2020 marks the ten year anniversary of Movement Theater Studio’s world-renowned month-long Summer Physical Theater Institute. Hosted by CUNY Brooklyn College’s Theater Department on the grounds of their beautiful campus deep in the heart of Brooklyn the four-week intensive and such one-week workshops as Clown, Character Mask, The Ensemble Director and of course Norman Taylor’s transformative master classes have attracted almost 3,000 students from across the globe during this last decade. We are very proud of that! And despite the setbacks of this year’s Covid-19 pandemic, MTS remains committed to providing the highest level of physical acting training to its students – both new and returning.
To that end, we have both pushed back our 2020 summer offerings and shortened the length of the full-time intensive. We’re lucky enough to have the same world-class faculty and with a lengthened teaching day we will be able to cover almost as much as before. SO! Below you will see a start date of July 20th (which we believe best positions us to ensure we will be free of social distancing rules and limits on public assembly) and we’ve significantly cut prices in acknowledgment of the particular hardship brought upon the artistic community. Of course, the city may still not be open-for-business and we may not be able to run these courses. But we are planning on it – and signing up those who might NEED a place to get creative at that point more than ever! Lastly, I would like to thank all of the many who have trained with us this past decade – who have brought their talent, dedication, and fun into the room. These are punishing times for the creative soul but I believe that like the Phoenix from the ashes the curiosity of the artist will prevail and thrive – no matter what the foe. See below and…..
TWO-WEEK INTENSIVE July 20th – July 31st, 9 am – 6 pm
The first comprehensive Lecoq based training program in New York. Focusing on the Actor as Creator, the 2020 Summer Physical Theater Intensive at MTS is based on key elements of the Lecoq pedagogy, including Le jeu, Clown, Neutral Mask and Lecoq’s 20 Movements in approaching the creation of original and physically told narratives. Faculty include Richard Crawford (Actor War Horse, Clown Director Cirque Du Soleil), Adrienne Kapstein (War Horse, Broadway), Yuval Boim (LISPA), and Virginia Scott (FizGig Studio).
ONE WEEK WORKSHOPS
RICHARD CRAWFORD CHARACTER MASK July 20th – 24th
A dynamic and playful weekend workshop exploring the fundamentals of mask play and the creation of mask theater; using full-faced Larval and Expressive masks with MTS founder/director Richard Crawford
CLOWN 1 July 27th – 31st
It’s your big chance to seek the source of your comic nature, connect to your playful spirit, and discover your clown! Virginia Scott – Discovering the Clown
LECOQ 101 AUG 3rd – 7th
A dynamic and playful weekend workshop exploring the fundamentals of mask play and the creation of mask theater; using full-faced Larval and Expressive masks with MTS founder/director Richard Crawford
VIRGINIA SCOTT CLOWN 2 AUG 3rd – 7th Pre-requisite: Clown 1. Now let’s make some funny stuff to show the audience! The clowns develop material unique to them and each student walks away with 5 minutes of individual material!
NOTE: update on May 6th: if these summer classes can’t run because of extended gathering restrictions we will move everything online.
PARIS — Celebration Barn Theater has canceled its programming for this year because artists from around the world can’t travel here and audiences can’t be close to each other because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amanda Huotari, executive artistic director, said most of the theater’s revenue comes from hosting artists from around the world for workshops, residencies and performances.
“Over the past four weeks — it feels like four years — we really took the journey of feeling the heartbreak of having to cancel … It just felt that there really was no way we could move forward with programming this season with any certainty,” she said.
The announcement was posted Thursday on Facebook.
“We don’t know when our audiences are going to feel comfortable gathering again in close proximity, we don’t know when travel bans will make it possible for artists to travel, and for artists that are traveling in to do workshops, we don’t know if their loss of work is going to impact their ability to travel in the country right now. We knew that it would not be in the barn’s best interest or the communities’ best interest if we went forward and had a season.”
In its 47 years, Celebration Barn has never faced the complete cancellation of the season, and the future is unclear, she said.
“Financially it’s a real heavy lift to see a path forward,” Huotari said.
At the beginning of last year, a new financial gift program laid a sold financial foundation for the coming season. However, major concerns remain.
“We have never faced something like this before,” Houtari said. “Right now, we’re 100 percent in the throes of upheaval. We applied for emergency funding. We don’t know if our application is in the works, but the payroll protections funds have just run out, waiting to see if more become available.
