Greetings from COP 15, the U.N. climate "Conference Of Parties" in Copenhagen, Denmark. In case you don't get out much, COP 15 is considered a big deal not only because it was designed to forge an environmental treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but because global warming trends have proven to be even worse than what the "alarmist" scientists were predicting just a few years ago. Thus not only do all the nations of the world have delegates at the conference, like it or not they have us "unofficial delegates" in town in the form of environmental activists staging their own Klimaforum, and taking to the streets with a variety of theatrics and actions intended to pressure the politicians and hopefully grab some international media attention. Truth be told, it's a madhouse here, with so much going on at any given time that, like the parable of the six blind men and the elephant, it's impossible to ever get much of an overview. Saturday's big 6-kilometer march from Parliament Square to the Bella Conference Center attracted somewhere between 60,000 people (police estimate) and 100,000 (organizers' estimate). The march — I almost wrote "parade" — was quite theatrical, with the clear intention of engaging onlookers and attracting major media. Of course most of the headlines focused on the arrest of a very small number of violent protesters, even in newspapers you would think more attuned to the actual issues and to the not insignificant fact that this was the largest and most international climate change protest ever.
Of course the problem with political theatre is that you are mostly preaching to the choir, but I guess if that choir is empowered and goes on to preach to others, picking up a few tricks along the way, then all is not in vain.
So how do you visualize the politics of climate change? Here's what I saw:
• Depictions of the rich and powerful as puppets, robots or clowns.
• Images of imminent extinction, with the earth's most vulnerable inhabitants dying a grim death. Our 350.org contingent included a boat ("we're all in the same boat"), plus a dinosaur on poles created by a couple of Bread & Puppet Theatre vets.
• Masks, puppets, floats giving voice to the powerless, including endangered species — polar bears, penguins, and assorted wildlife.
• Personifying the positive: the wholesome qualities of the environmental movement (organic, natural, green, warm, fuzzy, etc.). Clowns, bright costumes, and green noses were part of this joyous branding of the movement.The motto for Mr. Green's Circus (see below) is "We are gonna save the planet — and we will have fun doing it." • Imagery centered on the desirable number 350 (target for safe number of carbon particles per million in the atmosphere).
Here are some images and video of the spectacle. I don't have time for everything while I'm here, but will add some more to this post later, so check back!
Here's my friend Adnan Saabi, from IndyAct in Lebanon, in action inside the Bella Center, in clown nose and glasses unsympathetically portraying a member of the oil lobby. The 850 refers to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere this character is apparently willing to tolerate, and the "recruiting e-mail hackers" refers to the recent brouhaha in England. So in this case the clown persona is basically saying the guy's a bozo.
The Greenpeace puppet of a rich cigar-chomping industrialist manipulating the world's political leaders (including Obama) on marionette strings; all of the "puppets" were in fact human performers.
Mr. Penguin and Mr. Dinosaur.
Clowns on a mission.
Frosty the Snowman says: "I fell down and I can't get up!"
Three puppets (about 35' tall) swaying in the wind, from Seven Meters, whose poster you see toward the top of this post. Seven meters is the height water will rise if all the ice in Greenland melts.
Partial view of our "We're all in the same boat" contingent.
And here they are at the mall. Not sure what they're doing there, but at least you get to see the whole group in action.
Okay, I admit it, this last one isn't from Copenhagen, but I figured I could sneak it in while we're on the subject of climate change. Besides, it is visual and I did learn about it in Copenhagen. If you like 3D street art, I think you'll love this ice-age video of the summer 2008 work of German street painting artist Edgar Müller .
Physical Comedy in the 21st-Century One way for physical comedy to break new ground is to move it outside of your standard performance structures and into a remix with everyday life. The work of Improv Everywhere (motto: "we make scenes') offers some good examples of this, as does the history of street theatre. But with street theatre, we're usually talking about a band of outsiders trying to shake up the complacent and the powerful. Think Abbie Hoffman throwing dollar bills onto the floor of the NY Stock Exchange.
