Saturday, May 26, 2007

Back in the Greasepaint Again!

Self Portrait by Ian Thal (click for larger image)

May 19th 2007: I am in the kitchen of an elementary school in Brookline putting on makeup. For the last several months I had performed masked, or with minimal or no make up at all, but now for the second weekend in a row I am back to wearing my clown white. I snap a photograph of myself in the mirror in my makeup kit.

Last week had been a paid gig. The client was a philanthropy that wanted a "French" theme, and thus, a French mime (I wore a black Basque béret.) This week, I am performing as a favor and so I have chosen a more fanciful costume variant.

In 2004, I began my association with The Greater Boston Community Center for the Arts (formerly, the Brookline Community Center for the Arts) where I had my first work as a mime instructor. The following year, while preparing to purchase the building, an unexpected series of events occured and caused the BCCA to lose the building, and so, Dan Yonah Ben-Dror Marshall, the president and artistic director had recruited me and a number of other affiliated artists to provide entertainment at the school's fair in order maintain BCCA's visability while he continues to solicit support in the community for the purchase of a new building.

Though I often have quiet spells, people seem to have typed me as a loquacious poet, and so by also being a mime, I can charge an hourly rate for shutting up.

And now for a strange interlude on artist fees from Animal Crackers. Keep in mind that Spaulding and Ravelli speak of 1929 dollars:

Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont): You are one of the musicians? You were not due until tomorrow.

Ravelli (Chico Marx): Couldn't come tomorrow. That's too quick.

Spaulding (Groucho Marx): Say, you're lucky they didn't come yesterday.

Ravelli: We were busy yesterday, but we charge just the same.

Spaulding: This is better than exploring. What do you fellows get an hour?

Ravelli: Ah, for playing we getta ten dollars an hour.

Spaulding: I see, what do you get for not playing?

Ravelli: Twelve dollars an hour.

Spaulding: Well clip me off a piece of that.

Ravelli: Now... for rehearsing, we make a special rate, that'sa fifteen dollars an hour.

Spaulding: That's for rehearsing.

Ravelli: That'sa for rehearsing.

Spaulding: And what do you get for not rehearsing?

Ravelli: You couldn't afford it. You see if we don't rehearse, we don't play. And if we don't play that runs into money.

Spaulding: How much would you want to run into an open manhole?

Ravelli: Just the cover charge.

(This exchange comes about 6:12 into this clip. How much of it is Morrie Ryskind's original script and how much is improvised is unknown to me.)

I emerge into the school cafeteria and I am immediately surrounded by a very receptive audience of children and a few parents. My first series of lazzi involve an untied shoelace. First, I step on the shoelace with the result of a finding that my foot is tethered to the ground as I take my next step. Second, I operate my foot like a marionette. Third, I start playing the long, untied shoelace along with the bassist from Blus Cabaret (a band with whom my friend, Lo Galluccio often sings). My next lazzo is an attempt to button my shirt that begins with my putting the top button into the bottom hole. This struggle seems especially entertaining for most of the smaller children who probably have just as much trouble getting in and out of their clothing as I did at their age (ironic as the grandson of a tailor from Lodz and Montreal.)

After a few more extended gags that take me from one end of the cafeteria to the other, with a large crowd of small people following behind, Dan Marshall announces that he is to begin is kung fu demonstration and invites me to take part (we had done a couple of demos together before at public events-- the idea of having an actual clown present as he teaches kung fu to children appeals to both our senses of humor.)

Fortunately, greasepaint is sweat resistant and I only have to fix my eyeliner afterwards. I rejoin Dan for his salsa dance demonstration, and engage in a bit more clowning with my partner.

I roam off to try some more routines elsewhere in the school fair and return to the cafeteria to see a hip-hop demonstration by Megatron (a hip-hop dancer, not a fictitious robot) and some of his younger protegées. Megatron, in a question and answer segment, credits the mime, Robert Shields for originating "the robot" dance-- thus revealing part of the little known link between break dancing and mime!

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