Buffooning Around with Trilby Jeeves
Imagine the Olympic Opening Ceremonies next month. Brass Bands. Flags a-flap from every nation. Battalions of buff and nubile bodies in Spandex. A Grand March of Ubermenschen, that would be the envy of Leni Riefenstahl.
Let the Games begin!
But wait! There’s some kind of disturbance, a scuffle perhaps. Security forces are quick to surround a small group of misshapen, clumsy people who seem incapable of marching in formation.
And they’re making noises that sound strangely like—flatulence!
Are they Hobbits? Goblins? Trolls?
Nope. Just a gang of those pesky Buffoons, trained by Trilby Jeeves, who, after all, cannot be held responsible for what people do once they leave her workshops.
Buffoons have minds of their own. And most days, happily, they’re up to no good.
Although buffoonery is as old as satire itself, the term bouffon, according to Wikipedia, was “re-coined in the early 1960s by Jacques Lecoq at his L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris to describe a specific style of performance work that has a main focus in the art of mockery.”
Buffoonery is a particular attitude or style of clowning.
“Circus clowns want to make us laugh or feel sorry for them,” says Jeeves. “They tend to want our approval. Buffoons don’t give a shit what we think. They want to expose us to ourselves. In making fun of us, they want us to smarten up.”
In Lecoq’s words, “Bouffons amuse themselves by reproducing the life of man in their own way, through games and pranks. …. Bouffons come from elsewhere.”
Trilby Jeeves discovered the power of Buffooning as an acting student at the Conservatoire D’art Dramatique de Quebec in a production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. “It was a love scene, and I got to play the boy—with quite a large, expandable you-know-what. It was very fun,” she says, laughing.
“The Ah Ha for me was that—I was so present. I never even thought about forgetting my lines or not knowing what was coming up. A Buffoon mocks, and if you mock you have to have an opinion—no question about how you feel. Plus I was doing it in my second language, and if I ever went to my head, I’d have had difficulty in pronunciation or some other signal that I was going out of myself and into my head. And I never sensed them in my Buffoon.”
Her Buffoon “squashed” her “Inner Critic,” she says. And now she helps others to squash theirs.
Jeeves’ Buffoon Workshops were originally designed to help actors get at the subtext or a character’s deeper motivation in any given scene.
“That’s the tough part about acting,” says Jeeves. “You can’t always figure a script by reading it. You get up on your feet and rehearse. What does this make me feel? What are they provoking in me, and what do I want to provoke in them? The things that are going on underneath are the truth.
“We discover our buffoon without language, so we don’t go into our heads. We tap into our bodies—and listen to our bodies, use our bodies to help us get answers. The body will come forth with subtext that our heads may not come up with. Buffooning is a tool.
“When we get to using language—text, the script—we push it to the extreme through mockery and playfulness.”
In her workshops, Jeeves creates “a safe place and permission to take your body, attitude and opinions and go as full out as you want. And then we bring you back—a changed person.”
Buffooning isn’t just helpful for actors. Jeeves also does team building in organizations. She recently worked with a group of career transition counselors who wanted to “challenge themselves to go beyond their own comfort zone” because that’s what they encourage their clients to do. Once freed of their ordinary professional roles, they were more equal, more vulnerable, and they experienced a new, strong bond.
“It’s great training for groups working together,” says Jeeves. “because you’ve all shared this playfulness and your Buffoons. Because Buffoons are a gang, there’s no real conflict.”
And if conflict between Buffoons arises, Buffoons are bound by their Code of Honour to mock the conflict until nobody remembers what the original conflict was. In this way, it cycles through the group in a non-personal way. So that everybody gets to experience and express and exaggerate its essence, and the conflict just sort of evaporates. What’s left is the camaraderie among Buffoons and their singleness of purpose: to make fun of everything.
“Afterwards,” explains Jeeves, “when you’re back to normal beings, you can use this as a way to communicate more playfully. In that state, people are able to resolve things, to come up with new ideas. The right brain is working better.”
Buffoons “expose humans to our wacky humanness—they do more than mirror. They make us see how absurd we can be. They give perspective on human neuroses. Playing gives us a chance to release the seriousness of being a human. You step back and look, and it’s pretty funny. Seeing that reduces our stress and gives us permission to laugh at ourselves.”
Which may be why more and more non-actors are showing up at her workshops.
For more information or to register for the upcoming Vancouver workshop (Saturday-Sunday, Jan 23-24) visit buffooneryworkshops.com. Or call (604) 922-3744.