Ph.D -Practice Based Research

Case Studies on Misfitness

Case Studies and Misfitness

Toilet hat 3

This section of my research will be based on the analysis and critique of case studies that will elucidate some of my research inquiries, in particular one of the principles of practice for clowns that is linked to the concept of misfitness: The Misfit Body.

The Comic Body of the Clown

I will start with the premise that ultimately what characterizes a clown is the body in action and the way this body relates to other people and objects. The body of the performer is where the clown comes to be in the world. I will analyse the comic body of the clown and its relation to the concept of grotesque and misfitness. I am suggesting that the incongruity of the clown’s body discloses aspects of the human body that can be funny and laughable (and sometimes scary and terrifying). I intend to argue that the body of the clown can be seen as a representative of the misfit body. By misfit body I mean the body that does not fit in normative patterns and pre-established models of a given culture or society. I will also argue that it is not just a matter of physicality or body behaviour. My approach suggests that clowns have a peculiar attitude towards life and this attitude is what drives the clown to embody misfitness.

The focus of my research is the clown and the principles of practice that can be identified as a clown’s principles of action. The clowns to be analysed here are examples of physical-clown, or clown that use their body (mainly) to create a performance. The images to be used will be sourced from a wide range of original material: the silent movies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, later film clowns such as the Marx Brothers and Tati and contemporary clowns such as Mr Bean. I will also be analysing the filmed live performances of contemporary clowns such as Dario Fo, Angela de Castro, Avner Eisenberg and also my own work in the clown company Circo Teatro Udi Grudi.

The Body of the Misfit by Profession

One of the principles that can be applied to a clown’s practice is related to the comic body of the clown. My analysis of the comic body suggests a dialogue with some theorists and practitioners in the field. The dialogue with theorists is part of another chapter one – an Ontology of Clown’s Principles of Practice.

In terms of practitioners, I will develop a dialogue with some contemporary clowns or comedians who use their body as the main vehicle for comic performances. One of these practitioners is Jos Houben, in his master class The Art of Laughter.[1] I intend to compare some of Houben’s approaches to the comic body to my own view presented in the work demonstration Poetics of the Clown – Mischief of the Misfit, a performance/lecture performed at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in October 2012.

The platform:

In order to present this current analysis, I am proposing a blog-like presentation, including images, to facilitate the understanding of my point of view. Using the technology at hand (WordPress) I will try to suggest a new model of presenting and scrutinizing data that is part of the methodology of my PaR. The analysis of images might help the understanding of my approach to the comic body of the clown as a misfit body.

Principles of Practice for Clowns.

One of my goals in this part of my research is to find out whether there are some principles of practice that are strictly related to clown. I am questioning if we can relate some specific ways of performing with the art of clown. I have to take into consideration that these principles of practice might not be fixed and immutable throughout the history of clowns, meaning that some of these principles might have changed and adapted to the context of a given period. My intention here is to analyse and perhaps codify some principles of practice that might help the understanding of the clown’s role in performance art. For the sake of a methodological approach, I will focus on specific case studies avoiding other sources of data. The clowns and clowns’ figures to be looked at here were chosen to fit my line of argument. I will avoid clown examples coming from literature or word-based clowns. In this way, I will try to keep the focus of my research to clown experiences that use the body as their main media of expression.

Case studies.

The idea of using case studies in my research is an attempt to analyze and translate into words the tacit knowledge that is implicit in the work of the clown. The attempt to share with others my own experience as a clown and the idea of trying to develop a deeper understanding of my clown’s practice is part of the practice that is at the basis of my research. I am suggesting that dialogue with other practitioners will help the understanding of what I am calling clown’s principles of practice.

In Poetics of the Clown – Mischief of the Misfit[2] I suggested that there are many principles of practice that guide the clown’s performance. One of them is the misfit body. In the sequence of this presentation I talked about the reading of the clown’s body and the seven rings of the clown. The seven rings of the clown is a method (under construction) of analysis of the comic body of the clown inspired by W. Reich’s Seven Rings of Tension. In my approach there are seven regions of the body where the comic aspect can be highlighted. I want to establish a dialogue with Jos Houben and his position about the comic body and the regions of the body that can be worked on in order to achieve a comic effect. I am using the transcript of his master class. The reason I am using Houben’s performance/lecture is that I found some parallels and many discrepancies between his approach to the comic body and mine. The analysis of these differences might help clarify some of my inquiries, mainly related to the approach of the comic body of the clown as a medium of revelation of incongruity.

