Sunday, July 31, 2011

Feelgood sunday, NZ Culture #3 Hodgepodge.

Poets, and music and a wizard.

Feelgood Sunday, NZ Culture #2

Luke Hurley was a troubadour of my generation. I spent 3 years hitch-hiking round crashing at friends places from 17 to 20 and I'd see him everywhere, on the inter island ferry and at one end of the country or the other, he played for his supper. The best thing is he still does.

Feelgood Sunday, NZ Culture #1

The Topp Twins were the first genuine street theatre proponents in NZ, others had performed on the streets but they were the first to own their own pitch and turn up every fri at the same time and put on hours of entertainment.
They were lesbian twins and had been singing together their whole lives, they had rapid-fire wit and characterization skills and ability to deal with the audience situations only street performance offers, plus their consistency, had folk traveling into town just to catch their act of a friday evening.

They went on to travel the world and became idiosyncratic and much loved cultural icons.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Advice given freely, Black humour

Wall-People, Copenhagen

Here's the bare bones.
I was in Copenhagen teaching at a circus school, 'modern clown' a suitably vague and romantic term.
There were initially I think 3 or 4 students but it was very casual,[socialism's casual] no-one but the govt had invested any money, although I did get paid, and there were really only two very curious pupils.

I created a character exercise in which these two, male and female were 'wallpeople' in that their characters existence depended on having a wall at their back.
They explored the room, if a door was open they would have to reach out and close it to be able to move across.
We experimented for a bit, the innate problem was that they could never get past one another, well they did improvise one under, one over and that was a victory in itself.
I told then that the next day we would experiment further on the Strøget, the longest pedestrian st in Europe, [another reason I was there]

The next day they arrive in town in characters they had worked on overnight, one had blackface with big white circles round the eyes and the other was the inverse, whiteface with large dark circles. It stays light late and after the shops had closed, [no more open doorways] we selected a long stretch of shops that faced out onto a square.

They started at opposite ends moving towards each other, as yet unaware of each other and exploring this new strange planet, [clown can be very much like that]
They had decided to make trilling noises as their language and each with fingers and back and arms explored while staring out at passers by.
Copenhagen is used to strange creative goings on, people further back who could see the inevitable, that they would meet, stopped and watched and slowly a crowd formed as they travelled closer to each other.

At some point they saw each other, still separated by 50 feet or so. They went through the scared but curious alternation as they now moved much more tentatively towards each other.

Before meeting, shoulder to shoulder, their eyes darting, scared but inquisitive.
They tried to push past each other but that didn't work.
They tried backing up and sliding into each other at speed, but that didn't work either.
They tried the one up one down method but gave up half way, one on the bottom sitting with legs splayed, one on the top, sorta sitting on the others head.

At this point they could have disengaged and been past each other but they resumed their respective positions, all the while staying wallpeople. This was a far as we had gone in class so I knew they must have something.

I waited, as did now a reasonably large crowd of curious Danes.

They came together again and both scrunched up their faces in a fair approximation of strenuous exertion and then it happened.

Their leading shoulders levered against each other and they popped free of the wall and stood back to back.

The audience laughed and clapped, they themselves were startled and amazed at this new freedom and locked back to back performed a dance, a dance they must have practiced the night before, locked back to back they circled and wove and trilled with joy.

They had good timing and did not overplay this but went back to the wall and transfered themselves against it in the opposite manner than they had left it so that now they had managed to pass each other.

The only prop they both had was they each had a tin can, about as big as your head, that they had carried individually with them along the wall and left there while they initially interacted.

They each now picked up what now was not their can but the others and in a bumbling way returned each others cans.

It was only at this point they recognised they were being watched and so digested the attention of the crowd fearfully and then playfully. One of them had an idea and trilled and gestured with eyes and arms and the other understood.

They pushed mightily against each other and popped free of the wall again, this time tin cans in hand, they strode straight out deliberately, side-step by side-step until halfway between the wall and the facing crowd, they slowly lowered themselves, back to back, placed the cans on the ground, straightened and then scampered back sideways to the wall where they then crouched together, facing out, staring intensely at the cans, wide-eyed.

The first audience member made the break, walking forward and dropping some coin into a can.

The clowns jaws dropped, they turned to each other and in unison, squealed and shook both their fists in joy Then they became immediately serious and stared at the cans again.

This went on for a while, their jaws dropping, the exchanged gleeful eye contact, the squeal and the vibrating fists of joy with the back to serious cut-off until they had milked the moment and the audience sufficiently. They then broke from the wall and bowed, receiving applause, collected their cans, I came up and hugged them and we walked away.

It really was remarkably beautiful what they did. On quite a few levels.

What's so Damn Attractive about Elephants? Sneaky marketing.

All this week I've been pitted against the popularity of elephants. Circus Elephants, sometimes 'Modoc' sometimes 'Dumbo' usually both but today just the one. It's been interesting and I've given it some thought.

I've pondered on the attraction of Circus Elephants, given that stories of such have been bumping me down the Kindle best sellers list in the subcategory of 'circus'. I hope it's normal but as a new author I've been taking a borderline compulsive interest in the minutia of my limited popularity and to be frank these lumbering leathery fictions annoy me in much the same way a Hyena might be annoyed watching a Cheetah gorging on some juicy, out of reach, tree-drug Antelope .

