Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Meet Box of Clowns, and hear about their show “Mom?”: A Comedy of Mourners January 3, 2015

Box of Clowns,  a new clown & physical theatre ensemble based in Portland is premiering a new dark comedy “Mom?” A Comedy of Mourners at FG 15.

FG 2015 box of clownsFG 15 Box of Clowns Defenestrators poster w text

Together they replied to our Pop Quiz so we could get to know them a bit better. See their show Jan 23 + 30 at 9:30PM and Jan 24 + 31 at 7PM and Jan 25 + Feb 1 at 8PM at Friendly House Community Center 1737 NW 26th. Double click on the poster (picture on the right) and see that they are sharing the stage with The Defenestrators. http://thedefenestratorst.wix.com/the-defenestrators

Jeff Desautels, Laura Loy and Anna Sell, Box of Clowns, “Mom?”: A Comedy of Mourners

1)Artists in your field that you have giant artist crushes on are..

Jeff:  Absolutely Philip Burgers. Look him up!

Anna:  Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Laura: Mookie Cornish, Bill Irwin

2)Works that have shaped your artistic voice are

Jeff:  Can I bring up the Muppets and still be taken seriously? On stage, I’d have to say Three Trees, that’s a Dell’Arte Company show with three other clowns. Who happened to train us. Clearly we draw most of our inspiration from them!

Anna: Film: The Fall, directed by Tarsem Singh.  Stage: Three Trees, a Dell’arte Company.  Music Performance: Lady Gaga at the VMAs with Paparazzi.

Laura: Mabou Mines A Doll’s House, Diventare– I wish I knew who did this piece I saw at KCACTF, but I can’t remember.

3)When I’m not creating art you can often find me

Jeff: Probably doing something mundane, like grocery shopping.

Anna: Jumping from buildings, learning how to fly.

Laura: Writing postcards and looking at the sky.

4)Songs on my playlist are . .

Jeff: I’ve just discovered Patrick Wolf, Charli XCX and Chromeo. If I’m not listening to something current, then it’s gypsy swing.

Anna: Songs: Oh Fortuna, Chandelier, You Will Be My Ain True Love, Clap Your Hands.  Artists: Basshunter, Robyn, Lindsey Stirling, Florence and the Machine.

Laura: The Living Sisters Love to Live album, Kimbra Cameo Lover, and any number of podcasts- a current favorite is Startup by Gimlet Media.

5)A Portland artist/creative/arts or other community or social services organization I’d love to work with (e.g. Media Rites, Passin’ Art, PHAME, p:ear)

Jeff: Mizu Desierto! I’ve always wanted to learn more about Butoh.

Anna: I concur with Jeff.  Mizu Desierto is incredibly interesting.

Laura: Portland Parks and Rec- so many spaces that are perfect for arting about.

6) I am terrified of

Jeff: Clowns. (Just kidding.) I’m afraid of anything supernatural, to be quite honest. I have a very overactive imagination.

Anna: That Mango will slowly take over my daily life.

Laura: Stinkbugs. The way they move is super creepy.

7) I obsessed with..

Jeff:  The Serial podcast, like everyone else. Will they release the DNA results!?

Anna: Superheroes and the supernatural.

Laura: Grimm and science facts: Did you know that dinosaurs probably had feathers?  WHAT?! Stuff like that blows my mind.

box of clowns duck face

8) Favorite books and/or books currently on my nightstand are…

Jeff:  On nightstand is easier: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.

Anna: The nightstand is definitely easier: The Artist’s Way and Walking in this World by Julia Cameron; Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff by Richard Carlson.

Laura: Since we’re doing nightstands: Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus, my journal, Finding Water by Julia Cameron, Lessons from a Sheepdog by W. Phillip Keller, Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford, did I mention that my nightstand is a bookshelf?  Anyway, that’s what is on top.  My favorite book is Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.

9) The words that describe your piece in the Festival

Jeff:  If Monty Python raised the children of Carol Burnett and Mr. Bean…

Anna: If peace, harmony, and tradition were thrown into a blender and served as a comedic smoothie…

Laura: I think Jeff and Anna have this one covered.  I might add something like “Well, it’s a funeral, but they’re clowns. So everything goes wrong…”

10) In the bio-flick of my Life, I should/want to be played by

Jeff:  Jennifer Lawrence. That woman can do anything.

Anna: Absolutely Jennifer Lawrence.  Fight you for her, Jeff.

Laura:  Maggie Smith, aided by a time machine.

About your show in the Festival

  • Tell us about your Fertile Ground Festival work

A mysterious trunk sits on the peak of a mountain at the end of the universe. Out of the trunk come the clown siblings Victoria, Frank, and Mango. They have brought with them the ashes of their dear, departed mother, whose last wish was to be scattered across the void. Jam-packed with acrobatics, slapstick, and mischievous antics, the clowns trip, fall, and stumble through the stages of grief.

box of clowns other show color candid

  • How did this work come about? What inspired it?

This work started two years ago when we studied at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, it was our “Final” (yes, like the exam. The audience graded us). We liked the image of carrying more suitcases than we could physically handle. Each suitcase had it’s own “world” inside, (a beach, an office, a sock drawer, etc.). One suitcase we dubbed “mother’s garden”. Every time it was opened, Frank was required to leave behind a flower from his mother’s garden. This caused him to cry hysterically, because he dreaded the thought of an empty suitcase. This became the seed for “Mom?”, where we scatter our mother’s ashes instead. The other image we liked was getting sucked into a suitcase, so we found a bottomless trunk, put it on top of two tables, and that became how we entered and left the playing space. After we left Dell’Arte, we had to physically construct a trunk and adjoining tables that were the exact physical dimensions of the one at school, so we could continue working on the show. Needless to say, we are very proud of it.

  • Tell us about your creative process. How do you work? When do you work? What gets you inspired? How do you fight inertia and creative blocks?

Our process goes something like: find something fun to play with, put on a red nose, improvise, dissect what we liked, and see if we can replicate it and make it funnier. It’s very scientific. At the same time, at no point in our process did we consciously decide to create a play about grief. We did decide to create a play with these characters, we assembled some props, and Frank revealed to us that he was grieving. I know that sounds…spooky…but since we work with clowns it’s really essential for us to maintain some distance between ourselves and the characters in order to have authenticity. I’d bet a literary playwright would say the exact same thing. You’ll never hear me say, “I thought it would be fun to trip on stage”. Yes, on some level, I did think it would be fun, but it’s more accurate to say that Frank tripped and I thought it was funny so I make sure conditions are right for tripping. When we come to a block, it’s usually ourselves blocking the characters from doing what they do. I’ll often push for improvising since that’s my background, and maybe someone else will want to craft something, and then we’ll get in a fight about it because we care so much about this show. Usually going for a walk helps. And, sometimes, believe it or not, watching cat videos.