example Henry V is considered a 'history' play yet it is filled with clowning (comedy). Antony & Cleopatra is sometimes referred to by scholars and directors as a tragedy or a history. Which is it? Or can't it be both? Yet if it is either a tragedy or a history why is it filled with comedy? Then is it a comedy? Again that reflects a Cartesian approach and I feel there are better ways to consider such works.

Commedia dell'arte itself is filled with clowning. Antony & Cleopatra in fact or in my view is also a great commedia dell'arte play. There is a real possibility and maybe even a probability that Shakespeare spent three formative years in Italy. A large percentage of his plays take place in Italy (Venice, Padua, Verona). Some of Shakespeare's plays are partially in or related to Italy - Antony & Cleopatra, The Tempest, and Cymbeline.   

I consider Toto one of the most direct links to commedia dell'arte. He is like a pure cultural lineage. He even explains that his first experience in theatre was with a commedia dell'arte show. Of course the purest romantic form of commedia ended in the 1600s. It had remnants into the 1700s and one of those extended farther as the Price family of pantomime players from England joined forces (and families through marriage) with an Italian commedia family when the two met in Copenhagen around 1810. This tradition continues with the 10th generation Price still involved in Copenhagen's style of commedia in its Tivoli Pantomime. There a Price is the composer and musical director.

Toto, just as Harlequin could, took on a variety of guises. Two of those I am fascinated by. Those two are Toto as Pinocchio and as Otello (both as marionettes). In at least one movie Toto also plays a clown.

Long ago I worked on two plays of Pirandello and was very interested in his use of meta-theatre - the acknowledgement of both the actors and the audience that what we are experiencing is theatre and life and that the life we experience in the theatre is also the only reality. Carlo once said in class while he was giving an inspirational talk "You think I am talking about theatre, but, I am not! I am talking about life!". In this respect Carlo was Pirandellian. So Brecht, Commedia, Clown and above all Shakespeare used meta-theatre at least in each of his prologues, epilogues, asides and perhaps too in his soliloquies as performed by such people as Mark Rylance. Rylance is the embodiment of clown, commedia, capo comico, and tragedian. So too is Toto.

A few years ago I was nearly able to start my "Commedia Toto" project with two actors. That didn't eventuate. But now I am here in Italy and with a wonderful group of actors and colleagues we are creating the play "Commedia Toto" that will be performed at the end of this week. I have asked for two assistants on this project each of whom will also act in the play. My friend and colleague Caspar Schjelbred (Denmark/Sweden) has assisted with the organization and communication and Elena Michielin (of Veneto) has done the textual research I've assigned into Toto texts and Pirandello texts. In our play Elena will play a character named "The Actress" and Caspar's is "Soren Kierkagaard". Kevin Gorczynski is "Toto as Pinocchio". ... to be continued...

Monday, June 24, 2013

A & C 2013 - section four Antony and Cleopatra

In this section I will write just a little about our "Antony" portrayed by Berynn Schwerdt and "Cleopatra" portrayed by Denby Weller.

Two important points to start with: 1) Berynn and Denby were arduous in the preparation and development and performance of their roles of which I will write more in a moment, and, 2) they were extraordinarily generous in performance/rehearsal with every single actor with whom they were onstage with. Oh if only every actor were so generous to other actors.

We had about three weeks to rehearse A & C, part-time!! Monday to Thursday 6pm to 10pm. And Saturdays 10am to 4pm. I asked the actors to cooperate by learning their lines prior to the first day of rehearsal. Naturally when we are all freelancers trying to get by and pay the rent etc it can be very challenging to learn ones lines by oneself. Even more so with Shakespeare in that there is such an intimacy between the shared text in every scene. So learning a Shakespeare monologue/soliloquy is one thing - learning a scene is a different intellectual challenge. The larger swathes of text belong to Antony, Cleopatra, Enobarbus, Caesar. Some of the actors played three or four characters so in some cases there was a significant amount of text for them.

Berynn and Denby were excellent to work with. My work with them can only be understood in the 'secret ways of theatre'. Amongst the most important thing was to understand that I was to support them. It was their project. I shared their project and they were generous to me, very generous in terms of trust and support for my artistic drive(s). I've had the opportunity to teach and work with perhaps 3000 actors. I was one of Berynn's teachers at NIDA. He was OUTSTANDING at 19 years of age (maybe he was 18 or 20??? when I taught him). I worked with him for a few days on a film on which I was the choreographer. We would see each other rarely, occasionally and have a coffee, or a meal. I saw him 'last' in Titus Andronicus at ATYP around 2011 when I was directing in Sydney and teaching a short workshop on Shakespeare. I really loved the Titus production. Everyone did a fine job - the actors, the director, the designer. It was the first time I saw Helmut Baktis (sp?) act. He was also the teacher of the director. Berynn was wonderful!!! His "Antony" was HIS!!!!!! Wonderful. Berynn is very knowledgeable with Shakespeare and many aspects of acting and theatre. For our play reading I deferred any questions of pronunciation to Berynn. He went far with the mercurial, emotional shifts of "Antony". As with any Shakespeare play or character one can see and benefit from cross-referencing other plays by Shakespeare and other of his characters. There were scenes and moments for Berynn/Antony when I thought of Macbeth, others when I saw Richard III, others Falstaff. With other actors in our A & C I would see other such cross-references. For "Lepidus", and I know this is stretching an already stretched tether but I did say to Branden regarding "Lepidus" that maybe, m-a-y-b-e we could view him as having a bit of "Polonius". Maybe. That was a director's creative suggestion, not a literal one. Likewise I said to Jonathon who portrayed "Caesar" perhaps p-e-r-h-a-p-s he is more like Paul Keating. For Berynn we didn't chit-chat much about his "Antony". It was a giant role and so complex an experience within my conceptualizing. So we did things on the floor. At times I played the taboo pesky nuisance crass director with no borders.  He was tolerant and playful. He also I hope and trust was able to use his rich knowledge of Shakespeare to help others in the production with their questions. I preferred that. I trust him. He is good and understanding and I am certain he helped folks. On the other hand we had wonderful young actors such as Robert and Jonathon who are also quite savvy with Shakespeare. None the less I think every single actor got a stretch in their beliefs and understanding not only of their roles in A & C but also in the play and in the breadth of possibilities with Shakespeare that rarely get challenged. Really I frame it thus - "I think mostly what is going on in Shakespeare in Australia is a year-ten sophomore in high school mentality. It is like 'the bible tells me so' or 'my father told me so it is must be'. I think many Shakespeare productions are anal retentive. Conservative, boring, much of the same or on the other extreme people being adolescent and doing what they will with it as if that is interesting." 

For Berynn, he's 45 now. When I taught him I was 33. He's lived and he should be able to grapple with this giant role and enjoy the 17 relationships with the other actors and myself and our glorious Stage Manager Ruth Horsfall!!!! Berynn, and Denby excelled in their creative and intellectual relationships with each of the other actors and their characters. In many ways it was this work that was 'unique' in our production as compared with the overwhelming majority of productions of Shakespeare that I have ever seen.

Another line in my theories about working with Shakespeare is that repeatedly in Australia and often in the USA and even too often in the UK even with the so-called 'top' companies (ugh!!) so much focus in the directing is about and around the protagonist. I find that approach so extremely limiting and even totally inaccurate to the richness of every single play by Shakespeare. To me, the greatest beauty is not Antony and Cleopatra per se but how the actors Berynn and Denby connected - REALLLY connected with EVERY single character and every single actor in the play.

Berynn was one of Denby and Brinley's teachers. He may have taught others too at the Actors Centre. Robert also is a graduate of ACA's Journey. So here was a rare three-generation production with me as one of Berynn's teachers and he a teacher of several of the others. Likewise with Natalie and Ms Lopes' Troupe - I was one of her teachers at CSU and she had four of her pupils in this production.

