Chaplin – some rare yet public bits

By Ira Seidenstein

June 3, 2023

Photo above: Co-stars of the film Chocolat (2016): Actor Omar Sy & Chaplin’s Grandson James Thierree.

In this first bit, a short interview of Charles Chaplin for the 1969 re-release of his 1928 film The Circus. In the interview Chaplin mentions his colleague and friend Harry Crocker. Below will be a link with information about Crocker. Near the end of this blog will also be some information about Chaplin’s family. In this blog I’m particularly focusing on Chaplin’s Daughter Victoria who met Jean Baptiste Thierree in 1969. She was a fair bit younger. At that early period Chaplin did not approve of the relationship. Victoria and Jean Baptiste eloped. In 1970 they appeared together in Fellini’s great movie I Clown (The Clowns).

In 1971 Victoria and Jean Baptiste formed their circus-theatre via The Festival of Avignon. Only for that season they had a large tent and 30 performers plus a variety of animals. After the season they made their company a duet known as Le Cirque Imaginaire. Soon they had two children, Aurelia then James, who as young children began touring and performing in Le Cirque Imaginaire. At some point the company name was changed to Le Cirque Invisible.

I finally was able to see the duet version of Le Cirque Imaginaire perform in 1997. The show came to the theatre across the street from where I was working at the time, in Gavle, Sweden. At the time I was the guest Artistic Director of Sweden’s national circus course for young people 16-20 years old. I arranged for the school to purchase tickets for all of our students to attend.

As I wanted personally to find some small appropriate way to honour Chaplin and his Family I bought a large boquet of flowers and had the boquet delivered to the theatre. My seat with my colleague Assen Panov was at the very back of the theatre just in front of the two light/sound technicians. There I met the Italian woman who operated the lights/sound who was also the tour manager and assistant to Victoria and Jean Baptiste. She said Victoria and Jean Baptiste were very thankful for the boquet and she would take Assen and I to meet them after the show. Then backstage, Victoria came out carrying the boquet of flowers and thanked me. She said they were exhausted as they had just arrived from an unsually challenging season in California. So the stage manager/assistant went out with us. I was given tickets to see the show for the following 3 nights at that theatre and I went out to chat with the stage manager/assistant each night.

Interview for the 1969 re-launch of Chaplin’s film The Circus (1928)

Harry Crocker was mentioned by Chaplin in the video interview above. See link below.

Featured as The Old Clown in the movie was Chaplin’s longtime collegue, assistant, gag master, and friend the obscure professional Henry Bergman. I put ‘Henry Bergman’ as a stage character into my play “Artiste in Exile…. requiem for Strindberg”. My play about August Strindberg portrayed as a Clown who wanted to be a Writer. In the play Strindberg was part of a Clown trio that also included the Writers Henrik Ibsen and Ingmar Bergman. In one scene the trio runs into a big fellow, ‘Henry Bergman’ eating an apple. Ingmar says he is no relation to Henry. Henry tries to convince the trio that he worked with Chaplin. An apple is featured part of the main clown gag in Chaplin’s The Circus. The apple is part of the famous Clown Gag that The Old Circus Clown is trying to teach the unemployed Tramp/Charlie the famous “William Tell Gag“. Photos below of Chaplin and Bergman. a) the scene of Bergman placing the apple onto Charlie’s head b) Bergman and Chaplin having a heart to heart chat in the “Clown Alley” i.e. the traditional small tent for the Clowns to be near the performance entry in case they are called in to perform in any emergency. The traditional emergency call from the Ringmaster is followed “Send in the clowns“!

Charles Chaplin’s family life has some complications. Only part of that is the fact that he was married three times and had 8 children. As mentioned already this blog will focus on one of Chaplin’s children, Victoria and her Husband Jean Baptiste Thierree and; Aurelia, and James who are also exceptional theatre artists. Aurelia Thierree (born about 1972) and James Thierree (born about 1975).

For Victoria and Jean Baptiste’s company Le Cirque Imaginaire/Le Cirque Invisible all of the astounding costumes were designed and made primarily by Victoria. Additionally she made and designed the costumes for at least the beginning shows of their children

Importantly, as young children, Aurelia and James, already began performing in their Parents shows. Importantly – Victoria had a devoted teacher of acrobatics and circus as Victoria performed on the tight wire and on “cloud swing” – that teacher, a classic circus man also became a key physical trainer of Victoria’s children. He also toured with them and operated some of the shows technical needs.

