This is a submission by Ciara Thorburn, a diary of her experience, the work is entirely her own and the views expressed entirely hers but I thought it might be of interest. Thank you Ciara 14/1/2020
Gaulier Day 1
I sit here with my café ole (flat white) at Café Du Depart, the first place I stopped by after arriving in Etampes. It’s a small but significant local bar, and the only place in this quaint old town with an actual coffee machine. I am in the middle of the French countryside, about a two hour train journey from Paris, and it is here that I will stay for the next 10 days but I can tell will already feel like a lifetime. Upon arrival in Etampes, I was warmly greeted here in a half French, broken english, and poor mime exchange with the owner, who quickly identified me as a Gaulier student. Maybe it was my Australian accent, or perhaps my dazed confused jetlag, but he knew. The owner (whom I still don’t know his name, but I feel like we have had many conversations), then directed me towards the photographic portraits of clowns which lined the roof of the bar in prime position.
I thought to myself, this is a small town, I like it.
Setting aside my first world Melbourne coffee snob problems, yesterday was my first day at Ecole Phillipe Gaulier. It what seemed like a small and quiet town, a swarm of clowns from around the world found themselves lined down a small hallway in an excited fluster of meeting each other. Exchanging names and languages, ages and backgrounds, we nervously signed in. The number of students was surprising, fifty in total, which would soon be split into two groups – a morning class ‘A’, and evening class ‘W’. A few of us have already tried to figure out the logic of these group names, yes. Regardless, I have taken it as an indication to the absurdity of the classes which I feel is upon us.
Opting for my second preference, group W, I soon realise these are the clowns that I will get to know on a different level to almost anyone I have ever clowned with. That is kind of an exciting thought, in a way. Taking note of first impressions (mostly for my own social curiosity) I wonder where they came from, and what will become of this group of clowns. I soon find out there are three other Australians, a dancer from Perth, an actor from Sydney, and an actor/school teacher from Adelaide. On a side note, I click immediately with Julia, the actor from Adelaide.
The school is beautiful, steamingly hot, but beautiful, with two indoor studios and an outdoor area. I wonder about all that has been created within these walls, the students who have come through (inspiring friends Tessa Waters, Zach & Viggo, Tom Walker, and inspiring comedic masters Trygve Wakenshaw, Dr Brown, and Sacha Baren Cohen) and ideas waiting to be drawn. I like to imagine that the answers, the gems, the magic is in places and contexts like this. Its here, its waiting for you. You just have to find it, draw it from the walls, churn it from yourself with the debris and destruction that comes with it.
First, the rules. There is no cameras, no recording, and absolutely no mobile phones allowed within the space. There is also no room for latecomers, with a strict lockout. The class starts and the structure for the program is set in place, in the morning we will do movement/warmup and games with another teacher, who is English and seems to have a background in dance, and a unique and enviable relationship with Philippe. Then a short break, and two hours of Clown and Le Jeu in the afternoon with the master, Philippe Gaulier.
The games – for my clown friends.
Coordination and Ice-Breakers
- In a big group circle, we stand and count 1 through to 7, then back again to 1 (in English). Most of the class is conducted in English. A ball is then simply passed around anti clockwise, to increase the stakes. A new rule is introduced, we are to jump on the number 1 instead of speaking. Another rule is introduced, you can wink at someone across the circle to exchange places.
- We walk in pairs, counting ‘one, two, three’ alternately. The one is replaced by a jump, and the two is replaced by a pirouette.
- We play a game where there are four ‘safe’ corners with five chairs, and an island in the middle. There are 7 ‘sharks’ whom are the taggers, once tagged you are captive on the island. Others can free you by taking you from the island to a chair, by kicking someone else off.
- We play Prisoners and Guards, but in a room full of experiences clowns (mostly), the stakes are high. The best version was between only four players, with the prisoners facing each-other. The most interesting version was one where the player disguised his excuse for getting up within a casual conversation with the other prisoner (the conversation was a direction from the teacher). It was as if he was disguising a skill within the context of the game, very clown. I look forward to seeing more of this guy.
- We play Gramda’s footsteps. But in pairs (five pairs at a time), ballroom dancing to music. You must try to retain complicitae with your partner, connection with the audience, and focus with the grandma. You must also try to be the most beautiful dancers. Chairs are introduced as an obstacle, you must both sit down on the chairs before proceeding to tag grandma.
Meeting the Master
First we sit in an uncomfortably large circle of fifty students in a small studio space. Philippe uses a lapel mic to speak in his careless broken English/French to say little more than “Alo, any questions?”.
Gaulier instructs us to introduce ourselves, with three large explosion noises, followed by our name, then two large explosion noises, followed by our age, then three cat meows, followed by… something? Which no one can remember. Followed by another obscure noise, reminiscent of the explosion noises, followed by declaring whether we “ave oumore” (have humour), or “do not ave oumore” (do not have humour).
It soon becomes clear that he speaks excellent English, he just doesn’t want to. It also becomes clear, that he is a very, very funny man. It is more like he is having a personal conversation with the class, or with individual students, or the other teacher, and we are listening intently, wondering when he will ask a question of us. With fifty students this whole unstructured explosion/introduction thing becomes very long and confusing, which is obviously the point. Most of us are nervous to speak to him for the first time, it becomes very funny, as we all try to get it right. Of course, I flop, but try to show my failure, and forget to declare that I of course “do not ave oumore”. And he famously, gongs the drum.
- We dance, in partners. We are instructed to ‘wink’ at him if we get bored with out partner. He then will stop the music and accuse us that we are bored with our partner. We must lie to defend ourselves, to not make our partner feel bad.
I watch the first group, as I am seated too far back in the class to get to the floor quickly. He tells some people they are speaking too quietly, and that they must have fun with the lie. Find the pleasure of lying. Some people overact, some people underact and try to be genuine. It is unclear which one he wants, sincere lying, bad lying, overacting, genuine acting. I am trying to pay attention to more what is generating laughs from the audience, but it is hard not to believe that all he says is gospel.
*on a side note, he said that Slava just “chases the snow”, that he has no gags. And that clowns must have gags. They must believe their gag will work, will for sure be funny, and when it is not funny, the disappointment/misunderstanding of ‘why didn’t they find it funny’, THAT is funny. I agree with this, but I don’t agree with his opinion of Slava. A conversation with some of the other students has shown that they agree with Philippe, but I am standing by Slava. And I wonder if they are simply being agreeable with the master.
I jump up quickly for the second round, so as not to miss out. I am nervous but want to be pushed, and I know I wont get many attempts. The first dance I am in the corner and not noticed. The second dance I take centre stage with my partner, Julia, and give two very obvious winks that could not have been missed. It is at this point I realise as an audience member, I never really noticed anyone wink onstage… maybe I missed it? Or maybe nobody was actually doing it, and he was just accusing people of winking. I am confused. I am self conscious. I want to do the exercise, but I also don’t want to seem like I am trying to get attention. But I don’t want to miss out. I don’t get chosen, I don’t get questioned, even after the very obvious winking. I feel like he is trying to make us uncomfortable on purpose, but it also makes me retreat for the rest of the workshop.
A number of masks/noses are set on the side of the stage. He gives confusing instructions which a re hard to understand, something about a plastic shit. Someone jumps up, significantly, as the first solo clown. He grabs a mask. He comes onstage to music, speaks some gibberish, then fluent Columbian. The drum gongs. Philippe asks who is sitting next to him, if he is funny, funny like you would invite him to entertain your son’s 7th birthday, or if he is (mediocre noises). The student answers with mediocre noises. A few more people jump up. He tells them they don’t speak loudly enough, or they are not funny. The audience does laugh quite a bit.
I recognise this as some live coaching aspect, which I like. But I also feel like can sometimes be interruptive. It makes sense, as a lot of my coaches have come through Gaulier, or Le Coq training. Philippe explains the audience doesn’t laugh when they have to laugh, we laugh at the face of the idiot who tried to make us laugh and then failed. The flop.
Why did I come? Because people told me I would love it, but mostly people told me I would hate it.
Anyway, my coffee is getting cold, and empty. And so it is set, that I will clown in the evenings, and write in the mornings. Hopefully they won’t all be this long, but with no one to really debrief with, I debrief with myself, as usual. And hopefully someone out there might get something out of my experience. I can already tell, I care about this way too much.
Gaulier – Day 2
I am quickly becoming a regular here. I like the bar owner, and the waiter. He is a cross between Manuel from Faulty Towers, Ludwig Schukin, and every depiction of a classic French waiter that has ever existed. It is blazing hot and he is dressed in a black and white suit, with vest and tie. The owner is dressed casually and greets everyone by name. As I write the waiter sweeps the mess of empty sugar packets, forgotten gambling tickets, and ripped train stubs from the floor, as he casually serenades me Bee Gee’s Staying Alive with his broom as a microphone. I ask if he likes the Beatles, “Oui”. Just now, lining the top of bar, I recognise the only clown portrait pride of place in a silver frame, its Zach & Viggo. I say to Manuel-Ludwig (the waiter) “My friends”, he is surprised and with a smile asks “really?”.
So now the classes are split, and faces are getting more familiar.
I am curious about the other clowns, only speaking to them in passing over a drink or a coffee around class time. I am curious what their backgrounds are, how they ended up here… I’ve spoken to a few that have no background in clown or acting, and have just heard about the course from a friend. I say “Wow that’s awesome!” but I’m thinking do they know what they’re in for. But also I am jealous of their genuine naivety, the purest form of clown knowledge. These are the ones that are surprised and impressed when they find out I had a Russian Clown trainer, and that I can hold a handstand, let alone juggle three balls.
Then there’s another guy in group ‘A’, a working actor, 20-something, from New York. The most New York actor I could ever imagine in fact. Loud, confident, but employed. I like him. Another, an improv actor that describes himself as “too intelligent for clown”. Another, a young producer who seems like he works very hard and passionately, reminds me of someone. A big Brazillian guy, who wants to visit Slava’s garden. At lunch I get chatting to him as I am also curious, and find out that he does solo dynamic trapeze. He wants to create skilled based clowning acts for the circus ring, amazing. I like him too.
