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BLOG 2: Clowning and Theatre Practice with Andre Pink

This week we interviewed Andre Pink; director, facilitator, and producer. He is an incredibly busy man who jumps head-first into curating projects such as the Tramshed’s Online programme for artists making cyber-theatre. We discussed his training, his creative process, and the industry. This blog post focusses on theatre-making and the role of clown within that.

In the formative years of his career, Andre joined Troupe de Atmosfera Nômade. There, he was mentored by Paoli-Quito and Tiche Vianna, who specialised in Commedia dell’arte and Clowning. This company revolutionised theatre in Brazil, a catalyst for Sao Paulo’s clowning and comedy scene. Andre then went on to study at Ecole Phillipe Gaulier in 1996 and later he studied with Angela De Castro. He reflected that both teachers had very contrasting approaches. Gaulier was harsh, blunt, and quick to chide students in a Boss Clown manner. Whilst De Castro focusses on building up trust and complicite between your fellow clowns, to evoke absolute silliness.

 

We continue to discuss how these two approaches have manifested in Andre’s teaching. “Boss clown is an amazing facilitation tool, it catches people off guard…it shocks people, you have to make it clear it’s a game.” Having been taught by Andre (Sophia, Ronja, and Verity) we were familiar with his Boss Clown character who brings so much fun, keeps you on your toes whilst playing with the vulnerability of the clown. Complicite with the audience is key to Andre’s approach, building trust, a game, and fun. He remarks that this idea is found in mask, bouffon, and commedia dell’arte; forms in Andre’s arsenal for creating provocative yet stunning theatre.

 

When then discussed the power of the clown. “The subversive element of clowning, the clown wants you to laugh, nothing is sacred. All the rules can be turned upside-down.” Clowning is an influence in all of his work yet he has never directed a clown show. Choosing work written in politically charged times (i.e. Macunaíma) and looking at it through a 21st century lens, making his work inherently political- Andre’s work does not copy reality but rather exaggerates it, turns it up-side-down, creating something that provokes. The naivety of the clown allows for (to use a bastardised cliché) a mirror of innocence to be held up to society.

We then went on to discuss art during this challenging period (COVID-19, #BLM vs ‘counter-protest’, the widening gap in wealth and opportunities, climate crisis). This poses the question: is theatre inherently political? “We need to do something and I think obviously we artists, you know, we constantly put those pressing matters, that echo in the heart and in the mind, into our work”. Theatre is reactive, just as any art. Andre fully embraces this, which is evident in his active role as a producer and facilitator at The Tramshed. He is currently curating the Digitally Charged Festival and teaching Progression sessions via Zoom. He reflects that he “is enjoying investigating the online world. I am meeting artists, running the festival, doing some classes. It has been meaningful. I feel the obligation of realizing something”.

If any readers have thoughts on this topic, please send us a message on the Knickers Theatre Facebook page so we can keep the discussion going!

For our first ever blog post we interviewed Mark Winstanley. We discussed pedagogy, process, and the impact social isolation is having on the arts industry. Feel free to discuss topics covered in the comments below. We want to keep the discussion about comedy going!

Mark is a clown, theatre maker and teacher of clown, bouffon, and facilitator with a playful approach towards theatre-making. He trained at the École Philippe Gaulier, Paris. He is also part of ‘A Ship of Fools’, a bouffon theatre company that create though-provoking theatre that will have you laughing, catch yourself laughing, feel bad, and then laugh at yourself.

 

‘What is clown?’ I ask Mark. This is a question that racked my brains with when trying to create sketches and skits. “It is a school for your spirit”, Mark recounts from his time at Gaulier, “it did smash my ego… I felt frustration, anger, I shit myself”. This process of learning to not take fear on stage but rather excitement and a sense of risk is a huge part of modern clown pedagogy- the via negativa.

The via negativa is a hot topic when discussing clown pedagogy. Deanna Fleysher, known for her absurdly hilarious character Butt Kapinski the weird and wonderful New York detective, is an advocate for ditching practices of the via negative. She described the practice as getting the student to“ to focus on all the obstacles they crashed into” (Full Article). Whilst interviewing Mark we talked about this article in particular. He brought light to the practice of the via negativa that is often clouded with personal judgement. It is a process of letting go of expectations we hold and finding what is fun in the room. But those who use it need to use it well to evoke sensitivity in the student.

Next, we discussed process. Recounting how ‘Welcome to Paradise’ (A Ship of Fools) was created and developed. “I had this image for ages of a big, fat business man and a boy in chains but I couldn’t work out what it was then Charlie immediately said ‘its Santa and an elf’ at that was it.” From this finding games and images was the next step before performing at the Lost Cabaret, “we had a naughty little boy energy about us, we had an idea that we loved, it was naughty enough to question ‘what the fuck are we doing…there going to kill us!”. After playing in at different open mics and cabarets whilst developing the show gradually. ‘Welcome To Paradise’ clearly is a show that is responsive, playful, and thought-provoking.

Talking to Mark and processing the discussion was a pleasure and an invaluable learning opportunity. I hope you gained insight, intrigue, and a little bit more understanding about comedy. Give feedback in the comments and be sure to check out Mark Winstanley’s work.

 

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Stay groovy

Knickers Theatre x

BLOG ONE: Clowning with Mark Winstanley

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