'Mordoc, The True Story of the Greatest elephant that ever lived' has been sitting there at number one iridescent with blarney and hucksterizm, the first review dismantling the books claim to non fiction status point by glaring point but still fairly commenting that it is indeed a good book, just made up.

There is much to learn, perhaps writing bathos ridden equivalents of sentimental flypaper is one way to succeed as a writer.

One thing is certain, we are attracted to Elephants and a canny writer who knows why can take that and simply construct layers of syrupy confirmation bias till the reader is left sobbing into their flight-meal sub-texturally grateful they are not in fact an elephant.

But we are! I'm convinced that Elephants popularity stems from our commonality.

Beatrice, [age indeterminate ] flying from Idaho to New Jersey to visit grandchildren, identifies because she was captured as a child, frolicking in the playground and led, mute with shock, away to the circus of life where she was at first 'pegged' [tethered by  restricted expectations, negative reinforcement, and sociological peanuts] till she ceased to question the strength of her bonds and was subsequently led unquestioningly to her daily performance tasks as wife, mother and housewife.

But part of her will always be yearning for freedom because like the elephant she never forgets and that's the sadness we share with the Elephas maximus.

Elephants represent the tragedy, those of us who dwell on that sort of thing, our lives are, but also the comparative relief available in that our growing old and unfulfilled and performing mundane tasks for the amusement of others as we grow leathery and bleak before finally dying stoically is not burdened by the spotlight affixed to the circus elephant.

Spotlights affixed to others tragic lives make us feel better about ourselves. That's why I've noticed that made for TV leukemia movies in which little pre-pubescent Jimmy bravely confront's his mortality and finally succumbs, but not before delivering his fearlessly solemn yet upbeat message about how life is to be lived a day at a time and the capacity to love is the greatest gift we're given, [cue last breath]....are always programmed for sunday evenings.

Given the majority of folk spend monday morning wrestling with their own pointless drone like unfulfilled existence's in those moments during their absolutions before their commute I suspect recent TV bled memories of wasted innocents larger than their own are a well placed comfort.

I have yet to see a made for TV leukemia movie on anytime other than sunday evenings and I'm deeply suspicious of them.

Just as I am tragic fictional books written about circus elephants that outsell my book on Kindle.

Because I'm smallminded. Much like, when all anthropological clap-trap is set aside, an elephant.

my nemesis

Friday, July 29, 2011

Drew The Dramatic Fool, Master of the Bent Premise...

 Drew is an American solo clown.

Theatre as cultural bedrock. NZ Haka.

Privileged as I was to grow up in NZ  I got to see theatre as something powerful and respected before the idea of it being merely entertaining arrived as a secondary consideration.

If you define 'spiritual' as a definition of something collectively powerful and tapped into then the NZ Haka as performed by hard men about to do battle lent to a large majority, [NZ is a Rugby mad nation] from the earliest times as children as we watched, a spine tingling glimpse into what was profound.

We all grew up with it, most schools taught Hakas and we all participated. However no-one personified the sacrifice and commitment required to immerse yourself into a collective soup of pain in pursuit of glory like the All Blacks.

Being as NZ is at the ass-end of the universe games played away in other hemispheres meant that large chunks of the national population would gleefully drag themselves out of bed at 2 or 3am to watch a game live from England or France and the sight of our team lining up to perform our national war-dance was a unique and beautiful thing.

Even as spectators we felt part of something, that is the power of theatre I suppose.

As a clown I'm not focusing on making people laugh, I'm more engaged in transporting them from where they individually are to that collective place where feelings merge and amplify.

They become part of my world and I part of theirs.

I need to disappear from myself and theatre provides me that option.

I'm grateful for my upbringing.

Nagasaki Circus

This is chapter 14 of

Panto Damascus, One Clown's Alphabet.

But in another form, a puppetstavaganza, narrationonic form, unlike the written word but based on the written word which itself is based on what I loosely like to call my lifestyle,

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Search of Hoopal

Hoopal were Peter Mielniczek and Chris Gibbs, a street theatre and stage duo unlike any other who performed together most if not all of the 90's.

Due to their placement in the time/space continuum very little evidence remains of their work. Which is a shame because their street shows were deft, honed, absurd and masterful. As a performer I watched as they roamed improvisationally, exploring momentary impulses at whim, sometimes expanding into whole new 5 minute pieces, most often never repeated, and sometimes shrugging and simply re-entering the structure of their show seamlessly.

Their material ranged from prat-falls to referencing contemporary Russian philosophers, They would combine high and low theatre hilariously.

"I, Chris, will now read Sonnets from Shakespeare while my partner Peter, throws things at my head."

The commitment and seriousness and the imagination in which these two things were combined was essentially a great part of their comic bedrock.  [Among other things Peter would fix a ball on a string round Chris's neck and use him as a fixture to play tetherball while Chris, as best he could, recited Shakespeare]

They were a form of meta-theatre. They referenced themselves as performers trying to perform as their performance and referenced and deconstructed various tools and methods of performance as their main content. Two thirds of their original street show was a deconstruction of a simple ploy to gain attention. They spent 20 minutes setting up 'an accident' , a simple pratfall however the fact they could fill 20 minutes with sparkling inventive exploration towards this end was part of their genius.

Kids loved them because they were crazy and both impeccable clowns and adults loved them for the same reasons. Performers like myself loved them because they were entirely original and displayed a frightening proximity to whatever comedy fountainhead exists that we all seek to discover.

