Guest Blogger – Martin Ewen – “She Smiled”- a recollection

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You have to be absurdly fearless to perform on the street. You are auditioning for your life. You have to believe in something, anything at all, and expose your concern, your faith, your fearlessness to the world at large hoping you have disguised your abject terror sufficiently. Bravado masking a hopefully insular desperation for affection….Well that’s a bit cruel, sure you want affection, who doesn’t, but it can be a little more profound than that if you give yourself space and over the years synthesize your motive down to one immutable nugget

If you fail to ignite a flame of curiosity and commitment from the fuel of passers-by smoldering with indifference then that small flame of your own, brought out and placed exposed risks extinguishment.
For all the pat doggerel about love lost being superior to not having loved at all the attraction of yourself being a dry latent wick rather than a doused failure is self evidently attractive to any street performer who tries and fails and walks away a soggy wick.
I may labor the illumination metaphor however I do so because my one immutable nugget is this…
I want to bring light into the world.
I’ve seen it individually and in audiences, the light. It’s very strong but soft. My Clown is kindling and my structures and form are small puffs applied to the spark that is my ambition to create and amplify the light that is the momentary celebration of life’s random goodness.

You have to do one thing well. You also need to identify and remember that one thing rather than presuming that anything will do.
Because audiences are your own kind and they resonate. They simply will not invest more than you do in your show. A common mistake is to see them as objects to be moved about with simple slights of mind, to lose sight of yourself as prey in the sense that any audience condescends it’s attention.

You can do the smallest thing and if it means the world to you that’s enough.

There was a woman, a street performer who had synthesized her nugget down to the bone and it was, and is to me the perfect example of street theatre as profound poetry.

She was a minimalist pantomime of despair and joy. She did one thing well and her show was a setup for that one thing.
She would stand on a small black box with her name on it in white, she wore an Edwardian mens suit and had a top hat at her feet for donations, she wore whiteface.

She was not happy. She had a wonderful palette of unhappiness, each color individually crafted and immediately recognizable. Winsome and wistfully, regretfully, defiantly, sullenly, achingly, stoically, disappointingly, fearfully.
She would build an audience by looking down at the ground and forming a particular sadness before raising her gaze and directing it at one individual, sometimes scanning the crowd until she selected that person. She would focus on them until she had established some resonance then she would look down again. She remembered each sadness as it applied to each individual. After creating these relationships and creating also a rhythm of discovery for her audience who were mesmerized and delighted by each new nuance of unhappiness she would bring forth she would move onto the next level in which, like a juggler, she would keep all her unhappinesses in the air by shifting her gaze, with brilliant comic timing, from each audience member she had previously bequeathed some particular unhappy relationship.
It was sad and funny and beautiful and masterful and the setup.

 

Because the appreciation of her art would reach a point where unbidden one of her audience would respond to her and walk forward and drop money into the hat at her feet. As they broke from the crowd and approached she would amplify whichever sadness pertained to them until they had put whatever token into her hat, she would break her gaze, peek down at the hat then look up.

…And smile…at them.

They would walk away or back to the audience and she would follow them with her smile, her smile created light. It was as honed and genuine and pure as each of her unhappinesses. It was a form of love. It illuminated her audience, they smiled and laughed each time. Then it would fade and sadness would return. The particular sadness the audience member who had contributed a donation, that sadness would go to the bottom of the pile, the others would be refueled as they were kept in play and this small but profound game was this woman s career.

I feel privileged to have spent so much time prospecting the world for eccentric public interpretations of the human condition in which laughter is the goal, in which individuals or groups put themselves at risk to gift others with some collective joyful vantage and having made that risk been redeemed in laughter, gratitude and coin.

This one thing, the act of going from sadness to joy, is fiendishly difficult to do. I know because after coming across this act I tried myself as an exercise, repeatedly, in front of a mirror.

It is very easy to go down, to lower your mood. Lower moods are always there, always available, as genuine as any sadness you’ve ever felt for the purposes of reproduction. I found the reverse, and still find the reverse, one of life’s great challenges. To truly morph from sadness to joy is a discipline and a gift.

It was her one thing she did exceedingly well and it bears repeating.
You can do the smallest thing and if it means the world to you that’s enough.

Martin Ewen

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Martin Ewen Bio:

I’ve been performing as an international clown soloist for around 30 years.

My character ‘Lurk’ is a 12 foot disgruntled pantomime.

Using this module I’ve been lucky enough to travel the planet and observe and write about various surreal situations and people I’ve encountered.

I admire people with big hearts who take risks and who create laughter and whimsey. Rebels, renegades, eccentrics and contrarians make my life worth living and together we try to make others laugh for their own good….and because we like attention.

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Thank You Martin for contributing!

His book Panto Damascus can be obtained here!

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