field notes.04 // Helen Donnelly & Neil Muscott

field notes.
episode 04 // Helen Donnelly & Neil Muscott
a foolish conversation about clowns

June 2nd, 2016
8:30pm
Sorauren Park

I catch up with my clown teacher, Helen Donnelly and her partner/director Neil Muscott to chat about clowns, flat tires, preconceptions, clown logic and realness.

helendonnelly.com
fooproductions.com
fooandfriends.com


reverend foo

The Reverend Foo Revival Time
playing June 8th, 10th & 12th at Factory Theatre
as part of the Toronto Festival of Clowns.

2011-TFOC-Logo-SM

dossier: Rob Faust for FALLEN APPLES

I heard of Rob Faust and Faustwork while I was still in university. I’d always been interested in mask work (it being one of the forms I had always been wanting to experiment with but never had the opportunity), but, sadly and probably due to the sheer vastness of acclimatizing to the independent theatre world in Canada after graduation, I never really knew where to find him. It wasn’t until last year, after being successfully and passionately introduced to the world of clown and all its associates, did I see Rob perform a few of his best pieces at Helen Donnelly’s Foolish Cabaret. The audience was in stitches. The full house was on the edge of their seats as he performed his backwards ballerina and introduced us to The Creep.

Rob has that effect on people.

A couple months later, the night of the Great Deluge of Toronto, did we actually meet, in a leaking garage opening onto a flooded stage and an audience that was smaller than the number of performers crammed in the back. After a soggy performance, we all headed to Squirly’s for a much needed pint. 

And the rest, to use a tired cliche, is history.

I couldn’t be happier to be working alongside Rob and this talented bunch as we animate 30-some-odd-years of his masks for an all-new fully-mask cabaret: FALLEN APPLES, happening on March 10th @ Unit 102.

dossier #28:

Rob Faust

Who are we talking to?

You’re talking to born and bred New Orleanian who grew up in a carnival culture that identified with fun, masks, and ritual, but it was after moving away from Mardi Gras that I encountered masks-for-theatre in physical theatre classes.

What gets you going in the morning?

Besides the obvious answer of rich strong coffee and hot milk–the way people in New Orleans have always liked it—what gets me going these days is the work of making masks, coordinating and promoting the biz of Faustwork Mask Theatre, performing, and these days looking forward to the serious fun of pulling together the first (perhaps of many) Mask Cabarets.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, I need, or want, to do this with my life?

When I was 9, Grandma gave me and my sister and cousins a silver dollar each for doing a nativity scene at her big family Christmas party. It wasn’t REALLY the money as much as it was having all the adults paying close attention to what we were doing and smiling and laughing. I played Joseph and asked the innkeeper for connecting rooms with an adjoining bath.

Have there been times you seriously question why you pursue this lifestyle/art form? If so, what was it that kept you in it, or brought you back?

Pure and simple: it’s fun. That’s what keeps me coming back. I’m fortunate to earn a living at it and the business owns me. There are of course many days it’s difficult and I want nothing to do with it, but I can’t figure out what else I could do to pay the rent as effectively.

White Head for CK copy

Why “FALLEN APPLES”?

I love the point of view twist on “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This Mask Cabaret is all about family and all the positive and negative that that implies. We 12 co-creators all told family stories to each other and then deconstructed them and turned them into comic and poignant vignettes. Much of the material is cartoony in the best sense of that word… aka, clownish.

Why mask theatre?

I was blown away by their power in a physical theatre class. During those workshop days a fellow student taught me how to make masks and it turned out that i was good at both the performing and the making.

You’ve compiled quite a cast of artists for “FALLEN APPLES”. Can you let us know the roster, or some of the roster?

The cast is amazing!! We are in alphabetical order: Andrew Gaboury, Allan Turner, Christel Bartelse, Dana Fradkin, Eric Double, Helen Donnelly, Neil Muscott, Nicole Arends, Nicole Ratjen, Oliver Georgiou, and Rob Faust.

What’s a favourite memory, or story, from performing in mask in the past?