She said in the coming weeks, the theater on Stock Farm Road will have a better idea of what it can do during the canceled season; if live-streamed shows are still a possibility, or online workshops and learning opportunities. But the real focal point is the 2021 season, and if the appetite of audiences will be changed moving forward. – “ I think that we really will have an opportunity to respond to the way in which the world has shifted in response to this experience, and the way the needs of our artists and audiences have changed … people are going to be hungry for different things, and I think we really have an opportunity to respond to that,” she said.
Traditionally, performances happen in close proximity, as do workshops. But Huotari said avenues might open for more spaced-out, inventive performances.
“Our expertise is really in the area of getting people together for an immediate theater experience,” she said. “While our history with doing that generally in a room in close proximity to each other, we’ve also done theater safaris where the audience travels around our property to various experiences, where storytellers are in trees and dancers are in fields. … We’re also well equipped to think outside the box. We’ll be looking for ways to bring people together to feel the immediacy of that human connection but it may be in ways unlike anything we’ve seen before.”
Though many patrons and artists understood the need to shut down this season, some were apprehensive. Huotari said if COVID-19 and all the restrictions associated with it dissipate soon, the theater is in a position to act.
“We’re small and we’re nimble,” she said. “If things do change and we do see opportunity in the coming months, we’ll be able to respond to that really quickly. I’d love to think that there’s a chance we’ll be able to get audiences in the barn this year, but it’s going to take a rapidly improving global condition for that to be possible.”
Until the global situation reaches relative normalcy, the barn is going to need some help. After announcing the cancellation, Huotari said PayPal donations started coming in within minutes. “If any folks are in a position to make a contribution … we would be most grateful for gifts now, as they matter more than ever,” she said.
For now, though, the focus has to be on coming strong in 2021.“Our No. 1 priority is securing the future of the Celebration Barn. And all eyes are on 2021, and what we have to do to come back with a full season,” she said.
From the ‘press release: a multi-disciplinary spectacle with a marching band, dancers, 12-foot puppets, shadow puppetry and moving projection screens. The band is an award-winning group, the Soul Tigers, young men and women who attend Benjamin Banneker High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Also featured are the Banneker Dancers.
Bouncing Betties :: by florkhis Opium :: by The Butoh Rockettes Face Your Face :: by Si Golraine, Anjoli Chadha, Erica Chadha Pillow Talk :: by Dimitri She Poked a Bear :: by Wharton Tract Polar Bear King :: by Amos Wengler Durational performance by Jennie Portney, LaReine TheThrill
~ ~ ~
THE AUDIENCE TOO is encouraged to come be a part of the performance! Wear your most expressive/outrageous costume/look, and help celebrate the festival’s theme of TRANSFORMATION. An on-site makeover room will stand ready to accessorize willing participants, and photographer Kristopher Johnson will have a photo booth set-up during part of the festival. Expect a pageant & prizes!
International Culture Lab (Nick Fracaro and Gabriele Schafer, Co-Artistic Directors; Brendan Schweda, Festival Producer) is a performing arts company dedicated to providing opportunities for artists from across the world to explore contemporary issues through jointly created projects. Renowned in its earlier history as Thieves Theatre, ICL interrogated the role of the Other in contemporary society with a series of controversial landmark productions: 1982 — Marat/Sade, together with On Our Own, a group of anti-psychiatry former mental patients; 1987 — Fassbinder’s “unproducible” Trash, the City, and Death; and 1990-93 — Nomad Monad: The Making of Thieves Theatre’s Last Stand for which the company’s directors erected a full-sized Lakota tipi replica, handmade from 78 US#3 mailbags, and lived/worked for three years in the then oldest Manhattan shantytown at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. intlculturelab.org
Coney Island USA exists to defend the honor of American popular culture through innovative exhibitions and performances. Presenting and producing exciting new works, the organization’s approach is rooted in mass culture and the traditions of P.T. Barnum, dime museums, burlesque, circus sideshows, vaudeville, and Coney Island itself. Serving both New York City and an international community that includes visitors to Coney Island and enthusiasts of various cultural forms, Coney Island USA’s signature activities include the Mermaid Parade, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, the Coney Island Museum, and new theatrical work. coneyisland.com!
