How Many Surrealists Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb? or, Why did the Intellectual Cross the Road and Walk into a Bar?: A collection of over 1,000 cartoons, jokes, and epigrams for the over-educated and cognitively curious (yes, that means you!) as compiled and for the most part understood by John Howard Towsen, Ph.D
Zany. Whacky. Hilarious (Apollinaire-ious?) More than twenty years in the making, author Towsen generously shares his collection of jokes, funny stories, cartoons, limericks, wise sayings, poems, and more. He gives us favorite knock-knock jokes and screw in the lightbulb jokes but, drawing from such creative minds as Mark Twain, Noel Coward, Albert Einstein, Bill Watterson, Leo Cullum, and Groucho Marx, also covers a whole range of subject matter—the meaning of art, mental balance (or was that imbalance?), language and literature, writing, math and science, history, technology, etc. This is definitely a prerequisite for the next history of the world book, so get your copy now (or, better yet, get several; they’re small and make great graduation gifts, just because gifts, or un-birthday presents). In just a few hours you can become smarter and funnier than the guy next door, so how can you resist?
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A fantastically funny collection of jokes and cartoons, some you will know, many will surprise you, it is a hilariously funny collection, well worth reading and then keeping on your shelf to read it again!
Available wherever good books are sold! (And on Amazon.)
Met with Angela Delfini and her director John Towsen at rehearsal today in Williamsburg. Had a great time. John Towsen was kind enough to do the interview. Great hearing all about the show and it’s beginnings along with some history of Angela’s schooling.
Stage manager – Andrea Rossi
Lighting designer – Miguel Suero
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The NY Clown Theatre Festival 2018
September 3 – 23, 2018
The NY Clown Theatre Festival returns to celebrate 12 years in Brooklyn!
The NY Clown Theatre Festival is New York’s preeminent biennial, international Clown Theatre festival since its inception in 2006.
Drifting Off, created & performedby Beth Leonard & Sarah Pope aka SarahBesque & Bethford
Curios by Phyllis Chen, performed by Margaret Leng Tan
Clown Band, performed by Becca Bernard, Alex Orthweinand Julia
The NY Office of the Professions is Trying to Kill Me, created by Amanda Erin Miller, directed by Carol Lee Sirugo.
September 20, @ 7pm
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Angela Delfini Explains It All For You: A ¾-Woman Show
September 8 – 23, 2018
Created by Angela Delfini & John Towsen
Straight from Barcelona, Toronto, and La Spezia, meet Italy’s greatest export, personality pioneer Dr. Angela Delfini, and her nervous but brave subject, Estrella. Join them on a clownesque five-step recovery program full of unique challenges and you-can’t-go-home-again transformations. Can the maniacally confident Delfini get the stuck-in-beta Estrella to dance and laugh her way to version 2.0 and beyond?? Probably, but not without your help!
“Amazing talent” — La Stampa (Torino, Italy)
Saturday, September 8 @ 7pm Tuesday, September 11 @ 7pm Sunday, September 23 @ 2pm
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September 6 – 23, 2018
Written and performed by Lee Minora Directed by Scott Sheppard
Lady Elizabeth Edwards has been making art in solitude. You are the first people she’s seen in a decade- and you are a complete disappointment! This is CHEEKS: a brutal clown show that melds contemporary stand-up bouffon clown and hands-on audience play. Laugh through your fear while this one-woman beast sucks the marrow from your funny bone all while taking on the tropes of our most revered female artists. No one is safe in this weapons-grade comedy, where everything is up for grabs – except her p*ssy. CHEEKS is Jane Austen with a handgun.
Thursday, September 6 @ 7pm Friday, September 21 @ 7pm Saturday, September 22 @ 5pm
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September 17 – 19, 2018
Created & performed by Anka Wojtkowiak-Williams (Poland) and Jim Williams (USA)
Liquidmime is Polish clown duo Jim Williams and Anka Wojtkowiak-Williams, whose characters exist in a live-action comic world. Liquidmime combines mime, clown, sound effects, puppetry, improvisation, and a healthy dose of “black and red” humor into hilarious, thought-provoking sketches.
‘Is dead’ (in Polish: “Nie zyje”) dives boldly headfirst into the topic of death, from overprotective mothers to modern work-a-day life, to the true hazards of smoking, touching on situations everyone can relate to but few dare to speak of.
Winner of the grand prize and audience choice award at the 27th edition of PAKA and the 32nd edition of Lidzbark Evening of Humor and Satire, and the 5th edition of SZPAK comedy festival, ‘Is Dead’ will make its premiere in the United States at the New York Clown Theater Festival.
