Stańczyk during a ball at the court of Queen Bona in the face of the loss of Smolensk by Jan Matejko (1862)

 

Why the long face?

 

It's December 2021, and like every other theatre and artist, we were hit by the C-word in 2020 when all projects, ideas and creative energy were caged like a wasp in a jam jar. During a brief (very brief, but powerful) moment of introspection and retrospection emerged the image of this painting spotted in Warsaw a few years ago. The pensive man in a glorious shade of red - who is about to or has just finished - is Stańczyk, a court jester when Poland was at the height of its political, economic and cultural power during the Renaissance in Poland under the reign of King Sigismund I the Old (reigned 1506–1548). A popular figure, he was a famous jester described as eloquent, witty and intelligent, using satire to comment on the nation's past, present and future. Stańczyk was considered much more than a mere entertainer, however. He was a jester, a clown, an actor and a political commentator. We live (to repeat the zeitgeist phrase) in unprecendented times when the structures, processes and assumptions we took for granted are finally and thankfully being held up to scrutiny. Now we are all court jesters; we are all clowns and our role is to act and to comment, to do and speak out, to represent those inside and outside, both order and disorder, as actors and activists. Like Stańczyk, we are both entertainers and educators, so we must use this time to continue to reflect, entertain, occupy and educate ourselves. It would be a waste of the Great Pause of 2020 to not use the time gifted to us to develop the same clarity of vision, to read, reflect, reconsider and regroup, ready to joyfully subvert. This is only a hiatus, so don't despair. If history has told us anything, the world will always need a clown, so go not gently into that good night. Like a bend in the river this isn't a stop; it's a new direction of creative and generative chaos. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Take the note and improvise. Keep the action going. 

 

 

So, since January 2020, while one half of us continued in our day job in IT security and the other ran a Mexican food van in Dublin ("Tac O'Van"), we've been taking stock and studying, lying in wait like spiders for the next unsuspecting opportunity. We recently finished a Theatre BA, enjoying the new found time to dedicate to a thesis on Pakistani Feminist Theatre and the comparative uses of Carnivalesque in Pakistan and the UK. Many happy hours were spent in email and Skype exchanges with our Sherlock Holmes in a Scandal in Bohemia! co-producers in Pakistan during lockdown, sharing current experiences while also reminiscing through thousands of photos, videos and backstage memories, some of the more presentable on our gallery. This semester was sadly the last of three years of an online Bachelor of Arts at Rose Bruford, during which we've studied the American greats from Eugene O'Neill to David Mamet, enjoyed British classics such as Abigail's Party, physical theatre of DV8, almost every "-ism" on the artistic spectrum and a vast expanse of post-Colonial theatre across the continents and at home. We've travelled the world through our minds, through cultures and through theatre.

 

 

We also completed both part one (2020) and part two (2021) of Clown Studies Course on the History, Theory and Analysis of Clown with the London Clown School. For 24 weeks, we studied the history of clowns and their political, sociological, religious and performative roles in societies across centuries and continents, as shaman, healers, socio-political critics, symbols, substitutes, absurdists, realists and comedians. We broke down the "gag", played with slapstick, assessed the costume, reviewed reels of silent movies and visited the mocking rituals of East Africa. This course is essential for anyone curious to be surprised and entertained by the fascinating cultural anthropology of performance, delivered alongside some fun and familiar comedy footage. 

 

 

Excitedly, and after a few rounds of "fastest finger first" trying to book on to this popular and rapidly sold-out course, we took the Commedia Teachers’ Toolkit course with Learning Through Laughter  in August 2020 to cover exercises and techniques to bring Commedia dell'Arte to life, covering physical characterisation, slapstick, comic devices, stage movement and the historical context of the archetypes.

 

 

We also got involved in Molly's Masquerade, a year long community arts project from St Margeret's House in London, which focused on early LGBTQ+ culture through Molly Houses. ("Molly" being a slang word for a homosexual man, or a lower-class woman who was sometimes a sex worker). ‘‘Molly's Masquerade’’ was a celebration of the unifying features of queer radicals, sex workers and the outsiders who contested the patriarchal, moral attitudes of the time. St. Margaret’s House provided the space, tools and inspiration for a community investigation into the Mollies phenomenon and their relevance to contemporary society. People of all ages and backgrounds were invited to get involved in several workshops and finally, in July 2021, everyone worked towards recreating a big Molly Masquerade ball!

 

 

Lastly, we're also researching and drafting a whole new Music Hall vaudeville spectacular on the Victorian paranormalists and their staged seances...but we're not giving away any tricks of the trade just yet...