Festival Review: Clownifornia

Clownifornia featured two acts, both who trained in California at the SF School for Circus Arts under Jeff Raz. Both acts showed promise, but didn’t quite hit the mark in the show I saw.

A Sudden Gust of Gravity featured NY Clown Jeff Seal as he talks about physics, the universe, and gravity. Jeff has an affable likable presence, and physical chops as a performer, and his premise is amusing (he talks about the two dimensions, and then starts to take “requests” –go left and down!” And when he gets to the third, he straps a large rubberband on and attempts to go back and forward in time. The show never really gets much further than that.

Jeff’s concept is clever, he’s likable, and overall I enjoyed the show. If he can follow through on some of the logical extensions (multiple rubberbands that act as mysterious attractants on the object (him) ), I think he’d get a great physics/science school show out of it, and also be able to tour it as a comedy show to theatres and colleges. But he needs to spend much more time working on the storyline of the show, and make sure that the routines have large enough payoffs/surprises. What if he somehow managed to go back in time, or at least convince us that he had? Or go forward in time? What’s the comic payoff for that, that doesn’t involve winning the lottery or buying microsoft at a dollar? (which are the trite and hackneyed payoffs)

Damsel’s Demise
featured two characters/children/clowns: a girlie girl clown, in love with her mannequin boyfriend, and the tomboy, playing war games in her cardboard fort. The show was created and performed by Suzanne Santos and Summer Shapiro. I saw the first show, and it was the first show of the festival that I saw that was not greeted enthusiastically by the audience. (I’m told by some of the other bloggers that saw both of their shows that the second show was much stronger) I’ve got some thoughts about this.

It’s not that the show didn’t show promise– The opening set, a large moving box with one of the girls in it, next to a mannequin doll was really strong– and their costumes were great. And the idea of their characters seemed good. However (at least for me), a lot of the acting seemed forced- the interactions between the two, their “play” as children, their “hungers” for love and games– none of that seemed true to me or to the audience. And that started a little bit of a deadly spin, as they played harder to make up for the lack of the audience response, their acting seemed more forced, etc. so forth.

The show is a little ambiguous until the end about whether or not they are children playing dress up, or clowns in their own world. They end up (I think) being children playing dress up, and that was a safer (but less interesting) choice.

Also, the show had a lot of content that had potentially “heavy” meaning– gender displacement, the war, illness, love, being spurned, etc. All of that needs a light touch to avoid being cliched or generalized or not well thought out. Unfortunately the light touch wasn’t there that night. There were parts of the show that could have been rubberstamped “Meaningful” on top of the scene.

The girly girl’s first entrance (she comes in very slowly, with several suspicious slow turns) made it seem a little bit more like performance art, and less like a fun clown show. I think if she had made a different entrance– had a different engaging energy to start, I might have followed them more. The tomboy entered with a lot of energy (out of the box) but immediately started playing wargames, and I couldn’t quite follow why.

And then when the tomboy enters, I immediately started to wonder if they were going to be doing some kind of gender-role reversals. But nothing quite happened in that arena (actually I had a thought about midway through the act that it would have been much more interesting if the girlie girl had been played by a man– now we’ve got gender-stuff going on, and in a way that could seem fun and possibly fresh, and not so trite. Of course, now I’m just writing a different play, not the one I saw.

I could see that the performers had done a fair amount of work to create the show, but it didn’t quite gel together for me (or the audience I was in). I’d like to see the show in four months or so (and although I may be writing some other show) I’d love to see the children element pulled out of the show, and the drag element put in.

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