In my group ‘W’, an actor/director for screen, whom over a drink I ask “What is the most annoying question you get asked when you tell people what you do?” with excited contemplation she replies “Do you want to work in Hollywood? Have you directed anything I would have seen?”. I think to myself how similar our worlds are. My favourite so far is simply known as ‘Columbia’ by Philippe, to us, Francesco. He is confident and stupid, and we all like him. On a side note, also a magician.
Before class I chat to one of the Japanese students Ketch, self-described as “Ketchup without the UP”, the first time we hear Gaulier laugh. I have a particular interest in Japanese clowning as Awaji Island in Japan will be my home and the street my stage for 6 weeks later this year. Sans mohawk, I still had an inkling, so I ask of his training background and what brought him to the school. I was right, he is Ketch from Gamarjobat, one of my favourite comedy/clown duos. He remembers me from when we met for moments during one of his street shows in Singapore, how inspiring to study alongside him.
Of all the people I see in them replicas of people I know from home, or people that I have met. In a way I use these associations to try to remember them, if nothing else about them stands out. Mostly I remember people from the exercises, or what Philippe says about them onstage. As much as I want to remember their names, I wonder if it matters. Slowly I start friending these people on Facebook, but I feel like Etampes disqualifies my desire for the social internet.
Movement class begins, and I am given permission to train here quietly thirty minutes before class everyday, by Tom Tom our teacher (who is in fact Swiss-German, not English). We stretch and do handstands, my partner Will is impressed. I try to go somewhat incognito, however the dancer from Perth notices and later asks me about my training.
- Walk around the space. I notice when we are walking around the people who are good at walking, practiced at utilizing space and making eye contact. I could assume a background training in Viewpoints. I hate Viewpoints exercises.
- We play Kings Square, where I am partnered with the young confident English guy, a football (soccer) player. We are both good at the game, and have fun being competitive, we get along pretty well and I respect his footwork. Later after class I will stumble upon his group rehearsing their “homework”, and am invited to watch, which I will get into later.
- We use the sticks from Kings Square and walk around the room. Throwing the sticks to each other with little notice. Those that have the sticks don’t want a stick, and those that don’t have one want one. Two rules are introduced, there must always be one person sitting on the floor and one person with their hand on the wall at all times.
- We balance the wooden sticks horizontally on our heads, we pass a ball to each other whilst maintaining the balance. I was confident and surprisingly mediocre at this exercise, though me and the soccer guy had fun testing our skills with each other.
- We stand in rows of 5, jumping for a count of 8, then 7, 6, to 1. We turn on the last number to pass the jumping to the next row. A simple and poorly explained ensemble/choreography exercise which some of us are practiced at, while others jump randomly and in confusion.
- We do a character walk exercise, in pairs follow the leader, where the follower tries to imitate the walk of the person in front. A particular trait is exaggerated using levels, we put on masks and the leaders sit down to watch this strange group of characters walking around. We are instructed to talk to ourselves in character, or sing a little song, and to blow a kiss to our initial partner and other audience members. Showing my partner what he created was fun, I note that this exercise is meant to inspire character walk and draw upon commedia dell’arte, it is supposed to be exaggerated. This character now belongs to you, not your partner. This exercise is a good opportunity to use levels (scaling), and to utilize overacting.
- We use masks with Tom Tom. He asks us to impersonate a cat that is a little bit horny. I go first, not understanding the instructions because of his accent, but I don’t really mind. I find that the more genuinely confused I am the better. Unfortunately, the part I miss is the horny bit, and I feel like this would have been something to work with. My turn goes mostly unnoticed and easily forgotten.
- Another exercise – in mask we lip sync a song in another language, I don’t get a turn.
- We play grandma’s footsteps, this time speaking naughty words to the audience when grandma’s back is turned. This is fun and brings out a childlike play and guilt of breaking the rules. The rules are changed, and we are to say the name of vegetable instead of a swear word, but say it like we are saying a swear word. Tom Tom live coaches the students, and picks on the Chinese student, Loo, and sends him to the corner. I find this very funny, as the focus is now on Loo trying to understand whether his allowed to re-enter the game, which is difficult for him because of the language barrier. I like this type of live coaching from Tom Tom, it highlights Loo as focus with the rest of the game going on around him, and highlights genuine misunderstanding, a clown state.
After observing the other clowns, some things that spring to mind that are working is the drop, the misunderstanding, stupidity/naivety, looking for the laugh/your friends in the audience. Some things that are not working corpsing (you steal the laughter from the audience), people adjusting/touching their masks and breaking the world, and not having eye contact with the audience. We haven’t had much of an opportunity for complicate exercises with our partners, but that is also missing. Mostly because we are all so terrified and desperate for our one minute of stage time.
Class begins before everyone has even entered the room. We begin playing ‘Samuel Says’, most students are confused of the rules. Most Western students understand and commence playing easily. When a mistake is made, you must ask someone for kisses. You can ask for many kisses if you are confident, or ask for only one kiss if you are ugly. If you do not get your kiss, you get ‘corporal punishment’. The first clown to be rejected of her kisses in three attempts, is playfully ‘punished’ by the 79 year old French master. She is bent over forwards, held in an arm lock, slapped, and her thumb is bent backwards. She survives, and later tells me she was excited to have been the first to be punished. Interestingly, one of my clown teachers from Melbourne has done this exact exercise with me, word for word, action for action. I never really liked it when he tried to replicate it, however, here I understand the game more.
- We play Mr Hit, however Gaulier doesn’t explain the rules, and gets them incorrect anyway. Most people are confused, and we of course hardly know anyone’s names. The game turns to elimination, and most of the game is spent arguing or re-explaining the rules. My favourite.
The space is brightly lit, the lights are hot, audience silhouetted, the tension is high and pressure is constantly rising. A duo exercise is given to a couple with one of the clowns from Venesuela. As she stands in the heat of the lights, drenched with sweat and red cheeks, he tells her she looks like Astrix the cartoon’s wife, Impedimenta, an angry overweight viking. He is trying to make her angry, he is brutal and honest. She is not pleased with the comment, which makes her angry, which makes her look more like Impedimenta, and we laugh. However I become aware that his live coaching is what is creating the comedy, and the focus is on the teacher. Eventually, flustered and angry she returns to her seat with relief. She later asks of him, “Should we really be feeling genuine emotion? What is the difference between an actor and a clown”. To which Philippe replies, “Ze cleun iz nevier ungri, e iz nut satd, e iz plaiing.” (The clown is never really angry when he is on stage. He is pretending, he is playing. No clown is ever actually angry or sad.” He also details the difference is that an actor doesn’t play with his audience, the clown breaks the fourth wall. After class he also states that a good actor never wanted to be a clown, and a good clown never wanted to be an actor.
He says we must play with the naivity of
the idiot who is trying to make us laugh, who thinks he is funny.
Play the beautiful ridiculous.
The clown has to make us laugh, you don’t need to have emotion.
Don’t play a character.
You are playing too small.
You are trying too hard.
You have to do something.
He tells Tom Tom that he is too nice to be a teacher at this school, “You have to be nasty from the bottom of your heart”.
I get in trouble for laughing
Ketch (Gamarjobat) and Loo (Chinese) are the first two clowns to get up for the dup exercise. Loo doesn’t understand the instruction, and Ketch ends up onstage by himself. We wonder where Loo is, but forget about him. Ketch is failing onstage, with some live coaching. About ten minutes into the exercise, Loo peeks from the left wing, which only the stage right audience can see. A few of us start giggling, the misunderstanding gets worse. I start laughing, a lot. Crying in fact. He is so beautiful an naïve. Gaulier speaks to me for the second time. “WHi AR OU LAUGHING? I TRI TO TEECH N OU AR LAUGHIING I CAN NOT. OU CAN MOOV TO ZE BACK.” I apologise and tell him for no reason and I will stop. I stay where I am. I giggle quietly as Loo looks out but out of fear my laughter subsides.
A dread sets in. this feeling of negativity is different to what I had planned. I had disrupted the class. He is now angry at me not for being shit but for being a bad student. This is the worst feeling. Only about five other students understood and new why, I feel instant comradery with these people. I worry that the others in the class now think I am obnoxious. I think about my housemate Sarah. As I sit here I quickly debrief with another student who was seated on my half, and I decide that this might be the worst feeling I get from being here, so I guess now I cant do any worse? I wonder how im ever going to be able to get up on that stage again.
About ten minutes later, I jump up when I see the chance. Someone was asking a question. I’ve learnt its best to sit near the front, so I have easy access to the stage. I hope he has forgotten. We are instructed to enter and do laps of the ‘circus ring’ like a circus clown, to music. To stop and to be funny. Most people are cut immediately, so I decide the offer needs to start as soon as im onstage. I try to do an interesting entrance, with a small prelude, but then begin running. I am too invested in the audience, and he stops me and asks why I cannot run in a circle and follow instructions to everyone else. “Do ou niid to write eet down furst in youre notebooke?”. I wonder if he realises how many notes I take.. I apologise. Its hard to disguise my lip quivering, because my nose has a mostache which amplifies my adrenaline. I wonder if anyone can see, and if my vulnerability could be funny. I am not sure if he is talking to me or provoking my clown, no one is really. He says when the clown comes onstage we instantly love you or hate you. He allows us both re-enter. I do my laps of the stage and try making the concentration on completing the laps of the stage task into a bit. We stop, me and myt partner have a tousle of offers, he gongs. He asks the audience sitting next to him “Could zey bee ze funniest zing ou ave ever seine, or coold zey be polise. French polise.” I realise our turn is about to be over, changing my physicality I take the offer. “WE ARE. WE ARE POLICE. FRENCH POLICE. WATCH OUT.” My partner picks it up, we begin speaking bad French. The audience laughs. He bangs the drum.