I have to admit I don’t remember when I met Carlo but it was before 1983. That was the year I convinced him to visit my studio to do some photographs. He was playful and not too prepared. He came with a couple of great Commedia masks and found objects in the studio to improvise with for the camera. It was great fun! I have decided to make this tribute since many movement-based performers don’t know about Carlo. I contacted a few friends that knew him well ask them to contribute to this post. They knew him better and have stories to tell!
From Wikipedia:Carlo Mazzone-Clementi (12 December 1920 – 5 November 2000) was a performer and founder of two schools of Commedia, mime and physical theater as well as a contemporary and colleague of leaders of the modern European theater. From his arrival in the USA in 1957, he was largely responsible for the spreading of commedia dell’arte in North America. He first gained attention in Italy in 1947 alongside Marcel Marceau in the mime’s first tour outside of Paris. From 1948 to 1951, he assisted Jacques Lecoq, while Lecoq taught and directed the Players of Padua University. In 1954, Mazzone-Clementi was at Piccolo Teatro di Milano with Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Click here for more information from their post about Carlo.
The Mid Atlantic Movement Theater Festival, January 2000, packed with various performers, vaudevillians and theater artists taking classes, teaching, performing and networking at a large motel in Maryland. Festival organizers approached me asking if I would make an important announcement. Everyone was called into the main room, “We have some very sad news.” Participants started shouting about the 2000 Presidential election recount tragedy going on at the time. “No, it is not about the election. Carlo Mazzone-Clementi has died”.
Arriving in the United States – October 4th, 1957 the world was shocked by Sputnik, the first satellite which was launched by Russia. That is also when Carlo came to New York, NY by ship. This I found out from Carlo’s son Val. Carlo was warming up for a show, “Cock-a-Doodle Dandy”. On the NY City Opera stage Carlo, jumping up and down like a rooster. The floor happened to be weak where he was jumping, suddenly boom! Carlo went flying through the stage floor landing in the basement and permanently injuring his knees. The result of this injury Carlo said, “I guess I teach”.
The First Time I saw Carlo – About 1977 Carlo Mazzone-Clementi performing at West Beth Theater Center, New York NY in the old Bell Laboratory main room with the insanely tall ceiling. It’s where the first television was turned on with Thomas Edison. An extremely high scaffolding happened to be up in the room, 3 to 5 levels high. Carlo entered, sweeping across the stage with a push broom. Looking at the scaffolding rising to the high ceiling, he started climbing it slowly, hanging off different parts with unique various actions on each of the levels. Arriving at the top, tossing something off into the house. Beautiful. It was simple and inspiring. Seemed like nothing was planned, everything was done improviso. But it was planned like a Commedia dell’Arte scenario. About this time one of my mentors, actor, director, producer and writer, Vasek Simek builder of the Perry Street Theater challenged me to make a leather Commedia dell’Arte mask. Over the next year, I discovered the beginning skills of leather mask making.
Carlo’s Tragedies – It is hard to talk about the great Carlo Mazzone-Clementi without speaking about the various tragedies that struck Carlo several times. Tragedies in his life affected his fate. These tragedies would make life hard for him, but affect other people’s lives in positive ways. Injury to his knees twice, early in his performing career. The theft of his tools and in Carlo’s words, “my school”, resulting in stealing opportunities for Carlo to share his knowledge, wisdom and vast numbers of exercises. Tragic events would force Carlo to create new opportunities in the United States and in other parts of the world, having positive effects on others. Like Copenhagen, Denmark with Ole Brekke creating The Commedia Schoolhttp://commediaschool.com .
Carlo’s Beloved Masks – Berkeley California, Carlo visiting friends at a school in Berkeley California and had all of this masks and props with him in an old trunk tied to the top of his Volvo. Coming out of the school to his Volvo his trunk was gone. The tie ropes holding Carlo’s trunk were cut. All of his Commedia dell’Arte masks and special props – gone. For Carlo, this was a devastating blow. These beloved tools where taken from him along with part of his life and livelihood. It is likely the people that took Carlos trunk have no idea the value of what they have.