I performed a beautiful duo mask/dance piece nearly naked with a beast mask on top of my head.”Burden of Paradise”… think elemental dance/theatre version of “Beauty of the Beast”. Critics and audiences loved it, found it very sensual, almost erotic. My partner was friends with Carly Simon and her friends and we performed on a sweeping lawn under a willow tree for 160 swells at a benefit to help elect Mario Cuomo governor of New York. We blew minds! There were many people there who would never have bought tickets to see such a thing as us. We had celebrities–including Mario Cuomo and Charles Grodin (a fav of mine) in our faces gushing afterwards. The topper was that my father-in-law overheard Ethel Kennedy say to one of her grandchildren seated next to her, “Sheer depravity!!” Quite an endorsement if you ask me.

Describe “FALLEN APPLES” in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

FUNNY DARK TRUE

Do you have anything you’d like to share with us?

FB page: Faustwork Mask Theatre

Web: www.faustwork.com

YouTube clips: Faustwork Mask Theatre

Rob talking about his process and some of his favourite masks:

snippets of some of the first pieces I ever saw Rob perform:

and a fun bilingual interview:

Faustwork Mask Theatre presents “FALLEN APPLES”

Rob Faust directs a series of comic, poignant, and bizarre vignettes based on the dark and the light side of family dynamics. The show was created collaboratively by Rob and the following cast.

Allan Turner, Andrew Gaboury, Christel Bartelse, Dana Fradkin, Eric Double, Helen Donnelly, Neil Muscott, Nicole Arends, Nicole Ratjen, Oliver Georgiou, Rob Faust.

Tickets: $20, CASH ONLY

SHOW: 8PM DOORS OPEN: 7:30PM LIMITED SEATING

VENUE: Unit 102, 376 DUFFERIN STREET just south of Queen

Arizona High School students masked

dossier: Alex Eddington for YARN and the WIND DOWN FESTIVAL

Alex Eddington and I have known each other for a good number of years now, a number so good I can’t even recall it without looking into my CV (and, looking into my CV tells me the number is 4). Alex and I met during a staged reading in what was apparently the year 2009. The staged reading was for a small festival and was a rather unfortunate experience ~ a bit too long, a bit too uninspired, a bit too much palpable not caring in the air. I think Alex and I gravitated towards each other because we needed something to help get us through this thing. Also, we could talk about writing. And we still do.

This dossier is big, as it’s about two things at once: Alex’s new Fringe show YARN and his mini-cabaret-like-festival WIND DOWN. And I’m happy to bring Alex to this site!

dossier #14:

Alex Eddington - YarnWho are we talking with?

Alex Eddington: According to my bio I’m a composer, musician, writer and actor… but I might change that last one to “storyteller”. I’m also a music teacher, arts administrator, and bird enthusiast.

But you didn’t ask “WHAT DOES HE DO with whom we are talking?” As for WHO: maybe ask me again in a few years. That’s a messy thing. Rather than try to solve it I’ve convinced myself that that’s a messy question for everyone. And that messy is good.

What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to music, to Fringing, to wherever the hell you are in life)

I’m not sure which path I’m on, but I have a nervous inkling that I’m straddling three paths at once: music, theatre, and teaching. I’m hanging onto the hope that these paths will converge, or at least run parallel.

I used to be on only one path… with some side-trails. I was a semi-professional trombonist, then focussed on composing music and now I’m still a professional composer – including now a lot of music for young performers.

I actually got into theatre writing/performance because of Fringe. I entered the 2005 Edmonton Fringe on a dare with a bizarre “musicological comedy” in which I played a demented accordion-wielding prof in a third-rate university music program. The rest, somehow, is history.

Teaching is even more recent. I had an opportunity to teach middle school band in an independent school for a year, decided that I loved it, took my B.Ed., and am now doing as much arts education work as I can.

