Monday, October 21, 2019

Whimsey modules a group request...

Theatre consists of three primary elements

Form being the appearance/ look/ style

Content being that which takes place that can be described

Performance being an amalgam of form and content in space and time. The quality of rendering if you will.

For the moment we’ll dispense with the gargantuan hypothesis that everything from Banking to Politics to the expression of individual and collective consciousness itself is theatre and focus on a certain type of content or rather a certain framework in which an element of content in performance can be filed, retrieved, unwrapped, modified [via form and additional content] and utilised.

A ‘bit’ in clown and comedy terms is a set-up then release, the smallest element in the construction of fully formed comedy. ‘Bits’ are stand alone comic elements that can be strung together to form shows and bits can be layered to form ‘acts’. Bits can also be broken down into constituent actions and reactions but a bit is the smallest comically whole unit.

This isn’t about that.

This is about a framework one macro level above a bit and could be the framework in which a whole performance piece or part of a whole performance piece resides.

I’m going to attempt to explain the concept of ‘whimsy modules’ and the provide a small list of practitioners and also some open source modules as examples and training/creative impulse tools.

Whimsey modules are performances based usually on an eccentric or surreal or whimsical premise.

My stilt/clown character ‘Lurk’ for example is built of the premise that the character is reluctantly trapped in the clown form and my entire performance revolves around that frustration and dissatisfaction.

I’m a high status individual trapped in a low status form. 

That’s a pretty sophisticated and pretentious premise. It suits me as an individual and is the primary reason my clown is accepted as authentic by audiences.

But the premises used to construct whimsy modules can range from complexity down to far more simple foundations and I could argue that the foundations of whimsey modules are all simple in origin and it’s only the addition of various form and performance that adds to their potential complexity.

My character for example is simply unhappy. But has to reluctantly perform. That’s the premise stripped bare.

Which I think is interesting for students and performers wishing to develop new pieces because whereas ‘clown’ is heavily married to form the concept of whimsy modules allows exploration of form within self sustaining comic installations.

Some examples of practitioners of this type of installative comic performance and some history.

My clown teacher Alan Clay brought up a potential exercise wherein small theatric productions could conceivably be produced in the time and space allowed by automated pedestrian crossings.

This was what I would now call a whimsy module.

Rob Maclaren and I played on stilts with several variations using large 4 way pedestrian crossings in NZ’s largest city Auckland. We presumed we had invented pedestrian cross theatre, and perhaps we did.

Rob then went to Tokyo and was detained in Shibuya by police on stilts in the middle of one of the worlds largest pedestrian crossings. They took him aside and asked him what he thought he was doing and he answered. 
“I’m from New Zealand, this is pedestrian cross theatre , we do it at home.”
They said, 
“Well you can’t do it here.”   And let him go. 

Years later I met John Ullyatt who, among many things is an accomplished installative conceptional comic and who at the street theatre fest that year had spent 10 days as a roving Dung Beetle. 

What I like about whimsy modules in general is they are modular. You can outline them to another artist and they can come up with their own creative flavours. I loved what John Ullyatt was doing and told him about the pedestrian cross theatre. The next year he had adapted his own applications of it in 2 or 3 experimental forms the best by far being the fantastic 5 person piece, “Moses the crossing guard"

Around 12 years ago I performed for the opening of an eccentric bar in NZ called 'The Wunderbar'.
I spent a week gluing various lengths of cassette tape to a pair of overalls for my costume and had a friend who ran a hang-gliding business rig me in a harness and suspend me from the top of the building with all the safety requirements met. I spent the evening floating around , pushing off the building and workshopping the movement qualities of my situation.

The next year I was in Edmonton again and John Ullyatt picked my brain for more interesting things.
 When I told him about my suspension work he got excited. The next year he and his partner Annie Dugan spent part of the festival dressed as fashion critics, hanging from a building with pen and paper and writing down compliments and fashion advice for specific passers by before scrunching the paper into balls and throwing it down to those concerned.

So now I’m going to list a series of ‘whimsy modules’ that can be used as creative impulses or even simply as is.

I’m aware that this just a beginning and will be trying to structure something online that others in my performance fraternity might look to add to.
Additionally I’m aware that as creative impulses fully formed in of themselves they might also have a kind of anthropological power in terms of universals.
In the same way that ’the trickster’ is a universal and creates itself under different guises in different cultures, Coyote/Raven/ Reynard the Fox/Br’er Rabbit/Peter Rabbit/Bugs Bunny, pan cultural Clown concepts basically so perhaps a collection of whimsy modules could collectively underline that which makes us all delight even as our collective extinction looms.