Aurelia and I met when her solo show came to Brisbane, she explained to me that the family works collaboratively in that they see each others shows regularly. And that naturally includes discussions about their works. But additionally – at least for their early shows – Victoria directed the shows of Aurelia, and James. Victoria designed the shows and helped each of her children develop their own aesthetics, and as mentioned she designed and made the costumes. Further Aurelia explained that she and her Brother during their individual tours also send videos of their performances to Victoria to get her on-going support, feedback, direction, and suggestions.

The touring assistant I had several chances to talk with, informed me that every performance Victoria and Jean Baptiste try something different at least once in every show. They like to keep the sense that every show is evolving and every performance will have some different expression. Additionally the technical assistants are free to also offer suggestions for the performers to test out. I suspect that the same approach that every performance needs a moment or a few to experiment is likely also part of Aurelia’s and Jame’s artwork?

However, in recent years James has fully emerged as a brilliant director himself and I am not sure how the collaboration has likely adjusted accordingly? On the other hand, Aurelia’s current show Bells and Spells lists the show publicly fully as “Directed by Victoria Chaplin Thierree”. Additionally, Victoria is also performing in the show.

Notably Aurelia and James are completely different in their own aesthetics. James is more of the ‘wow factor’ and Aureilia is more like a glorious ‘boquet of tulips’.

James’ most recent show (2023) is Rooms.

As a fortune of timing for me, very soon after I met Victoria and Jean Baptiste, their Son James was to have the premiere of his company – Compagnie du Hanneton. For some reason that was also to be in Sweden. In Stockholm. Another colleague from the Gavle circus course, Jocke Vall, had a spare ticket to the premiere so I went with him. We had already met the family’s acrobatic teacher who also ran the sound for Le Cirque Invisible. The acrobatic teacher I think was from Germany and at that time he was likely around 70 years old. I had met him in Gavle. In Stockholm immediately after the performance we chatted with him very briefly nonetheless he introduced us to James briefly.

The next video is of the same show but after it had been playing for about 7 years.

Here is a brief interview at the time of the 2016 film Chocolat starring Omar Sy and James Thierree.

In the beginning of the film Thierree does and extraordinarily magnificent solo clown piece.

I don’t know his background with Dance but certainly one of the most technical aspects of Thierree’s creative aesthetic is his use of or interpretation of Dance and Movement – both as a performer and as a director. His theatre shows always have equally gifted performers working along side him and I think that shows the maturity of his gifts and generosity.

Likewise, Omar Sy is an utterly magnificent actor of the highest level.

The film Chocolat also shows that Omar Sy is an astounding physical actor and comedian.

The beginning of his career was doing comedy on TV with his partner Fred Testot from 2005-2012. Sy also had a fine collaboration in films with the Director/Writer team Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache.

Just below is a short interview with Omar Sy and James Thierree in French with various bits of footage. The short interview was in 2016 for the launch of the film Chocolat Starring Omar Sy and James Thierree

Back to Charles Chaplin and his family.

The importance of Charles’ half-brother Sydney is significant. They also had another half-brother Dryden mentioned in the article below.

I consider Chaplin at the highest level of Clown not only for his comedic talents as a Vaudeville performer and as a film director but also for his writing particularly of his more mature feature films which showed his compassion and wisdom about Humanity. His master works i.e. most of his Feature Films from The Kid onward are in a way on par with the greater works of William Shakespeare. After Chaplin came Marcel Marceau who again like Shakespeare and Chaplin, had a unique profound creative output that was extraordinary due to the material of his creativity about Humanity.

My experimental, creative and interpretative homage to Chaplin was the show created in 20O5 i.e. Chaplin’s Eye. The actor’s in the video are Jane Barber (Zophtie) in green, Kristen Duffus (Femmla) in red, Andrew Cory (Lanky) in yellow, and Kayt Douglas (Pierroette) in powder blue. (the next season of the show Andrew and Kayt were not in but Amanda-Lyn Pearson was as “Joey” rather than Lanky; and Annette Schonenberger as Pierroette. The video below is the long finale and after a few minutes I come into the scene as “The Ghost of Chaplin”. I made that character like “He who gets slapped” combined with “He who laughs last laughs best”.

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Ira Seidenstein