Snipets. Prelude to Clown Secret book.

By Ira Seidenstein

April 19, 2013

This morning I saw a cloud that was to me like a clown’s face. I will attempt over the next 40 days to write a daily blog. Short or long. This celebrates the omen I saw in the cloud or the cloud that I chose to read as if it was an omen. Yesterday my colleague Caspar Schjelbred encouraged me (again) to write my book of clown. I saw a fabulous ‘clown’ show last night. So I am celebrating clown, the ‘omen’, the push by a colleague, the show.
At the moment, I am on the last week of my annual teaching/directing/performing tour in Europa. Since 2006 I have come about twice a year to Europa (including UK).
I am presently, this week, teaching one of the companies that I mentor. This one is in Ireland, Ponydance. They are their own form of ‘clown troupe’. They will perform soon in The American Dance Festival.
I am also preparing for several projects. One is directing Antony & Cleopatra in Sydney with a performing season June 4-15. During that season I will be performing in Slava’s Snow Show for its Sydney season June 11-16.
more anon
Day 2 of 40
2 of 40. Saturday April 20 2013. Belfast to Dublin. Last day this trip training Ponydance. I love working with them. This week we missed Duane and Carl. With us were the Director/Choreographer Leonie McDonagh and her team of Paula, Jenny, Oona, Sara, Neil, Ryan. All great folks!! Here is Oona’s own site Leonie and I met at my first workshop in Belfast arranged by Maryke del Castillo of The Tutti Fruiti. I had mentored Maryke for several years and when she relocated to Belfast she felt it would be good for the folks there to experience my methods. We did a 9-day workshop for a number of the main circus performers then in Belfast. Leonie and Ken have a young son and then he was only a tiny tot. So Leonie could only come in the very last part of the last session. Will of BCC met with me and invited me to come back for a month. I taught daily with a breakdown of a few subjects over the four weeks Irabatics, Clown, Choreography. That was 2008. Again most of the circus community attended. Some sporadically as they had teaching and gigs. Amongst those who attended were Hugh, Anita, Kelsey, Flora, Hillas, The Migilligans (a then trio now duet – amongst my favorite clowns in the world – albeit highly skilled and well choreographed juggling clowns), Ken and Tiny of Tumble Circus, Leonie and several others. One the final day Leonie asked me if I would come back and work just with her dancers. I returned to work 3-weeks with Ponydance. In that week I created a new exercise for them that is now a part of my regular The Four Articulations. That is the “Ponydance Circle”. The Belfast mob incl the circus folks are wonderfully talented, skilled, disciplined and CERTAINLY have a genuine sense of humor!!!! FINE clowns!!!!
3 of 40 Sunday April 21 – 2013. Dublin. Had great day meeting with olde acquaintance and friend Dave Spathaky. Just recieved fakebook msg from long lost childhood friend. I am sure he could have a long list of my (and his) youthful clown antics. For sure, by the time I was five, I was known as a clown.
I was asked today if there is any relation between my “Core Mechanics” and “Biomechanics” of Meyerhold. Certainly with certainty. When I was at Dell’arte – a startup school – at that time – I discovered the joy of used bookstores. I began to pour through a large variety of books on theatre, yoga, metaphysics, health, philosophy, psychology, and occasional novels such as those of Herman Hesse.
I read the … hold on…. fakebook msg from Dave…
So I read Meyerhold On Theatre by Edward Braun. I whisked through it. But I was inspired by that (and many influences in my life and private study) and thought I can’t study Biomechanics as I was studying at Dell’arte and also at that time the Soviet empire was still at its prime and Biomechanics had not left the Soviet realms. So, I had already started to analysise the mechanics of movement my own way each morning before school. I was in the studio on my own from 7am to 9am. I was piecing together the basic mechanics of human movement techniques. The most simple analysis such as: should the knee/leg be straight or bent for a particular action such as a dive roll; should the elbow be straight or bent for a front handspring. I went to the HSU library and found three obscure books on ‘acrobatics’. They had not been borrowed in at least a decade. One was likely from the 1920s on handstands, one was a book on tumbling and had hundreds of stick-figure drawings, and the third was newer and was on gymnastics. So with those books I begin a moderate yet earnest study and training on my own. After six months Carlo asked me to be the physical trainer for the professional summer repetory theatre of two groups of actors with each group rehearsing 2 plays. I also looked at one of the photos in the Braun book of one actor standing on the thigh of another. I had a different view of that and also analysised their posture by using The Alexander Technique information that our teacher Joan Schirle taught. So I found a way of doing the same trick less as a performance aesthetic and more mechanically neutral. As per Alexander’s principles, ‘better use’, ‘no effort’ and less muscular engagement. Eventually I made the complete ten most basic core movements into a clear logical progressive series choreographed using hundreds of counts and dozens of details.