I’ll start by listing what I consider to be generic whimsy modules, then move onto some I’ve produced and I’d like as much further input in increasing this generic list as I can get.
I define generic as pieces I’ve seen over the years put on by different people over at least three renditions. That to me signals they are as far out in the public domain as they need to be without stepping on anyones artistic toes and also considering I’ve a 30+ year time spent out in the field the originators of these modules are not likely to be too attached to them I’m guessing.


Initially called ‘crate slugs’ dating back to their alcoholic beginnings in Amsterdam in the 70s the interactive flavour of statue work has created some quite captivating shows with meaningful and authentic performance chops when done well. Silver Elvis and Invisible John from Invisible Circus as well as Kate Mior have each used the form as a base from which to create their own distinct styles.

A module in which one or two roving V.I.P’s are escorted in public by a number of performance bodyguards/security personnel, who interact with the public in character while shadowing and protecting their clients.


An object, a roving rubbish tin, a lamppost, a bus-stop display, is monitored and ‘voiced’ by someone skilled at improvisation and interacts with passers by. 

Various practitioners create performances out of the production of large or large scale bubbles. It has an intrinsic whimsical property. It requires a mixture of performance skills and applied science as air pressure, altitude and other factors go into the production of the mixtures used for each site specific performance. 

The man who opens his coat to reveal an entire theatre stage,
I need help as I had his name once but have lost it, he's european.

Anthony Livingspace,
Cannot be copied, embodies clown and generosity and a completely true to himself rendition of what entertainment unconstrained contains.

Street poets.
30 years ago there was a guy in Bourke street mall who sat on a stool and you gave him some money and your name and he would write a poem about you. when he had finished he had a stepladder he would climb to read the new poem. he gave you a copy and kept a carbon copy for himself.
There are now many variations of this form. just google street poet.
There's a lovely woman who bravely does erotic public poems on the street, I think she calls it street smut, help me out with a name please.

I’ll leave it to others to add to this initial list of generic examples. I’m not trying to create a compendium of other peoples acts, it makes people bristle I’ve found.

I’d like to add that I’ve always found and have experimented pan culturally to confirm my suspicions, that whimsy is a key.
What it unlocks, in my 55 years I have yet to fully solve but I suspect it’s ethereal and I presume profound. I also suspect cognitive leaps outwardly absurd that contain immediately resonant lighthearted emotional states  will be one of the last human elements an AI can master,  so if it can be quantified with any clarity then it could be a canny career choice for any budding romantic masochists.


I’ll  list some various modules I’ve come up with over the years, most of which have been produced but others are just laying round latent and I’d encourage anyone to have at them. 


  • The reluctant clown on stilts module is my largest body of work. I eat time in public using an aggressive attitude. Good luck reproducing my style but the module itself is wide open for exploration.

  • Pedestrian cross theatre.
Exploits the short time period available that produces a public space in the middle of an intersection for a specific regular period.

  • Suspended instigative characters.
Requires a certified rigger who suspends you from a building above paying pedestrian traffic. Examples have been fashion critic as well as various visual standalone pieces.

  • Wall People
Characters [Two] who exist via the premise that they have to have a wall at their back, started out as a clown exercise and evolved into various set pieces.

An absurd street theatre premise when in two businessmen compete in catching flys in public using a dead fish and a fly swat .

  • Apartment intercom theatre 
An arrangement wherein a spotter leans out a window of an apartment building and yells a description of an approaching pedestrian to a second person manning the security intercom, along with a countdown such that a passing pedestrian is accosted while passing an empty doorway. Ie, "hey you with the red hair, I love/hate your shoes”

A fully scripted non verbal 30 min interplay between a waiter and a food critic performed in over 20 restaurants.


Some of these are initially fully realised conceptionally with beginnings middles and ends, well one at least, [designer droppings]
Others are more just open ended whimsical shells.

  • Public musical doppler- doppelgänger  
An installation in which multiple guitarists, synchronised via a shared phone based metronome and staggered at set distances within a public place, play the same music.  The purpose is to create an ‘uncanny valley’ atmosphere as pedestrians travel from one sound zone into the next.

