There are professional clowns today who have never even heard of the great Swiss clown Dimitri, though they owe him a big debt. Dimitri died this week at the age of 80 in the Italian region of Switzerland, where he lived and, since 1975, operated the still-thriving Scuola Teatro Dimitri. But he sure should be remembered, because he played a major role in elevating the status of the clown as a performing artist. And I'll tell you why...
Flashback to October, 1975, when Dimitri made his New York debut at the age of 40, performing his one-man show on stage to a packed house at Hunter College. (Yes, I was there.) Sure, Marcel Marceau was filling theatres bigger than that on a regular basis, but Dimitri was a CLOWN, not a mime. Audiences loved him and came away with a heightened understanding of what a clown could be. And aspiring clowns took inspiration from his success and began taking themselves more seriously. This was especially true in the United States, where clowns rarely got to play in theatres. And Dimitri reminded us that clowns were traditionally highly skilled, as he played ten different instruments (including four at a time), juggled ping-pong balls out of his mouth, and performed sleight-of-hand and balancing feats, all to great comic effect, as he got himself in and out of endless troubles.
Interesting connection: It was another great Swiss clown, Grock, who earlier in the 20th century packed European theatres with his full-length show and demonstrated that the clown could be a star in his own right, outside of the circus ring. Early on, one of Grock's whiteface partners was the French clown Louis Maïss Decades later, after studying with Decroux and Marceau, Dimitri launched his clown career playing the auguste to —you guessed it— Louis Maïss.
Here's what the great Swiss playwright Max Frisch had to say about Dimitri: Look at him, I say, this is a real clown. But, what is a real clown? I don’t know, but look at him – he can do practically anything, and yet remains calm and serene when he accomplishes something new and incredible. He’s a delight to behold, like watching a child discovering the pits and traps of the world who manages, as though by some miracle, to avoid falling. I was tense during the whole performance until someone started to laugh, roaring out loud as though alone – not how one laughs at a joke, but a laugh of joy, the laughter of a child. I was the person laughing, and the clown was Dimitri.
...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!