Creating the Fool

Feature in Issue 4-4 | Winter 1992

I started my professional career with a traditional circus troupe called Zippos Circus after training with Johnny Hutch, Carlo Boso, Barry Grantham and Jonathan Kay. My time with the circus led me to perform in a multitude of venues, from tents to colleges, arts centres to village halls. We toured throughout the UK, Europe, Australia and America. As the circus became more traditional I felt that it was time to go my own way, so I set up my own company, employed a manager, and began to tour my solo shows.

The Company Policy is simple. To perform solo clown shows which are suitable for a wide age range, to perform shows which are popular and accessible yet thought provoking, to explore neglected theatre forms, to work with other people on interesting projects, and to share this knowledge with other interested parties.

My first solo show, The Puzzle, told the story of a contemporary clown, which created a character whose traits appear in my latest show Before Your Very Eyes. I have worked on some very productive collaborations, with Sylvester McCoy in Zoo of Tranquillity; with Brussels-based artist Susan Yeates in Doris and Dicky; and with Alastair McMillan and Sue Mitchell in Unfinished Business, a Commedia show. Over the years I have utilised the talents of Bim Mason and John Lee for direction.

The company is funded by Southern Arts for specific expenditure such as Director's fees, publicity etc. I have never received a project grant, but I do not work in that way, as a freelance solo artist I do not have to. Southern Arts have also helped with advice over the years and with the inclusion of the show in events such as their recent Mime Festival, Larger Than Life. I have not applied for funding in Europe in the past, although we are looking at various sources for 1993/94. Promotions outside England have always been fee-based but we plan to expand our tours to include self promotions for future years.

I find the perception of the artform to be wholly different outside England. Here the difficulties seem to be based upon the two words ‘clown’ and ‘mime’ and the attempts NOT to use them, but suggest them. For example, the Southern Arts based Larger Than Life Festival was described on the publicity as a ‘New Theatre Festival’, but was comprised of mime and movement-based companies. During the research into the feasibility of the festival several venue managers stated that they could obtain larger houses for mime shows if they billed them as Theatre.

The English habit of pouring scorn on anything which smacks of pretension is deeply ingrained within us.

Is it better to present companies as Mime knowing that the mere mention of the word makes certain members of the potential audience immediately dismiss it from their list of things to see? Or do terms such as ‘New Theatre’ work constructively to draw in these sceptical audience members? From talking with other physically based companies it seems that we are all out there trying to do our bit to raise the common perception of the artform.

While performing in venues and festivals in Europe I noted that there seems to be a greater understanding of what physical shows encompass in their work. The labels of ‘clown’ and ‘mime’ do not seem to provoke the same negative reaction and the level of appreciation is much higher. Each country has a different understanding of Mime and Clown; different cultures perceive and present their own particular style.

From a marketing angle this means that our publicity here plays down the more physical angles of the show whereas abroad there is larger scope for a more honest approach. Of the shows currently in the pipeline, I am most excited about a collaboration with Compagnie Sac à Dos who are based in Belgium. We are devising and touring a mask-inspired show in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland during Spring 1993.

I find it fresh and invigorating to work within other cultures and to widen my own perception of the boundaries (or lack of them) through other performers. The English habit of pouring scorn on anything which smacks of pretension is deeply ingrained within us and there is something to be gained from leaving this behind. For me, part of my development in the next few years will be to assimilate and be open to cross-fertilisation whilst searching out and developing my own personal vision.

This article in the magazine

Issue 4-4
p. 6