..... must stop writing for a while.... to be continued

I will write more about Berynn's "Antony" later when I look at some scenes individually.

Now a few thoughts about Denby's unique "Cleopatra". It is interesting - sort of - to hear theatre practitioners pontificate about their 'real knowledge' of particulars of plays and theatre practices such as staging, acting, voice, characterization - as if there weren't a vast, unlimited range of possible interpretations and breadth of aesthetics. Denby has the most beautiful combination of a vastly savvy young person of achievement in several fields (writing, producing, communication, articulation of ideas, mountain climbing, martial arts, and all things current be they politics or cinema or fashion or food), and, all that is combined with an open, honest, playful curiosity that borders on innocence and naivety.

Like most actors I deal with, we find ways together to encounter the training they have had before an experience with me. Inevitably I see benefits in any and every acting/theatre training. However, at the same time we discover together (without discussing any of the details) that in fact some aspect of their training may have involved a fallacy. In this case we were dealing with Shakespeare. I have a concept "Shakespeare as a Tool for the Theatre". I am not concerned with the normal sense of 'really do a good or even a great production of a Shakespeare play'. I hear the beat of a different drummer because that other idea of 'good' drummed into us at school, by professional directors, etc is out of tune - as far as I am concerned. In Yiddish we would say it is "drechk".

So with Denby we located a wild and wise yet vulnerable yet street wise "Cleopatra". Much more important than having a young Australian actress portray a long dead Egyptian queen is for a young Australian woman to learn to be more herself in all her glory. I have ZERO interest in a 'real good' portrayal of ANY of Shakespeare's incredible, vast, array of characters. I want to see that living breathing actor before me exude their own individual glory as a person and as an artist, an authentic artist of the stage. Through and via this truth the real glory of Shakespeare's wisdom breathes on a stage. Mostly we get very competent, professional actors acting like they are Shakespearean actors in a Shakespeare play. Generally it is awful work we see. We see it over and over not only via the Bell Shakespeare Company but mostly by their derivatives and so-called countr companies who imagine they are doing so much better than the BSC. I have recently seen Shakespeare productions from 3 European countries that were utterly and totally phenomenal on every level of acting, theatre, production.

We, and I say this as an Australian citizen and someone who started touring to Australia in 1981, we still need Australian voiced Shakespeare productions. Rex Cramphorn(e) apparently was ushering in such a voice and no doubt others have. None the less - when I am talking about the Australian voice I am referring to the actors own voice and all of its nuances that get shaved away be 'good voice' techniques. It is pompous malarkey to believe there is a standard for voice training. It is a fallacy. So ironically even though our 'voice' work in A & C was minimal (as was everything else) the actors all, each, had their own totally distinct Australian voices. A few who had 3 or 4 characters chose to put on an accent for some characters. Fine. That is them working as an artist to find, to discover their own ways and means vocally to differentiate their characters. For Denby she had one character with a multitude of voices and moods. She honoured the text and the text honoured her. That is the magic of Shakespeare. He was a bard. A real one and at the time when bards existed. He wrote at during the absolute peak of commedia dell'arte. Supposedly there were two actual Italian troupes that came to England during the time when Shakespeare would have been able to see them. There is at least one scholar that provides 'evidence' that Shakespeare was very likely in Italy for three years. This is yet to be proved beyond a doubt, yet, there is possible evidence. An unusual number of his plays located outside of England are placed in Italy, and they clearly and obviously have commedia elements. Although Antony & Cleopatra has scenes in Rome - I view that A & C has possible elements of commedia incorporated. In commedia the individual lustre of an actor create differences even in the stock characters. Denby showed an intellectual and creative and emotional acting range that any commedia actor should admire. What is important is not formal training and not an 'accurate' portrayal of our cliché image of an Egyptian queen. We can see in the antics of Prince William and Harry - children of Diane and Charles - they have noble and larrikin qualities. They are busy becoming themselves. Likely so was Cleopatra, so is Denby. It was her authentic drive and search for how to execute every single second of this topsy-turvy antics rich character that made her a queen, it made her glorious in her weaknesses which a second later shone to become a young master of the stage. Still for each actor every performance was a struggle - as in sport - they were all alive and yes, it did help to have a director with courage in their corner coaching them for the next round. So many directors are actually scared of actors thus they learn how to laud over them in subtle yet no uncertain terms. I enjoy meeting the actor head on in strange and unpredictable ways. Unpredictable even to myself. Denby is both a sweetheart of a person and a person with unlimited veracity in life - as her sports of tae kwan do (past) and mountaineering (current) reveal. There were hundreds of moments of shapeshifting that she mastered in this singular role. There were certain patterns as per the text that reveal an observable character.

But for me, the most important thing was, that a young Australian woman was genuinely allowed, guided, and cajoled to find her totally unique "Cleopatra". Was it Shakespeare's "Cleopatra"? Who gives a flying stuff about that? I don't. What counts is Denby.  She and Berynn were the people I made 'the three musketeers' pledge with. She's a young intellectual artist with guts galore who wanted to take a punt - and put her own money and time and energy into. Most actors are remarkably gutless. They've been primed to be useful tools for the industry, for directors, agents, and teachers to pay their pay their own mortgages.

Denby, like each of the actors had resistance training from me. Each had at one point or many a chance to stand up to and with me. Not against me nor I against them. The actor needs a director who can provide resistance not opposition. Why? In the end, at the beginning :) I coached the actors to know "you are the artists and I am just here to help facilitate your art work", and, "in the end it is your show, you will be on stage, it is you who have to own the project".

Denby and I worked together hard to resolve several artistically challenging scenes. For example the scene when the messenger can seemingly do no right and "Cleopatra" has to belt the "Messenger" who in this case was a youngster. The others in the scene had to patiently wait as layer after layer revealed itself in an organic mise-en-scene. I definitely directed but via ensemble participation.

One of our early breakthroughs was from my insistence that any sympathetic and romantic portrayal had to be removed before we could discover the romance of passion and conflict and needs. Each section and each scene when the light bulb appeared for Denby was remarkable and suddenly at every step she was leading the other actors. Yes, she was the queen - the leader of her people. Yet, Shakespeare has given us an immensely human portrait of what happens behind closed doors. At times according to the text as I sensed its unfolding - suddenly Charmian, then now Iras would leap ahead and 'manhandle' their mistress. And God does "Cleopatra" need manhandled! As she tells Caesar at one point "Wert thou a man" causing him to take action not towards her but for her. A very Lady Macbeth moment of demanding action from a man.

One of many beautiful experiences in rehearsal was when I asked Denby to please belt one of the young little sweet innocent blonde youngsters full on in the stomach for her insubordination as a guard. I asked young Brydey if that was okay with her. Her pupils dilated an expectant pleasure. Yet at the same time there was a hesitant air in the room generated by everyone's thought 'ok Ira's going too far this time'. So we gave it a go, and, importantly Denby gave it a very gentle go. We three began to work our way thru the mechanics of the punch. I wanted it active enough that Brydey would feel motivated to collapse on the floor. Then we integrated the text and moments leading to and after the punch. When we finished about 5 or 10 minutes later - "whatever it takes" - I asked Brydey if she felt this was okay for her. There was yet another young Aussie gal having a total ball. She jumped up and down a bit and exclaimed that this was now her most favourite scene she was in. Denby found exquisite ways of portraying every second around that, just as she sought every second in her portrait of "Cleopatra" to be fully alive, real, and integrated to each fellow actor's work.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A & C 2013 section three

Amongst the anomalies in our production that are a reflection of my particular eccentric or eclectic view about the nature of theatre... Artistically I lean towards meta-theatre as a preferred style. Meta-theatre lets practitioners and audiences admit that above all the reality is only that we are presenting or observing a play. That is the only truth. Mark Antony died eons ago and does not stand before us. Who stands before is an actor who is person who is portraying or specifically pretending in an artistic way to be Mark Antony. I have long sought a way for actors to take back their indigenous nature, their ability to mimic, embody, embrace, pretend, enact, dance any character they choose or are chosen to portray. So here I hint at very big theme - I believe that the Indigenous actors and theatre in Australia has a treasure chest of performance modalities and sensibilities that we, the non-Indigenous artists can learn from. Not to copy their culture but to understand their greater potency as actors even when in some cases they are clearly not trained. As NAISDA happened to have been the fertile ground from where the Page brothers emerged to create Bangarra - I think that there is a more general and broader growth, in part inspired by the Page brothers and Bangarra's many great artists who effect an development in the Indigenous Australian theatre.