You may be pleasantly surprised, therefore, to see similar shock tactics being employed by an actual government, though one that itself is very much on the outside of world power. I am talking about the Maldives, whose president, Mohamed Nasheed, I will in fact be hearing speak later today. The Maldives are an island nation in the Indian Ocean and because of global warming they are literally sinking. Here are the text and the image from an excellent Daily Beast slide show, Our Sinking Earth:
What does it take for a small country like the Maldives to get noticed on the world stage? The nation’s cabinet recently held a meeting underwater, in scuba gear, to call attention to the state — the lowest-lying country on earth. Using hand signals and white boards 20 feet underwater, the cabinet produced a document calling for all countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions before the Copenhagen meeting.
...that you can click on any blog image to see it full size?
[So this is what I wrote six years ago; more or less true!]
Ring around a rosie, a pocket full of posies Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down
Welcome to the All Fall Down blog, an exploration of all aspects of physical comedy, from the historical to the latest work in the field, from the one-man show to the digital composite, from the conceptual to the nuts & bolts how-to. Be prepared for a broad definition of physical comedy (mine!) and a wide variety of approaches. Physical comedy is a visual art form, so there’ll be tons of pictures and videos, but also some substantial writing and research, including scripts and probably even some books.
This blog is a result of me wanting to follow through on lots of unfinished research from the past 25 years. It’s made possible by a full-year sabbatical leave from Bloomfield College that will take me through August 2010. It’s also made more practical by the ease of Web 2.0 tools for managing and distributing content. I had envisioned a web site similar to this blog more than a decade ago, but never got too far with it because it was simply a lot more work. Now, no more excuses!
Just as this blog will be sharing lots of goodies with you free of charge, I hope you will share your knowledge and ideas with me. Feel free to comment on any of it, or to write me directly with your suggestions. Admittedly I don’t see this as a free-for-all forum on the subject of physical comedy. It’s my blog, I’m the filter, and it won’t be all things to all people. That being said, I hope it will bring together insights, information, and people, and encourage others to make their own singular contributions to the field.
I hope to be adding substantial and varied material to the blog on a regular basis, so check back often and be sure to check out previous posts. And finally, a thanks to all of you, past present, and future whose work contributes to our knowledge — and our fun. We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants.
— John Towsen New York CIty May, 2009
My Physical Comedy Qualifications
So if you don’t blink, you can see me doing a pratfall on the original 1957 CBS production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella(starring Julie Andrews, directed by Ralph Nelson, stage managed by Joseph Papp).
If that doesn't say it all, then click here for the full bio.
My Favorite Posts Okay, there are literally thousands of physical comedy blogs out there, but only one physical comedy blogopedia. Why list my favorite posts? Because I want to draw attention to my best research and writing, to posts that make the strongest connections between old and new, between theory and practice, between ha-ha funny and broader global issues. If I die tomorrow, which is impossible because it's already the day after tomorrow in Australia, these are the ones I would like read aloud at my funeral, with high-rez projection of all videos. (Is it bad luck to write that?) Also, please mention that I never voted for a Republican. —jt
Here are some useful and fun blogs and web sites that touch on the whole field of physical comedy, rather than just sites by performers about themselves (not that there's anything wrong with that). Click away!
For the latest posts from these blogs, see below. (Blogs only; not web sites.) These are automatically sequenced by Google in order of most current posts. The blog at the top of the list is the blog with the most recent post. Since the whole idea is to keep you (and me) up to date on current posts in the field, blogs that have not been posting regularly have been dropped from the list; if you've been dropped but are now posting regularly, just let me know.
Here's a list of complete books available for free as pdf documents right here on this here blogopedia, arranged in chronological order; dates are publication in the original language. Clickhere for a Tech Note on these books. Click on the book title to go to that post. More books coming!