As I say, not much remains but I'm going to put up here what I have been able to find.
first an interview.


by glen callender ufa

Street performing is a diverse, exciting and often misunderstood area of the performing arts. Incorporating such elements as comedy, acrobatics, conjuring, music, and the spirit of improvisation, street performers can create laughter and magic out of their surroundings. At last year's Vancouver International Comedy Festival, The Peak spoke to acrobatic comedians Hoopal, a British street performing duo, and gained some shocking insights into the world of the street performer.

Peak: How has street performing changed your life- has it influenced your socio-economic status or anything?

Both: Yes, oh yes, yes it has.

Peter: I've become incredibly poor.

Chris: And I've become incredibly rich.

Peter: Yes, I've often wondered about that.

Peak: How do people react when you tell them you're a street performer?

Peter: People say "what do you do?" and you say, "I'm a street performer," and they say "oh, right! Oh, that's interesting! So what do you do for a living then?" It's kind of that attitude. It's a rare job, so I suppose you can't really be too precious about people's misconceptions, but a lot of people sort of think you're one step up from a vagrant, or sometimes one step down from a vagrant... . They don't understand that it's actually a valid form of performance, that it's just like theatre, cabaret, or films, or whatever.

Peak: You've performed all over the world. Do different cultures have different reactions to street performing in general or your show in particular?

Peter: There is actually an island in the Pacific that worships us as gods. We've never been there, though. But they, uh, saw our pictures.

Chris: If we were ever to go there, you see, it would deny faith. There would be proof that we exist, and we can't have that.

Peter: There's got to be a bit of ambiguity about whether God exists, you see.

Chris: They would start questioning natural disasters and whether there's right and wrong and stuff like that, and that's really not what we want. Some countries have an understanding of street theatre and some don't. In England, for example, the audiences are usually awful. They don't understand street theatre there. They're even afraid of you because you're in their street and because of what you're doing, but in Holland they think it's great.

Peter: It's basically a respect thing. Street theatre isn't treated with much respect in Britain, compared to, say, France, where we get very good fees for our work... the money's great, you're called an artiste, you're put up in a lovely hotel, and you're treated very well, whereas in England it's like, "Oh, you're here. Change in the toilets and go to work in front of that shop over there." And this really does affect the quality of the show-- shows aren't going to be as good if your treat you performers like that.

Peak: So far, the weather has been warm and sunny for the festival, but that's just luck isn't it? Since you're outdoor performers, what kind of weather concerns come into your act?

Peter: Well, you know, our performance is so... powerful... we have such a rapport with the audience that we can actually perform in any climate or condition. A few weeks ago we were in Holland; we did a show where it was pouring with rain, and it was about 10 o'clock at night, and the audience stayed, and it was a brilliant show. Everyone got soaked, especially us. And we're very physical so we were on the floor, and it was all mud and leaves on the floor, and by the end of it we looked like bigfoot, or the abominable wildmen of the mountains.We were very dirty. But it was a great show. It was very eccentric. We use our environment a lot, and that will include the climate-we improvise on what's around us, whether it be a child, a pigeon, or a rainstorm.

Peak: I saw your show twice during the festival, and it seemed that the best material was usually the stuff that you improvised on the spot.

Chris: The material that's standard between each show is really only the skeleton. The part of the show we're proud of is how we play off of each other and off of the audience.

Peter: That's what's nice about our show actually... it's always changing, there's always new things happening. The streets have a lovely immediacy and magic where things can happen, if you can deal with them or play with them. Anything can happen, much more so than in a theatre. You wouldn't have a pigeon or a kid run across the stage in the theatre.

Peak: Have you ever had any accidents, injuries, or other bizarre things happen during your show?

Chris: I jumped into a stream of sewage.

Peter: Oh, yes!

Chris: We were in New Zealand at a fruit and wine festival. It was about four feet from where I was to the top of the stream, and I assumed it was shallow, but it was actually about another four feet deep. And I basically just stepped in, and it was uneven underneath there so I kind of hurt an ankle. We finished the show, but we did another show later with me being replaced by somebody else. I just sat on the stage with a bandage on my foot. So that was quite nice, I got out of doing a show. It was a good thing, but it was very scary.

Peter: And there was a nice time when five skinheads came and tried to kill us.

Chris: That was nice. That was very bizarre. They came and chased us around, and in the middle of it I looked into the audience and Emma Thompson was there with a couple of kids saying, "Oh, it's awful what happens to these people."

Peter: Emma Thompson's like, "Oh, the poor lovies. The poor dahlings" and these five skinheads were trying to kill us!

Chris: The audience stayed. It was actually quite odd.

Peak: Does Hoopal have a cause?

Peter: I don't know about Chris, but I see it as subversive. I see the mission of Hoopal as to bring down the fabric of society. Through subversion.

Chris: I thought we were government puppets.

Peter: Fool! That's what I led you to believe!

Chris: Oh.

Peter: No, really. I'd like to bring down the government-the whole world-and everyone.

Chris: I just want to make people laugh, and see the smiles on the faces of little children.


as you can see they were as physical as they were intellectual

Chris is easier to follow up on. Peter however, still performing and still a clown, has a rarified exclusivity about himself.
These pics are by Mat Ricardo

I have it on reasonable authority, [Well Pete himself] That Mr Mielniczek will be gracing the Christchurch international street performers fest this coming Jan. 

