JOHN GILKEY explores the realm of creativity in performance, and its relation to the sacred space within us all that is beyond reason, logic and rationality.
Q: The kind of clowning you do is unique and compelling. What drew you to this art form and this particular style?
JG: I stumbled upon clown early in my performance career. I had always been interested in comedy but was taken aback by the full force and potential of clown. It seemed to me to include so many facets of comedy and theatre in one rebellious discipline. Performing clown is a full body experience. It demands that you put everything into it: total commitment physically and emotionally. In traditional acting you interpret someone else’s script, wear a costume designed by someone else and develop the show under a director who has her own vision. In clown you create everything. I see clown as the fullest artistic expression of an individual.
Q: What have been some of the biggest gifts of working with Cirque du Soleil?
JG: Many people begin performing as a way to validate themselves. My first show with Cirque represented the final step for me in moving beyond that limitation. The biggest gift of working at Cirque was the privilege of performing for 25,000 people a week. Once I realised the true value of this I understood there was a potential, a responsibility even, to use the opportunity to find more depth in my performance. Rather than going for the laugh at any cost and seeing myself as the source of the laugh, I began to explore a more universal thematic context for the laughter. I was able to see myself in relationship to everything around me rather than the other way around.
Q: How would you explain the sacredness of play?
JG: By exploring the profane. In class we search for play through improvisation exercises, often dualistic or paradoxical in nature. It is infuriatingly impossible to succeed at these exercises, so the only rational response in this case is play, which, if it’s actually play, is irrational. We are constantly trying to make sense of everything. But pure play doesn’t make sense and has no obvious purpose. Maybe the sacredness of play is its apparent uselessness.
In the work that we do, play represents a creative centre: I don’t mean play in order to get something, as that is competition. To get there, we must first understand that play has no purpose. Ha! If it did it wouldn’t be play. Paradoxically, from that uselessness springs rich discoveries.
Playing requires a letting go with which
most adults are uncomfortable,
because to be playful is to be vulnerable.
In play you cannot hide.
Playing requires a letting go with which most adults are uncomfortable, because to be playful is to be vulnerable. In play you cannot hide. The individual ‘you’ becomes apparent. It is why it is so important for us as performers. Play highlights our idiosyncrasies, and thus the most fascinating parts of us. That recipe of flaws and nobility is what make us dramatic, sympathetic and lovable characters.
We find that in our play we uncover a world of extreme silliness and absurdity. Conventional ideas of language break down. Logic is replaced by illogic. This is our way of inviting an audience to let go and play with us. From this state of confusion and deconstruction we hope to communicate with our audience on a primal, visceral level. It is as if a new language arises from the chaos and through the playfulness.
Q: Why do you think comedy, more than other mediums, is so effective at exposing real truths?
JG: Effective comedians, those who are able to shed light into the darkest places, play a game of status. They know that the way to explore culturally sensitive subjects is to lower their status and play the fool or the underdog. In this way they are non-threatening. Of course, this is a subversive game.
Q: In what ways can non-performers incorporate more spontaneity and fun in their daily lives?
JG: See everything as a game, and recognise that a game is a call to play.
Interviewer : EMMA HAWLEY
John Gilkey has performed internationally for more than thirty years in circus, variety, comedy clubs, theatre and television. He has played a lead role in four Cirque du Soleil productions: Quidam, Dralion, Varekai and Iris. For each of these shows John developed and performed totally original characters and routines. He also directed and performed in the clown troupe in Franco Dragone’s spectacular water show, Le Reve, in Las Vegas. For Pixar Studios John has consulted on character development for the short film La Luna and the Oscar winning feature film Ratatouille. John teaches classes in Los Angeles, directs a comedy collective, and continues to collaborate with companies like Cirque du Soleil and Spiegelworld to creative innovative comedy for large-scale productions.