In order to help the reading and the flow of the argument, I will use edited video material together with analytical/dialogical writing.

The most important event in terms of practice that happened up to now on the process of my research was the work demonstration presented at Collision 2012. Here, some selected images of this presentation will be used to frame the dialogue with other clowns and practitioners. Because of the necessity to use advanced technology, sometimes not available to the reader, I will also use a transcription of the recorded material, when possible, to make my arguments coherent.

Poetics of the Clown – The Mischief of the Misfit – 3/10/2012

The performatic lecture presented at Collisions was an attempt to show in practical terms my main research inquiries. It was conceived and rehearsed in the summer of 2012 and directed by Leo Sykes[3]. I am calling it a “work demonstration” because in reality it is a decomposition (or deconstruction) of one clown scene presented by one person (myself) and two characters (Gorgonio, the clown and Marcelo, the Researcher). Gorgonio is in charge of the first 15 minutes of the demonstration and the “Researcher” takes over for the rest of the time, around 35 minutes in total. My intention is to describe, analyze and reflect upon this presentation.

The clown plays with the audience, getting them together in the foyer and inviting them into the theatre with a samba, kazoo and tambourine. Gorgonio has a problem with books. There is a pile of philosophy books at the front of the stage. The clown calls attention of the audience to the pile of books and invites a member of the audience to move the books. The whole scene was prepared, including moments of spontaneous improvisation, to show how a “volunteer” from the audience performs a task and how Gorgonio performs the same task, for example moving books. The clown’s way of dealing with the books on stage is very different from the way the member of the audience performed the same task. Gorgonio carries, sits and even burns books in a very particular way: his clown way of doing things. I am suggesting that Gorgonio, through his uniqueness of performing a task, is revealing another side of the researcher and the main inquiries of the research. Through carrying philosophy books, heavy with knowledge, weighing more than they really do, the clown is making a scene of the metaphor, or better making the metaphor literal by enacting it. When the clown finally successfully jumps over the pile of books he is showing through his action how difficult it is to leap over the hard cover of knowledge. Sitting on top of the pile of books illustrated a different meaning in the clown’s understanding. Using the pile of books as a stool is a transgressive way of relating to books. In a way, it represents a naïve approach to the matter (they were books, now they are a stool). On the other hand, the leap over knowledge was so hard for the clown that now, he thinks, he deserves a rest. Another clown approach is that the knowledge that he is sitting on top of will, in some way, become part of him, maybe through osmosis.

When Gorgonio tries to read one of the philosophy books, he has a hard time pronouncing some words used in philosophy nowadays. The first word he struggles with is “phenomenology”. Gorgonio plays with words (e.g. in the very beginning of the show he says High/Low as if it was Hallo) but he is not a word-based clown. Here he is calling attention to a word that, despite its meaning, is difficult to say. He stresses the difficulty of pronunciation and implies that the understanding of this concept is beyond his capacities. He gives up and tries to say “hermeneutics”. Again, an academic jargon is put on display and the meaning of it played with. After almost saying something like hemorrhoids, the clown gives up and moves on. The third word he chooses to read is “epistemology”. At this point of the work demonstration, the book Gorgonio is reading is set on fire as if by magic. It could be seen as a metaphorical image for the enlightenment that reading brings to the research. He finally manages to say a whole phrase, full of academic jargon, that make sense. He says: “Epistemology is the science of knowledge. The phenomenological approach to the clown. Clown as the quintessential manifestation of misfitness.” From one point of view, this phrase sums up the main inquiries and methodologies of the actual research. In fact, all the other words used in this demonstration, including hermeneutics, are part of the new vocabulary that is being used in my analytical writing. In the light of the fire of the burning book, Gorgonio brings to light, in one phrase what I have been trying to say in a thousand words.