Anka Wojtkowiak-Williams is a trained pantomime actress, clown, and performer. She began her career with Teatr Formy, performing in Poland and abroad. She is also a member of IMPROKRACJA, one of the premier improv groups in Poland. When she is not performing on stage, Anka is Artistic Director and works as a professional Medical Clown as part of Czerwone Noski – Klown w Szpitalu (Polish branch of Red Noses International).
Jim Williams is a professional performer, actor, writer, clown, mime, and stand-up comedian. He began performing internationally when he was 21 and has worked with such groups as KAPOOT (Chicago, IL, USA), Chicago Clown Care Unit of the Big Apple Circus, and Interkunst (Berlin, Germany). As a stand-up comedian, Jim performs across Poland and Europe both in English and in Polish. He is also the national trainer and works as a professional Medical Clown as part of Czerwone Noski – Klown w Szpitalu.
Monday, September 17 @ 7 pm Wednesday, September 19 @7 pm
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Jeff and Buttons Entertain an Audience
September 13 – 17, 2018
Created and performed by Jeff Seal and Chris Manley.
Jeff and Buttons will entertain their audience by performing their new show entitled J“eff and Buttons Entertain An Audience. ” Their show consists of lots of new but also some old material which will be performed for an audience with the express purpose of entertaining said audience. It should be an entertaining night of performing!
“Jeff and Buttons had me laughing so hard that I was literally wheezing.” – The Happiest Medium
“Their material is so stupid it becomes profound and refreshing” – MaskedArts.com
Thursday, September 13 @ 7pm Sunday, September 15 @ 4pm Monday, September 17 @ 9pm
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Look at What We Found
September 5 – 8, 2018
Created & performed by Tommy Galan, Kasey Pearl-Lee, Christina Perry, Amber Largent & Lauren Flynn
Look At What We Found is a theatrical improvised clown performance that invites the audience into a world where they can let go of their rigid adult lives, surrender to play, and find the joy and magic they left behind as children. The clowns begin with the stage and theater as their blank canvas, and with one brush stroke of stupidity at a time they build a tapestry of games, play, interaction and fun. Together, clowns and audience will Look At What We Found!
Wednesday, September 5 @ 9 pm Saturday, September 8 @ 3 pm
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September 10 – 12, 2018
Created & performed by Helen Gutowski
This is a performance in which the clown, named Melon Head, does indeed have a melon on her head. She tries to get it off in hilariously bizarre ways, eventually succeeding with a prat-fall. Later, she encounters 2 other fruits and uses these items in unusual and silly ways, ultimately exemplifying the joy of play, the fun of fruits and veggies, and that love is really awesome.
Monday, September 10 @ 7pm Wednesday, September 12 @ 8pm
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The Mysterious Magical Brandishers of Magic!
Monkey Do International
September 15 – 18, 2018
Primary Artist: Written/Created/Performed by Pratik Motwani (India), James Peck (UK), Sarah Peters (USA).
The Mysterious Magical Brandishers of Magic! is a Daredevil Style Freak Show performed by a hilariously mystical, intercontinental and intergalactic clown trio. This dangerously funny clown show is packed with mysteriously hilarious physical comedy that uses the ancient art of sorcery as means to tickle your funny bones. A magical world in which the spectacular successes and epic failure’s serve only one purpose – Laughter and Entertainment of the audience. The show involves amusingly bemusing mass hypnosis and precariously hilarious audience participation in acts such as The Board of Doom, The Bed of Nail and The Balls of Steel!
Saturday, September 15 @ 6pm
Sunday, September 16 @ 1pm Tuesday, September 18 @ 7pm
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A Terrible Show for Terrible People
September 8 – 12, 2018
Created & performed by Bonnie He.
A Terrible Show for Terrible People is a raunchy and rambunctious solo clown performance that is both boner- and vomit-inducing.
In her East Coast premiere at the NY Clown Theatre Festival, physical comedian Bonnie He takes the audience on a flirtatious journey from death to rebirth, opening a voyeuristic window into personal tragedy, triumph, and titillation. Mostly titillation. TIT-illation.
The show isnonverbal but fiercely interactive. The audience is complicit, and that’s what makes A Terrible Show so riveting: you’re not just watching a show – you’re participating in the destruction of common decency.
Saturday, September 8 @ 5 pm Monday, September 10 @ 9 pm Wednesday, September 12 @ 7 pm
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September 14 – 16, 2018
Performed, created and directed by Inda Pereda.
Inda Pereda’s hilarious one-man show uses physical comedy, sound, and mime to build a wild, imaginary dreamscape bound up in exciting, ridiculous and grotesque situations -*ahem* emergency operations, unusual body musicals, the happy birth of mutant beings – and populated by a host of crazy universal characters – *err* annoyed Japanese samurais and happy cows.
Through sheer spectacle and audience participation, TRAPPED unlocks a place where surreal worlds converge with nonsense, where irreverent moments lead to transcendent beauty.