And Chris has migrated to Canada where he's  helped create a small Canadian child and a body of standup comedy that is similar to Hoopals philosophy in that , as an audience you have no idea where the comedy is going but quickly settle in to the comfortable secure feeling that you are in good hands.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chapter two; Barcelona.

C h a p t e r   T w o

I'm in Barcelona, sharing a small room with a one-legged American with literary pretensions. Still, even two-legged people need crutches or at least a self-inflated narrative of one sort or another to hold themselves up. I forgive him, which is big of me, I'll admit.

I arrived in my shared room in the middle of the day, leant my stilts against the wall and noticed his artificial leg leaning against the other. He was still asleep, or pretending to be. I knew that feeling, the disappointment of the inevitable roommate.

I quickly left for a short walk and coffee, returning an hour later to find him sitting up and prepared to banter. He confided that when traveling and overhearing an American accent, he cringes, afraid of the potential crassness of his countrymen. I mentioned an American two doors down, who was reading Hemingway (to try to reassure him), but he pooh-poohed both the writer and the reader by implication as lightweight. I told him he was full of insecure, elitist bullshit and he's been face down on his bed ever since.

Barcelona's a tough city. Every day you can find tear-streaked tourists numbly trying to comprehend that they've just been shown a knife and robbed of their wallets, or had their bag stolen from beside them at the Railway station, or, less seriously, been sold hashish that is in fact Junkie Turd.

There's this buxom princess on the Ramblas who approaches unsuspecting marks, grabs their hands and pushes them onto her breasts. While her victim is in momentary shock, she pickpockets him and hands the goods to a guy who passes behind her while she does it. It's a beautiful move, with just the right amount of cruelty, dark humour and venial heartlessness.

To walk the streets with all the money you have in the world sitting in your back pocket can be scary, but (more than for most I suppose) my occupation is a sort of insurance. When a Clown is robbed, as I have been, I have only to go out onto the street, gather a crowd, entertain them briefly, and again have funds to continue my haphazard existence. Obviously harder some days than others. To be more precise I am a Clown on stilts, removed from the ordinary man by a metre. I totter...I dance...I make mischief.
I am, in sort, a professionally unhappy pantomime, which is maybe why I snapped at the one-legged chap's dismissal of Hemingway as lightweight. I ask you—really—as if there is a point. As if intelligence is related to happiness. I don't want to sound cynical—I admit life is pointless, but so is death, and while life may be temporarily pointless, I have a suspicion that death is permanently so. But life contains a range of experience for intelligent and dull alike that you cannot not at least attempt to enjoy. As I write this, I am aware I am a jaded cheerleader on the game's periphery.

I meet my friends (fellow performers) and we wander around feeling like fringe-dwelling rascals. Alone afterwards, the strange barbarism of Barcelona reasserts itself. The old woman absently chewing on a piece of bread as she stands on the footpath, gazing dully through the laundromat window, her urine running down from under her ragged dress and following me like liquid fingers as I walk away from her down the hill. The other woman, who suddenly, violently exclaims as she swivels, swings and with her open palm venomously slaps the wall beside her, transfixed with rage, glaring at the wall at the point of impact. Or the man I wished I hadn't seen, his face deformed yet smooth, one side tear-dropping down his neck, his brown eyes numbed to the startled disgust that springs involuntarily from my first glance. He walked quickly past me and ominous childhood dreams crept back. I was scared for myself.
Proof that life's worth living?

There shortly came a time I lay down in the room with the one-legged American where I had more sympathy, empathy and respect for the legless existence.

I was approached after my streetshow on the Ramblas by a well-dressed Spaniard who asked what I cost for a night's work. This, I realised, was my first European gig. I had worked nightclub and corporate and arts festivals at that point, so quoted X worth of the local currency.

Indifferent to the size of my fee, this gentleman secured my address and told me I'd get picked up the following evening. I was only told it was a nightclub and it was a little out of town. I went home chuffed at this new development, my limb-deficient roomie was still sulking, no words were spoken. A sedan came well before sunset the next evening and took me out to the coast somewhere.

The nightclub was isolated on the waterfront with its own breakwater and jetty for luxury yachts to dock. It was big, many theme rooms, some roofless. It was a major investment, I came to learn, some large corporate hospitality expense tax write-off, and the guy who ran it had been the man who approached me on the Ramblas.

I approached him; he grinned, shook my hand, nodded respectfully, called someone to show me a dressing room and issued my instructions.
'Do what you want.'
This guy was effortlessly cool. A Spanish Fonzie with that European calm self-satisfaction us New-Worlders cannot match.

I looked around. One roofless theme-room in the complex was 12 feet deep in foam with Gaudi-like pillars and ceramic tiling. There was a cozy little house bar, an enormous multi-level main room, tropical rooms, industrially-styled rooms, a casual restaurant area facing the sea.

I got ready and went out and did my thing. I went long, why not? I like my elevated position. I roamed and danced and played and hid and ridiculed. There was a lot of ground to cover. I worked three hours, then dismounted, cleaned up and went to visit the boss in the house bar to get paid and secure my ride home.