I will return to 'anomolies' and then I will briefly discuss the voices of the actors in A & C 2013.

One of the most blatant oddities was the overall reference to obviously female actors as 'sir', 'he', 'man' etc as was written in the text but certainly was not intended for woman to portray male characters. So clearly I took liberties with the author's intentions. Or did I? As is well known in Shakespeare's time and company and plays in their original period all of the female characters were known by the public to be portrayed by Boy Actors. Now some of them may have continued to play female roles past adolescence and past their change of voices, and these actors may have even used falsetto to continue to play female characters. So I simply allowed this to happen in reverse. I have done so when I deemed it appropriate due to the practical choice of what actors were available whether they were male or female. Once when directing Pericles I asked a male actor to play a female character, in a dress, but not to shave. I did that for a very capable actor who I thought simply would benefit by doing a project where he could think out of the box of what is deemed "good theatre". Sometimes you have to be bad to be good. Think Boy George etc.

In one case the actors in a scene decided to change the 'him' and 'he' etc in reference to Enobarbus (played by a woman in our production) - to 'her' and 'he'. It started with one or two actors having made that choice. I said nothing as they were experimenting with their own decision. In this case I chose to not interfere, but, other times in other productions I certainly to interfere with an actors choice if I think there is clearly a better alternative. In this scene then the last and third actor in the scene also changed the him/he-s to her/she-s. This may have likely been for harmony in that particular scene and by verbal agreement between the three actors. That was Act 4, scene 6. However, only a few scenes later a different grouping of three actors kept the him/he even though in this case Enobarbus was actually in the scene and clearly a woman (portraying a scripted male character). I never discussed this matter with the cast. I certainly would not be surprised if the cast discussed this extreme anomaly amongst themselves. In its own way this is one of the more extreme things I have ever allowed/done with a text's expandability. The later was Act 4, scene 9. In this scene the meta-theatre was held purely by the honest, naïve, and well acted if not sincere acting by 3 of Ms Lopes' Troupe. In our small theatre and in my staging when the young actors sidle little more than 1 metre from the ailing/dying Enobarbus. At the same time Brinley who portrayed "Enobarbus" gave a gut wrenching rendition of the inner turmoil with moans that some of you may know happen only in your worst, most private loss of love. This happened in each rehearsal and each performance. In this case I said very little, hesitating to give open and full complements lest I tamper with her deeper work of art and craft in this scene. This was ancient acting, of an indigenous nature, as one may easily image Elenora Duse or Sarah Bernhardt. Yes it was 'melodramtic' but it was unique, personal, and spell binding. Something that the youth actors will likely remember possibly for the rest of their lives. This is 'Hamlet' in the sense of the Player King's enactment of the story of Hecuba. The theatre protocol allows us the indulgence of the Player King because Hamlet then is so moved as to comment on it. Yet, we are so weak and scared of critics (our colleagues as well as those folks employed to write theatre criticism) that we shy away when a young actor still has the courage to make their own deep discoveries. My job in this area is to allow the actor maximum freedom so long as they feel the inner truth of indigenous portrayal and pretending.

As with all of my on-the-floor direction I may come right down on the floor, and did so, at times when the actor is clearly deep in emotion and give a practical direction or two right inches from their face as I whisper the direction the beauty with Brinley and Berynn who also had such charged emotional scenes was that they not only tolerated my "Ingmar Bergman moments" but were kind and mature enough to use both sides of their brains to incorporate an occasional 'in yer face' direction. Ingmar Bergman would at times have his face intimately close to two lovers while directing as can be seen on some documentary footage of him in action. I have no interest to imitate his mastery it is more about the allowance for the actor and the director to do what ever seems best and to explore to find what might, possibly, work.

Brinley (Enobarbus) and Paul (Agrippa) had a rich scene - the end of Act 2 scene 2. One day early in rehearsals when it came time to run that scene - they did it more or less non-stop as a fully choreographed tango. What the?!? This was one of the first moments for actors to test and see that with me there is no limit how far they, we, or I am willing to take things or to support an actor going for an extreme fulfilling interpretation. Mind you I am not for any jackass clown actor just doing what ever they feel like whenever. I only ask that the actor is anchored in their own integrity, their own artistic exploration with a purpose defined by them, and the text, the situation, the drama, the character(s), and the relationship. As I have mentioned elsewhere (Director's Notes) - Shakespeare above any writer I have so far encountered can withstand almost any extremity of interpretation - provided the experiment is still anchored in the text or the textures of the images.

When I asked  Brinley and Paul how on Earth they accomplished this fantastic exploration and realization - Brinley replied that they thought about something that I had said. I explained that one of my stream of theories about Shakespeare (i.e. working with the scripts of Shakespeare) is that one should examine each scene as if it were a different style. To explain further here, it is as if each scene were in individual play within itself, or, as if each scene were a short film, or dance. So somehow they hit upon a lark - to try it (T-R-Y) as a tango. I later asked if either of them had ever done tango. Essentially they had not. They looked at videos and took the moves.

That scene 2.2 was a type of crucible for the production. Certainly for most of the audience they could easily comment that it was one of the highlights of the production. I didn't do it. I allowed it and encouraged it. Brinley and Paul accomplished the great task. My next task was how to make their choices work. And by work I don't mean work for some of my professional theatre colleagues who just don't get it - I mean work for our experiment. Certainly numerous theatre professionals LOVED that scene and dance!! So my task and it was a large one - how to make their beautiful efforts work. How to frame. So I asked Yiss to play a rhythm that I had the nerve to give him. I then had him play it more fervently. Quite like the horrible acting parable when the director doesn't know what to say and blurts out "Just act better". I told the musician to play stronger. It worked and he got the feel. Of course he did, he's a gifted musician. Then I started to push Brinley about the rhythm, I started to do the other no-no for directors and began to give her the exact way I foresaw that the rhythm of the text in this particular scene would work. So the aesthetics became a beat-box (literally), tango (literally), rap (literally). On top of this the acting of Brinley and Paul was romantic, erotic, passionate, and was most importantly anchored in the text. Not to boring as batshit belief system of 'how the text works'. It was anchored in the actors and the musicians bodies. It was palpable and had the most wonderful cool-down first from Paul "... Whilst you abide here" after he had tossed Enobarbus' sexually soiled and sweat wiped suit jacket and Eno replied in orgasmic exhaustion "Humbly, sir, I thank you".

Note that also in this scene 2.2 Paul as Agrippa also spoke the ten lines of Maecenas.

 

A & C 2013 - 2nd section

In the previous post Antony & Cleopatra 2013 I dealt with the beginning, how the production came about, the casting, the auditions and the beginning of the hard stuff.
The hard stuff is dealing with the naysayers. Those are particularly the theatre professionals who assume because they have read, studied, or seen the play then they know it. Many scholars note a bit of comedy or absurdity in A & C. I have not made an extensive scholastic survey of the breadth of writings about the play. So there may be a scholar out there who has written more extensively about the comedy within A & C, if you know of one (or some) please forward their name and the name of the written article or book to me at iraseid@gmail.com

Of course beEsides the theatre practitioners (some) who are naysayers and who insist along with most scholars that A & C is a formal tragedy, there is the dilemma of the theatre critics who may or may not be actual theatre practitioners. Certainly I generally consider reviewers in a positive light in that they provide a service to the industry and can assist and prod things along at times. Of course one can clearly seen a pattern of any single reviewer over time. One can see their leanings, preferences, and whose "pockets they may be pissing into" or who provides them the best premiere/opening status.