Carlo the Odd Fellows Hall and his school – His stolen Commedia dell’Arte masks would lead me to work with Carlo at his school he created in the middle of nowhere in Northern California. There was cow pastures, two bars, loggers, a coffee shop, a small post office, maybe a beauty parlor and a small store. Peter Kors was one person he asked to join him in 1972. Carlo came up to Peter and said, “I just bought the Odd Fellows Hall in the mountains, come we start a school.” The big red building in Blue Lake was the largest in this small town, an enormous building. This was his base where Carlo did all of his work and return to after various teaching gigs around the world.
Coming to work with Carlo – Hearing from a few people there was a performer who trained at Ecole Jacques Lecoq, making leather masks in NYC, Carlo invited me to his school to replace his set of Commedia dell’Arte masks and teach. I had been working with leather for about 1 year has made a small number of leather masks in between performing shows several times a week, on the street, in theaters and various venues. In 1979, seven years after graduating from Ecole Jacques Lecoq I went to make masks and teach with Carlo. There were some very odd goings on at the school that I did not understand, they would become clear a few years later.
Spiritual moments with Carlo – Carlo gave me a room facing the street with a big window for the mask studio. Carlo would often come down to the studio late at night and say, “Stanley you work too hard, come we drink wine.” This happened almost every night. Would stop sculpting and cover things up. We would climb up to the upper unused studio on the top floor, it felt like Carlo’s hideaway. From a secret hidden place, Carlo would pull out a Gallon jug of Gallo wine and two glassing filling them; smile and laugh. We would drink and talk. “What do you Jews do on Friday night? Every Friday night you get together, stop relax and drink wine! Why?” It is funny; not until writing this do I realize Carlo’s great influence on me in keeping the Jewish Sabbath and drinking wine with friends on Friday night. This is often how our conversation would start and it would go on for hours. Talking about fate, faith, trust, history, and destiny. World War II and how he escaped capture from the Nazi’s. Carlo considered himself the Commedia dell’Arte character Brighella. In some ways he was a Dottore, knowing Italian, French, Latin, English and able to juggle them all. Looking at some of Carlo’s writings he was always playing with words and loved them. Art, theater, performing is a spiritual force – which also relates to Carlo’s Metaphysical Mask which more people are seeing its value.
Riding with Carlo Driving – Experiencing riding in the car with Carlo driving is one of the best examples of Carlo’s philosophy on life and theater. All the other teachers told me, “Never ride with Carlo driving!” Riding in a car with Carlo driving is an experience one never forgets. We are driving through weaving mountain passes with lots of blind turns and twists. Most likely an old paved logging road. Carlo would always take the shortest route between two points. This meant driving across the road, driving on the wrong side of the road against traffic around blind turns. I freaked out! After we got passed the blind turn and we were driving on the correct side of the road, only because it was the shortest route between two points Carlo would say, “You see Stanley, nothing to worry about! We are here.” It was about trusting fate and knowing nothing bad was going to happen to you. Knowing that you can go around a blind curve and you can deal with anything that is there. Yes of course, once in a while we would come onto an oncoming car or truck at high speed and Carlo would just gently, slightly alter his course while the other car was freaking out, swerving and honking. “You see Stanley everyone is fine! Do not worry so much. Why should I take the long way, this is direct.” The really scary thing is after a while I trusted riding with Carlo.
This knowledge and understanding, that trust relates to one of Carlo’s powerful exercises, that I use all the time. Closing your eyes, then running full tilt to an object on the floor, stopping and hitting your hand on the object. If you hit the object, with your eyes closed you get to move onto the next object. You go directly to the object knowing you will hit it. Being able to stop is very important, with both Jacques Lecoq and Carlo. Being able to run and then stopping on a point is vital.
In theater, it is easy to be too safe. In theater, you must be able to go around blind curves. It is far more exciting theatrically. Can it also kill you? Of course, it can. But when it is your time, it is your time. This was part of Carlo’s thinking. Not being captured or escaping the Nazi’s in WWII helped influence his philosophy. With Carlo it is about the joy, being in the moment, now – improveaso –meaning improvising within the moment. It is what the neutral mask is all about. Being totally in the moment. Peter Kors explained to me during our Metaphysical Mask Lab in NYC. The first one in the USA since most likely the 70’s, something very important which helps understand Carlo’s thinking. Carlo would say, “It is not about being. It’s about becoming. Great theater is about becoming. You are always in this state of becoming. Being is stagnant. Becoming is active. Like the trapeze artist from the moment he lets go of the first trapeze to when he touches the second trapeze.” Being close to the ground, becoming one with the ground. Trusting yourself. But with Carlo, it is beyond being in the moment. He wants you to be going beyond the moment to a constant stage of becoming.