The advantage in dealing with advanced coolness is that it challenges you to expand your own cool. The boss thanked me for a job well done, ordered me a drink and pulled out a billfold. I thanked him for the opportunity to work in such a stunning venue. He replied with a little history of the place and just as he did so he put my fee down on the bar between us. I did not take my eyes off his, staying attentive to him, undistracted by my fee between us. It seemed like the coolest thing to do, and basically polite.
He paused, smiled at me, another fluid movement and his billfold again was in his hand, he made some general complimentary remark and while doing so, doubled my fee. I smiled and looked away. We were playing. It was a great game.

He handed me a roll of drink tickets—not two or three, not five or ten, a roll of about 60 drink tickets—and suggested I go enjoy myself and get back to him around dawn to arrange my lift home. That I did.
Personally, I enjoy multifaceted venues, because I can spend my recreational time observing. It doesn't look out of place that you are isolated when you move purposefully, so I ambled from room to room. I knew nobody, and as long as that continued I could pretend to be a thin, preoccupied Spaniard.
I tend to react more manically and physically the more I drink. I presume it's something to do with the seduction of risk-taking behaviours.

I had a pass that enabled me to go anywhere. I passed guards who glanced at me indifferently and went out onto the breakwater to play. Great, three-pronged concrete shapes were piled deep in a line out into the bay. I bounded from prong to prong and clambered around happily. I pondered some time staring out to sea. I had a pocket full of money and as first European gigs went, I considered this a gift. I was drunk.
On the way back in, I mis-stepped and rolled my ankle with my full weight. A white flash of pain followed by nausea and an ominous throb. I stayed where I was for a good 30 minutes—I should have gotten ice on it sooner. I hobbled in, went back to my dressing room and convinced myself it wasn't broken. I was going to have to rest it for days until the swelling reduced and the bruising subsided enough for me to wear stilts again.

Eventually I got a ride back, embarrassed frankly at my inebriation, downplaying the injury, hard to do when you cannot use a leg but easier if you happen to be seated in a car. I assured my designated driver I was fine being dropped off a couple of blocks from my hotel at the nearest main road as he had suggested. I pushed my stuff out, thanked him and he pulled away.

The sun was out but not yet fiercely hot. I was exhausted, throbbing, hungover, but strangely cheerful. I slung my bag over one shoulder, my stilts over the other and commenced hopping.
Laden hopping is not easy. I rested frequently, leaning my stilts against a wall and watching the curious glances from the early Sunday morning passers-by. I took it about thirty yards at a time. It took close to an hour.

The hotel was quiet. I stood panting at the base of six flights of stairs. I needed a shower but I needed to be horizontal more. Those six flights cut deep into my reserve tank of stamina.
I got to my shared room. The one legged gent was sleeping, his crutches and artificial leg propped up against the wall next to his bed. I propped my stilts up similarly and fell into bed.
I stayed in that room the better part of 4 days, going out for nearby food once a day. My one-legged roommate had no pity. I'd showed him none and my condition was temporary. I admired his nonchalant use of his fake appendage, if not his personality. He checked out after three days.

It was five days until I could work again, realising how precarious a physically-skilled occupation can be when coupled with recklessness. At the time that was merely an observation. I'm still unsure whether I've really learnt that lesson. 

From my Book 'Panto Damascus--One Clown's Alphabet'

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Feelgood Sunday; TISM

TISM [short for 'this is serious mum'] are a ribald conceptual unit out of Australia, they are theatrical, no-one see's their faces and they use elaborate costumes and their songs are deliberately anti-mainstream. Their first single was titled 'Defecate on my face', instantly banned and instantly sought after, their concerts are raucous affairs, their most popular album  'Machiavelli and the four seasons' they are over the top pretentious and subtextually mischievous.

They wrote a song called, "I'm on the drug that Killed River Phoenix" that was a sentimentally indifferent and catchy little pop song that earned them a certain indignant outrage from fans and friends of the late movie star.

Here's a rambling interview followed by that song and also a weird acoustic version.

Feelgood Sunday; John Safran Vs The Mormons

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I'm huge in Germany!..relatively

US Kindle

UK Kindle

German Kindle

Rob Torres

Another friend and Clown.

Rob Torres is/ was a Ringling trained clown. [I say is/was because Ringling circus is like a psychic tattoo to most trained there. It breeds a strange form of stockholm syndrome but Rob has seemed to have broken free]

He deconstructs time and reconstructs it with every gesture and breath to create his shows. He is a joy to watch and his opening piece with the box capturing the applause is gorgeous. Personally I very much want one of his boxes. I know what they represent and would never open it. I would just have it sitting somewhere prominent as a latent reminder of what we clowns value most.

Rob has also experimented with life, there was a time when his show fit into a very small suitcase and that plus a motorbike was all he owned. He works internationally and often.

 He's versatile, because what he does supersedes venue, the manifestation and projection of glee needs only the confidence of the clown to prevail and Rob is justifiably confident.

Here's examples of him in a formal circus environment and on the street.

Fraser Hooper

I love Fraser Hooper because he's a sweety...but he's mean, but he's a sweety...but he's mean.

A master at the interactive, where strangers and children are used as props and foils.

A friend. and clown.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bathos/ Pathos you be the judge.

Post-parade, being driven back to base.