I hold scholars (not academics, who may now be closer to bureaucrats than to scholars) in high esteem. It would be virtually impossible to present any production of Shakespeare without extensive notes provided over decades by scholars. The language has changged and evolved since Shakespeare's time and the political and social context of each play is woven in layers of assumed knowledge of the time of the original writing and earliest productions.

I have had the opportunity on several occasions to readdress several 'problem scenes' of Shakespeare. Certain scenes particularly in the longer plays are regularly cut or edited down. Many smaller characters are cut or edited out. So in fact when someone says they have seen a certain play by Shakespeare there is a much higher likelihood that they have not seen the play but have seen a cut, abridged, edited version of the play - especially any of the longer plays. Even Hamlet THE play has very rarely been performed in its fuller exposition. There are difficulties in saying what the whole play of Hamlet is since there are at least two versions and they may need to be cobbled together to provide the 'whole' of Hamlet.

Our version was the 'whole' play with the most minor exceptions. For example I did not have an actor play Taurus so those few (VERY FEW) lines were left out. In another scene again for the practical needs of not calling on an extra actor nor wanting to call upon any actor to play an extra character - in another scene calling for three characters I had the character who spoke most simply incorporate the lines (VERY FEW) of the third character. The text of that scene was such that this could be done and did not lose the sense. Though naturally as per the writer's concept the more minor character would have added a reinforcing voice. The scene I am referring to is Act 2 scene 1 and we gave Menecrates to the actor playing Menas.
 

Antony & Cleopatra 2013

Antony & Cleopatra 2013 Directed by Ira Seidenstein, PhD
How did this project begin?
In 2012 I had directed the third play by Valentino Musico in Sydney. A friend and former student from NIDA, Berynn Schwerdt said he would come to see the play, and did so. He came with his friend Denby Weller. They liked the direction and we chatted afterwards. Berynn and Denby said they had a whim to act at Antony and Cleopatra. We discussed that briefly and did a Three-Musketeers - "all for one and one for all" type of agreement. We followed up on it. I asked Natalie Lopes who was acting in and assisted in producing Musico's play if she may be interested to help produce A & C. We discussed the possibility of her also acting in it. I said we should have a workshop asap. Denby said she had a friend Brinley Meyer who was interested to play Enobarbus.

At the workshop was Denby, Natalie, Brinley and another associate of mine Alice Williams. The workshop that dealt with the relation of movement, voice, acting and Shakespeare and my creative method of interpretation on the part of the actor. Berynn could not make the workshop so at the end I read in for "Antony" in the single scene I selected to examine as an example of the way I approach discovery of a text in an ensemble context.

After a few minutes some bits started to fit into a mise-en-scene/staging logic. At least a few possibilities. This was Act 3, scene 11 that starts with Antony and Attendants, shortly Cleopatra, Charmian, Iras, Eros enter. My main edition of the play has Iras listed thus "[Ira]", another edition has Iras listed thus "[and followed by Iras]". At any rate we started to make headway to see some 'humorous' possibilities. For example we see that Cleopatra's attendants actually cajole or perhaps even argue with her. We saw that Antony is a 'case'. I went so far as to say that he may be bi-polar. He is pouting like an adolescent. The attendants of Antony (Eros) and Cleopatra (Charmian and Iras) are trying to get the lovers together. It is absurd, sad, pathetic, comical a slice of a domestic kitchen drama. Shakespeare lets us see in this scene the total vulnerability of the super elite.

That was the beginning. The next phase was the casting. I could see that Natalie would be the ideal Charmian. We set a date for the auditions. As soon as the first notice went online within a few minutes Tammy Brennan who had recently completed my Quantum Clown Residency #4 wrote and asked if she might be considered for an audition. She was cast as Octavia.

Section Two - Casting/Audition
Even the folks who I asked to be in the production I also asked to present a Shakespeare monologue. They were free to choose any monologue/soliloquy. In auditions I try to work with each actor about 10-15 minutes. In that time I run it as a workshop and also explain that I am auditioning for them. I show them a sample of how I work and if they don't like that way then please do not do the production. In recent years I have joked that I am a "prodologist" that is I prod and provoke the actor to give more of what they are really capable of rather than just giving what they were taught to give. Remarkable things can happen in those 10 or 15 minutes. So even the few folks who I asked to be in the production have not been directed by me before in a Shakespeare play so the specific issue was around the combination of; Shakespeare, the actor, and, my method(s).

Denby (Cleopatra), Brinley (Enobarbus), and Natalie (Charmian) had already been in a Shakespeare workshop with me and we knew what they would play. Natalie was teaching the day of the audition so Denby and Brinley assisted me by welcoming people, handling the CV/Photos, and being witness to each audition. More importantly, I wanted them to assist to witness the transformation that each actor would make in a few minutes - to see what would be possible in our few weeks of rehearsal. I worked each actor 'hard' thoroughly. Each actor gave a lot, was challenged and was positively supported by me.

The others who I asked to be in the production included Bruno Lucia, Bron Lim, Erin. I asked my friend Aku Kadoggo who was newly returned to Australia to play three parts however she had a work commitment exactly during the time of our performance season. Then I thought I could play those three parts and was going to, but, Slava Polunin the Russian clown, asked me to fill in for a few weeks for one of the Russian actors in his "Slava's Snow Show". The first week of that gig was the second week of A & C and I thought it would be good to give the actors a break from me seeing every show. It also had the potential to be good publicity to be involved with the two shows. But also I realized this coincidence was an ideal way to celebrate my 40 years in theatre and to celebrate one of my key philosophical ideas of the value of relating acting (classical acting as in A & C) and clown (classical as in Slava's Snow Show). Then I had to get someone to take that set of three characters: Soothsayer, Mardian, Clown. So I asked a young actor I had taught one day - Yiss Mill. He had never really been in a full play with professionals. But I suspected he would offer something unique and he certainly did.

Bruno played four characters and Bron played three. So in a way Bruno, Bron, Yiss became a triumvirit of character actors. A character actor in olde school acting was a type of clown/actor who could transform themselves completely into a role.

There were other actors who also played several roles but they are a different nature than the classic character actors. And each of those who played several roles did fine jobs!!! I think the character actor is one who will simply radically shift their body language and vocal tones. Yiss was the least experience but he travelled a huge creative and technical distance in rehearsal. The others who played several roles were Brendan, Robert, Lara.

Already early in the casting process Enobarbus, and Alexas (Bron Lim) were going to be played by women. I cast one man as Eros but he could not adapt his financial work for the artistic as we were doing a co-op and likelihood of earning anything with 18 actors and a stage manager and a director were slim. Then Berynn wrote to me that just in case - I should know - that he had a sister who was an actress and had fairly recently graduated from WAAPA. She was the single person I cast without having met - and that meant I had not auditioned for her with my method. So that required for us each to travel a special route and after two weeks or so she got stronger and stronger in every single rehearsal and was well on her way to her own breakthrough. Even when an actor makes a breakthrough with me, it is then still totally up to actor themselves to honestly realized what they have discovered about their own creative potential and most importantly how to negotiate that.
I think the two adult actors (we had four youth actors in our ensemble) that I haven't mentioned yet who played a single roles were Jonathon Dunk (Caesar) and Paul McNally (Agrippa). They each had a big journey to completely locate their characters, that is, their unique and personal expression of 'Caesar' and of 'Agrippa'.

So that is a bit about the Beginning, the Audition, the Casting.

