Wolfe Bowart

Wolfe Bowart is a performer, teacher, writer and one half of physical  theatre company The Schneedles. He is about to embark on a major tour of his acclaimed one-man show - LaLaLuna.

He spoke to Simon Piening about the show and life as the moon's caretaker.

LaLaLunaYou started practising circus arts and making Super 8 movies at the age of 12 ­ - so were you the nerd or the cool kid at high school?

I spent most of my free time juggling and riding my unicycle through town while carrying friends around on my shoulders. There is no way to look cool on a unicycle.

What was the initial attraction to clowning?

I would watch Chaplin and Keaton films and reenact their films set to Jackson Five and Beatles tunes. My father is a writer, a satirist, and my Grandfather, although professionally an abstract expressionist painter, could spin a great yarn. So I guess I inherited the story-telling gene from them.

You studied acting at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Were you ever interested in straight theatre or the well-made play?

I fought it kicking and screaming at first but ended up playing a lot of great roles. I never wanted the leads - I was always drawn to the character roles like Firs in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, but I ended up enjoying just as much the leads in Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht.
{xtypo_quote_right}I spent most of my free time juggling and riding my unicycle through town while carrying friends around on my shoulders. There is no way to look cool on a unicycle{/xtypo_quote_right}  

In your stage work with the Shneedles and LaLaLuna you’ve developed your own style of non-verbal performance ­ - so are words overrated?

It’s not that words are over-rated, it’s more that I’m interested in exploring ways to paint pictures on stage with images, colour, light, physicality and comedy. It’s a way of offering a narrative to an audience without going down the more usual path. One night two ladies left at the end of the show saying “he doesn’t say anything, but you know exactly what he’s saying.” Also, on a practical level, the non-verbal nature of the shows means there are no language barriers, so we’ve been able to take them to a number of countries around the world. 

You’ve taught clowning at various places around the world including Australia’s National Institute of Circus Arts. How do you develop your own clown?

Sometimes it comes first from movement – from studying how animals move, or from studying people in the street. Costuming can also inform a character. Charlie Chaplin was asked to improvise in front of the camera during a soap box derby race …  legend has it that he went into wardrobe, played around with some costumes and came out dressed as the Little Tramp, which informed the character he played for the rest of his life. 

Today the most famous clowns around are Ronald McDonald and Krusty – aren’t clowns just for kids?

In Europe, there’s a healthy respect for the clown as artist. In Australia and the States though, in the past it’s been hard to use the word ‘clown’ without conjuring up images of slightly scary Barnum & Bailey-type orange-haired red-nosed clowns – the ones on which Krusty and Ronald McDonald are modeled.  But thanks to the influence of shows like Cirque du Soleil, we’re becoming more hip to the idea that there’s more to clowning than that stereotype. Clowns, or physical comedians, are everywhere – from Jim Carrey to Robin Williams to Jackie Chan – all of them incorporate elements of clowning into their characters.

In LaLaLuna you take on the role of the Moon¹s caretaker. When the light in the moon goes out, what do you do? Tell us about the play...

LaLaLuna sometimes feels like a fantastical, slightly surreal kids’ book come to life. I play the role of the lunar caretaker, turning on the moon at the designated time each night, until one night, for some inexplicable reason, the light goes out. And then, following some … accidents … all the spare light globes are broken. What follows is the crazy search for a replacement globe, incorporating a splash of circus, a drop of drama, and large amounts of comedy, not to mention human-engulfing garbage cans, giant balloons and a colony of slightly-looking white rabbits.

So what¹s next for you?

LaLaLuna is off to several more countries around the world next year, and the new show is set to debut in Australia in early 2009. Watch this space …

LaLaLuna begins a regional tour August 11. For further Information - visit www.lalaluna.com

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