Carlo and his character_ Brighella, Arlecchino or Dottore Carlo considered himself Brighella; however, in my opinion, his true love of etymology makes him a bit of a Dottore as well. He was a person that could play with words and word games within several languages, including Italian, French, English, and of course, Latin. Reading a few pages of his personal notes, he writes in all four languages because he most likely thought in all four. This is why it was hard for some to understand him. Some people looked at Carlo in his life as Arlecchino. One of Jacques Lecoq’s definitions of Arlecchino was, “a 50-year-old child that never grows up”, this was also Carlo, as he was always ready to play.
Carlo had many sayings, some he might only say once in a situation. Some of his known favorites:
“The Earth is your friend.”
“The Earth is your friend, my friend.”
“Character starts in the foot.”
“Effort, Momentum, Risk and Joy.” The four elements as a creator in the theater you must have.
“This is what you think with (hitting both hands on his ass) this is what you shit with (hitting both hands on his head), this is the principle of Commedia dell’Arte.”
An area which is commonly associated with the history of mime is Commedia Dell’ Arte. Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, Italian born and reared in Padua, learned mime in the traditions of Commedia from his grandfather who “was the natural born Commedia specialist. My grandfather gave me a lot of identity consciousness and understanding.” Others who influenced Carlo Mazzone-Clementi in his technical growth were Marceau in 1947 when he visited Padua in search of Commedia and LeCoq in 1948 who came to Italy to research the natural movement of the Italian people.
Mazzone-Clementi’s contemporary definition of Commedia Dell’ Arte seems to provide a significant reason for the apparent growth and interest in the form during the last two decades. Mazzone-Clementi suggests that the phenomenon of the Renaissance is again reviving because people of our age are seeking personal identity as well as challenging conventional theatre forms.
It is man’s representation of rebirth on the stage about anything that you can say is happening in life; finally representing everybody, but most capably represented by the soloist who can play ensemble and concerto, and by the virtuoso who can play the mountebank and the silent one.
Inherent in this definition is the prerequisite for depth, technical training, intense observation of human nature, and appropriate translation into meaningful human experiences on stage – all the requirements of a good actor.
Carlo Mazzone-Clementi identifies the hardest thing for contemporary students to grasp “is that you don’t say Commedia; you mean Commedia. It is the harmonization of a bit to a situation.” This definition presupposes that Commedia can be applied to any theatrical situation and that a certain objective displacement is necessary in order for the performer to both assess the situation on stage and place himself into it with the appropriate character context. It further necessitates a high degree of technical skill to the extent that the performer is capable of recalling those resources instantaneously on stage.
The mime inherently neutralizes his character, both through the use of the mask and through universal gesturing. Mazzone-Clementi approaches performance as the bridge between the actor and the mime. “Philologically I know what character means, but I use the term ‘personality character.’ It is a physical internalization. I cannot be a character; rather, I have to be the character.” The mask becomes the ultimate physical comment on the character, not the point of initiation of character. The mask should not conceal the actor’s identity but should reflect.
The similarity of activity in style mime and Commedia is unmistakable. The major distinction is Commedia’s spontaneity with the usage of mime techniques. “One cannot be a jazz musician if he doesn’t know where the bit is and if he doesn’t have the technical ability to resolve it.” Mime technique corroborates movement skills when the spontaneity becomes inherent in the activity.
From the Grand Comedy Festival at Qual-a-wa-loo, Mazzone-Clementi’s work centers around his school, which was begun in 1975. The curriculum includes training in basic acting, philosophy, and techniques of Commedia, acrobatics, mime, clowning, and guest instructors with particular expertise to complement the program. The reason for the school is to regenerate meaningful Commedia in the Twentieth Century. “Usually people use Commedia for obscenity (low comic laughs) in production but I see it as the central focus of the production.”
The essential reason for contemporary Commedia lies in the demand for more than conventional theatre. Many unconventional theatrical experiences are inflammatory attempts to communicate, whether it is social, political or instructive. “The purpose of playing is the need to communicate. As a performer or a commedia, I would invent something that would be a mirage, a reflection, and a respondent.” This aspect seems central to the pervading philosophy of mime as it is emerging along with the contemporary Commedia.