4 of 40. Missed a week. Travel from Northern to Southern Hemisphere. Then camping. Here’s a hot topic. Maybe scalding. Maybe too much. I have coined two new terms today “Denialism” and “Appropriatingism”. These are just two of the new, pseudo-liberal minded forms of ‘fundamentalism’.
Although I work in various genres and my work crosses over fields such as: theatre, clown, creativity, healing through the arts, social-political activism through the arts; here I will focus a bit on clown and theatre.
It is a very common theme for some years (decades) to refer to ‘fundamentalism’ only with reference to religions. Relig-osity is part of human nature. Basically if one rejects ‘all religions’ one will create one’s own religion. Your religion could be yoga, or meditation, or acting, or clown, or tattoos, or taboos i.e. anything that you become attached to and defend fervently or even surreptitiously.
So, Denialism is the ‘religion’ of denying that anything really influenced you. For example, in clowning, a growing array of clown ‘teachers’ (that is, people who want to earn money from you by selling you their book, or method, or workshop, or school, or beliefs, or cult) – are in denial that there were greater clowns than themselves who set the pace for those of us who follow. Today, Toby Ballantine (son of a clown) posted a photograph of what may be the first clown that I ever saw – on TV. That was Claribel the Clown from the USA TV program The Howdy Doody Show. I am certainly not the only professional clown born in the USA who saw that show and who had to have been influenced in some way by Claribel. The interesting point is that the USA TV in the 1950s was ‘filled’ with clowns of all different types including the ‘traditional’ ones such as Claribel. He may have been the first on TV, or not, but there were a number of other classic/traditional clowns on local TV channels. There were also a huge array of the ‘greats’ such as Milton Berle, Sid Caesar & Imogen Coca, Lucille Ball and company, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason and company, Amos & Andy, Molly Picon, Ernie Kovacs, Ed Wynn, Victor Borge, Phil Silvers (Sgt Bilko), etc. The 1960s brought a whole other genre of sitcoms with an array of clowns – Gilligan’s Island, F-Troop, Hogan’s Heroes, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Carol Burnett and company. Additionally there were the western/cowboy shows many of which had “the sidekick” characters who were clowns including, for example, Zorro. There were plenty of films shown regularly such as The Little Rascals, The Bowery Boys, Ma & Pa Kettle, as well as films from Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Keystone Kops, Harold Lloyd, etc.
In England/UK/Commonwealth countries there were the films of Norman Wisdom, The Carry On films, and the important radio comedians who inspired several generations – The Crazy Gang, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers. Eventually the Cambridge mob yielded Monty Python, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, there were the Two Ronnies, Morecombe & Wise, and an array of ever touring comedians performing live throughout the UK.
Other countries had their great clowns of film, but the USA and England had a prolific vanguard energy of comedy/clowning on TV.
The English language via the Commonwealth and its cousin the USA had a collective power via economics. Thus the clowns of film and TV from other countries were ‘limited’ in their global appeal due to languages less popular than English.
So, by denying such an inheritance as most or at least many clown ‘teachers’ do…. the next step is “Appropriatingism” – the art and religion of making the uninformed (and even many of the informed) believe that clowning started ex-nihlo (out of nothing, out of thin air). ….. just some ideas that you may find thought provoking.  
5 of 40. Seems I have drifted away. Went to Sydney for the play reading of Antony & Cleopatra. Fine team all the way around!!! I had set the reading to be in a circle and with the seating set in relation to the characters’ relationships – to some degree. As each character has multiple relationships and several actors play more than one character – I made some choices. The actors were then asked to rise upon each ‘entrance’ and to be seated for each ‘exit’. Additionally I asked the actors to move as they felt to. I too moved as I felt and on a number of occasions called out directions, or encouragement, or to shift gears in various ways. Occasionally I rose from my seat and moved close to the actors for a moment to clarify my intention or direction.
Many great things happened in that evening.
This is indeed an exciting project. One in which we will make a journey together and make authentic discoveries in this text.

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Ira Seidenstein