A Swami, a Rabbi and a Bouffon walk into a drama school…


Kate Walder
Kate Walder

I’m still in Paris. I’m still homeless. And I’m still doing backflips and playing Simon Says every day. Well actually Philippe calls it “Samuel Says” because that’s his son’s name. And Philippe does whatever the hell he wants. Traditionally the game involves tapping different parts of your body according to the teacher’s instructions and waiting patiently on the side if you get out. Philippe’s version, which is played every day before impro, involves running backwards, riding fake bicycles, denouncing people who pretend they didn’t make a mistake, asking for kisses from other class members if you do make a mistake and being tortured by the man himself if your proposals are declined. I still have bruises where Philippe pinched my arm and I’m pretty sure he almost dislocated someone’s shoulder on Friday.

But as I’ve said, it’s all a game. In every part of his teaching the rules are extremely loose. It is far more important for him to see you genuinely having fun and finding your freedom. Yesterday after our weekly performance class he said, “It is always better for you to give something than to obey the rules I set for the exercise or workshop. If you give something of yourself and I see a real, alive person in front of me, that is always better. I want to teach you to find your freedom, not be stuck inside the theory of my balls.” It was pretty eloquent up until the part about his balls, but again, Philippe does whatever the hell he wants.

It has been interesting observing my response to this philosophy. I have an innate attraction to order and immediately want to understand exactly what the rules are and the parameters within which I’m working, so that I can structure my development accordingly. I like to know the steps I am required to take to achieve the desired outcome and succeed in my chosen area of learning. Then I can tick that box and invade Poland. No I’m kidding, but it just occurred to me that it is quite a rigid, almost militant way of operating (my Dad was in the army for fourteen years – definitely his fault). We all have an innate need for order but there is no denying that the creative spirit must know how to be light and free first. Then it can be channelled into a structure. But order before freedom will always suffocate the spirit.

So we’re currently studying Bouffon. We finished Melodrama and thankfully I went out with a bang. I’d been doing so much crying and singing and I was getting a bit bored, so I thought I’d try something completely different. I’ve since learned then that when you give something, Philippe keeps pushing you in that direction because he sees it as an opening into a part of you and if you keep going you will discover something. But I didn’t know that then, so I dressed up as Miss Hannigan and made myself look like I had syphilis on my face.

We were doing a scene about boat people arriving in Australia as a Melodrama, although it went a little wayward and became a farce about five minutes in. It probably didn’t help that I was singing “When You’re Good To Mama” from Chicago and that the two girls who were playing war torn refugees called themselves Cosette, Colette and referred to their dead brother, Courgette. But Philippe was pleased because we gave something. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to be that big on stage, not since I was five with a box on my head in my lounge room, and as a result I experienced the freedom that he so very much wants us to find. It was quite euphoric.

Now I am about to embark on the final week of Bouffon. This workshop has been a bit more confusing because there are even less rules than Melodrama. As far as I understand it, a Bouffon is “someone at who the finger of scorn was pointed.” Going back a few centuries, Bouffons were the social outcasts, the disabled, the deformed, the mentally impaired, the homosexuals, the gypsies, the Jews, etc. They were the people who were banished from civilised societies and the only way to release their hate was to mock those who had turned their lives into a living hell. The Bouffon was and still is very intelligent (modern examples include Sasha Baron Cohen’s Ali G and Borat), cleverly destroying the person they mock through their parody. Although I’ve been playing a ballet-dancing Rabbi for the last week and apparently that is OK too.

Well I think that’s enough for now. Just for the record, I’m not really homeless. I’m moving into a friend’s place in Montmartre at the beginning of April, which will be awesome. Just before I do that I’m going to spend a few days in an ashram to get a bit of brain space and quiet time. Although I have a hunch it might be good food for Bouffon-related thought as well. Between French-speaking Swamis and pirouetting Rabbis, I reckon I should have enough material for a new show… or a bloody good story at the very least.

Kate Walder

Kate is a 2008 graduate of the BA Music Theatre course from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). During her time at the academy she played the role of Linda in Blood Brothers, The Young Wife in Hello Again, Marguerita in West Side Story and featured in the ensemble of Sweeney Todd and Oklahoma!, for which she was Dance Captain. After moving to London in 2009 Kate played the role of Clio in La Dispute at the Soho Theatre and subsequently at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Since returning to Sydney, Kate has written and performed her one-woman show Coffee with Kate: the Cabaret at the 2010 inaugural Sydney Fringe Festival, a show based on a series of weekly columns she wrote for Aussietheatre.com. She is currently co-writing a new show with a fellow WAAPA graduate which will premiere later in the year.

Kate Walder

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