Natalie Lopes (Charmian and the co-producer with Denby) and I discussed the possibility of working with four of her youth acting students. Natalie is a Drama Teacher in a school and also has a private acting school with about 120 youths. She selected four of her private students and got permission from their parents. I referred to the group of four as "Ms. Lopes' Troupe". The members of the troupe were Miranda, Millie, Brydey, Harry. Their ages were 13-16. They played the messengers, guards, and servants. Their participation brought an exceptional grace to the ensemble. I cut them no slack but respected their youth and managed not to swear too much, too often.

The fact that all the actors had to be 'mindful' as there were youths in the rehearsal room and project helped to bring about a heightened awareness and generosity. Mind you on the very first moments of rehearsal one of the actors let out a right full ribald exclamation. Well that border was crossed over. The 'kids' were delighted. And that was one of many moments of locking in the ensemble. Tammy (Octavia) was one of two actresses with a child (Bron has two) and due to her house arrangements and philosophical outlook her daughter 5-yr cheeky as could be Pebble came to rehearsal when Tammy did. Ms. Lopes' Troupe automatically looked after the 5-yr old. Erin also was very active to keep Pebble entertained and out of the way. The scoundrel who did not get Pebble out of the way at times was me, Herre Direktor. Amongst my several eccentricities in theatre and rehearsals I actually like it when things go astray a bit. So when Berynn was practicing dying as "Antony" Pebble decided it was a nice time to play skip-to-the-loo-my-darling RATHER close to Berynn a'dying which he was unbelievably tolerant of and I was totally delinquent in delight of the extreme of absurd rehearsal methodology. But there was at least one worse incident with the glory of a delightful freeform 5-yr gallivanting during a tragedy (one I can only refer to at best as a comic-tragedy or an absurdist play). So when "Antony" in Act 3 scene 13 has "Thidias" whipped our two servants a'whipping were two of the young lasses of Ms Lopes' Troupe and in one rehearsal only one was available so Pebble (ye olde 5-yr olde) knew the cue and the fun action so she helped escort the ragged and whipped "Thidias". This perversity of our sacred theatre is actually the only sacred theatre where all humans are welcome to participate. I have for decades said that "real theatre should be at least three generations if not four". When I started in theatre at college (university) we had a wonderful deeply humane director Trudy Scott and we had a fine eccentric group of zanies as the acting group and this included Bonnie Gilmore who though likely only 21 years old herself, had a 5yr olde we called "Baby Jennifer" who was more often than not in rehearsals. This to me is 'real' theatre where the norms of society don't fit and each ensemble or project can make up their own rules of conduct. Fortunately Berynn and Denby our protagonists and lead actors had the most accommodating demeanours on many levels.

Another organic happening was for some reason that Ms Lopes' Troupe took an extreme liking to Tammy (Pebbles' mom) and many a time they were all in a group having found a number of common interests and chatting away. All these little nuances to me were like theatre heaven. Or at least one form of it.

THE HARD STUFF

Peter Brook in a book "Conversations With Peter Brook" (2000) by Margaret Croyden has a chapter of the interview that preceded the premiere of Brook's Antony & Cleopatra. He said "We've never seen the play.". He meant that at least up until his production the play had been interpreted so incorrectly that in fact everyone in theatre thinks they know the play but they don't. I think what folks have in mind is Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton - so to speak. That was a movie, but, somehow in our consciousness we think we know the play. Most productions of A & C are cut and edited and shortened versions. I have seen the play three times. All pretty horrible. But the one at the Globe in London 2006 had a fantastic Cleopatra - Frances Barber was glorious and as I had long believed and insist - Cleopatra is a form of a clown. A clown not in a ha-ha sense but in the sense of a free though troubled spirit who will do anything at any moment even if it is inappropriate or ludicrous. I also liked that the Clown in Act 5 scene 1 who brings the basket of figs and asps was dressed as a traditional party clown circa 1970s. The rest of the production may have been the Cecil B. DeMill-esque version, but, boring, straight, conservative.

To be sure, A & C is wonderfully complex. The cross themes of war, love, politically plotting, and here I make my claim of infamy, comedy. Comedy? But isn't it a tragedy? Is it? If it is, fine, ok, but why is there a clown at such an auspicious moment? I think that clown's appearance is very suspicious. I think, what I really think, is that there is a LOT of comedy in William Shakespeare's 'tragedy' Antony & Cleopatra. I am not saying it is ha-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho raucous knee slapping comedy. Not at all. However, there is plenty of comedy. Where? Actually the interesting point is why to most productions try so hard to stomp out the comedy? That's actually the question because I don't think there is a question about A & C being at least part comedy. I grant the possibility as previously mentioned that the play is a tragi-comedy or an absurdist play. But I am not sure that it is really a tragedy. I think four exchanges between Antony and Cleopatra initiate a comedy. But the stage is set before that in the 'prologue' by "Philo" whose ending is "Take but good note, and you shall see in him the triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet's fool. Behold and see." Just after that in rapid fire are several points of contention between Antony and Cleopatra which she taunts and plays with - dare one say - clowns with.  That is just scene 1. Scene 2 (Act 1) has even more clear signals of comedy ushered in particularly by "Charmian" and reinforced by the ensemble of and with the Soothsayer who can't get a word in because "Charmian" beats him to the predictions, yet, at the same time clearly (according to the text - the words spoken) frequently she keeps pulling her hand away as the Soothsayer tries to grasp it to read her palm. This scene in fact is broad comedy and borders on or can easily be portrayed in a slapstick fashion. Though of the Noel Coward witty type supported also by some comic physical repartee.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reviewing the Reviewers

Prior to becoming a resident then citizen of Australia I worked in an avant-garde world of theatre where, at the time, reviews were largely irrelevant. That was then and now is now. On the few occasions that my shows were reviewed in Helsinki once and Auckland a few times and once I think in San Francisco - in those I survived in good reports.

I was encouraged by four particular people to 'set up shop' in Sydney. They encouraged me to move from New Zealand and to set up my teaching, directing, and performing in Sydney. One of the four was the long time stage manager, assistant, director of Barry Humphries. That was Ian Tasker (R.I.P). The other practical encourager was an 'original' of Circus Oz - Stephen Champion - who had decided (like most of the originals) to leave a somewhat dysfunctional 'family'. In the end only one of the originals who remained, and remained, and remained. The other two who encouraged me to stay in Sydney were Indigenous 'elders' - one was Ted "Gaboo" Thomas who mentored me in certain ways, and the other 'elder' was Norm (?) who had been a tap dancer vaudeville style and was the counsellor at NAISDA.

Reviewers in Sydney became interesting for me as I read two papers each day - The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. So on the days that there were theatre or dance reviews I read all of them.

The first show I was in, in Sydney that was reviewed was An Imaginary Life at Belvoir St Theatre. Now to get to my point(s). Perhaps I read various reviewers 50 or 100 times? I read other reviews too from other papers such as The Daily Telegraph, or The Bulletin magazine, or sometimes in other cities. So one could start to see patterns in their thinking. Back in the day - mid to late 1980s there was a big transition away from the 'olde man' Harry Kippax who had a lot of reviewing clout. Bob Evans came in and cleared the air. James Waites. Pamela Payne. and several others ALL did a good job!!! All were truly theatre lovers. Bob and James became more outspoken and were genuinely trying to usher in a new movement in local and national theatre. They were very important. There were some vociferous conflicts between them and some theatres or some theatre practitioners. But the theatre really needed a shakeup even though many aspects of the theatre culture were shifting. David Malouf I think reviewed for The Australian for about one-year. I believe my solo show received his last review.

