A dose of fun with the BFA Bouffons – curious arts

Detail from The Grand Cacophony poster.

The Grand Cacophony a welcome theatrical high

I am a theatre addict. Theatre is the worst kind of addiction there is because one cannot control the dosage or its contents. When I buy a ticket to enter the theatre my panic and excitement are almost unbearable…the anticipation that I might be OVERWHELMED by something or I will GET ON A SPEEDING TRAIN AND NEVER GET OFF…I try to calm down as the lights go to black and my heart races.

I am rarely satisfied and always hungry but occasionally the exhilaration of an extraordinary theatrical experience shoots an emotional high into my veins. One example is a play I saw last spring at Toronto’s WorldStage called Conte d’amour. Brilliant, disturbing, heartbreaking, unpredictable – the play packed a wallop of beauty and horror that had me up on my feet screaming ‘BRAVO’ when it was over.

The big dump of snow in Edmonton last week could not prevent Lee Playwright in Residence, Colleen Murphy, from getting her theatrical fix. Photo by TJ Jans.

The big dump of snow in Edmonton last week did not prevent Lee Playwright in Residence, Colleen Murphy, from getting her theatrical fix. Photo by TJ Jans.

Mump and Smoot. Photo courtesy www.mumpandsmoot.com .

Mump and Smoot. Photo courtesy Michael Kennard.

Recently, I saw The Grand Cacophony, the result of Professor Michael Kennard’s BFA Acting class in physical comedy and clown (cohort graduating in 2016). I have watched almost all the shows of Mump and Smoot (Michael Kennard and John Turner). They are one of the best clown duos in the world. It is wonderful that University of Alberta students get to work with an artist of his stature.

The first half of The Grand Cacophony was rich with clown work by the students and the second half was bouffon.  Bouffon is a genre of clowning that originated during the French Renaissance when the ‘ugly people’ of Paris – the infirm, the lepers, those with deformities – were forced to live outside the city walls while the beautiful people lived within…but during festivals the bouffons (ugly people) were expected to entertain the ‘beautiful people’.


Red Bastard Bouffon By Wallaceknight via Wikimedia Commons

During these performances the bouffon’s goal was to insult and disgust the beautiful people. The bouffon would aim their attacks at leaders of society – the government or the church or the wealthy. According to PhilippeGaulier, a master clown, the perfect performance for a bouffon would be one where the audience is wildly entertained then goes home, realizes their lives are meaningless and commits suicide.  Of course this is the theory not the practice, but then again where would theatre be without the immediate tension between life and death.  I’ll hold that thought for another blog…

Between the fearless, committed performances from ALL the BFA students in their big lumpy costumes, black broken teeth, their antics with cum and shit and their taunts about the prime minister and the Arts and blood banks, mixed with their sweet ‘thank-you’s’ every time we – the audience – threw buns at them, I say BRAVO!  Their subversion was exciting and inspiring and gave me a most welcome theatrical high.

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