The capacity for improvisation is based in this instance on a high degree of technical skill and training. But along the same lines, spontaneity and improvisation can be employed by the unskilled and untrained for different purposes and with different results, just as theatre games can be used in psychological therapy.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It seems that I have been collecting information and comments since 2011. Here is John Towsen’s contribution dated August 2011. From his wonderful blog:
I once heard Avner “the Eccentric” Eisenberg dedicate his show “to Jacques Lecoq, who taught me everything I know, and to Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, who taught me everything else.”
This was a compliment, not a putdown, for Carlo’s specialty was not so much commedia technique as it was the zen of just being there, “being available.” When he did perform, he apparently planned nothing, content to just play with masks and props. This annoyed some, inspired others. His favorite exercise the summer I was at Dell’Arte was The Maze: blindfolded, you’d walk a winding path bordered by piles of junk while reciting a nursery rhyme or singing a song. Touch anything before reaching the goal and you had to go back and start over. The point, of course, was not so much getting good enough to ever make it to the other side (few did), but rather savoring the innate comedy and body language of our inevitable failure.
It may be a cliché to talk about exploring “the child within us all,” but that was certainly part of Carlo’s persona. I remember a 4th of July party at our clown loft on Chambers Street in NYC, 1981 or thereabouts, with Carlo in attendance. Like a naughty kid, Carlo had gotten hold of a sizable stash of illegal fireworks and was up and down the street setting them off, on and around parked cars, coming close to blowing up the neighborhood and raining police down on us. We literally had to send out a posse to corral him. He was over 60 at the time.
My earliest encounter with Carlo, years before I studied with him, had been over the phone and through the mail, as I first solicited him for the article you see below, and then worked with him on it as its editor. It was 1973 and my NYU grad school work-study job was as an assistant editor at The Drama Review (TDR). With Brooks McNamara, I was putting together an ambitious issue devoted to popular entertainments, a subject that editor Michael Kirby had open disdain for. While Marvin Carlson’s historical article on the Boulevard de Crime (see post 162) was deemed acceptable, Carlo’s more fanciful effort —”who has more to say to us than the zannies?” — was to Kirby just a bunch of hippie crap. Eventually, we got the piece into solid shape and I think it holds up well today as an introduction to and rationale for a physical approach to acting.
Broadcast from Dell’Arte International’s Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake California as part of Dell’Arte International’s 40th reunion—a celebration of 40 years of artistic creation, collaboration, community engagement, and actor-training.
The late founder of the American Museum of Magic, Robert Lund of Marshall Michigan, sagely declared: “the small-time journeyman-magicians” were perhaps, the truer heroes within the ongoing saga of stage magic performance practice.
So many of these adamantine idealists who trod the boards in the American theater and show business, themselves, heralded or otherwise, represent and uphold a continuing tradition of “enormous human significance” in the estimation of high culture critic Lionel Trilling in his perhaps unexpected affirmation of the skill sets distinguishing the practice of much of the popular arts including that of the art of magic.
Jack Adams, (1937-1994), the son of a bookshop owner and of Huguenot descent, was just such a journeyman magician of illimitable merit and imagination. Well-liked among his professional peers, and wherever he exhibited his magicianship in at least 30 countries, he was foremost of all the object of various measures of thankful public acclaim.
Adams did forge links between theatrical mastery and the ardent strictures defining his own advanced execution of prestidigitation.
Jack said he’d studied the observation of Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, (the 19th century “Father of modern magic”), that “the magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” To this end our subject entered upon the task of mastering so many of the aspects of the magician-actor’s craft – – mime, makeup expertise, storytelling, quick-change artistry and other important myriad facets of the art of acting, from Stanislavsky to Grotowski’s Polish Laboratory Theatre, along with Jack’s passion for dissecting the physical humor techniques gleaned from the silent screen era geniuses like Chaplin and the later work of W.C. Fields, and circus clowning of the level of Emmett Kelly.
Born in Oklahoma, Jack Adams invariably endowed most of his magic roles with the sunshine openness of styles of public address perhaps associated with those good-hearted people of that region, this informing his sparkling admixture of winning personality and captivating personae onstage. In aspect, Jack bore a bit of the look of Brad Pitt, though he was decidedly shorter.