“Inda Pereda made me giggle, snort, guffaw and squirm around in my seat. What a fun show. Go!” RED BASTARD
Friday, September 14 @ 7pm Saturday, September 15 @ 2pm Sunday, September 16, @ 5pm
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September 8 – 16, 2018
Directed by Elizabeth Baron Performed by Kaitlin Kaufman.
When the country feels like it’s going to shit, politicians are corrupt out of their butts and everything on our newsfeed makes us feel nauseous and/or constipated, it’s time we turn to poets like Penelope for answers. Penelope is a naive, vibrant, affable, surprisingly aggressive, toe-tapping clown who is in intense love and extremely angry at her country. She’s over the ol’ U.S. of A and its veiled promises and pledges. In a surprisingly loving patriotic foray, Penelope delivers an imaginative, universal spectacle about levity through anger, forgiveness through pain, pride through shame, connection through fear that straight-up defibrillates our human hearts.
Saturday, September 8 @ 1pm Tuesday, September 11 @ 9pm Sunday, September 16 @ 3pm
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(Very) Physical Comedy Workshop
September 15 – 16, 2018
Taught by John Towsen!
For all those who want to make their comedy more physical or their physicality funnier, a crash course in physical comedy vocabulary and its application for clowns, actors, mimes, dancers, and circus & variety artists. You will be introduced to a wide variety of slapstick skills centered around your own physicality, playing with partners, and reimagining the world of objects, as chairs, tables, hats, coats, plates, and doors take on new life in your comedic hands. We’ll combine these techniques with character, gag structure, and story to create new comedy material. Rare archival video footage will be screened, and resources for further exploration of physical comedy will be provided. Some performance experience and a reasonably sound body highly recommended, but all ages, body types, and levels of experience welcome.
JOHN TOWSEN is the founder and director of the New York City Physical Comedy Lab and was a founder and artistic director of the first NY Clown-Theatre Festival. He is widely recognized as an author, director, producer, performer, and teacher in clown, physical comedy, and allied arts. He has toured shows nationally and internationally and has taught full-length courses at Princeton, Juilliard, and NYU, and workshops in over a dozen countries. His 1976 book, Clowns: A Panoramic History, is still considered to be the standard work on the subject, and his blog All Fall Down: The Art & Craft of Physical Comedy (physicalcomedy.blogspot.com), is widely read by practitioners in the field.
Saturday & Sunday, Sept. 15 and 16 10am-4pm each day
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Devising and Creating Clown
September 8 – 9, 2018
London Clown School teacher Jon Davison teaches a 2-day workshop, culminating in a performance Sunday night at 6 pm!
JON DAVISON has been a clown performer, teacher, director and writer for the last 30 years. He taught clown, improvisation and acting at the Institut del Teatre de Barcelona from 1996-2006 when he became a co-founder of the Escola de Clown de Barcelona.
From 2007-2010 he was an AHRC-funded Creative Fellow investigating contemporary clown/actor training at Central School of Speech and Drama, where he obtained his Ph.D. in Clown Performance Practice and is now Visiting Lecturer.
He has performed at festivals, theatres, tents, streets and bars throughout Europe, and is currently artistic director of the clown/circus/pantomime company Stupididity.
He has published two books, Clown: Readings in Theatre Practice (2013) and Clown Training – a practical guide (2015), both with Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the London Clown School, the only provider of regular clown workshops in the UK currently.
Saturday, September 8 from 10 am to 4 pm Sunday, September 9 from 10 am to 4 pm
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September 23, 2018
Mourn the passing of the clown festival. Bear it if you can. It died too young. Will any eulogy suffice?
To Commemorate the Birthday of Yury Belov I present this remembrance of his first NY show!
“My Heart is in your Shoe” – The Clown Conspiracy
The cast, crew of show and family members of Yury Belov.
John Grimaldi(Left kneeling), Joe Killian(Green shirt), Tanya Belov(Center), Jan Greenfield, and Fred Yockers (Front Right kneeling)
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We landed in the USA at the end of March of 1981 and our Show “My Heart is in your Shue” was premiered in October of 1981! YES, WOW!!!! What a joy that was! What a wonderful and talented and generous people Yury and had a pleasure to work with!
Big Thanks to John Towsen and Hovey Burgess for their Friendship, Jim R. Moore for his great Photo, and of course The Theatre for the New City! That was Yury Belov’s first Directing job in the USA! And that was my a very first acting experience on the American stage with American actors! Thanks to our Lucky Stars and to everyone who believed in us!
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Tanya and Joe with the great ‘plate routine’
The unique clowning of Fred Yockers.
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I met Yury in Hoboken at the circus school there. I suggested that he contact some NYC clowns, including Karen Gersch.
