From Clown to Character, or How We Found Yuba City
By WELCOME TO YUBA CITY director Quinn Bauriedel.
I had gotten to know Giovanni Fusetti, a master clown teacher from Italy, over the last few years — Geoff Sobelle, Trey Lyford and I brought him to Philadelphia in 2007 as we were beginning to work on the new version of MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES. We knew him only by reputation but he seemed like the perfect person to have around at the beginning of our creation. He would help set the tone of the work, help develop the relationship between the three of us (how does a comic trio work exactly?) and help us re-awaken the clown spirit we knew would be part of the piece. That encounter was short - 4 days - and we went quite far away from the characters we developed with him as the piece developed. Yet his presence remained in the space well after the audience arrived on opening night. Even 2 years later as we recently performed MACHINESX7 in New York, we spoke of those early rehearsals with Giovanni and how he helped us think about the trio and, perhaps more importantly, how the trio learned to deal with the 4th character, the machines themselves.
In 2008, I brought Giovanni back to Philadelphia to lead a workshop on the Neutral Mask and Clown. In thinking about starting the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training, I wanted to watch and learn from Giovanni in a pedagogical setting. What a light touch! What a mastery he has of physical performance! We became fast friends, sharing ideas about theatre, the body, politics, gardening and clown.
I really wanted to share the work with the rest of Pig Iron so I invited him back in 2009 to do what he did with me, Geoff and Trey on MACHINESX7. Thus, for 2 weeks in May, Giovanni led the ensemble through clown boot camp en route to developing the characters and the world of WELCOME TO YUBA CITY. Strangely, after 14 years of working together for some of us, we have never gone through a clown workshop all together. It was illuminating to meet everyone's clowns - to recognize many of them from our long history together and also to be surprised by meeting many of them for the first time.
Pig Iron Associate Artistic Director Alex Torra in rehearsal.
Gradually, the very formal clown work morphed into discovering the spirit of Yuba City. The red noses fell away but we were left with this wonderful array of characters and performance states that will certainly become a major part of the show later this summer.
We met a band of small-town criminals and a slightly invisible jackalope. We witnessed the birth of a chorus of cowboys and delighted in 3 pre-pubescent Yuba City kids recounting an accident that they think they saw. We met the workers, the travelers, the eccentrics, the kids, the old people, the specific home-grown spice that makes the place tick. We tried to push past the utter cliches that come with the material: a certain vocal twang, an All-American earnestness that has been a trope of our nation's stages for years and all the cultural references we have from TV of a mythical diner. Not an easy feat and one which we will have to keep in check throughout the remaining 6 weeks of development and rehearsal. We are striving for something far wilder, far less logical and far more ridiculous than the plays that came before us. We aim to scratch the itch of humanity and let loose the grip of reality. We are eager to dive back into rehearsals, full-force, on July 20 to see what remains from our time with Giovanni and to see what new directions we will take with the material.