Unsolicited Suggestions for Acts

Ideas for clown acts/material are offered to me on a regular basis.  (This differs from advice on how to execute a techincal feat, or feedback/directorial notes from colleagues.)  The person describes what he or she is seeing in the mind’s eye, imagining how it will be funny.  These unsolicited ideas can be seeds or bits to be developed, while others may be more detailed.  Very few of them actually become realized in my acts.  The explanation as to why they are not appropriate or useful to me is this:  Many times the suggestion is made with no knowledge of my particular clown character.  More importantly, the person conceiving the idea does not realize that it is in fact, their own clown from which the material springs.  There are always exceptions.  Some weeks ago, a six-year old friend of mine gave me a clown name that I fell in love with as soon as I heard it.  In this instance, I hope to find a way to incorporate it because it is a really silly name.  It makes me laugh whenever I think of it.  Forgive me for not revealing here.  I’d like to try it out on an audience and see how it flies.  Although ideas offered may never materialize in my acts, I love that people take an interest in my clowning, and that it inspires their imagination.  I am always happy to hear all suggestions.

I mentioned in a previous post that I would write about how I do source my material.  That requires a more long-winded post.  Still to come…

Theatre Bug Bites Clown (again)

This summer, after a long absence, I returned to the legit theatre in the form of a scene study class at the world-renowned Herbert Berghof Studio.   Circle of life: I first studied at the HB studio when I was in High School, and here I am again.  Although I had previously taken theatre classes, HB was my introduction to method acting, in a professional studio, and it was serious stuff for a teenager.  What surprises me this time around is just how much I feel at home in class.  It’s as though I have never left.  I have been using all the tools of my acting training all along in the creation of my clown acts; from character development to dramatic structure.  Back in the world of Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen, Neil Simon and Wendy Wasserstein, how will my years of clowning inform the roles of those characters?  What will it be like to play a character in those playwrights’ works and speak the words from a script not of my own devising?

Sure there are differences in the approach to rehearsing acting versus clowning.  But as I said, I have never forfeited my work of  research, preparation, and personal endowment of text, be it a clown act or a Shakespeare play.  I am confident in my creative process as a clown.  It is well-defined.  The technique as an actor?  The word rusty comes to mind.  I presented my first scene a few weeks ago from Brighton Beach Memoirsby Neil Simon.  It wasn’t a complete disaster.  Nerves certainly got in my way.  When clowning, I possess a facility with putting nerves to work for my character.  Straight acting requires nerves to be channeled in a different way.  The fundamental difference:  no eye contact with the audience.  I can’t plead with them directly for sympathy when I’m supposed to be a widow in a house in Brooklyn in 1937.   Neil Simon’s plays are extremely well-written comedies.  The particular scene performed in class was a short, sweet, and serious reconciliation between two sisters.  I am happy to say that laughs did not come uninvited, nor in the wrong places.  If you are at all familiar with my story, that’s no small feat.

Failure is nothing new to a clown.  I am accustomed to feeling stupid, welcoming the sensation of being lost and bewildered.  Comfortable with discomfort on stage.  Failing as an actor–well that smarts.  Figuratively falling on one’s face seems a longer way down than a well-timed pratfall.  The joy and ease I experience as a clown performer will undoubtedly find its way back into my acting.

For a time after I first began clowning, my business cards used to read “actor/clown”.  After some more time, I dropped “actor” and became “theatrical clown performer and teacher.”  I had never really let go of my identity as an actor, only relegated it to an internal designation no longer stated aloud in polite company.  I modestly reclaim the title– it will reappear on the next business card printing.

Long Time No Post

 Recently, when my website host changed format, my previous posts were added here as “the story so far.” 

Life has been keeping me busy this year.  My aim is to catch up with a few separate posts, starting here and now…

I was proud to be part of a recent photo exhibit in June 2011 entitled “The Clown Unmasked” by Jim Moore.  It is comprised of a series of postcard-sized photos of clowns in black and white, out of costume and make up; each coupled with a full color, fully-costumed photo of the clown in performance.  The diminutive  scale of the photos was pure genius on the part of the photographer.  The smaller-than-life dimensions are a non-theatening way to represent clowns in a world where many people are afraid of us.  There will be more to come of this series, as there are many more clowns in the community to be represented.  At present, I do not possess a copy of the b&w “unmasked” photo.  I hope to obtain a copy for the website.

The Story So Far

November 01

Clowning on Halloween

Nina (left) with clowns Ariel and Summer

It has been a while since my last post.  In September, I was one of the official bloggers for the NY Clown Theatre Festival.  I wrote so many blogs for them that I needed a break!