Yeah I'm haggard, I'm half out of costume and just finished over a mile of parading. But the band keeps playing as we head back to the parade base as the sun sets. This vid has an atmosphere to it. I feel part of this bands family and we've been through something together. I'm eight months into sobriety and everything's taken on a dream-like quality. I presume everybody else's dreams are dark and ominous, yes?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chapter one: Auckland Royal Easter Show

C h a p t e r   O n e

Woke up with an opaque foreboding. Remembered it was the first day of the Easter Show.
I’d flown in the day before from Australia.

Got up off the floor at my friend Nick Nickolas’s place and went to the bathroom to remove inexplicable bat-shit from my hair. Reheated two-day-old coffee in the machine and had a cigarette. Got a lift from someone nicknamed ‘Porn Star’ to the gig as Nick was still sleeping and had blagged off till 7PM.  

I arrived and was ushered into a small dressing room with lit mirrors and an incongruous bath, to be shared by four of us. Next door, eighty-four teenage Girl Guides giggled and squeezed into costume pre-song and dance, and then one hundred geriatric crooners descended, harmonising randomly backstage.

I got elongated—stilts, whiteface, flying helmet, the full variety entertainer disguise—and went out among farmyard animals, cowboys, candy floss, Ferris wheels, steer roping, towing fire engines with your teeth, Polynesian bands, spa pools, climbing walls, paintball shooting demos, Michael Jackson impersonators, sausage rolls, a cat show, cheese displays, halls of mirrors, horses, hydrangeas and the general public.  

And in that one bright shiny moment scores of atrocities both globally and locally were committed beyond imagination and mention. One of which was a large pond in front of the stage. Who put that there and why? A goldfish-infested security measure? The only guaranteed comedy was the St John’s Ambulance caravan where you could peek at head injuries (fairgoers are forever falling over and landing on their heads). 

More tomorrow... 


Woke up stoically fatalistic, bordering on good cheer. Got up off the floor at Nick’s place and went to the bathroom to inspect various organs that had been sewn onto my body as I slept. 
The sky was blue and cloudless, melanoma farming weather. Drove in, passed the stage where thirty-four ten-year-old girls were singing,

‘Thank God I’m a country boy.’ 

Backstage and the entrance to the dressing rooms was full of another contingent, these all 50-plus and dressed in lavender singing,

‘You are my sunshine.’

Got to our room, switched on Cookie the Clown’s TV, watched cricket. The TV broke. Cookie the Clown said it overheated, so I waited ‘til he went out, then put the TV in the fridge for twenty-five minutes but it didn’t help. 

I have to stilt-up for the parade at 3PM every day. A brass band, four indiscriminate cheerleaders, three dancing girls (formal, lycra, sequins), five dancing girls (informal, casual attire), four assorted human stuffed animals, cowboys driving a ute. It’s hot, sweaty, thankless work, and if not for the occasional hysterical infant there would be little light on the horizon as this is but Day Two. 

These are the best days of my life.


Woke up, gradually focused on a prize sow’s pristine off-pink buttocks and realised I’d somehow slept over in the animal pens at the show. Squealed a quick apology and left. Made it back to Nick’s place by late morning, He gave me some valuable tips on various animals’ erogenous zones and how to deal with jealousy when you’re not an alpha male (‘focus on another species’). 

Went back to the Easter Show for Day Three. It was raining and a Monday, I put my stilts on and went for a walk. In order to lance the collective tedium contained within the stallholders and roustabouts, I chose to personify a bleak, unforgiving, emotionally insolvent, utterly bored, angry and dangerous pantomime. It was like a startling revelation crossed with a suppressed memory. 

There was a middle-aged Polynesian woman with one eye focused several latitudes shy of the other working at a hot dog stand. She flirted with me by waving a tomato sauce-dipped hot-dog in my direction while crooning in Tongan. Disregarding the danger I accepted the hot-dog. I think she muttered some rude thing because her workmates almost fell into the deep-fryer laughing. The hotdog was average. 

A guy sat in a stall for ‘Putt Putts’, toy boats that sail in small circles in the bath. He didn’t engage anyone. He just sat there reading a book as a handful of his product clacked around a tub. He had a sign that read, ‘Putt Putts—$10 each or 2 for $25’. I suspected he was not entirely committed to retail.

In the strongman tent today a large man towed an aircraft carrier 10 metres by a piece of dental floss clenched in his teeth. We drove home. Nick cooked, we ate and watched insufferable pompous twats reward each other for irrelevant renditions of third-hand fiction designed as both product placement and misdirection from life’s pointless, purposeless futility. Otherwise known as the Oscars. I immediately started writing a screenplay about an individual whose principled stand and integrity brings a large multi-national corporation face to face with its immoral past and transforms it into a cancer-curing, non-profit organisation.

I call it ‘Debbie Does McDonalds’.


Woke up. Hunched painfully up on the balls of my feet while making clucking noises, I hopped towards a saucer of seed in the corner. After giving myself a bloody nose pecking at it, I remember the hypnotism session with Nick the night before and get up. We have weapons-grade coffee, read the paper, check internet, discuss obscure philosophies, laugh heartily at the failings of others and head off to the Easter Show. We stop briefly to assist a throng of blind people crossing an intersection on their way to their annual scratch and sniff movie. 

Some of us have thumb-tips for magic, padded groins like Porn Star, or personality, but others rely on makeup. Cookie the clown (more later) and I both put on our clown-faces while Nick lounged about producing inexplicable things from mid-air. Cookie is a fellow droll, into multiple revenue streams but still finds time to do dying cancer kids’ birthday parties.