Adams recalled that at the age of 9 he saw his first magician. He once told his friend and magic scholar Robert Reiss, that among Jack’s formative influences in boyhood, was having seen the mercurial King of the Western tent show extravaganzas, Harry Willard, of the dynastic Willard the Wizards. Jack related he’d “walked miles on dusty roads” to enter that tent-show and to marvel as Willard dazzled all with a show comprised of old-style large-scale illusions framed by the performance of a riveting cascade of medium-scaled magic sequences, all bound together by Willard’s compelling stage persona.
Jack later shared that “this was my inspiration” for his much later full-length Merlin, among his other formidable projects for the stage.
To make Jack’s dream show a reality, he sought out excellent tutelage from the theater department at college, Northwestern University. Trained by the experts at that place and time he was, he said on many occasions, mentored by Alvina Kraus, and, elsewhere in Chicago came into professional contact with Viola Spolin, the Improv doyenne, and story theater inspirer. Adams in his student period performed non-magic dramatic roles in Krauss productions at Eagles Mere Playhouse and at the school. Decades afterward Jack contemplated the wonder of it: “We did nine drama classics in all of ten weeks! – Ibsen to Chekhov.”
As a young man, Jack Adams appeared in over sixty roles on and Off-Broadway, in emergent television, and film. When he arrived from the Middle West to Manhattan, the post-war Off-Broadway movement remained in its fertile efflorescent phase, and young Jack was cast in a raft of vehicles during this high tide.
Jack Adams’ magic, too, attracted the attention of casting directors and booker’s, significantly for children’s television programming on local stations in the Northeast as well as in the Middle West.
For at that time these TV stations still created weekend and after-school programs of original content for televisions’ moppet set. When this scribe first personally encountered Adams in the 1960’s at Al Flosso’s Magic Shop in New York City, that now, as then, legendary place of rendezvous for hocus-pocus people, Jack said he was then commuting to Philadelphia to do his original routines of magic as guest on one such local TV show for kids; he averred the following: the station manager and producers were so delighted by Jack’s many gifts, personal and magical, which had gained Jack a local following of kid home viewers, that they wanted Jack to say yes to the idea of Jack’s hosting his own weekly TV hour!
Jack Adams – beloved by trusting kids – said he’d demurred, as his on-air duties would include, as host, having to personally endorse and pitch products and foods of dubious value to his juvenile followers; he said he “could never betray innocent children,” his TV fan base, in such a déclassé fashion, just as his own vegetarianism bade him not to betray animals (which he also sometimes worked with so tenderly as a magician.) Indeed, if I may note the fact in this context, Adams’ favorite – non-magic – book of this general period was the idealistic Markings by Dag Hammarskjold, the perhaps martyred United Nations leader.
So, Jack Adams flourished as a television guest. In the metropolitan area of New York, he ubiquitously popped up on local shows, such as the Sunny Fox hosted era of the Sunday morning viewing marathon, Wonderama. Here he was booked with a favored group of the talented, such as the still youthful The Amazing Randi, and the mime Tony Montanaro.
On camera Jack was especially effective in his live-televised renditions of his character-driven creations, such as Jack in the role of Yoko, an Asian rice farmer contending with the vicissitudes of rain and famine in the rice paddy: this, Jack’s virtuoso turn from his stage show invoking all of his earlier dramatic training as described above featuring Jack’s lapidary mastery of mime, StoryTheatre technique, makeup panache, and his fluency for all of the forms of classic magicianship. It was his outstanding theater piece and, alas, does not appear to have been preserved on tape or film.
On these stages before huge 1000-plus audiences of children and parents, Jack immediately captivated all especially with his authentically warm vocal timbre and diction. He radiated his distinctive assurance and poise, engendering an actor/audience friendship and enchantment that many can still taste in the memory, these decades later.
I might further adumbrate the constitutive elements of the comic and dramatic sequences comprising this singular stage work, but, rather, I’d now prompt the reader to review the accompanying visuals on this website for further edification and all of the pleasing surprises orbed therein. Behold Jack Adams’ gracious art which he advanced with his rosette presence and verve.