The final thirty minutes he starts churning through clowns. Most duo’s get up, do a lap, and bang bang “tankyoo goodbai”. No notes. I realise we have to cease any opportunity on stage to make offers. These are flop exercises. He wants to see us fail. He wants us to think we have something impressive to show, and then to expose the naivity of the flop. The environment embraces tension, stupidity, surprise, vulnerability. I debrief with some fellow clowns after class somewhat, and realise that to have feedback or comments, to learn, I must really really fail, or really really win. If I am in the middle, he has nothing to say. We are just another couple of bodies on stage, and we are forgotten. The answer is risk. It is impossible to really really win, so I must really really fail.
Gaulier Day 3
I have a table now here, Manuel now knows my order and we play pretend that I speak good French and he good English, using the few phrases we both know. Its kind of all we need anyway. I notice the pile of open sugar packets and discarded tickets have piled up again on the floor. A couple of street dwellers ask me in French for cigarettes, and young guys try to get my attention. I go inside.
I write for too long yesterday, and miss out on my own warmup time, but manage to get a few handstands in before many others arrive. Before class I chat with Nisolar, the ‘Kenyan’, she is the quietest and most pure of our class. The most proper depiction of an English lady with the sweetest accent, naturally beautiful and dressed immaculately everyday. She tells me surprisingly that she writes for stand up comedy, but could never perform it herself. She writes for others. She said she is terrified of being onstage. I remember she was the most nervous to say her name, on the first day. She also tells me that she was the naughty kids in school, which really surprises me, and I’m so curious about her now. I encourage her to sit up the front of the class, so she has easy access to the stage, as she hasn’t gotten up for any exercises yet. I tell her just do it, don’t let it become a thing, just go!
Warmup with Tom Tom
I do really like Tom Tom’s classes, we have fun and there’s really nothing to lose. Kind of like a normal clowning class, it’s nice. We play Kings Square again, we start to learn there will be a routine to our warmups, which I like.
- We stand in a large circle and pass staffs side by side. We start passing them vertically across the circle. Tom Tom warns us that if we drop them, the loud crash on the wooden floor will piss off Philippe who is teaching class ‘A’ downstairs. We now all obviously care about dropping, way too much.
- Next Tom Tom instructs us on how to do a standing tip roll on the chair… unexpected, but also relevant. Its scary for most people, so wakes us all up. Two people get injured.
- We play what I call the juggle memory game, where we roll a ball to someone in the circle and remember the pattern. Rules are added – you must say the name of a vegetable, and also walk towards someone else in the circle. It’s a coordination game, I’m into it. After about ten minutes, we never get it right, and move on.
- We do a free thought exercise in duos. The ‘listener’ gives the first four words of a sentence, the ‘speaker’ continues talking with no breaks, totally improvised. The ‘listener’ says yes/no, and you have to either continue or diverge the direction of your story, kind of like accepting or blocking an offer. It was fun, and high energy.
- We play prisoners or guards using this technique as conversation between the prisoners.
We do a clown exercise with Tom Tom. We play what I call ‘funny race’, starting from the curtain. Five clowns line up, and you get to take a step forward if you can make the audience laugh. Tom Tom instructs us to give space to the others, which is difficult. This is one of my favourite clown games ever, I’ve done it dozens of times. I totally suck at it here. Nobody watches me, or laughs. I try a number of go to’s, I try nothing. I try to be myself, I try to make offers. I listen, I watch, I make eye contact, I try big, small, I give focus to the others, I drop my jaw, I put energy through my fingers, I take focus, I try movement, voice… a couple of individual giggles, but nothing really.
Now it’s getting interesting, and by interesting I mean, well, existential crisis. The day started off well, I was feeling fine and shook off my negative thoughts from yesterday about ‘laughing too much’ and disrupting the class, he will probably forget which one I am anyway, I tell myself. After lunch, I sit in the front row, when Nisolar enters I give her my seat and go to the back of the class.
First, he gives us some wisdom, we all listen intently to scrounge for the wisdom amongst the nonsense.
- When the clown imitates an actor, he tries as hard as he can. He takes it seriously and he does it properly. The clown never creates a mean parody.
- The Bouffon parodies in a negative/teasing way.
- The clown is always positive. As if to say ‘Now, I am an adult’, or ‘Mummy daddy look at me, I am normal’.
I sit at the back with the English soccer guy. He is acting strange like he wants to get out, I adjust to make room for him. He then asks if the back door is a way out… I tell him in not sure, what’s wrong? He says… “I accidentally brought my phone in…”. “Just turn it off!” “What if he see’s it??”…
Accompanying Phillipe’s wisdom and entertaining non-sensical rants, he gestures towards the bag of dozens of red noses on the table next to him. He goes into great detail about how to thread the elastic into the nose, and into which holes, and how we might like to celebrate getting our noses by having sex with our partners when we get home. He says we might want to use our other nose because this one hurts “NO! Eu must uze zis noss, in mai classe”. I quickly thread my nose and try it on, feels like any other nose.
We do funny race again. The same exercise as this morning with Tom Tom, it is obvious to us that they didn’t plan this. I get up for the second round, again, I try everything, and nothing. I sit down. Nisolar gets up for the third round, I am relieved. She makes a great offer, a call-back to a previous exercise, it’s very funny, ridiculous and unexpected. He asks Nisolar “Why did eu stoppe?”, in her perfect British accent she responds “Well, you see, it is because Tom Tom told us to make sure we give everyone else a turn.” “WUT??” The others in the class explain that we just did this exercise upstairs with Tom Tom. “NO! It iz a race! Ze cloeun must be funnni. Ou must make uz laugh.”
I am having fun, learning, watching the others, I write in my notebook…
Im less anxious today.
are medium, good clowns are also medium, bad clowns are good… they have further
to go. Currently, I still understand what I mean
What he says affects me less, at least I get noticed. I get nominated to be sent back because I am ‘bad’, is that good or bad to be sent back? Win the failure. Show the failure. LOOK at the audience when you fail.
We have a short break, I teach one of the young guys, Felix, some juggling tricks. We return to class and Philippe begins to give us our characters, to which we must manufacture a costume by Monday. These are determined by us lining up, and we jump turn and try to scare the audience. Philippe then judges what we look like and gives us a character. These include Godzilla, a steward, Fred Astaire, a garden gnome (I wanted that one), a viking, a nurse, a girl scout (again not me, but probably for the best), a rich girl, a hippy, princess… I get, “ze most orrible toilet cleaner at Melburn airporte”. The most horrible toilet cleaner at Melbourne airport. “OK” I say. He mentions something about allowing us to have a four word catch phrase, he assigns some to some people, then doesn’t go into much more detail.
Here we go
The final exercise of the day, and I am somehow back in the front row, the first five clowns jump up. The exercise is to come onstage like we are putting on a children/family show. The small American girl, Josie, is one of the clowns. He is harsh with her, she is not getting any laughs. He stops her “Wut are ou doing? Zis is not funni. Where iz ze idiot oo always larfs in my classe” …my heart jumps, heads turn to me. I raise my hand, “Ah, I think you mean me?” … “Yes. Zis idiot, not even she iz laughing. Goodbai.”
I try to brush it off. I see we have fifteen minutes left of class, so I get up for the last exercise. I like the line-up of clowns I am with, though behind the wings the Venezuelan girl who is beside me retreats, implying for me to go onstage first, so I do. I often like the exchange between clowns behind the curtain just before we go on, it’s always unique and builds a type of comradery, as we both don’t know what’s about to happen. There wasn’t much of that this time.
I run onstage. I can’t remember what I did… something stupid, clapped my hands like ‘tada’ or jumped… or something. She comes out onstage behind me soon after, she speaks and says I will do an acrobatic trick and manipulates my body, then jumps over me like leapfrog from behind, I can’t see what she’s doing. She collides with my head but I am fine. Philippe stops us. Some other stuff happens with the other clowns at some point, maybe at the beginning, I can’t really remember. Though we all had some complicitae and stupidity going on, it felt good. Philippe stops us, and says about me (not to me), “Zis one… she iz like gloo. She iz zticky, no?” He asks the people around him, the Commedia trained guy, Chase, stumbles over his words and agrees with him. Onstage, I fight between real emotion and pretend emotion of dread. “She iz always stickeee. Is she stickee, or does she look like a crab?” Chase stumbles again… “She is sticky.”
I go home. I make a quick Instagram post, with chocolate on my face because I immediately ate two chocolate biscuits as soon as I left. I decide after posting it that I don’t care if I have chocolate on my face. I was pissed off, I think, and confused, and analysing what just happened. I care mostly what the other people in my class think. I know he doesn’t like me now, but I didn’t know that the others didn’t either. I go home and wonder if I will cry, or if I am ok with all of this. I analyse what he means by sticky. He means annoying, he means I am always trying to get onstage, or trying to have the focus onstage. It’s the worst feeling, because I am trying so hard to find the balance between not doing anything, doing too much, making offers, accepting offers, giving focus, looking at the audience, doing gags, not doing gags, not doing anything that is too smart for a clown, letting others go first, giving advice only when asked, not sounding like a smart arse, knowing how to tip roll on a chair, and doing my handstand and juggling training in secret.
Our homework exercise from Tuesday was explained in the most confusing manner by Philippe, and most of Tuesday and Wednesday the students back and forth trying to decipher his instructions. He wants us to make a small routine, where one clown kicks the other up the bum… the clown tries to perform a gag which they think will be very funny. Obviously to me, it won’t be funny. I think this is a failure exercise. Then another clown comes in, clown number two thinks they will perform the bum kicking gag on clown number three, but gets kicked up the bum again themselves. Yes, it is very confusing, and that’s the simplified version. We are to perform the routine on Friday in class.
So Josie (the small American) and Halima (my housemate) and I form a trio. Mostly because everyone else had already formed, and I wasn’t too fussed so was late to the game. Josie comes over to our apartment and we back and forth for a while. As is with ensemble work we go around in circles for about thirty minutes, changing roles, ideas, and playing some games to try to loosen us up. The process is classic group work. I try to sit back, Josie improvises some text and refers to me in clown “Lets bring on Ciara. She has pigtails. She thinks she knows what she’s doing”. It hurts a bit, but I try to separate the exercise from my thoughts. I like Josie. Plus, she reads my blogs.