CAST--6 performers plus 2 technical support crew.
Designer Droppings is a large scale installation set publicly involving preemptive cordoning by 4/6 comic quantifying technicians in response to a huge blob of foam forming at the top of a building.
The quantifying technicians, after securing the area, use clipboards, measuring tape, lightmeters, video, Polaroid, thermometer,hand held crowd counter etc to measure and record as much of the process as possible.
The blob is designed to grow to a specific volume before tipping under its own weight and falling to the street below.
(There is always the danger, if not the distinct possibility, that one or more technicians might be under the foam when it falls.)
The technicians, after inspection, transfer all remaining traces of foam using wheelbarrows, shovels,a spoons, various other implements etc. into one standard size sack.
The area is finally designated clear and the technicians, without explanation, pack up and leave. (alternatively there could follow an exhaustive series of curtain calls.)
TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS-- Between 1-3 foam making machines need to be provided, also roadworking safety accessories, (hard-hats, traffic cones, etc)
Technically, and quite self evidently this performance can only take place in windless conditions.
Variations can be made in size, colour and consistency of foam.
SUGGESTED APPLICATIONS--Festivals, alongside Corporate buildings, other.
Two performers, each with dartboards attached to their heads take turns playing darts against each other literally. [The dartboards can be swivelled away from the face for the active gamer and across the face for the dartboard being played]

  • Coin operated Iron Lung

The concept

I am going to invent a character, at this stage I'm only certain about his last name 'Mielniczek' [from Peter ex Hoopals last name]
He is a refugee from eastern europe and the last individual still contained within an iron lung. [from this point on I'll refer to that object as 'IL' because i want to avoid google searches concerning it]
He is a writer with a fatalistic view of the world and is engaged in a world wide book reading tour from within his IL.
he reads in public, his IL is coin powered and he has instructed his medical staff not to interfere with the process in which his IL is powered by coins dropped into the generator that powers his IL.
He is miked up and amplified, there is a gauge on the side of his IL that registers the status of the power supply. It goes from green to brown to red. [There is a smaller version of the same gauge visible to him]
as the gauge dips into the brown and then red his breath becomes laboured and his voice strains to keep reading.
I would like this piece to be performed at a ten day festival, I would have ringers in place to make sure i did not die in the first three days, long enough to get publicity, after three days I'd like to experiment with survival.
Income would come from the coins and also I would have my book available to sell nearby.

Lots of mentions, 

CONCLUSION….as this letter is an attempt at getting some dribs and dabs or an untetherered fire hose as a group exercise.
What other whimsey modules have you thought up or come across in your travels that you believe warrants some place in the pantheon/potential wiki of conceptual public/private installation whimsey?




I first met my friend the Dung-beetle in Edmonton Canada, 
at the annual Edmonton International Street Performance Festival.
I could go on at length about Shelley, it's director and the ear to the ground
casting that see's ten days of set piece and roving and amalgams of each, 
pepper a huge downtown outdoor plaza artfully
and I could also go on about it's creator Dick Finkle and the culture he created
wherein lonely performance eccentrics were showered with 
respect and coddled 
in a language they understood 
and luxury they were not used to, 
[although everyone pretended it was normal] 
wherein they were flown, 
put up at the Sheraton and scheduled in front 
of active curious Canadians, 
to ply their studied performance affectations for donations.
Because I'm all about the Dung-beetle, those other things can wait.
Sometimes, very rare, you find someone who's applied whimsy 
is a form of magic.
The dung-beetle was a character who existed for 10 days, 
he dressed as a bug. 
He had antenna and looked like a featherweight bumblebee. 
For ten days he pushed his ball, a 5 foot ball covered in 
layers of post-it notes. 
The notes read, 'rent due' 'my husband doesn't love me, 
'My milk went off' 
"I'm socially awkward'.
He would have post-it note pads, stuck to the front of his costume 
and for ten days introduce himself.
"Hi, I'm a dung beetle, I collect [sotto] shit."
"Here's a pen, heres a post-it, write down the shit in your life 
and I'll add it to my ball."
So it went for ten days, the ball got bigger and bigger, cumulative 'shit'
That was the Dung-beetles role..
It was an all weather role, if it rained and most of the other performers 
deferred the Dung-beetle would be one of the few 
pushing his ball and stopping people wearing raincoats 
to explain himself.
It rained a little more, mud pools formed, the Dung- beetle 
was in his element.
"I'm a dung-beetle!", he would exclaim before belly- flopping muddily. 
through puddles triumphantly.
He had found a unique place in the performance eco- system.
resilient, reflective, whimsical and deep, 
he existed to collect shit and celebrate that.
Truly a mastermind.
We talked, the next year he took my idea of pedestrian crossing theatre 
as we had first practiced it in NZ and had created, 
'Moses, the crossing guard'.
But that's another story.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Part of the reason why Clown is irrelivant .

