This past week and weekend, Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ron Campbell—who has spent the last few years appearing as The King of the Clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza—gave a workshop on in our rehearsal hall as the culmination of his Fox Fellowship. The workshop covered mask, clowning, and other physical theater techniques, and was offered to Cal Shakes staff, teaching artists, and other members of our theater community. Nancy Carlin, a fellow Associate Artist, was one of Ron’s students, and will be blogging about the class over the next few days.
A clown celebrates his failure.
We were encouraged to “fail big”. When I was a student at A.C.T. I remember Bill Ball telling us just that: Fail big. Making a big choice, even if it’s a big steaming pile of poo, is so much better than making no choice at all.
More games and some beginning work with masks. Four at a time, we went up with grocery bags over our heads. Standing in “neutral” to begin with, Ron would then call out images. “Be a question mark.” “A smile.” “An exclamation point.” “Okay,” he’d say, “that’s a question mark at a 2. Give me one at 10!”
There was a wonderful kind of freedom, having one’s face safely hidden. And so interesting to watch the exercise from the outside. The slightest incline of the bag-head, a strong but economic gesture, told such a big story. To see what the body emanates when you’re smiling, even though we can’t see a face. It confirms the power of image and imagination. If we can only keep our faces more “neutral” (like the bag), don’t “show” what we’re feeling, just strengthen the image, an inner smile or concern can be read so clearly by our audience, and can draw them in with intrigue, not push them away with the phony “masks” of expression we so often contrive.
Then paper plate masks. Flat white ovals with one pinpoint eye-hole. Myopic vision only. We were given simple directions: Enter, see a stone, pick it up, throw it. Or enter, walk to the edge of the pier and wave good-bye to a loved one. We quickly saw how the bold but economic choices worked best. Too much busy extraneous movement quickly dispersed the story. And as with all the exercises, Ron asked us to include an arrêté, the “ponte fixe”. It is the artist’s decision where to place it.
The best players are the most relaxed.
Some leading and following exercises. “Flocking”, where the front of the flock, or “bowling pins” leads a mirror type group movement, which quickly falls to whoever becomes the next lead bird or bowling pin, when the focus shifts to another direction. “Instant Twyla Tharp”, as Ron said.
Energy = glow.
We did some improvs using outside/in dichotomies. How much to hide, and what to leak out, reveal. Wise on the outside, an idiot inside. Sarcastic, grateful. Democrat, Republican. Holy, evil.
Energy = What you get out of it. Like Einstein’s theory. We exist in the “tube” that is the equal sign between energy on one side, and whatever is manifested to balance it out on the other. Ok, so it made sense when he said it…….?
From the tube to you.
Photos by Jay Yamada.