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#16 The Clown Diaries - Shakespeare & Chekhov and MRI machines.

I write this blog entry whilst happily high on codeine.

(WAHOO! Codeine is great.)

At the moment, outside of class, whilst sitting at Cafe Du Depart in the sun the conversation between most students as we edge towards the end of the first year is "What now?" "What afterwards?" "What's the plan?". For many the plan is going back to normal day jobs to fund second year, for others the plan equals a change of country, a new theatre job, prepping for a festival, creating a new show etc. For others, there is no plan yet, still time assessing the lessons learned from the year so far and working out what to do next. The school is a collection of creative nomads in this sense - all wondering what is next after spending a year in the alien world of Gaulier school.

Like many of the students, my future is currently occupied with thoughts of about the Edinburgh Festival and my new show. But after August 2016 my future is looking to be pretty busy too.

First of all, I am setting up my own theatre company RaRaRA!Theatre - a company focussed on creating fun, enjoyable, eccentric theatre. Taking inspiration from the skills in directing and devising that I’ve acquired from Gaulier, RaRaRa! will start showcasing experimental work from September onwards - with a devised show and a Shakespeare play currently in production.

On top of this, I’ve found out that this July I’ve been accepted onto the Duckie Homosexualist Summer School at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern - mentored by Ursula Martinez. The opportunity to play further with live art and its various forms, extending my current skills in stand-up is an exciting and liberating prospect. Martinez is directing the group to create solo performance using live art, cabaret, DIY culture, pop art, nu-drag and post-queerness. Philippe constantly talks about playing with our fantasies on stag and following from what I’ve been learning at Gaulier it is liberating to feel that I can start experimenting more with my fantasies on stage, specially in the subject of gender. If you’ve never heard of Duckie or visited it at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on a Saturday night, I encourage you to go.

A third piece of great news is that I can now do an incredible 30 minute impression of an MRI machine - which I will now be adding to my skill set on my Spotlight page. Since January I’ve been suffering with headaches - the type which make your head feel as if it is being congealed with sludgy cement. I travelled back to the UK to have an MRI scan to see if anything was wrong. Despite claustrophobia I tried to make the best of the situation and used the process as a drama exercise. In the time I spent in the big tube of doom I focussed on learning the sounds of the MRI machine. “A good parody is a PRECISE one” as René Bazinet taught us. I paid attention to each sound. And then when I went home I practised. I will now be performing this set at any comedy night near you :P

A fourth piece of good news is I have codeine. Ha. This is a positive spin on an annoying situation. On Thursday night I went to the bathroom and started to see bright flashing lights, then my eyesight went. I’ve never had this type of migraine before but it’s best to say that it is not a nice experience. In all the kerfuffle of losing my eyesight, my head feeling like it was going to explode, I fell over on my bathroom floor. One trip to A&E and an X-Ray later I now have two big crutches, a hench moonboot and enough painkillers to knock out a dog the size of the obese one which lives next door. No sport for me. Just Iambic Pentameter.

Which brings us onto our current module: Shakespeare & Chekhov.

Everyone is rehearsing constantly - learning new chunks of text, experimenting with ideas and then queuing up to present them in class each day. Every class has become a form of Autocour. Unlike other modules where after a few minutes Philippe will gong you off and ask for another student to take the stage with another exercise, with this module he takes his time to work on each scene that you have prepared. Philippe may stop you before your first line, but he’ll then spend as long as an hour working with you and your partner, playing a variety of games and exercises to remove you away from your previous ideas and into another more free and liberated way of acting the scene.

One point he makes repeatedly is “PLAY THE SITUATION. NOT THE TEXT” - don’t explain to the audience what the story is, otherwise you are nothing more than a primary school teacher.

Through his way of teaching - which focuses on the game playing between the actors - he teaches you to think beyond the text - don’t use it as the backbone for the scene. You can be far more adventurous in how you stage Shakespeare. For example - when I performed Emilia’s monologue from Othello - Philippe made me dress up as an old Circus Ringmaster and deliver the speech as if I was the conductor of a circus - causing the text to soar upwards, joyfully. You could argue that it wouldn’t work practically in an actual production of Othello - but why not? If there is pleasure? And you feel something through watching it? Why can’t Gertrude in Hamlet deliver the news of Ophelia’s death as if she is acting out a piece of children’s theatre? Why can’t Hamlet be performed as if he is a Nicolas Cage impersonator?

When I played Romeo & Juliet with another student - he directed us to deliver their sonnet together as if we were marionettes within a snow globe - losing all the previous sentimentality we had put on the lines and instead cause it to be something more poetic and exciting to watch.

As Philippe says again and again in class as he watches each student come on with a well honed scene he grumbles “You have to destroy this shitty idea.... You have to show something from YOU, from your fantasy.”

Thus, I’d conclude - rather than being a way to act Shakespeare and Chekhov this is a module for directors and theatre companies in learning how to build and direct Shakespeare and Chekhov. Through the way he works with each individual you learn an array of different interesting skills and techniques to adapt an actor and change a scene. Due to how many of us are presenting and learning text, it means that although you have more intense experiences working with Philippe on stage, you are on stage an awful lot less than other modules, meaning you ware 90% watching and 10%doing. You observe a great deal. I’ve learned more about directing than I have about acting in the last two weeks -which has helped remind me how much I love and miss directing in the first place.

Right, must go, I've got to get to class.

Until next week.

Elf x

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