After a “striptease”, with the musical help of the audience each attempting to play a drinking straw (a recycled instrument provided by Gorgonio), the clown figure is abandoned as a dummy in a corner of the stage and the “Researcher” takes over the demonstration. I am arguing that because of the performative mode that the lecture is conducted, the Researcher is also a character. Despite the fact that he is analyzing what Gorgonio did as a clown and in spite of the text he says was written by himself, the Researcher is playing a game with the audience. He has to be sure that some, if not all, are following him and his line of arguments.

At this point I think it is important to note that I am bringing three different approaches, at the same time, to the process of my research. One is the clown’s perspective: his acts, action and attitude as the source of the inquiries; another is from the Researcher and the performance he presents to state the key questions or the problematization of the research. He is also a character who through his performance illustrates the process involved in memorizing the written word and developing his role. The third part is sitting now, in front of the computer, writing these words. The three of them are one person divided for the sake of the research methods.

When the Researcher takes over the work demonstration he is responsible for the deconstruction of Gorgonio’s performance. He is the one who will introduce the inquiries and throw some light on the process of the search. First he will suggest that he, or all three, were a natural born clown. The anecdote, based on real fact, of how Gorgonio’s name came to be is an illustration and introduction of the concept of misfitness. Here the Heideggarian idea of “throwness” is subtly introduced. One does not chose the place, time or family where one is born. The concept of misfitness is reinforced throughout the performance. The Researcher talks about the principles of practice for clowns based on the misfit condition of the clown.

Principles of Practice of Clowns and Misfitness

Some of the principles of practice suggested by the Researcher are: Misfit Image, Misfit Body, Misfit Timing, Misfit Relationship and Misfit Object. Each one of these principles is exemplified in Gorgonio’s presentation. In a way the Researcher is using Gorgonio as a case study. The clown provided in his presentation, some actions and behaviours, are deconstructed by the Researcher in order to make a link with the idea of the misfit conditions of the clown.

The misfit image for example, is clear on Gorgonio’s costume and make up. According to Clayton “[t]he clothes define the clown: mark him out from others, shape his body and delineate his identity” (2007: 68) Gorgonio’s hair is back combed and sprayed to keep its shape. Parts of his eyebrows are painted with black mascara. His black and white checked suit and clown boots are badly fitting, the former being too small and the latter too big. His image does not fit conventional, everyday style. However, it can easily be identified as a clown’s image. The misfit timing is highlighted in the pauses and breaks in rhythm of his action: he constantly interacts with the audience to see whether they are following him, also checks up on himself and also the object on the stage. This can be seen as a technique to provoke surprise and to highlight the incongruity of the moment. The misfit relationship is established from the beginning with the audience. The clown goes out of the theatre space to collect the audience and invite them in. He chooses a “volunteer” as a participant. His actions break not just the fourth wall, it challenges other boundaries too, creating what Ferrancini calls the “turbulence zone”[4]. It creates a two-way path for exchanging perceptions. The clown here imposes in a certain way, compulsory participation of the audience where the perception and reaction of the audience influences the perception and reactions of the clown. Gorgonio teaches them how to make an instrument out of a simple drinking straw and the audience play together the music for the striptease. The way Gorgonio manipulates the objects on stage demonstrates the for-what-else-for of the objects, or what I am calling the misfit objects, or better, the misfit relationship with objects. However, my focus now, for the sake of the flow of the search, is on the misfit body. The other principles are to be analyzed in a deeper approach here or else where in the course of my research but for the purpose of demonstration of case studies, the misfit body will be at the core of the analysis suggested here.

The body and the bodily attitudes of the clown and the relationship with the concept of misfitness is the thread throughout the body of my research. The main inquiries the case studies intend to show are: What is the importance of the body for the presence of the clown? Can we identify principles of practice for clowns strictly related to the body that embodies the clown? How can these principles be related to the idea of the clown as a misfit by profession?

Case Studies – A Dialogue with Jos Houben

As stated before, I will establish a reflective dialogue with Jos Houben and his master class the Art of Laughter[5]. His approach to the comic body presented in this master class has many points in common with how I presented the work demonstration. However, my approach is directed related to the clown, while Houben’s can be seen and used in many other comic characters or in the training of a comic actor. While I talk about the comic body and principles of practice of the clown, the Belgium actor shows principles of practice of the comic body in general. The case studies are meant to show principles of practice applied to the body of the clown.

