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.