However, for my show "The Battler" that went thru a few short phases with several colleagues/friends sitting in for one session each... the show developed a bit organically. It had its first full incarnation sponsored by Belvoir St - specifically be Chris who was manager circa 1986+ who was there when I was in "An Imaginary Life" and who was a 'fan' of many of us back in the day. So she invited folks to a one-off Monday night performance of "The Battler" in Upstairs Belvoir with a full house of about 300 or 350 whatever it held. My friend Fred helped with my set change between act 1 and act 2. There were 3 acts. Our friend Theo ran the lights. And both Fred and Theo helped me with talking through my plan of action. We were doing that in my room at the share house in Clovelly on Walker Avenue - seafront. Suddenly a set of dialogue/text in various languages came through me and suddenly act 2 had text!!! That was in the show that night. Some day I will write a description of "The Battler".

I didn't tell anyone, but, although I had a creative impulse to do a trilogy I really held to that form as a test. I had been in Australia long enough to have some insight, a bit, as immigrants need to simply as an act of survival. At any rate, although I had an ever growing (and still is growing) list of Australian theatre practitioners who I admired... I also noted that frequently there could be these extreme opinions one in opposition to the other but each voiced as if the speaker was really the only person in the room who really understood totally. Maybe that is just human nature. But nature had landed me here and here was my concern.

So I knew or suspected with reasonable odds that various theatre practitioners were going to tell me which of the three acts was 'the best' and why, while others would say a different act and would have just as valid a rationalization.

In fact, all three acts were totally unique in clown theatre. Each had a specific quality and aesthetic. So I had a tee-hee-hee experience of seeing exactly how much hubris was dominating the frontal lobes of our theatre practitioners. I argued with no one (those were the days) and just listened to each persons opinion. My teacher Carlo Mazzone-Clementi warned his students not to be sucked in to professionals opinions voiced as expertise.

There is more I will write about reviewers, but, this is a prelude to writing about my most recent collaborative project Antony & Cleopatra.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

BEYOND THE NORM IN CLOWN TRAINING


Beyond the Norm in Clown Training by Ira Seidenstein, PhD
This is a brief article on the subject of Clown Training. The point of the article is to open discussion about topics that seem to lack discourse in the field of Clown Training. There are a lot of assumptions. Here I am simply providing a counter-point of view to some of those key assumptions.

The general tendency in clown training seems to be to play games. It is already a paradox that one is teaching others to play or teaching how to play games. One can teach the rules but how does one teach the leeway and the way to overstep the rules? How does one teach another person to stretch the boundaries of a game by restricting those people? How does one teach the most open, expansive, artform that is nearly beyond definition by restricting the discoveries of the actor/student to the pre-packaged definition?


The world of clown teaching is expansive yet it is not so varied. There is an idea in clowning for the actor/student to be an authentic, unique character. Yet when this uniqueness begins to reveal itself often the clown is pulled back, restricted, and not necessarily given permission and not necessarily allowed to take permission of their own definition. It is interesting too how many clown teachers were hardly ever clowns.


One phenomena in clown teaching is the Russian school, another is the French school, then there is the teaching of circus clown, and increasingly there is teaching specialization in clown. The specializing is defined by terms such as clown doctors, theatre clown, improvisation, or clown mask, as some examples. There is a tendency in clown teaching of denial of those who came before i.e. the elders, the masters, the veteran clowns. There is a tendency to deny all that a person brings with them before they attempt to clown. Paradoxically when someone completes a clown training they seem to feel morally obligated to only mention the most recent training. This shows that some clown teachers have somehow been dogmatic or have convinced the participants to deny their own past developments either in terms of physical training, artistic training or in intellectual development. This tends to cause a cult-like behavior where by the actor/student is constantly trying to please papa or mama i.e. the clown teacher.  To put it more simply, it seems, that quite a few clown teachers are subtly taking seniority over the naive paying customer - the actor/clown. The actor/clown gives up their seniority in the first place by believing publicity and not asking in-depth questions about the publicized proposed authority of the the clown teacher. It is a market place and each clown teacher is peddling their wares. The field is so out of kilter that one can see visually in the showings of the most famous clown teachers that the actor/clowns body is restricted to be a vertical bean pole standing still. Invariably in most clown workshops short or long - the program starts either with children's games, theatre games or getting the actor/clown to enter the space and stand still and do nothing. So a mixed neurological signaling starts most workshops a) this is all about play and b) you play the way the teacher likes i.e. where they have total psychological control over the actor/clowns body. Additionally clown teaching for various reasons is prone to dogma and convincing the actor/student that the teacher is all knowing or even wise. Even in courses where there is supposed to be 'training of the body' what really takes place is that the body learns to not take risks as the teacher will not approve.

 

I would question what was the teacher like as a 10th grader in high school. I would ask what was the teacher like as a child or adolescent when it came to play, to games, to sports, to study, to social interaction. It seems that there is indeed something rotten in the state of clown teaching and it is particularly prone to the 'emperor's new clothes'.

 

In the clown world and to some degree, in some circles it has been taboo to criticize the methods or style of teaching found in the French school(s) of clown training. These are actually the most known schools namely those of Lecoq and Gaulier and their derivatives or cloned schools. Gaulier was a student of Lecoq's, and there is some continuum in attitude and fallacies between the two schools. It was another student of Lecoq who showed up one day with a red nose to do one presentation, Pierre Byland. After that as Lecoq reports the tale, "the clown arrived" at his school. There were other student inputs into the development of the Lecoq training and that is a complement to Lecoq that at times he accepted input, change, influence. Although Lecoq manages to deny or not mention his great muse Carlo Mazzone-Clementi who was side by side with Lecoq for three years when they were attempting to rediscover 'commedia dell'arte. He also neglects to mention his great muse, colleague and friend who journeyed the influence of art in Lecoq's method. That artist was the sculptor Gerard Koch. Note that Ringling Brothers Clown College began unofficially in 1967, begun by my teacher Danny Chapman. Bill Irwin graduated from the Ringling Clown College after he studied acting and theatre with Herbert Blau. Officially it began 1968 with a full staff. The International Juggling Association was started by a clown "Happy Daze" - Art Jennings, Sr about 1947 and had an influence on clowning in the USA. About then also Lotte Goslar began touring her Pantomime Circus extensively in the USA and that was distinctly a clown theatre show.


Another student who had been a trained dancer explained to Lecoq that his school needed the technique of Moshe Feldenkrais. The Feldenkrais method actually is one of the key elements of the Lecoq program. However, the most significant key secret of those who actually managed to have a career after Lecoq's programming is that generally those who succeeded almost invariably were trained elsewhere, often with a B.A. in classical acting and movement for theatre - before attending the Lecoq school. This is still true with many of the derivative schools as well, that the students success is actually dependent on their previous training usually in a formal B.A. program. The social theorist Pierre Bourdieu lays out illusion in his general theory of education. He explains that art and education are continually subject to illusio, misrecognition, symbolic violence and that yesterday's new method becomes an unbendable orthodoxy that creates illusion to maintain power and control. Intended or not this is the result that Lecoq and Gaulier have become the dominant players in clown training and their dominance is based on illusion. They are also far from the best methods. It is the emperor's new clothes of clown training. Both Lecoq and Gaulier and most of their derivative schools and teachers deny the existence and wisdom and value of the great clowns not only of international renown such as Chaplin, Keaton, Lucille Ball, Jacques Tati, Woody Allen etc but also when they set up shop in another country it is as if no clowns existed before Lecoq and Gaulier. For example in the UK, in the Lecoq/Gaulier based schools when it comes to clowning where in the curriculum does the teacher acknowledge: Max Miller, Max Wall, The Goons, Spike Milligan, The Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, The Carry On films, Dad's Army, Norman Wisdom, Rowan Atkinson, The Young Ones, Absolutely Fabulous, or Peter Sellers? Naturally with Peter Sellers the Lecoq clan will say the usual "what about Geoffrey Rush" (who in part was a student of Lecoq as well as the unknown Englishman Alan Edwards) who portrayed Peter Sellers. Yes but he wasn't Peter Sellers. There is a rather large difference. And when it comes to clown it is authenticity that is often important. Peter Sellers was completely 100% authentic. Geoffrey Rush is a very fine actor who was taught acting by Alan Edwards an important Englishman who was an influential force the actor training in Australia. Rush being the good person he is acknowledged both Edwards and Lecoq at their eulogies. It is the Lecoq clan in general that continues to add illusio and misrecognition, for example, Rush's case they will only say 'he trained at Lecoq's' rather than 'he trained at Lecoq's and with Alan Edwards'.