‘Happy birthday, kid—It’s your last.’

Between sets, Nick chauffeured Cookie and me up nearby One Tree Hill. Two painted clowns in the backseat, one American style, one European, up to this hill (only 5 minutes away) where you could see the whole city, Rangitoto, Manuerewa harbour, Manakau harbour, the showgrounds.

Back at work, in the animal tent, the sow and her 8 piglets slept oblivious in the sawdust. There are various forms of Rodeo at the show and Cookie and I had come to label anyone paralysed or in a wheelchair for any reason ‘Rodeo Clowns’. I played with them and let them ride between my legs. It’s one of those all inclusive sad/bitter/proud things in a wheelchair that one can do with tall Clowns.

I spent the rest of the day being comically useful and dancing when the mood took me. 


Surrounded by hostile forces, naked, with the entire cast of Bonanza pointing and laughing at my lacquered genitalia, I woke up. I had been placed into the still warm chest cavity of a recently killed cow as I slept. Sun dappled though yellow leaves of the large oak outside. The coffee this morning was so strong it coated one’s entire digestive system in caffeine plaque. Hyperactive yet strangely sedated we proceeded to Day Five of The Royal Easter Show.

I arrived late, conveniently missing thousands of schoolchildren by mistake. Cookie the Clown did Clown-cover; I got my three hours in later in the afternoon. There was a mid-twenties Rodeo Clown today, going downhill. He must have had a souped-up battery in his chair and he whipped between my legs faster than any Rodeo Clown has previously, and that’s after twenty years of Rodeo Clowns.

I patted a horse; it didn’t mind. I sewed six rubber gloves to the front of my costume, filled them with custard, and lay down with the piglets but they were having none of it; the mother became riled and scared onlookers by crashing, foaming and howling, in her nearby cage.

An older gentleman operated a toasted nuts stand, ‘Cashews $2 a bag’. He looked like he’d been sentenced to death. He hadn’t had a customer in five days and he’d got the thousand-yard stare of the doomed retailer. You could wave things in front of his face, he didn’t flinch.

Nick took Cookie and I up to One Tree Hill again, Cookie in the front seat and me in the back with my head out one window and my legs wearing stilts out the other. It’s the halfway point and we’d planned an ‘Over the Hump’ party tomorrow. It’s physically tiring and I was beginning to suspect I was mentally ill.


Flayed by a lifetime of embarrassment, I thought the ‘Over the Hump’ party would be audio casual, a doddle, mildly recreational. Instead, I was bamboozled, hijacked, taken hostage, brainwashed, led astray, bullshitted, fed lines, stitched up, falsely encouraged, patronised, ridiculed, autopsied, preserved and cremated. 

The day itself went much like the others; I tried as fully as possible to dilute Cookie the Clown’s deplorable work ethic with the sweat of my brow. I patted the horse again and strangely it was more wary today than yesterday.

Whilst striding round tall and sardonic, I found a mannequin wearing a sleeping bag, and had a heart-rending, pathos-ridden relationship with it. No-one noticed.

Cookie the Clown, wearing a yellow wig, white face and large shoes, had the ignominy of having his six-year-old daughter see how he made his living. She wept. We all wept.

After work, the ‘Mind Barracudas’ at the party—Dave Sheridan, Nick, Phil, Andy and the Ghost of Christmas Past—had me sniveling in my cups as they craftily reminded me of favourite toys I’d lost and missing pets. Then they made excuses and went to bed and I spent time rigging an explosion of cheese the first time anyone used the bathroom. Tomorrow is the beginning of the Easter weekend and numbers should get ludicrous. 

Wood chopping, chainsaw races, mustache competition for woman, high pitched scream comps for men, Little Black Sambo pancake races, all the wholesome multi-cultural texture of a nation truly in tune with its amalgam of Newcastle coals and bamboo. The moment I lay my head on a soft surface all this mental flotsam ceased. 


I woke up, my head encased in a cage containing, in a separate compartment, a rabid starving possum. Nick stood by with a shotgun in case of emergencies. We puffed on coffee and glugged down cigarettes. Easter Friday. Christ died for our sins and all the bars are shut and you can only eat candyfloss.

Checking to see that the fridge was well-stocked for the evening, we turned our backs on domestic affairs and hopped into Nick’s magic-mobile. There we morphed into the professional show business personalities and quick-fire, nimble-witted, verbally dexterous artistes for which we are so well-respected and so handsomely paid. The car wouldn’t start so we morphed back.

The car started, we sighed and morphed again. The car leaked charisma all the way to the show.

The showgrounds were well stocked with bipeds. Many, many bipeds. More than all the other days together. Children and the elderly were trampled to their deaths as crowds surged from one hot-dog stand to the next. People stepped on bodies for toffee-apples. Fights broke out. Body parts were torn off the dead and used as weapons. In midstream the current was so strong that weak children spent the day being swept along recursive eddies.

Stilts are fun in dense crowds because your feet are at shoulder height and all you have to squeeze past people are two thin legs. The disadvantage is that you will never see the banana skin that matters. Or the pulpy potato chip, the bull, sheep, goat, duck, horse, rabbit or pig shit, the vomit, or the entrails thrown from the Gypsies’ tent.

I tottered into the show-jumping arena and jumped all the fences. Just flicking my legs over before the competition, with a grandstand in full fettle providing raucous support. It was Easter so I got a few good crucifixions (a stock pantomime pose of mine) in as well.