There is no light in my room, but I don’t mind so much. It means I go to sleep earlier. As I try to sleep I overhear my housemates debriefing in the kitchen, everyone is going through this, or something, I think to myself. I put my earplugs in.
I don’t know if I should finish this second coffee. These blogs are becoming a highlight of my day, mostly because this way I can share my experiences with people who understand me, and judge me off more than three days of knowing each other. But I can feel the anxiety creeping in, so maybe I shouldn’t finish it. Its cold anyway. I get a few messages of support from friends online, most make me laugh, one makes me cry. Class starts in one hour.
Gaulier – Day 4
I wake up to a beautiful thunderstorm rolling in through the rustic wooden shutters of my simple apartment. I instantly feeling better than yesterday. I walk to Café Du Depart. Manuel polishes glasses as I sit inside to write, we have a pretend conversation about the weather. I run into a few clowns from the morning class, I chat excitedly and briefly with the American actor, we follow each other on Instagram, and he goes off to class. I take the final sip of my first coffee of the day, and give myself less than one hour to write.
I am ready for today, I arrive early to give myself time and space to warmup in the relatively quiet studio. I give myself a set of rules and guidelines for class. Sit back, observe, play it safe, get up for minimal exercises, don’t be sticky… try to blend in.
· We play Kings Square – I am left without a partner somehow. Kirri offers to try to join me, “Nah its cool, I got this”. After a few rounds I lose, and have no one to share the fail with.
· We warmup on the ground, and begin some vocal exercises. Its forty plus degrees in the studio, I leave sweat patches on the floor.
· Vocal exercises, we sing an African song. I’m alright at it, but cant help but wonder if I’m singing louder than everyone else. I am quickly becoming hyper aware of my presence in the class.
· Singing Clown exercise – five students go up at a time, they are told to have to come onstage individually and sing a song, to make the audience love us. The audience must think we are beautiful, whatever your definition of beauty is. We are not wearing out noses. We are told it is not a clowning exercise, but in my mind it is.
I wait until the third or fourth round of clowns to go up. While I wait a battle activates in my head, should I sing the lullaby mum used to sing to me, I can hardly remember it… should I sing my Ciara song, yes I love that… it’s my favourite, and I never get to sing it. Or perhaps that’s not beautiful, maybe its self-indulgent. OK I’ll sing Amazing Grace, that fits my vocal abilities. I go onstage and ask the audience. The audience opts for Ciara song. I try to amplify my genuine vulnerability as I sing, but the song ends with a gag “And if you don’t like me then I guess I’m out of luck, but that’s OK with me, ‘cos I don’t give a ….”. No one laughs, no one responds at all really. Tom Tom says I could have been bigger. Later, another clown will tell me I was too abrasive, which confuses me, I was playing so small, honest and vulnerable. I struggle between too abrasive, too big, too defensive, and ‘you could have been bigger’. I think about my two very distinct ‘go to’ clown characters, and wonder if it’s a coincidence. At some point during the class, I experience deja vu.
· Accents – five clowns in a line-up, they are instructed to take on different accents. Tom Tom live coaches, I find some quite funny. Notably the dancer from Perth, Lauren. I read hers as a spoilt poodle, having a tantrum screaming “IWANTTOGOTOTHEPARK.TAKEMETOTHEPARK!”
I love it. I wait to let others go first, and don’t get a turn before the end of class.
‘Samuel Says’ commences before everyone has had a chance to put their notebooks down. I am very good at this game, and am finding it tiresome under the bright lights. Philippe mostly stops us as an opportunity to have (quite absurd, offensive but admittedly hilarious) banter with some of the students he feels like picking on. He will accuse people of moving at any point, it seems mostly random. I am hiding in the back and as he speaks with another clown, I roll out my ankle out of habit, im wearing red socks, so he notices. “OU! Ou moofed.” The clowns part. “Howe mani kizzes?”. I must ask for kisses from my classmates individually, as forgiveness for moving, and ask for as many as I think I am worth. Most people ask for one. I ask for seven. He comments “Rehally you zink zo?”. I ask for kisses of my classmates mostly by name, to expose how many people’s name I don’t remember, and to put myself in a vulnerable state. Eventually I get my seven kisses, and am somewhat relieved I have escaped his ‘corporal punishment’.
I order my second coffee.
Philippe asks for ten clowns who speak no French at all. Only six get up, so I figure I can allow myself to participate. A French song plays, the clowns must lip synch, the music is stops and the individually the clown must continue to sing the song in French. I am last in line, it takes at least ten minutes to reach my turn. The lights are brighter today, and sweat is literally pouring from my knees. Classic sweaty knees Ciara. To one clown Philippe comments “When she mooves, it iz ze opposite of ze karma sutra. How iz it possible to miit somewhun who moofes as batly like ouu, or maibe zomewhun from Ecole Le Coq”.
This exercise soon becomes the first time we experience one of the clowns winning onstage. It makes me happy just thinking about it. Chase, the Canadian ‘Commedia’ guy, who later I find out just graduated from the French Le Coq school one month ago. His face looks great in nose, his eyebrows are incredible and expressive. He moves too much, Philippe instructs two volunteers to hit him with sticks every time he moves his body. We see his stupidity, and endeared love. Philippe, for the first time, allows this clown space onstage for more than thirty seconds, he gongs the drum and says “Not bahd. Zurprizing.” I think about what he did, the techniques he used, and why it was funny. I note down what all seems very obvious to me now, but almost impossible to achieve in this space.
– He listened and kept going with the laugh of the audience
– We saw his logic, his pathway. His lip quivered a little bit, the audience laughed.
– He responded to the audience by scaling.
It was a big win, probably the biggest win we will see here, or at least the biggest so far. It fills me with pride, somehow, to see that it is possible to win in this class at all. I chat with him later, I want to give him a hug, or a fist bump, but I simply say, “That was awesome man, so funny. You must be happy with that.” He humbly replies thanks, and that’s the end of that.
Its my turn in the exercise, I keep my nose on under the sweltering lights, and stay in clown, the others onstage do not. I utilize familiar clowning techniques but also try not to. I’m not funny, plus everyone is tired. Was it my placement in the exercise? Probably not. “Zis girl, do ou sink she iz ze dorter of Einstein?” Philippe asks the audience of my classmates, “No. Everione ere sinks you are stoopit.” OK, that’s a win, I think to myself. I sit back in the audience and I think about the attention he is giving me today. I like to think he is trying to reassure me, after the way class ended yesterday. It occurs to me that perhaps he notices, and cares, much more than I think he does. When I sit down, one of the other students says to me “I thought you were being really funny, when it wasn’t your turn”.
· The actor and the clown
An actor does a scene onstage. After, a clown is instructed to replicate the scene, as if he is putting on a show for his family. Philippe wants us to break the fourth wall, and to play with the audience. we are to play naïve, proud, childlike, innocent. As if to say ‘Look mummy and daddy, I am an actor’.
Chase gets up again, he has trouble separating his actor from his clown onstage. I still love him. Philippe asks “Ou ar a classique eterosexual, yesse? When ou arrifed here in Etamp. Was zere some women ou thort… oooh… ghghghughhfhoo… I would like zem to go to bed wif me?” Chase awkwardly picks Abigail and Lauren. They are instructed to kiss his neck sensually and continuously, while he recites the scene again, which is in Spanish, which he doesn’t speak. His face becomes beautiful and childlike, his cheeks go red, the girls kiss his neck and skin awkwardly and intimately, they have to move their noses out of the way. It is beautiful to watch. I realise Philippe stays in this exercise with Chase onstage, to help him to separate his Le Coq training from his clown training. It makes my day.
Some wisdom is given at the end of the class. The clown must be subtle. To be subtle is to be light. The clown is subtle so we can dream around him.
After class we go for a drink, everyone is feeling the same way, and we need a drink. I notice how much I prefer to find out about their lives, rather than debrief going around in circles about class, as I feel like for many it is a sensitive topic. But at the same time, not so much for some. I see myself becoming more invested in the clowns, and relationships forming. Everyday in class, I notice someone differently. Over a beer I chat with Kirri (the English soccer guy) and Will (the proper English guy), conversation flows easily. For a moment the topic turns to clown, and they tell me something I’ve been told a million times, but somehow it sounds different coming from them, and I take it in.
I think my mindset has changed, because of the people around me. In Etampes, and back home. I am returning to the mindset of this is what I signed up for.
Gaulier Day 5
Today Manuel and I practice our colours, as I order my white coffee. The clowns now refer to this place affectionately as Café Du. It’s Sunday and nothing is open in Etampes, I people watch as they arrive in waves returning from Paris. Its late morning, and I recognise some clowns that didn’t make it home last night. Everyone smokes here, and I notice one by one the others take up smoking. It’s so strange to me, I question their new hobby, their reply, “We’re in France”.
- We walk in pairs, the person in front closes their eyes, the person behind gives simple directions – stop/go/left/right. The person behind the gives their verbal instructions from three steps behind, then from the wall. We swap over, and I’m glad I’m paired with the only other Aussie girl in the class, Lauren, her accent is easy to identify.
- In nose we scale from laughing to crying, individually and then as a group. The exercise somewhat reminds me of laughter yoga, forcing yourself to laugh, and the medium between actual laughter and fake laughter, until laughter becomes meaningless. I always find these exercises interesting, as I corpse so much in clown workshops (which still, is not a problem for me in Etampes).
I don’t want to do the exercise, as after letting others go first, it has been over thirty minutes of this exercise and the class is getting bored. I get up knowing how hard it will be, which ironically I realise makes it more interesting for me. I start small and laugh poorly, then I make a noise to make myself laugh, I laugh for real, no one else does. I listen, I check in with the audience, I look stupid, I connect, I don’t try too hard, I don’t look away. I start to scale to sad, by shaking my head ‘no’, Tom Tom thinks I am actually saying no to the exercise… that I am actually upset. Either way it’s still not funny.