Al Cohen, the proprietor of a storied, now-defunct, magic shop in Washington, D.C., where journeyman-magician Jack Adams once also plyed his thespic-magico trade, said “Jack Adams – now – he was an artist! and it’s why I referred important clients to him for shows.”
Milbourne Christopher, the late historian/magician and universally regarded as ”Americas’ foremost magician” said to Adams “Jack, Macy’s wanted me to prepare a magic float for their annual parade – I unreservedly told them to call you,” Reiss recalled the encounter between Christopher and Adams.
Al Flosso, (the late owner of Americas’ oldest magic shop and legend in his own right) in 1969 at his store, amidst a flow of colorful show-biz kibbitzing, wherein he paused to, as it were, soliloquize and expostulate with vehement admiration, said, “Talk about a ton of clever touches,” he spoke as he moved about his haywire showroom with resolute gesticulations.
“I count dozens of his own when I watch Jack on stage — Y’ see – as God as my witness! – and I’ll say this loud and clear – Jack’s show is – Y’hear what I’m telling you! – a masterpiece of originality! Jack’s in a class by himself…OOOh, is he ever! Brother, Y’ hear what I’m saying!”
“You guys should all of you, go study Jack’s show – It’s a master class – boys – Y’ hear! it is! and what you can learn from him…and let me now tell you something else: For my money – for an all-around magic show – with nothing left out – ooh! is Jack the best! I ought to know, brother! And if what I’m saying ain’t true Sonny Boy! – then just call me Mendel Beilis!, and I’ll bail out of here for good!”
These vivid and voluble Flosso utterances let loose on the subject of Jack Adams were exhumed by Reiss, and are, of course, characteristic of Al Flosso’s unforgettable and fervent, vinegar besotted badinage with fond sentiment at the core. Flosso was himself sui-generis among the figures in magic.
In conclusion, it would perhaps simplify matters to quote directly from the late Joseph Dunninger, (1892-1975), who was upon his death the last link in the chain of America’s unexampled Master Magicians, commencing from the mid-19th century, a continuum which did terminate with Dunninger’s death in 1975.
Before he died Dunninger compiled an exceedingly select list of those other magicians he most esteemed, and Jack Adams was among the top two he paid tribute.
Of Jack Adams and the elect others, Dunninger declared in his stentorian and powerful voice, “they are the names of the famous conjurers of the 20th century…they are the ones who have contributed their talents to building the ‘Monument to Magic,’ thereby adding their personalities to the foundation [of Magic’s] Hall of Fame.”
Thus Trilling is indeed correct, these journeyman-magicians are of “enormous human significance,” and indelibly among them is Jack Adams.
# # # # #
Jack Adams Promo Tape transferred from VHS.
Interview with magician Peter Samelson
Interview with magician Bradley Fields
Interview with Pat and Jen Adams
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Printer Materials from Jack Adams Archives
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bradley Fields assisting Jack Admas in Promo shot in Tompkins Square Park.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bradley Fields and Jack Adams doing Promo shoot with kids in Tompkins Square Park.
The Department of Fools is back for sloppy seconds! After a successful revival at the PIT of their Fringe NYC hit, A History of Servitude, the Fools are returning to the PIT with their newest Commedia creation: The Tooth-Puller. A fast-paced farce of masked mayhem, The Tooth-Puller is playing at the Peoples Improv Theater (The PIT) from September 29th through November 5
The Tooth-Puller has no script. Instead, in the grand Commedia tradition, using nothing more than an outline the Fools weave together each performance from bits of comic business, song and improvisation. Commedia dell’Arte is the great-grand daddy of modern improv and sketch comedy. Audiences will roar at the goofy goodness of Commedia, which gave birth to the comedy of today!
The Tooth-Puller is a carnivalesque confection wrapped in hallucinogenic treats, sprinkled with dancing octogenarians, with a pinch of dick jokes, dipped in a festive musical fondue, topped with an ever-changing improvised ending, and filled with a creamy center of love and revenge.
The internationally diverse company includes Sylvie Mae Baldwin, Yair Ben-Dor (ABC’s Quantico), Jessenia Cuesta, Matthew A.J. Gregory (Power of Darkness/The Mint), Shira Hadad, Ben Rademacher, Andy Richardson (Newsies & Gypsy – Broadway), Anna Tempte and Rotem Weiner.