Monthly Archives: April 2023
Interview: Lee Delong @ the Brighton Fringe
Uncommon Comedy are bringing four shows to Brighton
The Mumble caught up with their director-creator
Hello Lee, where are you from & where are you living today?
Hi Mumble. Nice of you to invite me for an interview, thanks very much. I have been living in France for 37 years, of that about 15 years in Paris and now 22 years in a small village outside of Paris, in a little house overlooking the Seine. It’s very peaceful and full of birdsong. I grew up in wild, wonderful West Virginia, so I consider myself French (which I am) and West Virginian!
Can you tell us a little about what you do?
I’ve always been first and foremost an actress, but as a young actress, I had to supplement my income. I began to clown at university football games—learned juggling and unicycling and balloon making, then clowned at children’s parties. So when I moved to France, I was accustomed to being resourceful. I was limited largely because my French wasn’t yet good enough for the stage, leading me to expand my acting work into directing. And I love it, even though acting is my first love, and have enjoyed working on some fabulous stages in France.
I started to teach because of the war in Bosnia. I had worked in the Balkans in the years before the war, and I had many friends and colleagues there. I wanted to do something to help, and they said they needed teachers. (I was an actress, not a teacher. What could I do?) I had recently finished Lecoq School and I felt quite comfortable with the clown as a theatrical style and felt that it was suited to war-time needs. I began teaching clown at Akademija Umjetnosti, their National School in Sarajevo, then later took over their movement courses. The clown class became so popular that I am still teaching it, since 1994, and in fact often end up creating shows with my previous students.
In other words, to answer your question, what I do is act, direct, create, and teach.
How did you get into theatre in the first place?
When I was a very small child, I made up shows and characters to entertain my sisters. I loved getting people to laugh at my ‘boy who eats a butterfly,’ or my ‘fly stuck in the car’ routines. Then in first grade, I played Mrs. Santa in her eponymous show. I fell asleep in the chair after Santa left to distribute toys, as rehearsed, but I improvised her snoring quite loudly, which got lots of guffaws. I’ve never looked back. I did shows in high schools and community theatre, then studied theatre in drama school, then attended Ecole Jacques Lecoq….I’ve never known anything else.
Last year you were at the Brighton Fringe, can you tell us about the experience?
Last year, the wonderful Ralf Wetzel performed our Absolutely Reliable!, which is a collaboration born of one of my workshops. It started with just a little mask I had bought in a joke and magic shop in Paris, but when Ralf put it on, he became George from head to toe. It was remarkable. The mask is now much more elaborate, and the show has lived on many stages, and we were thrilled to be part of Brighton Fringe last year. I adore this city! I spent many Christmas holidays here and cherish the memories of walks on the beach and the pier. I once played here, Worstward Ho! by Samuel Beckett with the Gare St. Lazare Players. I love the energy of this place, and the Brighton Fringe is my favorite of all the many Festivals I’ve attended. It’s large yet remains friendly. And it’s in a gorgeous setting. It’s got it all.
This year you’re bringing reinforcements – what’s the story?
Ralf had the idea to bring several of my shows together for a tour. I have seven shows extant at this time, but we would need a fortune to get that going! However, Ralf is a miracle maker and he managed to organize four different companies with four different pieces to come under one roof for the first time in my theatrical life! It’s very exciting! Two shows from Croatia: Obligation with beautiful artist, Nikolina Majdak with whom I’ve worked since 2007, and Black Petra, a children’s show, my only one, with Nikolina and the fabulous Iva Peter-Dragan whose company Triko I’ve worked with for more than a decade. From Serbia, we have Stefan Ostojić, a truly gifted performer, with the solo, Lala, a delightful show. And of course, The Heist. Something for everyone!
Where did the idea for Uncommon Comedy come from?
The idea to do Uncommon Comedy came from Ralf, the title is mine. Uncommon Comedy because it is an uncommon way I have of working. I search deeply into each actor to find what are his strengths and weaknesses. I stretch and amplify that to create themes that emerge from the artist’s own accumulation of knowledge and observation. And whether the style is red-nose, mask, movement, dance, or comi-tragedy, it is physical theatre in a very pure form, usually without words, without set. I believe in the virtuosity of the actor. All you need is light and an actor….and music. I often use a musician who is part of the experience. He/she is on-stage, visible to the public for the whole performance. I like to create a soundscape that replaces the set and sometimes even objects. I like a creation that links directly to a public, that evokes joy, anger, tears, laughter….all the emotions that link us as humans.
Can you tell us about each of the shows?
