(Photo by Devon de Mayo. Pictured: Seth Bockley, Madeleine Sierra Carrascal, Artús Chávez, Fernando Cordova)
By Seth Bockley, Writer/ Director/ Performer in Chicago; and Devon de Mayo, Director in Chicago; recipients of the GLOBAL CONNECTIONS / ON the ROAD grant
We started our journey with the ON the ROAD grant on September 15th. Artús Chávez with his collaborators Fernando Cordova and Madeleine Sierra Carrascal traveled from Mexico City to Chicago for ten days of workshops. The initial concept was that the three of them would be performing a clown play about the theme of violence, written by Seth and directed by Devon. Before the trip, we had shared ideas and some research, but we really got in the room starting from scratch for the most part. We needed to learn about each other’s style of performance, rehearsal expectations, ways of working, etc. The first days were spent teaching each other games and exercises in order to learn one another’s process, focusing on clown techniques and vocabulary. Then, we started to sketch characters, stories and situations. Quickly, our original idea of defining artistic roles flew out the window, and the work became about the five of us creating a performance together (though with the three Mexicans remaining as sole performers for now.)
Artús , Madeleine and Fernando are all fluent in English, Spanish and French, so we worked mostly in English with some scenes in Spanish and some in French. The language aspect of the show became a major feature that we didn’t expect. Originally, we expected a physical show with little dialogue, but working with performers in their second language (English) proved to be a great source of material. They are able to make hilarious jokes about the English language that only a non-native speaker would think up: plays on words, jokes about the sounds of words, puns using conjugation and verb tenses. The use of both verbal and physical language became a way to communicate each particular joke. Is this particular moment more effective in English, Spanish, French or without words at all?
We were able to ask ourselves dynamic questions about performance and audience comprehension while working across languages. Though many clowns avoid language altogether, we found it to be one of our most powerful tools. This is all allowing for the piece to poke fun at Mexican and American culture in a great way, while also creating a wonderful universal quality since three languages appear throughout what we’ve created so far (and it could be argued that not knowing any of the three languages is inessential to understanding the play because of the physical storytelling as well.)
We are now building a show that utilizes three verbal languages as well as a rich physical and theatrical vocabulary that seems to defy the clown genre. While using a lot of words, we also seek, in the spirit of clown, the sense of nonsense, an international language of the ridiculous.