I’m always trying to pull all these threads together. Some helpful genres: opera, composition and drama workshops, shows like Yarn with a bunch of live music in them…

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

Probably watching my parents and their friends rehearsing and performing in the Kew Beach Couple’s Club Show every February. That was an amateur variety show that ran for 60 years: chorus, dancers, skits – all the songs from the great musicals – all the puns and character tropes of Vaudeville. And sometimes some absolutely inspired themes and scripts holding it all together. It was amazing how much time and love everyone put into these shows. I would hang around backstage (my Dad was sometimes the Stage Manager) and it was so thrilling.

What I learned: songs and jokes are for everyone to love and pass on; anyone can put on a show; something magic happens on a stage when there is an audience watching.

So I dabbled in theatrics at church and high school. But somehow I didn’t make my own theatre until I was 25.

Why YARN?

It’s a true story that I’ve been trying to write for ten years, since the story actually happened. In 2003 I was traveling in Europe and the UK, and needed a job, and got a “chambermaid” position in a little hotel on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. I lived there for 5.5 months – April to October. I lived two miles from a 90-person village, and all I had to get around on was my bicycle. It was beautiful place, but the loneliness got to me. I became quite superstitious, convinced (partly) that Good Luck and Bad Luck were fighting over me. I like to say that I went to the island to find myself, but lost my mind instead. Temporarily.

I’ve been sharing the stories of that summer since 2006, when I toured my first original Fringe show: Wool. That show made me some performer fans, but I never felt that it got to the root of what happened to me on the Isle of Mull. I’ve been doing workshops and drafts of these stories ever since. Seven years after Wool, Yarn comes out of having had more time to digest the events and craft a script with an arc about how the human mind (well, mine at least) tells itself stories to survive loneliness and the unknown. It’s also a funnier show now. But Yarn is so much more refined than Wool. In another seven years I will write another version of the show, called Sweater.

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or can someone expect from YARN?

I want people to feel at times like the show is really casual – off-the-cuff storytelling, with the stories being remembered just for them. Of course that’s a bit of an illusion – the asides are written in, and I tend to memorize scripts accurately, but I have tried to be much looser about this one. Yarn is written in a thinking-aloud style, and I also use music casually, flowing through everything. I deliberately chose instruments that I’m not an expert on (ukulele, baritone horn, dumbek…). I’m on stage when people come in (in Toronto the audience can come in an hour before the show if they’d like!), practicing my instruments and being in whatever mood I’m actually in. I’m not an expert who performs his thing and ignores you, I’m a guy with an unusual story and we’re in the room together; you have to trust and like me for this story to resonate with you. In Toronto I chose a room that we can’t forget we’re in: the Majlis Art Garden is sheltered (you won’t get rained on) but semi-outdoors, so there will be evening breezes, bedding birds, and the change of sunlight over the course of the show.

I also feel like this show is never done. I’m going to keep working on it over the next years. And when each performance ends, I like to hang out and talk to people. So after performances of Yarn I’m inviting the audience to stay to chat – and then to stay for guest acts each night at 9:00pm: a sub-festival I’m calling the WindDown Festival of intimate performance.

You’ve done the Canadian Fringe circuit a couple times in the past. What do you look forward to the most when touring a new show to a new city?

1) Seeing old friends who I only see randomly when we happen to be performing in the same Fringe festival. Sometimes I don’t see people for years because we live in different cities and the touring schedules don’t line up. That’s the nature of the lottery-drawn Fringes. 2) Meeting new friends: performers, audience, Fringe volunteers and staffers. 3) Seeing about 100 shows a summer.

What is your favourite memory from a past Fringe circuit show?

My 2010 tour of Tired Clichés (a new production of a TJ Dawe script) was gruelling: I was in Bring-Your-Own-Venues in Winnipeg and Edmonton so I was performing almost every day of the festival. The most memorable day of that tour happened in Winnipeg. I had a day off and was seeing a bunch of shows. Here is the sequence of events:

1) Saw Commencement, a solo show about a high school shooting massacre. Wept aloud (this doesn’t usually happen to me).

2) Had a beer at the King’s Head. Actually, a beer and a half because my director Laura Anne Harris couldn’t finish hers in the 15 minutes that we had to drink it.

