main re-direct page for my decolonizing performance arts & comedy project

Deathclown as Decolonial Ritual Theater

In the distant past, what we today call theater – performance arts – served functions that were not solely limited to entertainment. Ritual performances performed multiple duties, functioning as therapeutic ritual hygiene tailored to the specific group, land region and seasonal/astro-geomantic timing.

Further, as culture innovated and evolved, all the various kinds of theater we now subdivide were once parts of an ecosystemic whole. Comedy, tragedy, satire, drama, folkloric storytelling, spiritual healing/spirit retrieval & the harmonization of the 5 spirits, song & dance all co-existed within the community circle and the various ritual performances throughout the months and years.

Everyone was trained, both as performer and as audience (yes there is contextual audience etiquette and training), and the line between performer and audience was permeable and much less strict/binary than today in the western ideal.

Both the performers and the audience understood that their ritual actions (the beginning of what we call acting) were for the spirits, for each other and the more-than-human world, the ancestors and the bigger mysteries beyond our knowing.

Acting was not about reifying the “self”.

Hygiene and why it matters.

Human beings require hygiene that we can subdivide into multiple types: 
precepts (based in the correct worldview, in this case nondual animism), conduct, nutrition (including herbology), neigong (energetic “exercises” and circulation methods), meditation (non-conceptual/apophatic aka “self-negation” methods such as zuowang, shamatha, etc), bathing (including spiritual baths/limpias), medicinal procedures (including massage, acupuncture, moxibustion, etc) & ritual (divination, ancestral veneration, mediumship, song & dance, offerings, prayer, etc).

It is in this last category of ritual hygiene that the most emphasis is placed when I am talking about the kind of decolonial theater I am practicing and researching. This does not mean that the actors/performers/ritualists/clowns would not need to engage in all of the other types of hygiene – they would absolutely need to in order to prepare for, integrate and maintain the equanimity and baseline required to enter and exit the ritual theater play in a harm-reductive manner.

To play well requires serious care and attention to detail. It is not merely going into a trance state and allowing impulses to “take over”.

The view & methods through which I am engaging in this ritual research project are not for everyone’s preferences. This deathclown method I am developing is akin to a spiritual martial art mixed with a critical poetic/artistic praxis. I am responsible for the vision of it, and I consider it my soul work.

Everyone is welcome to participate but it will involve taking direction, correction and usually a detox process which is not superficially pleasant. If one can commit to the long game and reduce dependency on quick-fixes and colonial habits of mind, then the fruits of the practice will reveal themselves in accordance with each person’s unique fate pattern and character.

Lineage and Training

I am trained in a number of performance arts methodologies, however in terms of the seed or spark from which Deathclown erupted, I give an impossible thank you to Nathanial Justiniano & Naked Empire Bouffon, as well as our mutual teacher Giovanni Fusetti. A special thanks also goes to Deborah Eliezer & the now defunct FoolsFury Theater company that gave me my initial training in physical theater that allowed me to absorb the bouffon training that lay in wait in my future. I also give a great thanks and appreciation to the many fellow clowns and scrappy theater makers in the bay area that created a beautiful community the likes of which I have never seen again: Fenner, Slater, Sabrina, Cara, Wendy, Zach, Marina, everyone at The Athletic Playground… the list of names & the show goes on, even in death.

Structural Overview

The training method is one of nested frames & cycles. Overall, the technical frame is one I call “impro-devising” which is exactly as a it sounds, a hybrid of improvisational and devised processes. Further, we follow a non-linear, repeating cycle of craft: Generating-Reflecting-Refining. Practitioners are trained in a number of ways: solo-without-witness, solo-with-witness, and duo/group scenarios. These may include activities such as movement, speech, song, rhythm, writing, etc.

Roughly speaking I will divide sections into more improvising or more devising based, and choose various focuses such as generating, reflecting or refining. Eventually we move on towards developing Works in Process to “test” students in their capacity to move through/with the energies of the field. We reflect on these WIPs using a modified version of Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process.

Deathclown Rules! series Table of Contents

some of these links refer to events that happened in the past. that being said there is a wealth of information contained.

1. Boldness, Learning, Play, Theater - Deathclown Rules! prologue

2. The Pink Cloud Effect

3. Theater of Precarity

4. Cartoontra

5. Deathclown Rules! podcast series part 1 w/ Leah Piotroski

6. Deathclown Course webinar recording

7. Deathclown Rules! podcast 2 & 3 w/ Naked Empire Bouffon & Matt Sparkes

8. Creative Coaching Sessions with dare in Deathpractice & Deathclown

9. Deathclown Rules! podcast 4 - Cheryl Hsu

What are we preparing FOR?

Practicing = getting to the point(s)

Practice, real meditation or any meditative practice, is a celebration of reality and our experience of it. Play and discovery are linked to our intrinsic nature and provide refuge, relief and ever-changing opportunities to play and discover. Play and discovery are not actions to solve or win. Like music, the point is to play and enjoy the process.

In doing so, we FEEL things. Impossible, indescribable things. And the practice(s) can help us to embody, communicate, share and apply those felt things to our relationships, our challenges, our cultural systems and oppressions.

Water is wet, I know, I know. It’s painfully obvious, yet, like trying to catch a greased pig, humans default into dissociation and abstraction time and time again — to try and own the pig, rather than actually get dirty trying to catch it. Practice is the art and the play of this difficult and enriching process.

The point is to get to the point as fast as possible because that is when real practice begins. If we are constantly preparing or “self-developing’ or “healing” we have to ask, what are we doing it FOR?

This is NOT an existential rhetorical question. I literally mean what actions and activities are we actually preparing for?

For me, the big one is Death itself, and along the way we must have containers, shared imaginal spaces, where we can test our skills and apply our practices in real time.

For our ancestors these shared imaginal spaces were rituals, ceremonies, that blended art and medicine, spirituality and science, storytelling and improvisation, music and craft, all in the context of a place-based community of relations.

I believe we are not as far away from them as we have been forced to think we are.

Theater, music and all the many forms of theatrical play are direct pathways to this POINT. The point where we can really experience the effects of our practices. When we add nondual animistic structures to theatrical structures, we are able to more quickly get under the noise of conceptualism, individualism and narcissistic-addictive trauma patterns and into the felt sense of the continuity and commonality that is the base of who and what we are, who and what reality is.

The other day in a reflective conversation about this deathclown artform i was asked a question, and in the process of answering it, one of the conversants said “To meet people where they are?” and I said “No, not for me to meet people where they are or for people to meet me where I am, but for people, for us together, to meet reality where reality is.”

To me, this is the point.