I think this is a problem here, how we always have our noses on onstage, which makes it so difficult to decipher between when we are ‘in clown’ and ‘not in clown’. It adds to the confusion of whether Philippe is criticising us as performers, or criticising our clowns. I talk with some others about this, they of course say that it shouldn’t matter, that we should be being ourselves and be honest onstage. Others rip their noses off facing the audience, I always turn. I do this as a sign of respect, and to follow the rules of clown. And yes, there are rules. That’s why we are here, to learn the rules, to learn how. Some clowns put their noses on while we have drinks at the bar, I find this odd.
- Clown carousel – we come on one at a time and try to scare the audience. I go early, I try to play, should I show pride, or failure here? I’m not funny. Not many are, but sometimes the audience is generous in Tom Tom’s classes.
Gaulier starts the class to give time to the people who have questions, as some people ask him after class when the teaching has finished (which is not the time for questions). The clown from Venezuela asks what is the meaning, or the importance, of the clown to be ‘subtle’, a follow up question from yesterdays class. He doesn’t understand the question, she dismisses it, but he wont give in. He asks someone to explain what her question is to him, because he wants to answer it. He really cares that we understand.
He looks for me in the audience, and asks for me and Fransico (Columbia) to join the others and run the circus ring entrance onstage. I run as requested, mostly in neutral clown, not trying anything funny, looking only a little at the audience as I see them go by. Trying to be subtle, or myself, I guess. Philippe asks the audience which ones you would shoot with a gun, I get pointed out second by a classmate. He says I killed the world around me by not being subtle. It doesn’t affect me much, I was not invested in this exercise.
Today most clowns are in quite a fluster about presenting our “slapstick” routines. I meet up with Josie and Halima before class, we clarify some last-minute walk throughs but I try to not dwell and keep it simple. I figure we will get gonged quickly, anyway. The first group is Chase’s, they use a lot of text to explain the scene, he is in actor mode, they get gonged before they even set up their first gag. I think to myself that some clowns actually believed we might get to perform our whole acts uninterrupted.
“AH. HA. HA. ZO FUCKHING FUNNHI. Wei do not zee ze human person, we zee a batd idea. TRIPLE ZEHRO.”
Its hard to tell how affected Chase is. Philippe comments that we don’t see that he is intelligent or has a plan, and that the clown must make us laugh every seven seconds. He asks the audience “Whare iz ze machine laughing. Ze person oo laffs as a machine?”, “…Hello.” I respond and knowingly raise my hand. “Machine iz not larfing.”
My group goes backstage, I do the clown entrance as instructed, running in the circus ring. I try to find the balance between character walk and being subtle, but I still want to contrast with the others as I am the Auguste clown. I leave the stage to wait for my part in the act, I am the third clown to enter. As I wait, I indulge in a small prelude from the wing, Philippe gongs the act before I get a chance to go onstage.
“ALL OF OU TRIHPLE ZEHRO. Including ou.”
Some notebook thoughts;
- The audience will never love you if they don’t laugh when you enter.
- Everyone uses text, I prefer noises or gibberish.
- The audience isn’t stupid, they know what is about to happen.
- Try to surprise us, play, or create the in-joke. Rehearsed improvisation is so hard.
As I leave for the break, Philippe mumbles “Ciahra.” Surprised, but not intimidated, I return. “Whi iz oor name Ciahra. Are oo Italian? No?” “Ah no, I’m Australian. All Australian, my parents just liked the name.” “No eritage?” “…Ah, way way back Scotland, but that’s with immigration. My country is not very old.” “Ohk.” No one else notices our short interaction.
That was odd. Why would he bother asking me that, in the ten minutes break he has, where earlier in the class he made it clear that we were not to ask questions or waste his time outside of class? Regardless, it makes me smile. A few girls at lunch express to me that they feel like they never get feedback, that they’re going unnoticed. I tell them to get up for more exercises, and to take more risks, to fail (or win) hard.
Class recommences with the first group again, Philippe instructs Chase to do the lap of the circus ring. As Chase runs Philippe aggressively mumbles “FASTER. LONGER. JUMP.” Chase must jump everytime he hits the drum. The class laughs, it is very funny, he looks ridiculous with his long limbs. Philippe asks “Whi ou not do zis in ze beginning?”, “Because I thought it would be playing too much” replies Chase. “Wehn you show your pleazure, ou do noht plai too much.” Chase replies thankyou, with a smile, and takes a seat. It warms my heart. Philippe is coaching him, and he cares (Phillipe). He gets up regularly for exercises, and gets away with it. It gives me confidence that I can get away with it too, I want to get as much out of this place as I can. After class I head to the bar and find myself walking with Chase. I tell him that if I can’t learn from myself onstage, at least I get to learn from watching the way Philippe works with him.
Philippe goes through the students one by one, and coaches them on their physicality. Luckily I am feeling confident with my stickyness get up early, he has more time for the people who get up early. If you get up late, he seems to churn through the exercise as the class is almost ending. As we go backstage I hear him asking the audience if they care about seeing my costume on Monday. One of the other clowns backstage is worried about how this makes me feel (though I am actually not really bothered by the comment, more confused as to the reason) and she attempts to reassure me “He is just trying to rile you up. Its ok. He’s just trying to rile you up.” It really doesn’t affect me in the slightest.
I run, he tells me to run like an Olympian. I find my physicality obeying his instructions on how to be funny. I’m not sure if it is funny, or my attempts to decipher what he wants from me is funny. My run is strong, low, tense, heavy, stiff, my face grumpy like a double chinned pillow and my jump, staccato. The music stops and I stop in place onstage, I don’t drop my physicality. He asks me “…oo are brohken?” I don’t understand, he repeats “You are broken?” implying that I have not moved. I think about the rats that used to live in my apartment in Queensland, and how the poison would slowly make the rat freeze mid run along our kitchen floor. I feel like a frozen rat. I take a deep breath in and relax, dropping character onstage. He tells me to return to my seat, for the first time I take my nose off without turning from the audience.
The class atmosphere becomes excited and positive, as Philippe is teaching us how to be funny. Clowns get laughs, everyone is feeling good. It’s a good end to the week. I see he is trying to make us look ridiculous, to look stupid, and its working. But is he just giving us time, and the audience permission, to laugh? If we made these walks ourselves, would it be too much? I think to myself we must only sometimes be subtle, but when.
Saturday I go to write my blog, but run into the other clowns at Café Du headed to Paris to go buy their costumes. Until this point I am not interested in putting much effort into my costume, as I know what Philippe will say anyway. I also feel like the worse it is the better it is. Regardless, I feel like it would be a good thing for me to socialise, so I go. Plus, there is some good coffee in Paris. We head to the thrift store district in Paris, and I find a perfect janitor onesie almost immediately. I am pretty pleased with my find, and it seems like everyone else is putting in quite a bit of effort, so at least this way ill fit in. We visit the most expensive part of Paris, Ile de la Cite along the river Seine, I get some pretty good ice-cream and an average bagel, and then wander off by myself. These days big group excursions aren’t really my thing. I find a park, where an Aussie girl and her French boyfriend arrive next to me. It becomes difficult to not be drawn into their world, as he feeds her grapes while she lays on the grass. This actually happened. I discreetly take a selfie to post to Instagram. I try to nap, but their conversation prods my curiosity as she mentions an Australian burlesque performer who smokes a cigarette from her vagina… I wonder who it could be, I think it could only be Grumble, but I’m unsure. Either way, I think, awesome.
I meet up with the others with the aim to go to the Pompidou, I’m excited when I notice some performers and a Rou Cyr on the pitch. I watch the show, it is simple but effective. No text, no build, no hat line. They kill it, and after fifteen minutes, they go again with their ten-minute show. Nice, I begin to see how it works. The police walk by, and I notice they pass without giving the Columbians any trouble. I wonder if they have a permit, or if they are just regulars, and if I could get away with it. I can see potential in Paris… We go to Common Ground, a large beer garden, and meet up again with the big group. Its nice to talk with the others from class A, we share experiences of the week and opinions of the course. A few of them whom I have hesitantly added on facebook, comment about my blog.
It is interesting to think about how much my understanding of Philippe’s teaching has changed in the last three days. Its only been five days… what? It’s as if Philippe is desensitizing us to his insults, and making us realise the importance of the truth. The classes are also quite entertaining themselves. Our morning classes with Tom Tom are great, but I could go to a clowning class like that anywhere in the world. I didn’t come here for a generic clowning class. Most of me can’t believe I’m here, part of me is beginning to realise an engulfing insatiable feeling that ten days is not enough time here.
Gaulier Week 2 – Day 6
I am greeted by the boss at Café Du Depart with a kiss on each cheek this morning. I notice him curiously wondering what I write about each morning, he doesn’t ask. Manuel speaks to me fluently in French when I arrive, finally with a smile, and “Café Ole mademoiselle?”.
Today we do a long warmup with Tom Tom, its nice. We do some basic acro yoga exercises which the class is quite excited about, I base a few birds on feet and its nice to see my classmates to excited about flying. I do however, skip attempting feet to feet with the students, as Tom Tom demonstrated..
- We play musical chairs, you must do a clown dance connecting with the audience, and if you miss out on a chair the focus is thrown to you. If you make us laugh (or if we like you), you can stay. Save yourself from the flop.
With twelve odd students per game, Tom Tom begins eliminating clowns regardless, which is a little disheartening. This exercise takes the rest of the class, a little frustrating. It seems like these classes are moving slower, I prefer shorter games where not everyone has to have a turn at every exercise. I note this for my clown workshops I will be teaching at EJC next week. It occurs to me that competitive complicitae is an interesting and difficult task, after re-reading a friend and fellow Gaulier clown’s blog (thankyou @Vaughan Crole). With so many clowns being so physically big, it is difficult to be ‘subtle’, and grasp the audience’s attention. Again, the contrast between subtle and big is such a difficult balance. I am thinking about focusing on complicitae today, as it occurs to me that our class is not focussing on it enough here. Later today with Phillippe the focus of the class will turn to this aspect of clown.