In Australia the clown teachers generally have little knowledge about the actual great Australian clowns - from "Mo' Harry van der Sluice/Roy Rene, George Wallace, George Wallace, Jr, Garry Grant, Doug Ashton, Barrie Humphries, Max Gillies, Sue Ingleton, Nancye Hayes, Reg Livermore, John Saffron, Graham Kennedy, The Auntie Jack Show, Mary Coustas, Nick Gianapoulous, or the incredible Chris Lilley and Pauly Fenech. Or the brilliant team of the STC Review including Mandy Bishop. For some examples.


It is not that Lecoq/Gaulier are not contributing forces in clown training, it is rather that there are much greater and much better possibilities for clown training, education, and emergence of authenticity than are provided by the Lecoq/Gaulier syndrome.


In reality the so-called training or even liberating of the body at Lecoq's is derived from the method of Moshe Feldenkrais. For many years this method was taught by Monika Pagneaux. She and the Feldenkrais Technique then became a key inside the Gaulier school. However, in both schools it was a good cop/bad cop situation. So while Pagneaux was nurturing all students Lecoq/Gaulier were psychologically manipulating students and of course Gaulier has been psychologically abusive. This is well known but 'no one' in the clown community will admit or discuss that he has psychologically abused - as is continually reported - the majority of his students.

So some of the key points regarding the norm in clown teaching so far:
a) many teachers (even famous ones) were never clowns and are often not good teachers
b) actors/customers do not actually investigate the background of the teachers
c) those who succeed usually have had a formal B.A. in theatre studies
d) there has been an appropriation of the legacy of actual clowns
e) a denial of local (national) clowns of note and accomplishment by teachers of clown

Another thing that students brought to Lecoq was during the 1968 Paris student uprising when the Lecoq students demanded time to also teach themselves. This became Auto-Cours or self-study. Each week the students would present a short performance and Lecoq and his staff would critique the pieces. Ironically this fine tool - self-study - was also how the students gave up their seniority and this has become one of the ways that the Lecoq based schools and teachers continue to maintain psychological control over the students will. Specifically it is the liminal space of a) way of feedback and b) the ambiguity in the initial directions. Since the initial directions, theme, and restrictions are ambiguous the students are subject to the whims and rhythm of the teachers. In many cases going through the curriculum of the Lecoq method what actually occurs is that the actor/students have learned a series of exercises. So rather than having been clowns or mimes or mask performers or commedia performers for example, the majority of teachers in the Lecoq (and Gaulier) have none or minimal experience as performers in the various genres not to mention limited experience onstage as an actor. In most cases they know 'exercises' that like most theatre games do not actually work even though the experience of doing an exercise or game may be challenging or fun. What does work, or has worked, in reality has been the standard 3 or 4 year general university acting programs based on the work long established by Michel Saint-Denis. Saint-Denis had been a student of his uncle Jacques Copeau and an actor in his company. Saint-Denis created a university acting/theatre program combining the work of Stanislavsky and Copeau. To read about how an authentic journey of clown takes place I recommend the autobiographies of Steve Martin, Billy Crystal (700 Sundays), Lotte Goslar, and the 2012 documentary Woody Allen. The clown teaching world has yet to evolve to understand the teaching of the Russian school. Even those teachers who have participated in Slava's Snow Show are not of the stature intellectually nor inclination of Slava Polunin himself who was trained as an engineer and is a fervent intellectual with a wide range of interests in art, theatre, social/politics and philosophical/spiritual matters. His main show, Snow Show, reflects all of his positive attributes whereas so much other clown in the world lacks depth. There are a number of women clowns - distinctly not of the French schools who have also a wide range of virtues not only in subject matter and genuine informed clown knowledge but also a highly developed individual aesthetics. Most of the ones I am thinking of rarely teach. Viveka Olofssen is one exception who does teach and is part of a long history of Scandinavian clowns. She trained at Marcel Marceau's school in mime. Lotte Goslar taught a number of dancers the arts of clown and mime when they were hired into her long touring show Lotte Goslar's Pantomime Circus of course she understood that once the body was trained as in proper dance training for example, then, one could begin to rapidly learn clown and mime. In truth, the greater clowns have all been athletically inclined, most since the cultural revolution of the 1960s were graduates of classical acting/theatre training. As Bill Irwin said to me recently "I'm so glad I trained as an actor." His teacher was Herbert Blau. Since the 1986 I have recognized that the biggest gap in the training of clowns is that they increasingly lacked genuine training in classical acting and lack authentic physical training in any key discipline such as proper dance, acrobatics, martial arts or even elite sports training. The International School for Acting And Clown - I.S.A.A.C. is a fluid conceptual school of thought provides the key elements to close the gap for any person. It is not a building nor a set curriculum. I.S.A.A.C. rather teaches practical use of  universal principles of acting and clown in a most succinct way. This method allows any learner to use whatever they have in their background and this method also brings all of the work back to the innate wisdom of one's body. .... to be continued.
This article is to be continued. You are welcome to write to me directly at iraseid@gmail.com
Also it is of note that many performers of various schools and trainings attend my workshops and mentorship - anyone is welcomed. Additionally as mentioned elsewhere on Acting Clown Actor blog, I did have training also in the Lecoq methods at the Dell'arte School. Although I did all of the exercises and presentations with 100% commitment - I was a free spirit and did them my own way no matter what the feedback was. Prior I had trained in the Stanislavsky method and also significantly I had an apprenticeship with a clown who had been in the circus 55 years. He had also been the highest level aerial acrobat and had been Boss Clown in Ringling Brothers circus for a number of years. After Dell'arte I went on to train as a teacher of Iyengar Yoga, later completed my graduate degrees - an M.A. in Visual & Performing Arts (thesis "The Body of the Actor in the Space of the Theatre" a study in cell-to-cell communication), and a PhD in Education to establish a new paradigm for the education of theatre practitioners including directors, teachers, clowns, dancers.
 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

5 of 40. Seems I have drifted away. Went to Sydney for the play reading of Antony & Cleopatra. Fine team all the way around!!! I had set the reading to be in a circle and with the seating set in relation to the characters' relationships - to some degree. As each character has multiple relationships and several actors play more than one character - I made some choices. The actors were then asked to rise upon each 'entrance' and to be seated for each 'exit'. Additionally I asked the actors to move as they felt to. I too moved as I felt and on a number of occasions called out directions, or encouragement, or to shift gears in various ways. Occasionally I rose from my seat and moved close to the actors for a moment to clarify my intention or direction.
Many great things happened in that evening.
This is indeed an exciting project. One in which we will make a journey together and make authentic discoveries in this text.
 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

