Encounters at Lennox
Disability Arts and Health Forum October 2016
Sally Davis, Actor, theatre-maker, and clown tutor
Interview with Robyn Brady, Sprung!! President
RB: Since leaving school, you’ve gone all over the world and all over Australia pursuing something. What would you say that something is?
SD: I love adventure; I always have, even as a child. I love experiencing cultures, families and people that are different to my own and finding a common connection that unites us.
I think I am fascinated in pursuing the thread that links us all from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to Florence, Italy to outback Australia.
I have been very fortunate to have theatre as the tool I can use to travel and explore some really cool and remote locations. I am interested in working with minority groups, people on the fringe of their society for whom theatrical expression can be so authentic and life changing. I think I am also one of these women who likes to challenge what a woman can and can’t do especially with children!
RB: Humour is clearly an essential element in what you do. Do people in New Guinea, Italy, Tasmania and the mainland laugh at the same things? What are some of the differences that you have seen in people’s approach to physical comedy?
SD: Humour can be extremely culture specific, what is regarded as funny in one country or culture may not be in another for instance; Sexuality, gender roles, violence, aggression, sexuality and promiscuity can greatly differ amongst different cultures. Every culture has a different concept of time therefore comic timing can vary greatly amongst different cultures. Humour must be relevant and, though cultures vary widely, humans as animals have many innate features that remain the same regardless of cultural background. Farts, burps, clumsiness, making strange faces: these are all things that can be expressed through: slapstick, clown, mask and mime using the body which is a universal toll that we can all relate to. Amore serious form of this neutral body can be explored through Le Coq’s pedagogy of the neutral mask.
RB: Sally, the life of a performer is very much one of giving out, of holding to a particular external projection even when your inside feels quite different, for example feeling despair and having to be funny. Can you talk about this?
SD: Yes, this is a great question! This can be probably the most challenging aspect of performing, it happens constantly for example if you have had an argument with your partner and you have to go in stage and be happy and loving, you have to somehow dislocate from your drama. I had some great training with an amazing teacher Giovanni Fusetti in Italy. In our first class we had to tell our life story in two minutes, when the two minutes were up we had to leave the stage no matter where we were up to. I told my life story and I was talking about when my baby died 40 minutes after he was born and the buzzer rang right in the middle. I froze… the whole class froze! It was a very serious, moving story and the teacher looked me straight in the eye and said ‘your time is up, you need to leave the stage.’
I felt like bursting into tears but very quickly I realised that my story was very sad but it was just a story and equally as important as everyone in the room’s story. It was a story that was in the past and I needed to move beyond the drama of it and live in the present moment. This training has given me a Zen like approach to theatre. I always practice yoga and meditation to help clear my mind and my inner drama from interfering with my work. This is where I feel theatre can be a very magical and almost shamanistic art form.
RB: We all love the red cloth. I personally wanted to spend hours with it. What makes it so magical? Have you any red cloth stories to tell?
SD: The red cloth is very magical, it is hard to analyse because it does allow for a beautiful magical creativity to flow from the performer. I always use it for several weeks in my classes as I find it fascinating to see what unfolds. I have had a by with autism in my class get up and do the same thing; put the red sheet over his head and face the back wall for maybe 8 weeks in a row, then suddenly and magically he got up and put it on his head as a hat. It was something so small and so huge at the same time. It is amazing and I love watching people play with it.
RB: You have done a lot of work with persons with disability. What have you learned from them about humour.
SD: My goodness I have really learned so much form working with people with disabilities. All of the people I have worked with have had a really raw, mysterious and beautiful sense of humour they can laugh at themselves and at life with a depth most people spend thousounds of dollars in clown training to try and achieve. The clown training I have done involves spending hours on stage trying to disengage from your ego to allow your raw self to emerge and this raw essence is what is fundamentally funny natural and genuine. The people with disabilities I have worked with have had this natural raw truthfulness to them and it is so beautiful to create work with, especially with humour.
Sally Davis with Robyn Brady
Sprung!! 25/9/ 2016