No Kidding! Clown as Protagonist in Twentieth-Century Theater

No Kidding! Clown as Protagonist in Twentieth-Century Theater

No Kidding! Clown as Protagonist in Twentieth-Century Theater

No Kidding! Clown as Protagonist in Twentieth-Century Theater

Synopsis

"No Kidding! Clown as Protagonist in Twentieth-Century Theater examines the way clown was transformed into a serious character in twentieth-century theater. Modernist theater practitioners recognized that clown's approach to performance is profoundly different from other modes of theatrical representation. The paradox of clown, a traditionally marginal, comic character thrust into center stage as the focus of the agon, provided a stimulating new way to renovate tragedy. Experiments with clown by Jean Cocteau, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Giorgio Strehler, Dario Fo, and Roberto Benigni are examined as a means of exploring how and why clown became, in contemporary theater and film, a character from whom audiences expect philosophizing, angst, or political criticism as much as physical comedy and fractured language." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

ADRIAN WETTACH (A. K. A. GROCK), was a Swiss clown who ruled the circuses and cabarets of Europe as “King of Clowns” until his death in 1959. Grock's audience included children, workers, politicians, artists, and intellectuals. As a punctuation to his routines he loved to yell “Sans blââgue!” [No Kidding!], indicating to his audience the potentially serious nature of his comic turns. “Sans blââgue!” was the trademark of a genuinely popular performer, but embedded in this comical utterance is the contradictory core of what made clown such an appealing character to modernist theater.

Most theatrical traditions have characters that we recognize as clowns. Playwright and performer Dario Fo has said that: “clowns can be found at all times and in all countries.” The very diversity of clown, however, makes a comprehensive definition a complicated matter. In fact, it has proven so difficult that most scholars and historians in the field have balked at trying to define clown at all, and confined themselves to describing character traits, or points of similarity from tradition to tradition. But the persistence of clown as a recognizable figure in virtually all traditions, suggests that some essential clown quality must exist and be worth exploring.

The popular perception of a clown is synonymous with laughter, but clown as adopted by twentieth-century artists, has more frequently been the means through which the contemporary tragic impulse has been expressed. Clown makes an ideal protagonist of twentieth-century theater because theatrical modernism was preoccupied with breaking the expectations of older genre systems and exposing the mechanism of art-making. If a character in twentieth-century theater looks like a clown and acts like a clown, but does not make us laugh, it is usually because our attention is being channeled in a new direction. What . . .

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