I will give you a little text for each that I wrote specifically for Brighton Fringe:
is an allegory of the prevailing power of innocence, which mixes clown, dance, movement, and object manipulation. The live music on-stage enlarges the actor’s playing space and ignites the public’s imagination. This whimsical performance incites an interrogation of what one small person must do to combat catastrophe. With Nikolina Majdak, music: Lucija Stanojević, and the man in the suit: Mario Miličić.
features four full masks created and played by a single actor, without objects, without set, making the soundscape primordial. The multi-instrumentalist on-stage synches the high whistle of darting off a cliff, the moment of frozen silence, the whoosh of falling, the bam splat of landing….all these things that speak volumes in pictorial language. This piece is a lone man’s struggle to survive the repercussions of a pandemic. With Ralf Wetzel, music: Max Charue.
is pure red-nose clown. A solo virtuosity which tells a folk tale in a revisited version. In this piece, the music is the movement of the actor, though he plays several instruments himself, to tell the age-old story of star-crossed lovers who wring a happy ending out of a cruel destiny. With Stefan Ostojić.
is a red-nose clown duo for young public, which tells a story of initiation. Two girls, best of friends, get sucked into the cyber world, and must make an arduous journey to save themselves. The original soundtrack fills this world of monsters and battles and super heroines with a symphony of fantastical sound. With Iva Peter-Dragan and Nikolina Majdak.
Do they all get together sometimes?
They have never been all together at the same time, except on-line. This will be a first!
Why do you think solo shows such as yours have so much power in performance?
Not all my shows are solo shows, but when they are, the actor must be the motor. It is the actor we’re looking at and I want him/her to play like it’s the last day on earth. As I mentioned, I believe in the virtuosity of actors, without the ego. The public is the only partner when it’s a solo, so the link to the public must be incredibly strong. The public must believe that a truth is being spoken, and that under the laughter there is something to nourish your soul.
So you have 20 seconds to sell each of the shows on the streets of Brighton, what do you say?
Obligation: Come to see a delightful, whimsical allegory, with a masterful mover and incredible music!
The Heist: An homage to dispossessed restaurant owners everywhere! A very rare performance of solo-full-mask with music that absolutely delights!
Lala: This show is lesson in virtuosity by a red-nose theatre clown–not circus clown–an age-old tale told in a remarkable way!
Black Petra: Two red-nose clowns who are catapulted through a rapid-fire adventure! Unusual children’s fare!
What does the rest of 2023 hold in store for Lee DeLong & Uncommon Comedy?
For Uncommon Comedy….who knows? If we have someone interested in the whole package, we would be delighted to continue! This is, as I said, a first, and could be expanded to include three more of my shows, for the brave of heart.
As for myself, Stefan and I are leaving immediately following Brighton Fringe to attend Zagreb Clown Festival by Triko Cirkus Teatar, headed by Iva Peter-Dragan. We’re playing on the 12th May. Otherwise, I have a bit of TV to do in France with the wonderful Antoine Garceau who was on the Call My Agent team. He’s adapting Camus’ La Peste in a short series and I’m lucky enough to be a small part of it. I’m also continuing an animation series that I’ve been doing for two years: Xilam’s Chip & Dale: Park Life. In November, I’m honored to be teaching for Healthy Humor in NYC, along with some incredible clown masters. I’ll be directing a clown revisitation of Romeo & Juliet for the National Theatre in Sarajevo at the beginning of next year….And who knows what else will pop up!!
BUY TICKETS HERE
Ralf Wetzel @ the Brighton Fringe
A rare solo mask performance will soon be in Brighton
The Mumble caught up with the actor
Hello Ralf, where are you from & where are you living today?
Hi Damo, I am a German expat, a mask & clown performer and a business educator. I live and work since 12 years in Belgium, where I grew roots in Brussels.
Can you tell us a little about the performer inside you?
Oh, he most likely always has been there, it only took me 40 years to discover him and to let him out. The discovery took place during a depression some 10 years ago. I was an academic, entering a business school. This specific environment was a huge challenge for me. Facing private challenges as well, I was down, when I was introduced to improvisation theatre and the red nose clown. That brought me in deep touch with my inner emotional worlds, and a very powerful drive to express myself grew strong. That’s when the performer stepped up. In the close collaboration with French/American actress, director and writer Lee Delong, the performer received his format, mainly by the serendipitous contact to theatre masks. Lee and myself worked on three shows, which made it to the Edinburgh Fringe, the Zagreb Clown Festival and even a TEDx stage just a few weeks ago.