I have to, as any astute critical person would do, evaluate my perspective within the time honoured narrative of a young person who ages and eventually dies.

We all think our youth was the shit.

We all tend to cling to that as we age and bitch and moan about the good old days.
Then we die, our voice, that only really meant anything to ourselves is smothered and the cycle continues with each successive youthful spectrum rediscovering how much fun can be had within the loose decade 16-26. If we reproduce we have a captive audience.

I believe all that’s changed, I believe optimism is by and large now a glandular defense mechanism. I believe now that existential despair has bled out from a temporary goth or punk teenage angst envelope to the world at large and the foundations of the collective hallucination that late stage capitalism we are all witting or otherwise members of has fractured and 21st century first world culture is now a game of musical chairs played by each individual wearing wireless headphones wherein the last headphones who’s battery dies looses last.

 20th century was lives of quiet desperation whereas 21st century it’s all about temporary distractive volume. 
The alternative being a suicidal despair only mitigated by curiosity. 
There’s no collective future imaginable to anyone who’s spent more than a couple of percent of their average mental capacity dwelling on it. 

So as a species we collectively descend into a post nihilistic, post rational drowning senility while individually we each cling to narratives fed to us designed to distract. 

The last 100 years have been us walking out onto the still wet sands looking at the pretty shellfish as the waters receded and now faced with an oncoming wave and a insurmountable race back to theoretical higher ground we choose to distract ourselves with our mobile phones and our sacrosanct self referential digital distractions as internet aunties. Like 'Tut tut' will save us.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Choir Choir Choir

I think this qualifies as whimsicological.

There's a bar in Toronto where people gather twice a week to form a choir and render pop classics.

They practice arrangements then jam out their finished version.

They have attracted big names like Rick Ashley and Colin Hay [Men at work]

and have expanded to larger venues and different guest cities.

There's something profound at the heart of collective voices.

Something larger than aural mathematics which on the face of it is all music is.

I find it all very attractive and easily modular. I'd jump at the opportunity to participate in musical cells such as these.

You need a couple of competent musicians and someone proficient at designing vocal arrangements.

Here's some examples.

There's something here. A powerful community and communing essence.

Art unites. Art creates empathy.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Work is love made visible.

I spent some time in Connecticut and so, being a curious clown, looked at the historical mental frameworks of the area. So Quakers and Shakers and Mennonites and their various philosophies. I liked the Shakers the best because although they were a sponge that allowed a lot of WW1 widows a safe refuge socio-economically, they were into dancing as a collective permission of individual expression.

One thing each of these judio-christian entities shared was a quite simple applicable concept which was.

Work is love made visible.

Here's a lovely poem by Kahlil Gibran who was a Poet, painter, writer, philosopher, theologian, visual artist and Maronite with a side order of mysticism of the Sufis who was kinda a big deal back in the day. He lived from 1883 to 1931.

"On Work"
You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life's procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth's furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life's inmost secret.
But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.
You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, "He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet."
But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Whimsy-School project...thoughts

A project named Whimsy-school designed to facilitate social and cultural agency in the population and inner city of Christchurch NZ as part of it's rebuilding after earthquakes and terrorism.

My name is Martin Ewen, originally a Christchurch native I have spent the last 30+ years as a successful international Clown soloist. I was privileged to travel extensively and my focus has always been the pan-cultural and sociological ability of street theatre to enhance and enrich cultures although I have also worked commercially in NZ Australia Japan China Canada Singapore the US and Europe.

I'm a layman in the strictest of terms not having any formal tertiary education however I have travelled to many cities internationally and as part of my occupation I gathered local populations and initiated play with them and gained a collective sense of their cultures as it related to playfulness. I was personally convinced that whimsy had a collective cultural value. This would be evidenced to me via occasional personal profound admissions by deeply depressed individuals who braved admissions of gratitude at rediscovering laughter and also occasional letters written by people who had watched me over days and were compelled to anonymously leave me their thoughts on what they thought about a collective illumination my work produced.
Further I was aware that there was a range of performances internationally only some of which contained this type of comic incandescence and over 30 years I tried to discover and befriend as many of these strange wonderful practitioners as I could.

NZ and Australia among english speaking countries has always harbored a certain public reticence which, presenting a challenge was always all the more rewarding when this reluctance to participate collectively and publicly was overcome. I dedicated time and energy into helping evolve the street theatre festivals in Christchurch,Wellington and Auckland in the late 90's and also was the first international resident street performer in Perth Australia for 4 years during that period.

