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Is this the labour party meeting?

May 31, 2017

Hello, let me introduce myself. I am Charlie, one of the participants on the Performer's Playground course, who has been kindly coerced into writing a blog of my experience before the final showcase on the 7th & 8th July at Z-arts.




So what brings me to this lovely little course? Well, I am an actor and theatre-maker based in Manchester and have been interested in clown and having a playful approach to performance for a number of years. I pretty much started my journey into clown all the way back in 2011 when I first met Clown Lab running a workshop at the Royal Welsh College, so when I heard that Mark and Alice were bringing a longer length course back to Manchester's doorsteps I knew it was for me.

We are now half way through the course, and we are a rather lovely group. A range of performance backgrounds and ages, it has made for what can be termed as 'quite the arty self-help group.' One of the great things about being on any long term course is the realisation that there are others out there also struggling to be an artist, and, for me, seeing people performing, making work, and having fully fledged families, and working other jobs on top has made me realise how easy I have it. I am very lucky to have been a part of the group we have, and we have a very kind and caring dynamic.

So far in the course we have covered Le Jeu, which is the game/the play, Neutral Mask, and Clown, as well as doing lots of Yoga every Saturday morning.

But back to the beginning. Before we even started Le Jeu we were asked as a group to consider what we wanted to get from this course, and also we were asked to set ourselves a project to complete in 3 months. We were each pushed on the thing we chose, as it had to be something which seemed scary, but which also excited us. It was a lovely if daunting early moment, and one which has served as a reminded that what we discover in class is important, but that this work links to our further development as an artist. We have also been reminded that it is not about completing all of the tasks we set ourselves for our project each week, it is not about being good or bad, but it is I suppose about an ongoing active progression. For me, it has really kicked started my view of myself as a professional creative, and has made me much more orientated to what I would like to achieve in the next couple of years. And slowly is getting me out of bed earlier. Well, I have a couple of lie-ins.

I chose to work on my voice. I was pushed to reach for setting myself the task of getting a voice job and a voice reel by the end of the period. Half way in, it's not looking too likely. BUT, I have already noticed the difference and although I have dropped some of the time spent working on my tasks I have been replacing them with other things that are good for my career. And even using the word career as an actor or performer seems super weird and new to me. Basically I could go on all day about the changes other the past few weeks but the essential change it has brought is that I now actively plan and do things that are good for my career as a performer. And that is something I will definitely continue to do.

And now for the modules. We began with Le Jeu. In Le Jeu we played lots of games. Le Jeu was all about having the pleasure to be onstage, the fun to play with another person. Over the first couple of weeks we started to come together as a group, learn about each other and set up the framework for how we would work together for the rest of the course. A highlight for myself was an exercise about the aura of the actor. You take 1 person as the centre, and then place four people around them. Whatever the person at the centre does the four follow. The person moves about the space, takes their time, and keeps a sensation of moving a large space around them. The four people peel off, and the actor is left alone, but still keeps the sensation of moving the space, of having  a large aura or presence. I found it a really powerful exercise, and was able to maintain and access a large presence and it opened my awareness to the space around me. Oh what fun this art is.

And then after that we had Neutral Mask. Oh Neutral Mask. So illusive. Neutral Mask is this full mask that is designed to project a neutral state on the face, described by one Balinese mask maker as 'man about to do something'. It is great for demonstrating how much we communicate with our face, and using neutral mask demands that the actor pays attention to what their body is showing. It is a total delight to watch and infuriating to do. It is extremely difficult to attain neutrality, and the process of trying brings about a mix of beautiful realisations and hilarious moments. It included such activities as waking up in a cave, walking to an open beach, throwing a stone into the sea, all the while without projecting any judgement or emotion to the character. There were several attempts of people waking shocked to be finding themselves in the cave. Good, but not exactly neutral.

My favourite part of neutral was moving onto the elements. Here we began to use impulses to engage our creativity. We had to move with the image of a fire starting as a spark, catching embers, growing into a raging fire for example. Then the neutral mask is removed, we continue to move a fire, and we add text on top of the impulse. Then we make the movement smaller but keep the impulse alive, engaging our imagination. As well as the elements we used colours, we used a plastic bag opening out, we used states of tension, and we used animals. All different ways to engage our creativity, to give ourselves the pleasure to perform, and to engage our physicality. The results can be hit and miss at times, but wonderful things are discovered, and I find it great to have a methodology that allows for both beautiful dramatic creations as well as for comic ones.

And finally clown.

Clown has been an odd one for me. I have found it very elusive. I think it is because clown demands so much time to train in. One thing that was a nice realisation was just simply where we first presented our clown costumes. The initial thought is to choose something a little bit wacky or stupid on the variation of a character. But it became immediately apparent that what we need is a very clear costume of a character. So if you are to be dressed as a doctor you need to look exactly like a doctor when you enter. In clown as a whole it is so important to be clear, and not to push too hard, and to let the audience decide what they like, not to throw something onto them. I'd like to say more but I really couldn't tell you what clown is at this stage. I know that I like it. I know That it is so different to anything else. I know that you find some beautiful and bizarre moments. And I know it needs attentiveness to the audience, and that it needs so much pleasure to be, and honesty. The audience read the worry in your face so quickly, and hiding it only makes it worse. And the final realisation is that I look fantastic in tiny shorts and a tiny t-shirt.


But I couldn't finish without mentioning one of my favourite moments. In one of the first clown sessions with all of us in our red noses and costumes, in the midst of an exercise where you enter and step forwards with each laugh you get from the audience, stage left a door opens. A man appears. He looks around the room at our red noses and inexplicably asks the question: 'Is this the labour party meeting?'. No my friend it is not.   

And I'll keep reminding you to come to the showcase on the 7th & 8th July at Z-arts. Do come see some brilliant, beautiful, potentially weird and definitely different performance. Tickets can be found here.

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