Sacred, Scared, & Scarred

Feature in Issue 21-1 | Spring 2009

Dorothy Max Prior goes Fooling with Jonathan Kay.

Jonathan Kay is a ‘21st century jester for a generation brought up on passive forms of entertainment’. For 35 years he has been charming the world with performances, workshops and interactive events that lead participants down the path of The Fool’, which offers to ‘free up your mind, [help you to] find inspiration, and see that anything is possible’.

For the last couple of years, Jonathan has been leading something with the intriguing name of ‘The Nomadic Academy of Fools’, which is very much what that name implies: a school for fools that, rather than be based at any one institution, wanders from venue to venue across the UK – with a few trips to mainland Europe thrown in too.

The Academy is made of a group of participants who audition for, and commit themselves to, the year-round programme. Each of this series of nine-day-long residential training and professional development sessions is augmented by bookended weekend workshops, attended by both Academy members and anyone else who would like to have a taste of the work.

I was honoured to be one of those ‘weekend extras’ at a workshop which took place at The Actors Space, a farmhouse turned arts centre set in glorious countryside just an hour’s journey north of Barcelona in the Catalan hills (see Voices in this magazine for more on The Actors Centre).

I’d worked with Jonathan before, but it had been at least a decade earlier, and it was interesting to see what I perceived to be familiar territory and what seemed new.

What was new for me was the way that Jonathan’s working with a regular group on a fixed programme seemed to have honed his teaching work into a methodology. There were terms used and concepts mooted that I remembered from my earlier work with Jonathan – e.g. the ‘twin’ who is our performing self, our unafraid self – but there were processes that were unfamiliar to me, yet familiar to the regular participants, and which for an ‘outsider’ were quite a challenge to grasp in one short weekend – for example, the principles of a process called ‘Look, See, Be, Fly’, and a way of ‘acting’ (or perhaps better to say ‘being’) that involved a move from commentate to demonstrate to speculate to judge to (finally) capitulate.

What seemed familiar was the power of Jonathan as a leader and teacher; his ability to both inspire and to challenge; and the exhilarating pleasure of creating theatre in the moment, out of nothing.

And by nothing, I mean nothing – those of us who work in devised theatre are well versed in the idea of coming to a rehearsal space with the intention of creation there, rather than outside of the room, but in Jonathan’s workshops (or in this one, at least), there really is nothing but us. No props, no visual artefacts, no movement motifs, no pre-existing text, no ‘ideas’, nothing to kick-start the process.

Using various ways in (a group circle in which anyone can take the space and do anything; a line of four of us taking turns to open an invisible window in space and describe what we see; a solo in which we are invited to walk through an imaginary door), we find ways to invent in the moment – an interaction of memory and imagination that constructs narrative, or character, or a sense of place, or a sensation or emotion. It is a great feeling to start with nothing at all and within that ‘nothing’ find plenty. A truly empty space, in which there is ‘no past, no future, only present’.

At one point in the workshop, Jonathan Kay echoes the words of Jacques Copeau when he dismisses the ‘theatre of scene-shifters’, saying why build a big expensive set representing Paris when you could just say ‘Paris!’ and each audience member would build their own imaginary set more perfect than anything you could construct.

Sharing the view of many who work with ‘clown’ and ‘fool’, Jonathan Kay believes the process is about far more than creating comedy: it is about finding the inter-relationship of all humanity, and thus is as valid in the creation of tragedy as comedy, or indeed any sort of drama.

Ultimately following the path of the Fool is more than a way of performing – it’s a spiritual path, in which we ‘sacred, scared, and scarred’ human beings try to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

Dorothy Max Prior took part in Jonathan Kay’s weekend workshop at The Actors Space, near Barcelona, in November 2008.

The next ‘templates’ in the current (2008–2009) programme for the Nomadic Academy of Fools take place in Edinburgh (February); Brighton (March); Glastonbury (April) and Lon- don (May). Weekend places are available at all these. Each template also includes evening performances from Jonathan Kay and scratch nights, and performances by The Fools Cabaret.

The application process for The Nomadic Academy of Fools 2009–2010 is now open. For an application form and audition dates, please email

For further information see

Referenced Artists
Referenced Venues

This article in the magazine

Issue 21-1
p. 11