Cookie dressed in his clown cowboy costume today. It’s sad to realise that he’s probably one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t need help. He hypnotises chickens as a hobby. He has three. He actually convinces them they’re chickens.

I did the parade, played with the animals, watch men sprint up twenty-five metre poles, watched fast cowgirls barrel-race, danced to Polynesian music, made cynical faces at all the wrong people, did flicky one-trick-pony stuff with my legs. Stole two ice-creams, one plate of noodles and some popcorn (people don’t seem to believe the stilt-man will just walk off with it). Then it was over, the laughter faded, the happy children but memories. Life one day shorter and for what? 


Woke up, tired, very tired, my body wanting to decompose quietly and my soul to be kept in a potted plant. Still, at this stage, routine takes over and I fixed my rictus grin. Nick had bought a ‘Sleepwalking’ sleeping bag with legs and feet, and hands free for opening cans of baked beans in the next squat he’ll inhabit in London (that much sweat in one waterproof sack!). At 11:30AM it ejected him with a loud belch.

I was there with the car keys and we went back to the Royal Easter Show.

A national opposition politician was going to skydive into the fair today (gosh, I’d vote for him), in tandem with the only guy that mattered, the bored professional skydiver tethered to the politician as he plummets to meet his constituency. It was called off due to inclement weather. I was furious.

By now I’m doing a lot of stock material. The Polynesians still press $5 bills on me and tell me to eat. The goats are still there to be stampeded. The pigs are understandably wary. The chickens are still unconvinced regarding road-crossing. I don’t mess with the horses, too much history. 

I stroll about; people seem to be urgently in search of distraction. I oblige; I’m not happy either. Nick gets rained out on his first scheduled show and spends the afternoon turning others’ sunny dispositions into sour backgammon-loser refugee mindsets. I don’t gamble.

I work the Rodeo instead. Hard men and woman used to compound fractures, faces worn by constant sunshine rather than weekends in garden bars. Horse-wise, dog-knowledgeable, hamster-friendly, stilt-wary till that crust is broken, then it’s a chuckle-athon. Sad people, really.

The same human squirrels sprinted up the twenty-five metre poles, different horses jumped over the same fences. I’d been checking with the Saint John Ambulance on a daily basis to find out whether anyone had lost an eye yet. (It’s not a proper party until…)

We had drinks after work. What else is new? Still, it was a sort of carnie bonding session. A perfect opportunity to find a woman who would ingest weed-killer to give you a two-headed baby. 


Four people lay in crumpled heaps on Nick’s living-room floor, but only one wore a sleeping bag with legs with ‘Sack with Attitude!’ written on it. I went and bought steak-and-potato pies for everyone; Nick inhaled his in his sleep. I followed up with badly-cooked eggs and bacon, raw mushrooms and coffee, but Nick was hard to muster this morning. He’s acting like a pony with colic, all pensive and brainless. The sleeping bag has taken a strange hold on him. He says he can feel it against his skin when he’s not wearing it. He wrestled out of it at 1:15PM and we eventually drove to work.

Today’s theme was drizzle. Drizzle on the parade, drizzle on the shows, the animals, the public, the stalls, the arenas, the rides, all was drizzle. 

I wore my brand new disco stilt-pants; they look like liquid silver and really freak out the miniature pony. I wandered about in the rain while not lounging about the dressing-room listening to Porn Star (Gareth, Master of Fire and Steel) go on and on and on about the abnormally large penis that inhabits his perpetually leather-clad groin. He sometimes grabs it through his trousers for emphasis. Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day and I intend to cut it off and go fishing with it. 

Nick continued to acquire credit via backgammon. Cookie the Clown has gone professionally mute—I fear I am a bad influence on him, he no longer seems happy. We swapped ideas for a movie (starring us) involving mini-golf, looking at the job boards at social welfare, perhaps being sent on a quest by the International Clown Council to find a fresh new gag and save the world. Gee, we were bored.

Once again the parachuting was put off. I liked the idea that, for the last three days, a leading politician’s put himself in a small plane with a big idea, buzzed the showgrounds at altitude, then gone home unrealised. Maybe tomorrow. 


The last day.

A lot of the animals were sad because they’d made good friends with children and after today they had to go back to farms where they might be used for meat. 

You know, if the Palestinians and Israelis could just get together over a Ferris wheel…share candy floss, win pointless stuffed animals, grin aimlessly…

The whole shell of the Royal Easter Show split open today to reveal a seedy underbelly full of colourful figures of note. The potpourri of old-timers with decades of experience with this tattered cultural icon was so dense with the rich seedy aroma of old money and an agricultural sense of ‘Breadbasket of the Empire’ that it was all I could do to keep my rancid personality in check in the face of their secure self-satisfaction.

Suffering from sensory overload, too many abstract exclamations, very little makes sense apart from the sleeping bags. I now have my own and have outfitted the family. Where was I?

I drove back home, remembered lost luggage and repeated the journey. Left my laptop on a horse float and remembered to drive back to grab it off the fender before the rain started. I was all messed up and humourless. Crying children under my belt, squealing animals, ten days of roving relationships, various reliable bands and Public Address Systems. The multitude of fast food stalls and political parties. Sick of it, I was going to bed. But enriched by an event that’s my country’s cultural staple. 

25 more where that came from at