Ideally I wanted to base myself in Christchurch and did attempt to do so but the population seemed simply not large enough to support ongoing street theatre.
Personally I have spent the last decade based in Hawaii however last year was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and with a couple of months to live returned home because I was told that's what you do in these situations. Now a year later due to the superior state of NZ health services I am cancer free and recovering from a major operation. As such I have decided to focus on NZ in my last years.

Commercial viability and cultural viability are distinctly unique and a point I wish to make is that the cultural worth of whimsy in my opinion in it's ability to rejuvenate and empower and help communities celebrate themselves outweighs in large part immediate profit and loss considerations in favor of longer term goals inclusive of rebuilding the heart of a physically broken and sociologically injured city.
The impact of having a collective shared space in which communities celebrate themselves I believe is integral to community and cultural wellbeing and I further believe that an exercise in which international merchants of laughter from Clown and Variety performance and Circus and international arts festivals apply themselves to enhancing and enriching a local communities ability to overcome it's adversity is a project worth my energy. I further believe that a communities ability to celebrate itself via laughter is a direct indication of it's collective mental health and there is a window of opportunity available at present to harness international goodwill towards NZ and Christchurch specifically.

Christchurch has suffered 2 major earthquakes, over 5 years of aftershocks and an unprovoked terroristic outburst. It has a generation of children for whom the earth shuddered daily for the first 5 years of their lives. There is no doubt the entire population to some degree or other has degrees of post traumatic shock.
The inner city is no longer a cultural hub. It's been reconstructed but not yet culturally repopulated.

To this end I have compiled and am poised to reach out to an initial 60+ international performers from the US, Belgium, Japan, Britain, France, Israel, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, Germany, Holland, Iceland and Canada [and obviously NZ]

With two primary inquiries.

1; do they have any small outdoor shows they would be willing to travel to Christchurch with and produce at cost as a gesture of cultural goodwill?

2; Do they have workshop material that they could teach at schools and/or other institutions locally and/or national institutions like Wellingtons Drama school to maximise any potential return on the personal expenses and time spent in visiting NZ and to invigorate local drama production over a wide range of their collective disciplines?

Christchurch has always had a strong relationship with the whimsical.
The Bird-man
The cheerful Cross dressing Asian from the 50's on who wore a kilt and woman's underwear
The Wizard and the subsequent 'Alfs Imperial Army'
The Circo-arts and free theatre and Arts center nurturing grounds of eccentricity.

This however is not about nostalgia.
'This' is a multifaceted community led exercise that celebrates a particularly Christchurch response to adversity.
'This' is an international/national and provincially based response and exercise in the rebuilding of a cities communal character.

Briefly, a project in which some of the worlds best merchants of whimsy, clown, circus, street theater and variety performance collaborate with schools, local theater, the city council, local and international sponsors to produce ongoing exhibits of whimsical production to reinsert character and heart into a culturally bruised city. Targeted to reach a goal in which Christchurch once again celebrates it's own eccentricity and recovery.

Provisionally I am thinking in terms of 'Whimsy-School' as a working label.

My vision is that initially I can leverage a lifetimes worth of social capital in casting and curating an ongoing series of public performances and workshops.

I see funding potentially being sought via traditional sponsorship means but also International crowdfunding in the development stages.

I also envisage that this project exists as a pan-cultural expressive experiment and as such have dedicated audio-visual channels so the works produced were broadcast either via streaming or cheaper post digital production.

Metrics I'd like to explore via this project are;

Participation, passive inclusion [audiences] active inclusion [workshops and subsequent local projects]
Quality of cultural symbiosis, urban expression, inner city 'ownership'.
Baseline survey and staggered updates.

Digital Promotion/Marketing

Sister city and other international affiliations defined and explored.
Media channels created and content for them produced and online audiences monitored, grown and curated.

The Usual
Paid promotion and Press traction

I'm aware that alone the idea is doomed and whats more I'm aware that it would take a skilled team to even gauge it's feasibility let alone it's production.
I sometimes think it could be simply a feeble attempt by myself to regain some relevance presented with the unusual challenge of having my death postponed.

But immediately I first articulated an outline after the shootings in Christchurch I was offered free accommodation for performers by a Ch-ch hotel owner and so am encouraged to continue trying to better articulate this project.

I've been advised to start small and simple. It's no credit to me that this 1000+ words is my attempt at this. I find unattractive the idea of starting an afterschool program called whimsy-school and growing it but at the same time I'm aware for better or worse I have grandiosity issues.
I need advice from art administrators and project coordinators to better fashion a more cohesive outline and to prioritize and structure initial actionables.

Any help would be appreciated.