The last of the Carlin-Campbell blogs: Jumping away from conclusion

Last week, 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 has been blogging about the class. These are her last two entries; you can read the previous two here and here.

Ron Campbell and class; photo by Jay Yamada.

Sunday: Jump away from conclusion.

We did Buffoon Circles. Starting in neutral, you walk in a circle. You don’t

think, plan, contrive, just walk in a circle. Begin to notice something—a heavy foot, an imbalanced shoulder, a lopey gait, whatever—and as you continue around in this circle you let this gesture or attribute grow to its fullest, grotesque-est, extremest place. Voilà: your “buffoon” character. Wind them back halfway or more, and you could use this characteristic more “naturalistically”. At its most wound up, you’ve got a full-on extreme character. We then did two buffoon circles side-by-side. When each participant found their full buffoon, they

were then to see each other, circle each other observing carefully, and gradually take on the other’s characteristics—swapping buffoons. And all the while giving the audience their “arêtes”. Quite wonderful!

We then played on an emotional jungle gym. We imagined the floor of our playing space was divided into four quadrants: happy, sad, angry, and afraid. As we passed into that geographic area we instantly were in that emotion. The point being to be successive, not progressive. So often we assume in theater that we have to make this gradual logical evolution from one emotion to the other, when in fact, in life, we quickly switch our states of being. Another such exercise involved an actor, this time in a neutral mask, making her way from upstage to downstage, but on either side of the center line were territories belonging to a “devil” and an “angel”. So, as the character weaved in and out on her way down, she successively changed. Sharp!

The third of these spatial, territorial exercises (TWISTER for clowns), using random phrases of text from the newspaper. We imagined the rehearsal room’s space divided into three parts, successively, from left to right. Stage left was the “witness” box, or place for comment. In the center was the “speaker”, very clear and neutral. And on stage right was the “gesture”, the silent movement. So the player could go from box to box in any order, repeatedly or not, and simply read the text (without comment or movement) in the center, or display one or the of the attributes on either side. Really fun to see the effects of dividing all this out.

As with everything, economy of movement, business, what have you, is essential. To illustrate this, Ron had a great example: He took a blank piece of paper, put a pinpoint hole in the center, and held it up for us to see. We could all see this tiny speck quite clearly. H

e then took the paper and crumpled it up and held it up for us again. There was no hope in finding the pinprick now. Lost in the chaos.

Ron Campbell and class; photo by Jay Yamada.

The final night was our “show”. The first hour, we reviewed things and learned some new stuff, too (why not?), and at 8pm, our audience arrived. This was the night the Giants clinched the World Series; needless to say, our audience was small.

Suddenly, we motley bunch of adult-size children were a troupe! We all showed up our black clothes and went through many of the exercises we had learned. The last ten minutes were a free-flowing succession of various exercises wherein we’d jump in or sit out as felt right, and morph from event to event. Instant Twyla, and then some! We failed big, often, had a few moments of transcendence, and had the unique pleasure of being vulnerable to each otherof sharing humor and heart.

Ron offered to buy the first round at the Albatross. I felt really bad not being able to go out with the group, but I needed to get home right away to my teenage daughter and houseguests. Good thing, too, because the very second I walked in the door I was whisked into a room to work with my daughter on her impending audition for the high school production of The Vagina Monologues. (She got the part! When she works on her moans I’ll have to tell her to be sure to put in some arêtes.) (Now she’ll tell me I’m being “inappropriate”.)

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Clowning in China, by Joan Mankin

I’ve been in Nanjing for two and 1/2 half weeks now, teaching Western clowning and acting to Chinese acrobats (and a few magicians). The workshop itself is in Nanjing, but the acrobats are from troupes all over China: Beijing, Wu Han, Yin Chuan, An Hui, Tai Yuan. They were brought together by the Chinese Arts and Cultural organization to try and raise the level of comic acting in the acrobatic performances, and to encourage them to connect on a more personal level with their audiences.

China is going through a transformative phase now, letting go of some of the attachment to tradition and seeking out new artistic and performative channels. It’s exciting to be in on this surge of interest in Western comedy forms. There are very few Westerners in Nanjing (a city of five and 1/2 million people) so I get stared at a lot (which I kind of like) and laughed at a lot (which I really like). I’m here with three other people from the Clown Conservatory at the San Francisco Circus Center, and we’re all intrigued by the cultural differences and similarities. The students threw themselves with tremendous dexterity and gusto into every gag we ask them to do–running into walls, tripping, falling, slapping–but ask them to reveal something true and vital about themselves in front of other people, and they run into a different kind of wall.

We will do two performances at a college here in Nanjing in the middle of this month; I’m so excited to see how they take in what we have brought.

I miss eating salads sooo much. Best to all from Joan Mankin.

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