Last night I had the absolute pleasure to work the NY Village Halloween Parade!  A bunch of us clowns (representing the NY Downtown Clown) were hired to accompany the “Marshalls” who collect donations for this famous non-profit parade that begins at Spring Street and travels up Sixth Avenue to 15th Street.  We go ahead of the parade by several blocks.  The idea is to help get the crowd into a giving mood, and in general, to warm them up for the parade.  Behind us a line of mounted police stop at each intersection.

This was such a fun gig!  We had the whole of Sixth Avenue to play on like a giant open air stage, a mile long.  On either side of the Avenue were crowds of people behind barriers, waiting in the cold.  In the middle of the street we walked and ran with the donation collectors while police and some press stood along the sidelines.  The crowd was very friendly and receptive.  They were anxious to see the parade and ready to be greeted.  Interaction was so easy and joyful.  I never know what is going to come out of me in these types of gigs where everything is improvised and in motion.  I was dressed not as my usual stage character, but an old ladyish sort of character in a pillbox hat that lent herself to all sorts of silliness.  Sometimes another clown and I would improvise a conflict over a balloon or a kick in the pants.  Most of the time I was running back and forth across the avenue to the people and talking to them or adjusting my costume (hiking up my tights, shifting my skirt, pulling down my jacket–all in a very private-in-public manner).  Occasionally, I would stand behind a police officer and make fun of him/her without their knowledge.  Once the adrenaline got pumping, it was a concentration of non-stop, high-energy performing.  When I stopped and came back down to earth, everything ached.  But for that brief, magical time, it was us clowns and the people of New York City having a grand old time together.

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August 18

Nose To Go

I always carry a clown nose wherever I go.  This is not because I want to put it on and begin clowning at any given moment.  Rather, it is a good friend I like to keep close.  I was sitting in the audience at a show recently, and a clown colleague who doesn’t usually wear a red nose when she performs needed one in a hurry just before she went on stage.  She tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I had one handy.  And so I did.  This nose fits perfectly into a little rounded box, made from two halves of a seashell that snap together.  The box was a birthday gift from a friend who had in mind the very function it serves.  I don’t use this nose in performance, though in a pinch it would be a suitable schnozz.  My performance noses are different ones that vary in material and size, which I carry in another special case along with all my other clown accoutrements.  This one is just a spare.  Credit for the idea of carrying a nose everywhere goes to my trio partner Evelyn Tuths.  When she told me that she always carried one in her purse, I realized then that I never wanted to be without one.  Ya just never know when ya might need it.

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July 13

Seeing the Clown Everywhere

How many times do we walk down the street and see someone with an outrageously silly hairdo, a comb-over or toupee that makes us laugh?  Or maybe we see someone encountering technical difficulties that amuse us.  I recently sat next to a woman on the subway and watched as she struggled to read her newspaper while holding two big bags.  The paper was large and voluminous.  She first tried to fold it over to make it smaller and more manageable.  It was a complete disaster as the pages of the paper all fell one by one to the floor.  When she reached for them, then the bags would slip down.  The whole mess just got messier the more she tried to reassemble it.  She was determined to overcome her obstacles, gave it her all, and kept at it for a good long while.  Whether or not she got to read the paper didn’t matter, just watching her grapple was very entertaining.  To be clear, it is not from the point of view of enjoying someone else’s pain, but simply relating to something we all experience at one time or another.  It was a delightful, perfectly contained clown act.  It’s a matter of tuning in to the clowning that’s all around us all the time.  By the way, this is also an example of where I might find an idea for an act that I want to create.  More on where my ideas come from in another blog.

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June 30

Acknowledgements

Welcome to my Blog!

I want to begin with a few words of serious and sentimental thanks.  The stumbles I can manage all by myself, but the triumphs always manifest through collaboration.

Gratitude and admiration to my expert, patient, cheerful, kindhearted miracleworker of a webmaster, who chooses to remain nameless: a deep curtsy to you sir.  To Pam Levine of Levine Design Group, undying appreciation for all your extraordinary generosity, time, effort, and design advice in the creation of the site.  To my beloved partners of Those in the Nose:  thank you for your feedback, gifted silliness, and friendship.  Immense gratitude and thanks to Debbie Honnig of Active Concepts, Inc. for helping me bring the site to fruition.  Vielen Dank to Brigitte Kirilow for her fabelhaft fotos.  Special thanks to all those family, friends, and colleagues for their support.

Next post:  blabbing about clowning.

If you haven’t visited the website, please do: http://ninalevine.com

If you have, thanks for visiting and please come again.

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