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!!
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Posted on April 23, 2023, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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