4 of 40. Missed a week. Travel from Northern to Southern Hemisphere. Then camping. Here's a hot topic. Maybe scalding. Maybe too much. I have coined two new terms today "Denialism" and "Appropriatingism". These are just two of the new, pseudo-liberal minded forms of 'fundamentalism'.
Although I work in various genres and my work crosses over fields such as: theatre, clown, creativity, healing through the arts, social-political activism through the arts; here I will focus a bit on clown and theatre.
It is a very common theme for some years (decades) to refer to 'fundamentalism' only with reference to religions. Relig-osity is part of human nature. Basically if one rejects 'all religions' one will create one's own religion. Your religion could be yoga, or meditation, or acting, or clown, or tattoos, or taboos i.e. anything that you become attached to and defend fervently or even surreptitiously.
So, Denialism is the 'religion' of denying that anything really influenced you. For example, in clowning, a growing array of clown 'teachers' (that is, people who want to earn money from you by selling you their book, or method, or workshop, or school, or beliefs, or cult) - are in denial that there were greater clowns than themselves who set the pace for those of us who follow. Today, Toby Ballantine (son of a clown) posted a photograph of what may be the first clown that I ever saw - on TV. That was Claribel the Clown from the USA TV program The Howdy Doody Show. I am certainly not the only professional clown born in the USA who saw that show and who had to have been influenced in some way by Claribel. The interesting point is that the USA TV in the 1950s was 'filled' with clowns of all different types including the 'traditional' ones such as Claribel. He may have been the first on TV, or not, but there were a number of other classic/traditional clowns on local TV channels. There were also a huge array of the 'greats' such as Milton Berle, Sid Caesar & Imogen Coca, Lucille Ball and company, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason and company, Amos & Andy, Molly Picon, Ernie Kovacs, Ed Wynn, Victor Borge, Phil Silvers (Sgt Bilko), etc. The 1960s brought a whole other genre of sitcoms with an array of clowns - Gilligan's Island, F-Troop, Hogan's Heroes, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Carol Burnett and company. Additionally there were the western/cowboy shows many of which had "the sidekick" characters who were clowns including, for example, Zorro. There were plenty of films shown regularly such as The Little Rascals, The Bowery Boys, Ma & Pa Kettle, as well as films from Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Keystone Kops, Harold Lloyd, etc.
In England/UK/Commonwealth countries there were the films of Norman Wisdom, The Carry On films, and the important radio comedians who inspired several generations - The Crazy Gang, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers. Eventually the Cambridge mob yielded Monty Python, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, there were the Two Ronnies, Morecombe & Wise, and an array of ever touring comedians performing live throughout the UK.
Other countries had their great clowns of film, but the USA and England had a prolific vanguard energy of comedy/clowning on TV.
The English language via the Commonwealth and its cousin the USA had a collective power via economics. Thus the clowns of film and TV from other countries were 'limited' in their global appeal due to languages less popular than English.
So, by denying such an inheritance as most or at least many clown 'teachers' do.... the next step is "Appropriatingism" - the art and religion of making the uninformed (and even many of the informed) believe that clowning started ex-nihlo (out of nothing, out of thin air). ..... just some ideas that you may find thought provoking.
 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

3 of 40 Sunday April 21 - 2013. Dublin. Had great day meeting with olde acquaintance and friend Dave Spathaky. Just recieved fakebook msg from long lost childhood friend. I am sure he could have a long list of my (and his) youthful clown antics. For sure, by the time I was five, I was known as a clown.
I was asked today if there is any relation between my "Core Mechanics" and "Biomechanics" of Meyerhold. Certainly with certainty. When I was at Dell'arte - a startup school - at that time - I discovered the joy of used bookstores. I began to pour through a large variety of books on theatre, yoga, metaphysics, health, philosophy, psychology, and occasional novels such as those of Herman Hesse.
I read the ... hold on.... fakebook msg from Dave...
ok
So I read Meyerhold On Theatre by Edward Braun. I whisked through it. But I was inspired by that (and many influences in my life and private study) and thought I can't study Biomechanics as I was studying at Dell'arte and also at that time the Soviet empire was still at its prime and Biomechanics had not left the Soviet realms. So, I had already started to analysise the mechanics of movement my own way each morning before school. I was in the studio on my own from 7am to 9am. I was piecing together the basic mechanics of human movement techniques. The most simple analysis such as: should the knee/leg be straight or bent for a particular action such as a dive roll; should the elbow be straight or bent for a front handspring. I went to the HSU library and found three obscure books on 'acrobatics'. They had not been borrowed in at least a decade. One was likely from the 1920s on handstands, one was a book on tumbling and had hundreds of stick-figure drawings, and the third was newer and was on gymnastics. So with those books I begin a moderate yet earnest study and training on my own. After six months Carlo asked me to be the physical trainer for the professional summer repetory theatre of two groups of actors with each group rehearsing 2 plays. I also looked at one of the photos in the Braun book of one actor standing on the thigh of another. I had a different view of that and also analysised their posture by using The Alexander Technique information that our teacher Joan Schirle taught. So I found a way of doing the same trick less as a performance aesthetic and more mechanically neutral. As per Alexander's principles, 'better use', 'no effort' and less muscular engagement. Eventually I made the complete ten most basic core movements into a clear logical progressive series choreographed using hundreds of counts and dozens of details.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2 of 40. Saturday April 20 2013. Belfast to Dublin. Last day this trip training Ponydance. I love working with them. This week we missed Duane and Carl. With us were the Director/Choreographer Leonie McDonagh and her team of Paula, Jenny, Oona, Sara, Neil, Ryan. All great folks!! Here is Oona's own site http://oonadoherty.wix.com/oonadoherty#. Leonie and I met at my first workshop in Belfast arranged by Maryke del Castillo of The Tutti Fruiti. I had mentored Maryke for several years and when she relocated to Belfast she felt it would be good for the folks there to experience my methods. We did a 9-day workshop for a number of the main circus performers then in Belfast. Leonie and Ken have a young son and then he was only a tiny tot. So Leonie could only come in the very last part of the last session. Will of BCC met with me and invited me to come back for a month. I taught daily with a breakdown of a few subjects over the four weeks Irabatics, Clown, Choreography. That was 2008. Again most of the circus community attended. Some sporadically as they had teaching and gigs. Amongst those who attended were Hugh, Anita, Kelsey, Flora, Hillas, The Migilligans (a then trio now duet - amongst my favorite clowns in the world - albeit highly skilled and well choreographed juggling clowns), Ken and Tiny of Tumble Circus, Leonie and several others. One the final day Leonie asked me if I would come back and work just with her dancers. I returned to work 3-weeks with Ponydance. In that week I created a new exercise for them that is now a part of my regular The Four Articulations. That is the "Ponydance Circle". The Belfast mob incl the circus folks are wonderfully talented, skilled, disciplined and CERTAINLY have a genuine sense of humor!!!! FINE clowns!!!!

Reflection on possibly case of Clown Myopia - how astray is much clown 'teaching'? Astray in the sense of denial, in the way of Machiavellian 'divide and conquor'. By seperating 'clown' from other performing arts there seems to be an obvious schism in how a clown could benefit EMMENSELY from actual professional practices such as daily training in movement, dance, acrobatics, mime, voice, singing, acting. For example, musicals, many many many have so many of the greatest clown roles and certainly in most cases the most talented 'clowns' are in those musicals and playing such comic roles. Yet how many clowns, clowns students, clown teachers EVER go to see a musical? 2 days ago I was given a ticket to see Spelling Bee (i.e. The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee). It IS a GREAT clown show!!!!!!!!!! Full stop. This particular production is generally a (nearly) completely Irish team. Brilliant on every level. The show itself originates from Broadway, NYC. ... gotta run. Write to me if you like iraseid@gmail.com bye for the mo' Ira
 

Friday, April 19, 2013

This morning I saw a cloud that was to me like a clown's face. I will attempt over the next 40 days to write a daily blog. Short or long. This celebrates the omen I saw in the cloud or the cloud that I chose to read as if it was an omen. Yesterday my colleague Caspar Schjelbred encouraged me (again) to write my book of clown. I saw a fabulous 'clown' show last night. So I am celebrating clown, the 'omen', the push by a colleague, the show.
At the moment, I am on the last week of my annual teaching/directing/performing tour in Europa. Since 2006 I have come about twice a year to Europa (including UK).
I am presently, this week, teaching one of the companies that I mentor. This one is in Ireland, Ponydance. They are their own form of 'clown troupe'. They will perform soon in The American Dance Festival.
I am also preparing for several projects. One is directing Antony & Cleopatra in Sydney with a performing season June 4-15. During that season I will be performing in Slava's Snow Show for its Sydney season June 11-16.
more anon
Ira