Truth! What is it?

Clockwise from Left: La Cita (photo by Melibea Garavito), Giovanni (photo by Craig Behenna), Red Bastard (photo by Justin Bernhaut), Almost Definitely (photo by Julianna Rusakiewicz)
"It's not as big as I thought," observed the clown after he stripped.  This was the second time in one weekend I was treated to a naked penis on stage (no, I will not tell you which performances; it's a surprise).  What better way to reveal powerlessness beneath bravado?  It's a theme I've seen again and again in the NY Clown Theatre Festival, playing until September 28th at the Brick Theatre.   Bravado masks powerlessness, ineptitude masks wit, good masks evil and vice versa for all.  At their most compelling, clowns tell the truth, but I keep wondering what is the real, real truth?

As Giovanni, Hew Parham gives a command performance of a Australian mutt masqueradong...oops...once it's in the mind...masquerading as a passionate Italian waiter.  When he revealed the truth of his origins, I felt sad, deflated with him, until his final rant brought out a deeper truth that connected us all.  All three levels were necessary for the piece to work.  

In an adorable deception, the clown in La Cita expertly pretends to be a forgetful klutz while we catch glimpses of extraordinary skill.  In one of my favorite moments, he  mounts a treacherously rickety ladder as if he is rock climbing, with extravagant attention to the grip of his hands, applying magnesium copiously as he ascends the rungs, only to forget the lightbulb once he gets to the top.  I also saw Almost Definitely, which had beautiful moments of honesty and provocation, but for some reason, I can't remember much of the construct, so I can't weave it into my theme.  

And then there is the Red Bastard. You have to be pretty brave to attend this show because the bastard won't let you get away with passive viewing, or actually, a passive life.  He roams the audience, eyes glittering, scanning for victims.  "What do you want?," he demands, and "5,4,3,2,1,go!" if you make the mistake of hesitating for a moment.  When you do answer, he doesn't leave it at that.  "What do you mean?" he asks, as a therapist might, except this is absolutely the opposite of a safe therapeutic environment.  It is very very dangerous, and people, amazingly, are loving it.  I've never seen the energy at a show so high.  Truth bursts, like jolts of caffeine, infused the audience.

Still jangling from his performance, I showed up for the Bastard's (Eric Davis) workshop pretty much ready for anything.  To get us going, Eric instructed us to do a sun salutation and then follow any impulse arising from one of the poses.  After an exhausting upward dog, I dropped to the floor and found myself rolling around, getting in people's way, something that in real life I worry excessively about.  Just the other night, I embarrassed myself by asking way too many questions at the box office when people were really busy.  Because of my vast expertise in psychology, I know perfectly well what the problem is:  I want attention.  And also, I fear it.  True and conflicting things can cause paralysis, unless you've either mastered zen paradox, or you're a clown, because then you have permission to do both.  I'm huuuuuge.  I'm tiny.  I'm proud.  I'm mortified.

In the workshop, Eric invited us to play with extreme opposites, so I jumped at the chance to juxtapose fear and the desire for glory.  At one point I had my head in a bucket; at another, singing opera, then cringing at what I had done.  I recommend this heartily, sort of like Gestalt therapy on steroids.  But the most important thing I learned is that the audience was more interested in the little truths that slipped out than the ones I constructed and demonstrated.  We do all this insane stuff only to realize that truth, actually, is intimacy.


(Related posts:  PsychoZen of ClownFailure and FreedomFor the Love of ClownsPurpose and PoliticsDemons and Death)

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