When Yury started classes at If Every Fool, John Towsen’s studio, Yury asked me to help out and how could I not? The classes were interesting and enlightening! Yury would sometimes reproach me, saying “John. Too much Stanislavsky. Clown!”
When Yury wanted to have a show in NYC, I asked Chrystal Field at Theater for the New City (where I had recently done a one-man show, “Swimming in the Sky – A Fool’s Travels”) if she would be interested in Yury’s show and she was!
Once the show was booked, I called someone I knew a little at the Village Voice and touted Yury’s story, which came out under the title “The Clown who came in from the Cold.” We had full houses for the first run of the show. Better than the houses for my one-man show!
Rehearsals for the show, “My Heart is in Your Shoes” were exciting and expanded my understanding of clowning and performing! Performing with Tanya was a joy and I must mention our wonderful Stage Manager, Jeff Gordon, who went on to fame and glory in the Big Apple Circus!
PS: The bubbles in that cast photo were my idea. Some others in the cast thought that was too clichéd! Ah, the power of bubbles!
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jim- great photos..seeing what you’ve archived is quite impressive..feeling I should connect into my inner clown a little more often..please keep me informed of any interesting clowning that comes your way..with regard to Yuri. I remember quite vividly meeting Yuri in the studios of if every fool..he was quite the misfit, all over the place with some very revolutionary visions of how clowning should meld with our everyday lives..I always thought Tanya (his wife) was the real genius behind the so-called genius..I had the pleasure of doing a duo with her..our creative minds really connected when we had the chance to explore our concept of clown..she was very grounded where Yuri was very kinetic and sometimes scattered..in the beginning, Yuri ask me to assemble a group of clowns that was talented enough to execute his ideas..I remember John Grimaldi first turning onto Yuri and he I think brought him into the confines of “if every fool”..the rehearsals were very chaotic, expressive and totally a surprise..but without the talented group that was assembled Yuri would have never been able to get “my heart is in your shoes” off the ground..I hope I’ve helped you out..it’s amazing to me after all these years clowning is still part of the road we travel by..Jim, I can’t comment on the photo because I don’t see it on your blog you sent me..please keep in touch and I’m hoping we’ll see one another real soon.. a happy new year..be well..god bless.
The NYC Physical Comedy Lab —or “fiz com lab” for short— is not a class, not a workshop, but a jam of practitioners in a field that includes clowns, circus and variety artists, dancers, mimes, comic actors, etc. Different people come each week, and out-of-town guests are always welcome. We share warmups, games, improvs, skills, gags, and works-in-progress. Very little is planned, every week is different, but usually, one idea leads to another to another and we arrive somewhere new.
We usually create some kind of a scenario by the end of the 3 hours combining the skills worked on that day.
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I think of it as a research lab, meaning we are free to explore whatever without the time constraints of a workshop intensive or of a show about to open. We don’t have to jump to a final product but can just aimlessly play with objects and movement to see what we might discover. During Jim’s visit, we did a warmup with different people leading different stretches, then played a wild and wacky movement game involving all kinds of objects and patterns, then had a knife-throwing lesson from magician Ben Robinson, which had everyone channeling their inner Jim Bowie or Davy Crockett.
Then we continued last week’s experiment with repeating patterns of people and objects passing through our MTW (modular trickwork wall), only this time we transferred the concept to more of a story, a sort of human Rube Goldberg machine, a high-speed mechanical restaurant with Ben Model as our repeat customer.
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For more information and location of the lab check out the Facebook Page HERE!
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.
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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.
Dimitri from Switzerland; Menagerie Mime Theatre from San Francisco; Mamako from Tokyo; Noel Parenti from San Francisco; Peter Franklin-White with members of the Elmhurst Ballet School from Surrey, England; Ladislav Fialka and hisTheatre on the Balustrade from Prague; Carlo Mazzone-Clementi from California; Antonin Hodek also from California; Lotte Goslar and her Pantomime Circus from New York; Robert Shields and Lorene Yarnell from San Francisco; the Charles Weidman Dance Company from New York; Yass Hakoshima from Japan; Ctibor Turba from Prague; Samuel Avital from Israel and Colorado; Mummenschanz from Switzerland; Geoffrey Buckley from England; The Friends Roadshow from Michigan; and Pierre Byland and Philippe Gaulier, from Switzerland and France.
For a good read about what this festival was about check out John Towsen’s blog ALL FALL DOWN.
John Towsen’s CLOWNS book” width=”530″ height=”791″ />
I had a hardcover copy and ended up giving it to Slava when he came to town with Cirque de Soleil. John also happened to be one of the coproducers of the First NY Clown Theater Festival in 1983. Here is an NY Times review.
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For more writing by John H. Towsen visit his blog which is devoted to physical comedy. ALL FALL DOWN.