Shiner sings my praises or is saying "NOOO!" I can't remember which.
As performers we all seek it.
It’s a sharpness.
A crispness of delivery.
The unguarded alacrity of thought.
It says “Pay attention audience. Or we will leave you in the dust.”
It’s not about pacing though.
It’s not rushed.
It's a living thing.
It can live in an excruciatingly long pause just as it can live in a flurry of words and action.
And to keep an audience riveted, it is essential.
My fellow clown Jimmy Slonina here at Cirque has a great word for it.
He calls it The Crackle.
And when our bits go well he says
“That was crackly!”
David Shiner worked with us clowns on a recent visit to insure The Crackle Factor was alive here at Kooza.
I had spent the morning in the Bronx.
Cirque du Monde, Cirque du Soleil’s outreach program had a few of us out to Hunt’s Point for a break down cruise of perhaps the most environmentally toxic funnels of real estate in the United States where we toured one of the “little victories” these intrepid social worker/activist/clowns have carved out of this ravaged urban landscape.
Sandwiched between a reeking fertilizer factory and the burning smoke stacks of a waste management smelter is a park where kids laugh and play and learn circus skills.
Amid this Industrial wasteland the kids-
(70% of which have extreme cases of asthma from the diesel trucks that they must navigate around to get anywhere)
-spend a few hours after school dodging drive by bullets and the lure of drug dealers to, well, just be kids.The heroes of this story are these young clowns, jugglers and acrobats who come here every day and face the “cooler than thou” teens and pre teens to give them a taste of circus arts and the trust and teamwork these skills entail.
We can be heroes, just for one day.The darkened circles under their eyes are the tell tales of a thousand “Why should I’s” and “I don’t wanna’s”
Then it’s back by dingy subway to the light of the Artistic Tent at Le Grand Chapeteau for my rehearsal with David Shiner.
As a director David Shiner can be mean.
In all the right ways.
Mean the way you want your director to be mean.
Like California Shakespeare Theatre director Jonathon Moscone, he cares deeply about the work enough to not be concerned about your perception of him. He wants you to succeed and it might not be all hearts and flowers and nurturing. There might be some deeply entrenched habits that need breaking and David is there to break them.
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Nowhere was this better exemplified than when we watched a DVD of a previous performance of mine.
On the screen I make a kind of clever, facile and theatrical choice that may have served me well in the theatre world and David pauses the tape-
“No! No! No! No! NO!” he cries and stamps the ground with his foot.
“Why did you do that?”
“Well, I thought-“
“NOO! You’re supposed to be an idiot! You can’t think!”
Maddening as these contradictions seem, the upshot is that my character must always come back to simply being me.
Confused, addled, distractable, excitable, dictatorial, adorable but always coming back to me.
We rework the “Transformation” section of the act-
(The boxer now takes a knock out punch and I get to do a nice rag doll fall. See My Brain Is My Enemy)
–and somehow the work magically goes from replication to actual creation and a wonderful sense of ownership starts to form.
The next night, sweaty, exhilarated, I exit from our first scene and find Shiner exulting me in the tunnel: “That’s it! You rocked it!”
Easier because as long as I breathe and have fun and stay in the moment I can always come back to myself as the base character.
Harder because doing that is a very vulnerable and naked way to work.
No theatrical slight of hand.
No display of technique.
Having fun as The King of the Clowns,
In the moment
And making it Crackle.
Nine shows a week.