You’re coming to the Brighton Fringe this year with a new show, what is it about Brighton that makes you want to return?
I came here last year with the solo half-mask show “Absolutely reliable!” and fell in love with the city and the festival. The festival is by far less of a madhouse like Edinburgh, you can develop contacts and networks much easier here, and sea salt in the air always attracts me.
After ‘Absolutely Reliable’ you have now created a whole new show. What was the impulse behind the change?
Oh it simply emerged from the confrontation with medical masks in everyday life. If you work in the area of mask theatre, the link is obvious. Masks hide parts of your face, while they are unveiling inner powers and energies, we are barely aware of. Masks change our behaviour. When the experience and power of a tiny realm, a niche of theatre work suddenly becomes a mundane phenomenon, of course you want to investigate what is happening. For the performance, one very interesting part was to explore what happens when you put a (medical) mask on top of a expressive theatre mask. The outcome is stunning.
Your new show is called ‘The Heist’, can you tell us all about it?
The Heist is an homage to all the pandemic-struck restaurant and small business owners of this world. The piece explores the plight of Steve, a restaurant owner, who loses everything, and it does so by employing comedy, mask, music, and movement. It is a solo full-mask show with live soundscape on stage, meaning, it’s visual theatre, without (almost) any spoken word on an empty stage. The masks elevate the emotional turmoil we all went through, and we barely have words for. Since there is only me as actor and four masks, I have to constantly change characters and their physicality. I jump, roll, tippy-toe, explode, collapse, dream, and agonize in rapid-fire succession, and that’s sheer fun. Lee as the writer and director of the show dissects in the piece the human struggle for survival and its inherent meaninglessness in an alluring, charming way. She contrasts the wordless sufferings of the masked life we all have been living with a heightened sense of poignancy.
Who will be supplying the live music?
The music plays a crucial part in this piece. The sound and the physical play are close and intimate partners, and both need to be in full sync to make the world of Steve come alive. We are blessed to have the wonderful percussionist Max Charue from Charlesoi with us. Since there is no stage set, Max provides the full soundscape of all the actions that I do in mask. If I open a door, throw an egg into a pan or blow up a safe in a bank, he makes you hear and therefore see it. It’s magic.
Who created the masks & how did they do it?
It was me who created 3 out of the 4 masks. It’s a highly intuitive process, where your hands practically follow intuition and instinct but not your mind, while the mind needs to be fully present. I learned making masks from Steve Jarand from Calgary and The Familie Flöz from Berlin. There are as many techniques as there are mask makers. But in short, you first form a face from clay, and then you apply either paper maché, leather or plastic on top of it and then you finish it with colour, hair, teeth, eyes. What sounds simple isn’t. Mask making is a true and highly intuitive, almost spiritual craft.
The Heist is being directed by Lee Delong – what is it like to work with her?
It’s an experience that changed my life. Lee is extraordinary in how she sees the gold in the dust, she recognizes them in the smallest cues. She looks through your levels of fear and all your shields of protection, in a loving way. With decades of experience as actress, director and teacher, she challenges you to the bones and kicks your ass hard. But she knows exactly where your boundaries are, how far she can push. I feel challenged but safe in her hands at the same time. That allowed me a developmental journey throughout the last years far beyond my imagination. I had no idea how far that would go. And The result is amazing to me, every day.
She is also directing three other shows at the Fringe, what is ‘Uncommon Comedy’?
Yes, she directed all shows in ‘Uncommon Comedy’. This mini festival brings highly visual, physical theatre without words to Brighton. The shows come from Croatia, Serbia and Belgium. They all employ mask, red-nose, movement, dance, music, and sound that speaks without words on a practically empty stage. In this world of moving stage pictures, Lee removed the words and replaced them with the power of purely physical expression and with the immense effect of sound and musical underscoring. With this, ‘Uncommon Comedy’ treats universal themes with rapid-fire action, image, and tons of humour. We are very grateful that the production of Uncommon Comedy is wonderfully supported by the Diplomatic Representation of the Government of Flanders.
How much of a role do you have with Uncommon Comedy?
While Lee is the artistic director of the mini festival, I am the producer, which means that all the management of the event is in my hands. From theatre contracting, coordinating the marketing and the linking to the Fringe organization team, looking for funding.
You have 20 seconds to sell The Heist on the streets of Brighton, what do you say?
The Heist is a rapid fire exploration of the emotional turmoil we all went through during the pandemic, and brought to the stage in a light, comedic, and truthful way.
THE OLD MARKET