The first parallel I want to trace is the idea of different regions of the body that, once modified, can change the way your body is in the world with other people and objects. He implies, and I agree, that modifying the position of specific parts of the body is a way of highlighting some incongruence that can make the body look comic. Houben says: “changing the position of any of these parts, changes my whole relationship with the world”. I am suggesting that the clown has a very peculiar relationship with the world and part of this peculiarity is manifested in the body of the one who embodies the clown. The change in one of the regions provokes a misalignment or a re-alignment of the body that reveals the clown identity. I am suggesting that the disruption of the acceptable way of positioning your body in the world brings to light some incongruities that characterize the clown figure. There are other factors related to attitude, and the way the clown’s body get involved while performing a task, that must be taking into consideration when we analyze the comic body of the clown. These other factors will be part of the general analysis of the principles of practice of clowns.

The Regions of the Comic Body

Jos Houben states in the beginning of his presentation:“There’s three levels that are of importance. The feet and the knees (…) The pelvis. Then there’s the chest and then there’s the head.”

It is important to realize that he speaks of three levels, or three region of the body, and shows four. In my presentation, the Researcher presents the concept of a clown’s body reading and the Seven Rings of the Clown. This concept is actually a methodology “under construction” inspired by the seven rings of tension of Wilhelm Reich[6]. My approach to the comic body of the clown suggests that there are seven rings, or specific regions of the body, that can be worked on in order to bring to light a comic quality of the body of the performer. These qualities, despite the general approach, are particular and private to the body where the clown becomes manifest. This implies that the seven rings can be identified in every body despite the individual and personal qualities of the body. (clip) Houben brings the focus to three (or four) regions that, depending on the change imposed by the performer, can highlight some comic qualities of the body. The seven rings of the clown are related to his vision but more defined and developed. The seven rings of the clown shown by the Researcher are: 1) The base (the feet, knees and legs); 2) The pelvic area; 3) The abdominal region (front and back); 4) The chest; 5) The neck. and the facial rings 6) The mouth and 7)The eyes. Four of my rings are directly related to Houben’s levels. The feet and knees (ring one); the pelvis (ring 2); the chest (ring 4) and the head (rings 6 and 7). In my approach, I am including the abdominal region (ring 3) and the neck (ring 5). In subdividing “the head”, I suggest the “reading” of two facial rings: mouth (ring 6) and eyes (ring 7).

The Belgium comedian uses all the seven rings of the clown in his presentation but he talks about four of them in particular. He talks about the relationship of our verticality as human beings and “dignity” (clips: We are vertical, no roots and the base is smaller than the top. We are obsessed about verticality) When he speaks about the first ring (base or feet and knees) he says: “[the walk] it was just like a signature, I can see you in a crowd from a mile away, my mother. Because that’s the way she walks, and only she walks like this.“ The Researcher in Collisions 2012 says: the walk is like the clown’s greeting card. The walk is the link with the clown’s personality. As Jos can see his mother miles way because of her way of walking, we too can recognize some clowns by their walk. The walk of iconic clown figures of the silent movies were described and analyzed by many clowns theorists. Clayton’s definition of Chaplin’s clown, the Tramp, is remarkable: “His waddling walk and the dog-like way he stretches his legs … his peculiar method of navigating corners at speed, by hopping on one foot and jutting out the other at an angle” (2007:5), (clip KID)

In this rare clip, Chaplin teaches the passengers of the White Star Liner “Olympic” how he did his walk. We can see that all the passengers that tried to walk like him had a different perception and interpretation in their bodies of the Tramp’s walk. There is even an anecdote that in the Lucerne[7] Chaplin’s annual contest Chaplin himself entered the competition and came third.

Buster Keaton’s walk is compared to a machine, reminding us of Bergson’s statement that “[t]he attitudes, gestures and movements of the human body are laughable in exact proportion as that body reminds us of a mere machine” (2008:15).