3) Ran back to the SAME venue, sat in virtually the SAME seat.

4) Saw The Screw You Review – a raucous, button-pushing and very funny improvised comedy show starring an extremely cranky old man. Laughed until I literally fell out of my seat.

5) At one point in The Screw You Review, they MADE AN IN-JOKE about Commencement, the show I’d wept at earlier.

I’ve never felt so emotionally open. It was better than a sweat lodge.

Describe YARN in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

The sound of one sheep clapping.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

VIDEO: Currently there is one stop-motion teaser trailer for Yarn. The plan is to make more and post them to my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ePVhNJ0LrXk

LINK: Here is Yarn info central: http://www.alexeddington.com/alexeddingtoncom/yarn.html

POSTER: (I’m super-proud of my DIY marketing stylez)

Yarn LondonFringe postcard WISHES: That people will come to the show and it starts a conversation. With me or with whomever.

What is the WIND DOWN FESTIVAL?

I have rented a really cool site-specific venue for my Toronto Fringe run of Yarn. Majlis Art Garden is precisely 1/2 rose garden and 1/2 theatre. It’s sheltered (you won’t get rained on) but evening breezes and birds will come through the garden. It’s an intimate performance space where the audience is outdoors (sort of) but is an acoustically contained space. So I decided to host guest acts every night in this lovely space, where I could try out something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I’ve been dreaming of an outdoor performance festival without amplicifaction (or with as little as possible). Small audience, contained space. I enjoy amplified music/sound, and it has its place of course, but I feel like amplification increases the distance between performers and their audience. I want to bring them closer together. The venue and festival are proudly low-tech and that is part of the ambiance of the events.

It’s a multidisciplinary festival. 10 nights, different acts every night: music, words, comedy, dance, puppetry, clown… and TWO nights devoted to Fringe performers who will share acts and get interviewed quirkily by me – plus special guest performers.

Performers are paid from the door proceeds – the audience pays $10 (cash only) for each event – so everyone is being so generous to perform without a financial guarantee.

WindDown is a collaboration with Tricia Postle who owns the Majlis space.

Another festival DURING Fringe? Are you insane?

Yes, I am.

The WindDown Festival is a sub-festival: not part of Toronto Fringe, but running concurrently. Fringe staff told me that this is a totally new thing – they were interested in it, but I have to be careful to separate the two festivals. I’m publicizing WindDown at the same time as Yarn, and hoping that people come for both, once they’ve made the (teeny-weeny) journey to the Majlis Art Garden. And then I hope that people will come back for multiple WindDown shows!

It can be hard to get word out about a new festival, so we made the decision to run it as a kind of add-on to my Fringe run.

I really have no idea how this will go. But what a fun risk. And while I’m mostly behind the scenes, I’ll get to do some things I don’t normally get to do: interviewing performers in Open Stage nights, performing in clown. My biggest joy though is to bring all these performers and audience into this incredible little urban art garden which I feel is one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets.

We might run WindDown again as a separate thing, next summer…??

What can we expect from the WIND DOWN FESTIVAL?

The headline act is Amy Thiessen, a singer-songwriter with an absolutely lovely voice (and great guitar chops) who is coming all the way from Calgary to perform for us on two different nights. On July 11 she’s doing a solo show; on July 12 she’ll be hosting a songwriter’s circle with a couple of Toronto-based performers.

Other highlights:

– “Nightfall for Fools” (July 8) is a clown/mask/mime show with 12 performers, led by Helen Donnelly as Mildred the Maid.

– Therevox: a concert of eclectic music for soprano and THEREMIN (July 9).

– The Comedy/Storytelling night (July 13) hosted by Paul Hutcheson has an amazing lineup including stand-up comedian Nile Séguin.

And then there is a night of dance (and performance poetry), a puppetry night, the Array Session Players (improvised music) and those two Fringe open stage nights – including a really fabulous comedy juggler named Aji on July 10.