I am feeling a bit low energy, antisocial, and grumpy over lunch, as everyone excitedly puts together their costumes, I sit by myself. I put my costume together five minutes before we go in. I look at myself in costume, through the reflection of the glass doors at the entrance of the studio. I wonder what is behind those doors for us today, in the blazing lights and silhouetted faces of the audience comprised of Philippe, his wife Michiko who has recently joined us, and my fellow clowns. There has also been another face in the audience, another teacher it seems, who sits in on the classes, though we have never been introduced. This makes me a feel a bit invaded, a bit vulnerable, as both her and Michiko sit knowingly in the audience. The comradery I feel with my fellow clowns is strong and fair, we all have to do the exercises. And although I don’t know their backgrounds or reasons for being there, I feel intimidated by our guests. Philippe will sometimes ask obvious questions of the clown, or the audience, and as respectful students we don’t answer the obvious, we give the clown onstage space and try to let them figure it out for themselves. I notice our guests answer the bleeding obvious questions quickly.
I find a great facebook group called ‘philippe gaulier hit me with a stick’, it is full of the boundless, ridiculous and non-sensical insults that Philippe has spat at students over the years. I also find a quote from a student, which I cannot stop thinking about.
Philippe Gaulier started teaching us; the class meeting several times a week. He was the kindest, nicest, most understanding teacher I ever had. He asked for a small photo of each of us. The kind you get in a photo booth. One students after we had all done this, which we thought was a little odd. Asked him why? Philippe Gaulier told us, “I looks at them every night in order to see you.” (Stanley Allan Sherman)
Someone comments on this thread “Whether you believe what Philippe says or not, it is the affect that his words have on you that is important, I think.” Later after class as Josie packs to leave, I overhear him say to her “Goodbye beautiful”. I love clowns.
As soon as I enter the room, my mood instantly changes. I feel so safe and secure in my costume, its like a giant mask, once I have my nose on. He sends five clowns up onstage, I jump up, as I have easy access from the front row. He asks us to walk slowly toward the audience (to elevator music), feeling proud of our new costumes. I walk, easily feeling a sense of pride and stupidity, we stop when the music stops. He questions the first clown about their costume, asks them to sing a song, meanwhile I fiddle adjusting my physicality.
My janitor onesie is oversized and I discover it is easy to condense my features, to create a long torso and short legs, I hunch my back a little, and sit my neck back in my spine. I try not to overdo it, but its fun. He asks me of my costume, I answer with my normal Australian accent, “The grumpiest cleaning lady in Melbourne airport.” He orders me a yellow raincoat, a mop and bucket, they appear onstage from on of his assistants. It occurs to me that this is exactly what I wanted, I gratefully accept. I cant help but start to think of all the possibilities of comedic problems the mop holds, as I hold the bucket and begin to subtly play, dodging my face around the dirty head of the mop. However its someone else’s turn, and my thoughts return to complicitae and focus onstage. The focus returns to me and he asks me to sing, in a low voice, I sing the first sounds that come out in a short and low gibberish tune. Michiko laughs, some of the audience laugh. I look at them with pride, and repeat my nonsensical tenor tune. I hear Philippe snort, twice… did I just make him laugh?
“We liek err like zis, no?” he comments.
He goes through the rest of the clowns in the class one by one. I notice they stay more in character in costume while they’re onstage, which I like. He sends a lot of clowns back to get new costumes, as they are not easily identifiable in their stereotypical characters. After class a number of people comment to me that me clown ‘really came out today’. I find this odd, as I feel so familiar with this character, but I’m still happy to hear it. I consider putting some white under my eyes tomorrow… why am I so drawn to trad clown here… I assume it’s because the circus in me is what sets me apart. But I am also still so self-conscious of appearing different or attention seeking to everyone else. I worry again that these habits will hold me back here.
I notice that Philippe plays with us as he teaches. He actually demonstrates the essence of clown through his teaching, he is alike a grumpy clown. I need to pay more attention to the way he teaches, and how his teaching is full of clown. He asks for ten clowns to sit on opposite sides of the stage, I stay seated in the audience, I am still monitoring my stickiness. He asks a male clown to approach and ask in fluent French (but the clown does not know how to speak French) a female clown to dance. The clowns play into their costumes, I wonder if this is correct, but my thoughts move on. Studying his feedback, I begin to understand “YOO MOOF TOO MUCH” meaning that we are not being subtle, that the clown is overacting to trying too hard.
“We haf very good fun? Or iz ee a priest oo has dhiscoverehd ee is a paedophile.”
Philippe comments about contrast in clown performance. Different rhythms and different clowns, create opposite conflict (or a problem). Someone asks if the clowns can begin with the same rhythm, and then show contrast. Philippe answers that it is possible, but the audience might leave. He says we cannot play without conflict. We must have the pleasure to pretend that we speak French, and share our pleasure with the audience.
Fransisco and Josie get up, I still love watching Fransisco, but it feels like the last few days in class he has lost his pleasure in being there. I wonder how he is finding the course. I feel like Philippe is very invested in him. He cuts their dance short, restarts it twice, and gives him a triple zehro, sending him back to his seat. I disagree with Philippe’s comments, thinking that I saw pleasure, stupidity, and play in their act. Class finishes and I don’t get a turn in this exercise. I speak to Fransisco briefly after class, telling him I liked it.
At night I do some research, and read somewhere that Philippe says he doesn’t teach birthday party clown, or street clown, or circus clown, he teaches beautiful clown. That is why I’m here.
GAULIER – Day 8
I only have two days left here, I anxiously romanticise the idea of coming back, but its almost impossible. I feel like I will always chase clowning around the world, but it’s really the hardest career path. Adulthood, money, my career (whatever it is), family, and responsibility calls, but at the same time curiosity and passion prevail. I wonder how this training will really influence me and my career, I know it is self-indulgent. Last night I talk with some actors in my course, we are all in the same position. Artists really are the hardest working people I know, and what a privilege to be in on the secret. The secret of being a clown that is, those who know, know.
- We start with group skipping, it’s great to see how excited the rest of my class is by this. Again there is a lack of knowledge in facilitation, but I try to keep my mouth shut regarding technique as much as I can. I ask (for safety) if we can change the orientation so we don’t run into the wall, Tom Tom says “No. Thankyou for changing the exercise.” Most people run from the centre under the rope to the centre. It’s hard for me, but I keep my mouth shut, and try to blend in.
- We warm up on the ground, Tom Tom demonstrates the exercises for the day with little explanation. A candlestick, a two high, and face balance with a stick. I base a few candlesticks, I don’t feel comfortable encouraging others without time for technique. Someone tells me they injured their back in the other class attempting foot to foot. While stretching Tom Tom condescendingly comments “you can check the expert next to me”, while I straddle stretch with the rest of the class. Flex isn’t even my thing. I’m at a loss of what to do.
- We play an exercise as school children in class, where the teacher forbids us to swear and leaves the room. From instruction I interpret this as an exercise of focus and major/minor, there is a lot of text exchanged, however the clown is naïve and doesn’t know what swear words are. The exercise turns more into a skit, and I wonder how we can play with the audience, where it seems like there is a fourth wall in play. A few groups go up, but I miss out.
- The class is almost over and a new exercise begins, I go to get up but am too late. Francisco gives up his place for me, which means a lot. The exercise is simple, a line up of clowns must say swear words but execute them in a naïve way, we don’t know what they mean. I say “Ass”, Tom Tom asks some more questions through live coaching, and moves on.
And that’s the end of class.
I occurs to me how much clowns sometimes rely on text. It makes me think of an exercise from yesterday, where one of the clowns sung in fluent French, half of the audience (who spoke French, and were familiar with the song) were laughing. Half of the class were not, as we tried to decipher what was going on. It made me think about the relationship between language, culture and clown. I feel that as a clown humour should go beyond text, easy in theory but hard to execute. I think about how the misunderstanding of language can be used as a comedic tool, but also how it can ostracise.
I look at myself again in costume through the glass doors before I enter, I haven’t chosen to wear the white/more trad makeup as I want to, because I am afraid to be the only one and the implications clown makeup brings. I don’t feel as good in my costume today. I realise I don’t look as good or funny as I think I looked, and this makes my confidence fade. In the exercises today I don’t get to play with my mop.
- We play Grandma’s footsteps, Philippe takes photos of us as we walk towards him. I assume this is for advertising. We are all more focused in this exercise in our costumes.
- Ketch is called up to do a (bad) mime skit.
This is so interesting, because Ketch is a trained mime. I wonder (and so does he) if Philippe is aware of his experience. Philippe says something along the lines of “I know why this is hard for you”, which makes me think he is aware. I feel anxious excitement for Ketch, as he must perform as if he is a novice. Ketch does some poor ‘wall’ mime, Philippe stops him and tells him he is shit and to repeat. Philippe criticizes him for not repeating it exactly, and sends him out of the room. I feel Ketch is confused and disappointed in himself, he doesn’t know how to succeed at the exercise. Once out of the room, Philippe says to us in secret that when Ketch returns, Philippe will stand and exclaim “BRAVO!” and we are all to erupt in applause. Ketch is called back in, and attempts to perform the wall exactly as he did the first time, he does, Philippe exclaims “BRAVO!” and we all stand. Ketch has a great smile on his face and accepts to applause, but is also confused. Philippe says “We like heem like zis, no?”.
This solo exercise is repeated with a few other students, who are instructed to do things they are not good at. The students are told they don’t have the pleasure, and the exercise is over.
- The Grimace.
A line-up of clowns is told to give the audience a scary grimace (or silly face), and when instructed to pair it with a sound. I watch the first group, and find ‘the drop’ which some have, the most funny (when the clown attempts the grimace, and then goes back to themselves, and then back to the grimace). I get up for the second round, try not to pre-empt and make a silly grimace, then a sound. Nobody laughs, I try the drop, nothing, my turn moves on. Philippe explains that sometimes when you are onstage and you are in the flop, you can try the grimace. The audience is thinking ‘this clown is not funny, there is nothing that is funny, I won’t laugh at this clown’, then you make the grimace and the audience thinks you are stupid for even trying, and then comes the laugh.
- The sock game – focus and complicate
Two clowns are onstage and put socks in the back pockets, when instructed Philippe says who is in charge of the focus and is to steal the other clowns sock. I watch a few other pairs of clowns, I think they’re not sharing with the audience, they’re is no complicitae. It is like watching two children play a shit game in the park and it is not interesting for the audience. I think, I got this. I am paired with the angry gnome from Venezuela, and I am pleased as I feel our costumes look good together onstage. I am instructed to steal the sock, I get the sock, I share my happiness with the audience. I am instructed to tease my partner, which I do, I feel I am playing with her, and sharing with the audience. Philippe stops us with some criticism, and says we have one minute to have better complicitae. She whispers something to me discreetly like “Ok, we can”. We are gonged about ten seconds into our second attempt.
We are given confusing instructions again to create a duo routine, where we naively impersonate people we have met on our travels. I interpret this exercise as one of complicitae, focus, play, naivity and pleasure. I reason in my head, that the task is just another reason to be onstage, and these techniques are what really matters. This exercise will be the last thing we perform here, on Friday, in front of both classes. I really wonder how to go about this. I am paired with Kirsten, and we will rehearse tomorrow, I mostly just want to enjoy the process.
After class I have offered to teach some of the clowns some balloon twisting, quickly our apartment is full of clowns. Its nice. They are enthusiastic, but mostly we eat, drink amazing red wine, and chat. I get to talk with some about my clown practice. And it occurs to me that there are different practitioners of clown, and that some techniques are different to others. It seems obvious, but it has never really occurred to me. I feel like in my head I have my own picture of clown, and what (should) work, and the recipe according to what I have been taught and what I like to watch. I realise that my picture of complicate, what I feel is complicitae on stage, is different from what the audience sees. This also is true of my pleasure, and my play. Even if I am having fun onstage, they audience may not see that I fee this. I feel like I share too much with the audience, and not enough with my partner. It is really hard for me to articulate this lesson I have learnt today.
A few friendly stay until late and we exchange some of our knowledge and training, it is particularly interesting for me to get an insight into what the Le Coq training actually is. So much of it is familiar to me from past teachers, though I have never known why we do it. Undulations, coordination warmups, the twenty movements… they are all so familiar, and I realise they all stem from the same place. I also have never known how these movements translate to characters, but these clowns demonstrate it well. I realise how much of these movements have unknowingly influenced the physicality of my characters, and I wonder how important it is that I understand why.
Gaulier – Day 9
This week has gone fast, I knew it would, and I leave tomorrow. Day nine, Wednesday, disappeared quickly, as I know will my presence in Etampes. I am greeted again this morning at Café Du Depart with a kiss on each cheek. Manuel is busy serving regulars, most are drinking wine by 10am. I think I know why I like him so much, because we can’t communicate with language, we play. He plays, when he knows I am watching. As he walks by, he throws some rubbish on my table, and then continues on unnecessarily wiping down an empty peanut dispenser, whistling coyly. His humour is childlike, and well crafted. I awkwardly wonder if I should somehow try mention I am leaving tomorrow.
We skip again today with Tom Tom, I change to the harder side (as he has the lines both form parallel in the room, the rope goes in two different directions – clockwise and anticlockwise). I make a mistake, as I hesitate so as not to collide with the person in front, and I hit the rope. He comments “Ah the first mistake from you.”. I smile and dismiss it, none of this matters. We do our usual warmup on the ground, then we move on to headstands, and chair handstands… how did we end up here. I try to help a few others with their shape, that want help, but I basically check out.
The games we play today are great, I take note;
- Animal tag. The taggers must tag people and assign them a secret animal, to which the player must impersonate. The player can be freed by others guessing which animal they are. The more obscure the animal the better, and the more stupid and desperate the players get. It’s a funny and accessible game, I think I will add the rule that players can only guess once per person then they have to move on.
- We walk closely in pairs, and tesselate each other’s footsteps. On the tenth step, both players do a ball change step. If a mistake is made, you collide. I love this.
- We are walking around the room, we are told without sound to make a square, a circle, and a triangle (using everyone). There is no time limit. It is surprisingly difficult and funny, and takes longer than expected. A good ensemble game, I like this too.
We do a clown exercise with Tom Tom, an orchestra. I like this as an alternative to the conductor exercise. I watch the first group, it looks fun, I get up for the second round. Tom Tom asks us to go and collect our instruments before we begin, as he finds the music. We all stand and look at each other with playful confusion, thinking where are our invisible instruments? We eventually find them as a group behind the wings, and personally decide what instruments we are picking up. I pickup a snare and a cymbal, not realising of course, that we are a symphony orchestra… I appreciate my own stupidity. As the music starts each of the clowns is proud when they hear their instrument, like they got it correct, and begin to play. A piccolo solo plays in the music, and the focus is thrown to the clown playing their invisible piccolo so intently. The music guides us through levels of intensity, focus, pride, and honest confusing play. I think I have enjoyed this group clown exercise the most so far, its great to watch and fun to play.
We do a clown carousel, but it moves relatively slowly. The clown must come on and make us laugh, if he fails, the clown must leave the stage. Some clowns have a more text driven/standup style, Tom Tom comments this is too clever for the clown. I try not to pre-empt, I try not to do tricks, and take the offer of an empty stage whenever required. I wait for an offer from the clown gods, I play small, which is never the best idea in a clown carousel, but playing big is always hard. I accidently kick the pile of sticks and make a noise as I come onstage, I playfully repeat a few times, it doesn’t work, I leave. I come on big with no material, I try to play with the audience by waving, what a shit idea. But I don’t want to hide behind tricks or gags, failing is ok, I get nothing. I leave. I try going on with two other female clowns, one of them sings. Why do clowns always sing? I awkwardly try to give her focus, I am thinking of complicitae, but it squashes my presence, we are shit. We leave the stage, and the class is over.
At lunch we put our costumes on, some are still making adjustments, but it becomes clear than in a couple of days none of this will matter. I look at myself, I feel a great desire now to complete this costume, with white under my eyes, and obscurely high shoulders so I have no neck and a short torso. I see myself possibly as a hobo clown in this costume… wow, I’ve never wanted to be a hobo clown before. Where did this desire even come from.
I am first up for the first exercise, in a line-up of eight other clowns. We are told to dance to Rock & Roll music, but the clown knows nothing about Rock & Roll, of course. If you show that you know anything about Rock & Roll you will get immediate double triple zehro. We dance all together, then one at a time. I try not to try, I do whatever obscure movement comes to mind, searching for the right movement by listening to the audience. I think I shimmy my shoulders, then my ass, I am told to direct it to my sexual lover in the audience. It turns into a body roll, I think it evolves unintentionally to a thrust-like movement, “Sank-you, too mush simbohlic” (symbolic). Goddamn it, I know exactly what he means, I hate it when clowns do that – pointing, I call it.
I watch as another group goes up, and try
to see what I think is working. I immediately like what Ketch is doing, its
stupid, childlike and nonsensical. Philippe points him out from the beginning
and says he what he is doing specifically is not funny, Ketch nods and changes
his movement. I wonder why Philippe does this, as it was funny. Its as if he
was trying to push him, to fail. Because failing will make him funnier? I don’t
know, but I notice.
Some notebook observations;
- The clown must stay far back from the audience. It occurs to me today that this is so they must show their connection with the whole audience (not just one person), and it also makes it more difficult to connect. So this in theory would make us better at connecting. Also, most stages for the clown are really far from the audience.
- Philippe comments about the different clown bodies onstage. He points out what a couple of people’s characteristics are, but doesn’t dwell too much. Interesting to see him hold back, to not play with people’s personal insecurities about their bodies. I take his point that if we expose our vulnerabilities (physical as well as our inner stupidity) it makes the audience relate to us as humans. Our bodies and looks are irreplicable.
- I get in trouble for not adding to my costume today, Philippe says I am looking less like a grumpy cleaner from Melbourne airport. I think about my raincoat, my makeup, my physicality, and my mop. I really like that mop.
- Francisco asks a good question
before the end of class, ‘Can the clown succeed, or be good at X for example
playing piano?’. Philippe answers that the clown can succeed by miracle, he
cannot succeed because he knows. He also mentions something about how it is a
miracle that the clown has ended up onstage.
At the end of class Philippe instructs an exercise and changes his mind on the instructions between the clowns. He contradicts himself, purposefully reprimanding each clown for doing it wrong. There is a lot of confusion, and I don’t follow from the audience.
Philippe tells us that tomorrow we will
swap costumes with another clown, one that we think is funny, that we would
like to play. At lunch Francisco approaches me and asks to swap costumes,
perfect. He is dressed as an angel, I study his physicality, language
(Spanish), and habits for the rest of class. I look forward to playing him, I
like how protective he is about his wings, its funny. After class he says “I
want to play you” to which I reply “I want to play you too Francisco”.
The day finishes and I rehearse my duo act with Kirsten, we see eye to eye on the purpose of the exercise, which is a relief. She agrees the point is not to get it right, but to employ the techniques we have been learning – focus, complicitae, pride, contrast. I enjoy the process, and we will see how we go tomorrow performing for both classes.
I can’t sleep, so I get up for a snack, and end up talking with my housemate Frosina for about an hour and a half. I forget that this is basically her first experience of clown. She is an actor, and we discuss our experiences of the course. It is clear to me that in the first few days of arriving, and as detailed in my blogs, I was concerned. In a way I am afraid of going back and reading them. Before leaving for France I told friends back home that I didn’t care if I was destroyed onstage, in a way I wanted to be, I just hoped it wouldn’t make me quit. I didn’t actually believe this place could destroy my love of clown, what could this old man possibly do? All I knew was that I had heard so many mixed reviews of this mysterious school, and that it was like some kind of clown pilgrimage, I had to go and get a taste for myself. By no means do I understand what the hell just went on here over the past two weeks, nor do I understand what exactly I’ve learnt from it (yet). I was worried after the first few days, that my experience here was going to get worse, and harder, and that it would break me. I was worried everyone that warned me against going here was right, and I wasn’t prepared.
Sooner than I knew, it was my morning reflections here at Café Du Depart, the masses of support from friends and clowns I admire around the world, and my fellow classmates that I slowly let in, that picked me up. I realised Philippe is a generous, humble man and a master of clown. Through his generous insults and incessant ramblings, he breaks down the structures we hide behind, as humans and clowns, to hold ourselves up. He makes beautiful clowns.
I didn’t think I would want to come back. My plan has backfired. There is so much more for me to learn here.
Gaulier – Day 10
My final two days in Etampes were different and unexpected. It feels odd to blog today from a UK country train on my way to Newark, for the European Juggling Convention. As the train pulls away Etampes became a blur of colour through a scratched up window. And all of a sudden I am surrounded by strong British accents, downing cans on their way to some very important cricket match (or so I hear).
I find that these classes with Tom Tom are reinforcing to me that we do clown exercises to practice technique, and that the exercises are just another reason to be onstage. Interestingly, Philippe will later question today Ketch whilst onstage, asking what the purpose of the homework exercise is. Ketch answers perfectly in my eyes, “to share focus, have complicitae, listen to the audience, and not move too much.” Phillipe’s reply; “Ooh, he souhndz lihke a wahnker from Mehlbourne. All zee wankers from Mehlbourne use zis language”. Its so hard to tell when he actually means it.
- We play volleyball keep ups, its surprisingly difficult with our group to get over ten without dropping.
- Clown exercise: The clowns play mime tennis, then demonstrate their figure skating showreel. Other sports include synchronised swimming, fencing, and I get shot put. I’m rather happy with the energy I use for shotput, not many people laugh.
I am reminded that the mime needs to concentrate more on seeing the object, and then check in with the audience. Something I am terrible at but aware of. When we are playing these sports the clown of course does not know anything of the sport, the same with ballroom dancing. Some clowns imitate the sport well, and we are impressed, some are so bad at it, we are also impressed. It literally works both ways. So I wonder how does the clown know both too little and too much at the same time? The clown must be so good to be bad, we must be convincing but also stupid. Maybe it is all or nothing. Also, you must be good by accident.
- On the final day both classes A and W are combined. In one exercise we are grouped into nationalities and we are to sing a children’s song from our country, the Australians go first and we sing Happy Little Vegemite. We are to play as children, and are genuinely proud to share this song with the other clowns, its fun. Its nice how the songs are so reflective of each nationality, I notice the Russians are so Russian.
- Sleeping clowns exercise: the clowns demonstrate the nightmares they have been having throughout the course. It turns into a great exercise of parody, mostly of Philippe. With both classes combined there are a lot of in-jokes and call backs that only half of the audience understands at a time.
I am reminded of the balance between mocking and parody. I enjoy watching some clowns pickup on the offers of others during the nightmares and the exercise becomes a game. I also notice in this exercise something I have been curious about for such a long time, when corpsing works. I feel like I am inching closer to an understanding, I think it is when you have built a rapport or in-joke with the audience. Wow, that answer seems so obvious now, for something I have been curious about for so long.
- We dance ballroom dancing and rock and roll with a partner. I get partnered up with a girl from the other class, I notice everyone else is in a duo from their own class. I concentrate a lot on the audience, but also try for complicitae with my partner. Reflecting now I think I was swapping between these two modes in blocks, whereas it should be seamless, maybe? Or maybe not… for clear focus exchange.
- It gives me an idea for a group slapstick ballet routine, or a handstand synchronised swimming routine.
We do a distinct focus exercise, where Philippe hits his drum calling number one, and again number two. Number one must do nothing while number two is in focus, the focus shifts when one clown flops and looks to the other to save the show. The second clown must (usually) come in with high energy to save the show. You have to love the audience.
We parody and dress up in each others costumes. The class changes into their new costumes and we are all in an excited flurry, swapping clowns and excitedly and secretly rehearsing the physicality and catch phrases of the other clowns. I am really happy to impersonate Fransisco, and happy he wants to impersonate me, his presence in the workshop has had such an impact on my learning. I show him how to wear my costume, and we take a photo, giggling as we impersonate each other. We agree not to look at the photo until after the exercise.
What happens next is an interesting feeling. The class recommences and everyone is excited, until the first few clowns go, and flop badly, reprimanded for being “SOH FARKING FUNNY” (sarcastic commentary from Philippe). I’m excited to see Fransisco go onstage, and a little nervous, it’s a good feeling. His walk onstage is funny, he repeats my apparent catch phrase in an Australian accent “The angriest cleaner at Melbourne Airport.” Then he laughs, obnoxiously. The audience mostly loves him, and I do too, embarrassed, and slightly offended. It hurts, but its ok that it hurts, because I like him. I consider again the fine line between parody and mocking, and also if I should be emphasizing these qualities in myself that stand out. I go after him a few turns later, I get almost no laughs. Its an interesting feeling when another clown is better at being your clown, than you are.
A few clowns with acting background stand out, Chase is the best, imitating Will (the Viking). He imitates him perfectly, but not offensively. Everybody loves Will. Philippe comments that Chase shows the truth, and the truth is funny. We like the parody more than the person. I am reminded that we are supposed to imitate the clown, not the person – but we are the clown, we are the person. I’m confused again.
A question I am too afraid to ask of Philippe, with fear of sounding like a Melbourne wanker. Philippe tells us of a few friends he has not met, who are not clowns, but are clowns on the inside (I think I understand what he means by this).
Q – Is it human to be a clown, or to clown is to be human?
I know the answer has a lot to do with humanity, and I guess I don’t ask, because I think the answers/thoughts that my question poses are more important than an actual definitive answer.
I’ve also realized something more about the way Philippe teaches which I don’t want to forget. He really tries to see the person within the clown (and also the clown within the person), the clown underneath all the layers of person.
For the final exercise our audience consists of both classes, and we show our homework exercise from the week, where we were instructed to meet another clown and talk about where we are going or have seen each other before. The exercise is for the clown to pretend they know about the country (but get it wrong), we think. Myself and Kirsten rehearse but we also know there is little point. When we get up I come onstage with my bucket, and Kirsten with her trolley. Philippe immediately stops us and says ‘Wai yoo ‘ave zis trohlley, becos it iz not fuhnni.’ (to Kirsten), I am permitted to keep the mop “Zis is goot. It iz ze firhst time we ave scene ooo wiz zis mop.” Which is probably true, I haven’t really gotten that much stage time in my costume this week. We do ok, I am given focus first and yell loudly “HEY!” the audience laughs because it is unexpected of my character, and at this point im willing to try anything not to get sent offstage. I retain focus for a little bit until we get gonged, Kirsten doesn’t get to do much.
- Philippe’s feedback: I am too aggressive with my partner. But last time he told me I need to be more grumpy/aggressive.
- “Iz shee an Ostralian with a bit of fantastique? Or iz she Classique Ostralian.” (she is classic)
I don’t get triple zero, but I don’t get ‘good, surprising’ either. In the middle, I guess. An unmemorable way to complete my final exercise.
While watching the other class, one of the students cries because she gets a “triple zehro” from Philippe. Philippe questions her, and confronts her while she cries, he is somehow mean and intimidating, but also empathetic at the same time. This interrogation onstage by Philippe is exactly what she needs. He demands she looks at us while she is crying, for us to find out if she is funny when she cries. He instructs her partner onstage to slap her when she looks away. The empathy we feel as an audience is strong, and it works, so well. We laugh, and we feel for her, I start to cry in the audience. At the end of the exercise the pair hug in a real embrace onstage, and the whole audience claps loudly. This place is intense.
I realise it is like Philippe has the perfect exercise for every clown. And I learn a lot from being in the audience, watching the other clowns. I want to be used as an example onstage, but I still get a lot out of how he works with others. His exercise for contrived actors is kissing their necks sensually, actually attempting to make them aroused or embarrassed, while they deliver rehearsed lines. This is beautiful and funny for a few clowns, as they stand onstage vulnerable and red-faced. Philippe even asks who in the class they may have had sex with during the course, or whom they would like to tonight on the last night.
One exercise he does for a student, is incredibly vulnerable. The most vulnerable any of the clowns we have seen so far. The clown (dressed as a police woman in full gear – hat, nose, wig, gun etc) walks slowly downstage with her arms held out in a Christ-like position by two helpers. She closes her eyes, and in silence, the helpers are instructed to remover her hat, then wig, costume, and nose. We can see how uncomfortable she is while she is stripped of her masks, and even with her eyes closed we can see her crying. I get goosebumps, I cry again in the audience. It is exactly what she needed.
- When you move too much it is to hide something ridiculous, when you are a clown you have to show something ridiculous.
- Little by little you learn what is your best way to save the show (or be funny)
- I wonder what it is that makes a student excel here. Perhaps no prior knowledge (they are shapeable and free), perhaps lots of prior knowledge (they are trained).
- Maybe it is the student that continues to learn, that keeps on getting up and coming back.
- Some of the funny is where the clown tries to ‘save the show’ and does something terribly not funny, and the audience thinks ‘You really thought that would work? You idiot’, and then they laugh at your beautiful stupidity.
- I go onstage ready and expecting to flop magnificently.
- I start to understand why Philippe talks to us always in nose. It is perhaps to blur the line between clown and human. So any real emotions we feels when he abuses us, we are still in nose.
- A student asks the relation between clown and acting, for example how clown can be useful for delivering Shakespeare (which is part of the two year course). Philippe answers that it is not the same, but we use clown to find the pleasure in playing mad (or insane), love, despair etc.
I knew it would be easier to smoke bomb yesterday after class, but I also knew I would regret it if I didn’t say my goodbyes. Here I was thinking I was immune from my own emotional investment and prepared to detach myself from this place and these clowns. Wow I learnt a lot here.
I finish this final blog post as I sit on the train from the European Juggling Convention, through the UK countryside, heading towards the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for my first time ever. My mind is in a different place now, and I am grasping at the fading memory of these final two days at Philippe Gaulier. I can see that the lessons from this place will stick with me for a long time, and some will continue to reveal themselves for a long time to come. Thankyou to all who have followed my blogs and my journey. It was unexpected but the support I have had from afar, from my classmates, and my reflections on my learnings were invaluable. This is what got me through.