Agee’s description of Keaton’s walk-as-machine found in Clayton’s book:

His short-legged body was sudden, machine-like angles, governed by a daft aplomb. (…) When he ran from a cop his transitions from accelerating walk to easy jogtrot to brisk canter to headlong gallop to flogged-piston sprint (…) were as distinct and as soberly in order as an automatic gearshift (2007:25)

The first ring of the clown’s body reading is related to the base of the performer’s body. It has to do with grounding or lack of grounding. Grounding, in the sense that the relationship linking the body in action and the ground, is balanced or out of balance. Feet, knees, legs and tights make the connections from the ground to the pelvis and upper body. Some of the articulations (bones and muscles as well) in the lower members when changed from the daily to some extra-daily[8] use suggest a dance-like movement or as Houben says: “All these hinges … allow us to compensate. That’s why we don’t fall over, when something goes forward something else goes backwards. Head goes forward the pelvis goes backwards. We can compensate. We kind of undulate through life.“ This “undulation” or “dance around the central axis” happens in the whole body but it is the lower ring that makes the connection with the ground.

Groucho Marx walks as though he is always about to fall, projecting his head forwards and but compensates by projecting his pelvis upwards. (clip)

Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks is a classical example of how “serious” the silly walk is for the development of the nation. John Cleese includes the silly walk in the list of priorities of investments of the government, together with education, housing and health. Jokes apart, as if it was possible in the analysis of Monty Python’s clip, we can notice that Cleese’s walks are caricatures of normative walks, or exaggerations and dilatation of movements in the lower ring that makes the whole body looks funny. The actor’s serious face works as a bodily contradiction, reinforcing the incongruence of the action. One of the most interesting things about this clip is Cleese’s analysis of the not-silly walk. He says: “The right leg isnt silly at all and the left leg merely does a forward arial half turn every alternitive step”. The sequence that follows the “scientific approach” is a hand full of examples of silly walks with a highlight in the duck-walk. Behind the joke, Cleese was showing us what “works” and what “does not works” in a funny walk. He shows us with his examples that it is not just a matter of physicality (yet, is in the body the the silliness is revealed) but it is also a matter of timing and attitude.

As stated before, change in one ring changes the whole alignment of the body. The next ring to be analyzed here is the second ring or the pelvis region. Houben uses the example of two Greeks meeting on the street showing cultural differences in positioning the pelvis. The Researcher shows his interpretation of an adolescent body and the way it is positioned in the world. This ring is clearly linked with sex and sexuality. However, it is also linked to scatological functions like defecation and flatulence. (to be continued)

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[1] The images used in this paper (blog) were copied from Routledge Archives http://www.routledgeperformancearchive.com/practitioner/video/159 – exclusively for academic proposes.

[2] To see the whole presentation follow the link: http://youtu.be/KJQQ2vjvJMg

[3] Leo Sykes has been, for the last 15 years, the director of Circo Teatro Udigrudi (www.circoudigrudi.com.br), the company I founded with clown partners in 1982, in Brazil.

[4] “This is the zone that is “between” my physical actions [of the clown], the matrixes*, states, the space, the other actor and the audience, and that affects and is affected by what I call the turbulence zone. *The matrix is the actual physical/vocal actions, alive and organic, codified. In this way, each actor possesses a set of matrixes that become his living vocabulary of scenic communication – his expressive vocabulary to be recreated in the moment of the body-in-scenic-state.” (Ferracini 2012).

[5] The presentation was recorded in Edinburgh in 2007. Jos’s one-man show The Art of Laughter has toured the world many times over and in May 2010 sold out a five-week run in Paris’s prestigious Théâtre du Rond Point. He is a devisor and consultant with comedy troups, opera companies, circus schools, workshop festivals, dance schools, universities and magicians worldwide. Since 2000 he has been a teacher at L’École Jacques Lecoq in Paris.

[6]

[7] falta referencia

[8] “The way we use our bodies in daily life is substantially different from the way we use them in performance… The first step in discovering what the principles governing a performer’s scenic bios, or life, lies in understanding that the body’s daily techniques can be replaced by extra-daily techniques, that is, techniques that do not respect the habitual conditionings of the body.” Eugenio Barba (2005:7)

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