Do you have anything you’d like to share with us? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

Here is WindDown info central: http://www.alexeddington.com/alexeddingtoncom/the-winddown-festival.html

There are also Facebook events for each WindDown show.

WISHES: That people will take a risk and see a show or two.

Here is a picture of WindDown headline act Amy Thiessen!

Amy Thiessen

dossier: Helen Donnelly of FOO PRODUCTIONS and the FOOLISH CABARET

Today I’m proud to present a dossier for the generous and lovely Helen Donnelly! Aside from being my current clown teacher, Helen has had a long and illustrious career in both clown and circus performance. She’s with us to talk about the latest instalment of the Foolish Cabaret, an event I am happy to have debuted my clown at in 2012. 

Right then. On to it. dossier # 3:

Helen Donnelly

Who are we talking with?

Helen Donnelly. I’m a circus, theatrical and therapeutic clown. I’m producer of the new ‘Foolish Cabaret’ and Artistic Director of Foo Productions where I produce and create solo and group shows for festivals, theatre and circus events.

What drew you to this? (to clowning, to theatre, to wherever you are right now?)

Coming from a theatre background, I was an actor with designs for the stage, tv and film. But after a few years of auditioning, performing, wrapping up, back to auditioning again…I started to crave more of a through line to my craft. Where could I satisfy this? I was also seeking something in physical theatre. And so this led me naturally to the world of clown. I never set out to clown, and for the first few years I was awful. Truly. Crickets out there when I went on stage. But gradually (with the help of keen and talented outside eyes), I got better at it. I have no idea what made me stick to it. Stubbornness, I’m guessing.

Why the Foolish Cabaret?

I felt it was time to fill a void in Toronto to have a dedicated space for established physical theatre artists to promote their work & share their artistry while at the same time an opportunity for emerging artists to put polish on to their pieces in order to give everyone the best experience possible. So it’s about serious fools wanting to present polished pieces and give the audience the best value for their time and money. It’s also around educating people new to mime, clown, mask and bouffon. I feel there is so much talent in this city that needs to be encouraged and treasured.

What is the earliest memory you have of wanting, or needing to do this?

As soon as ‘The S.P.A.C.E’ closed back in 2003. For the last 10 years we have been orphaned and that is hard for a community. That said, the majority of clowns in our small community are newer to it, so there is not that history of knowing Mump and Smoot and training in a central spot. But I miss it. It was a special time.

Tell us a bit about therapeutic clown. I’ve heard stories about that Dr. Flap.

Ah, man—how long do you have??! Basically, this hidden art form has been an incredible opportunity for me to continue to be challenged emotionally and artistically 3 days a week. I’m currently working in pediatrics at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital and I have also worked for years at SickKids and in Long Term Care Facilities primarily with elders suffering from dementia. At Holland Bloorview there are over 60 inpatients who are brain injured, multi-disabled or have musculoskeletal rehab concerns. It has been my joy to work there as Dr Flap for the last 5 years but also as trainer of new nose hires and program coordinator. I love my job there and I especially love how it balances out my life. To be able to be in service to this unique population in clown and with a clown partner…I feel so lucky. I am dedicated to the growth of this emerging profession.

What is your favourite memory from a past Foolish Cabaret?

Oh…that is a toughy! I would have to say being backstage with master mime Giuseppe Condello….pinching myself as we both warmed up backstage together with me thinking “Is this really happening? Am I really sharing the space with this man??” So thrilling!

Describe the cabaret in three adjectives or a phrase.

‘A space for serious fools to call home’

Do you have anything you want to share with us? A story? A photo? A song? A video?

Sure! I’m attaching The Foolish Cabaret promo video. Also a video of me in clown as Flap in a day care facility with elders with early to mid-stage dementia. And my brand new promo video of my show Saucisse which I’m quite proud of; hot off the press! And the Foolish poster. See you all on Monday at Foolish! Doors open at 7:40 so get there in good time! Thanks Andrew for this great opportunity to plug it!

The Foolish Cabaret

The Foolish Cabaret promo:

Dr. Flap:

Saucisse: A Foo Musical promo: