Back in 2017 I received Arts Council Funding, to deliver a project which involved comedians and dancers working together. Over the course of a number of events comedians would perform their sets, while dancers would react to the material. And then they would swap with dancers performing stand up for the first time, and comedians dancing. The project was a great success with over 90% of audiences saying it made them think differently about dance and comedy. Whilst delivering the project I wrote multiple blog entries about my findings of the process. This is what this page is.
Due to a complete lack of time management on my part (hey I
was doing a masters!) I’m only just getting back to this blog. Since then we’ve
had 2 more D.A.N.C.E shows and a residency with the guys at Dance4, which in
total presented more questions than answers
The weekend was designed to put comedians and dancers in a
room together (5 each, and different on both days), to see what would happen,
what could they learn from each other, what similarities or differences are
there. I was particularly interested in using this time to gather comedians and
dancers thoughts on the subject, as during a regular D.A.N.C.E event, there is
a considerable lack of time to really explore as we are getting ready for a
show that evening, as such this felt like there was a much more relaxed atmosphere
to the day.
It became apparent throughout the weekend that actually
comedians are quite used to working alone and that dancers thrive in
collaboration. This is something all though I probably suspected for some time,
however it really came to light this weekend, as performers were pit together
to try and devise something new.
It’s of course difficult as well, of keeping that focus for
the comedian, when they are trying to do their set, a set they may have done a
million times before, but having a dancer there can be slightly distracting, I
guess the answer here then is try to establish an environment where the
comedian and the dancer are making a thing together, rather than a dancer
trying to react to already existing piece of material, this is one of the main
objectives I set out to do during the weekend, and asked both types of performers
to work together to create something new to present to the others.
A few of the comedians just used existing material, others
created new work, but generally there was a feeling that sharing that writing
process was quite difficult.
This isn’t surprising, and really fair enough to happen, as
comedians are so often on the road by themselves, so often writing by
themselves, so often performing by themselves. Whereas dancers, although solo
work does happens, there is a much more of a collaborative culture within the
industry, from choreographing to workshops, there is a lot of group work going
Another thing I noticed was that actually the line of comedy
becomes thin, and actually when you mash and pit these two art forms together, it’s
becoming more performance art – funny performance art - more than anything
else, this of course is not a bad thing but it makes you wonder about
marketing, and actually how can you articulate to audience what the event is.
It’s unique in such a way that it’s hard to manage that expectation.
Overall though the residency itself was a great experience,
and I think a lot of the performers got something out of, however it’s hard to
say if we are any closer to understanding if it’s possible for these two art
forms to share the space on stage together or not.
Since the residency we’ve had another show in Leicester a
Video of which you can watch here:
By this many shows in, on a personal level I feel much more
confident in leading the day as a whole, and understanding the needs and wants
of the performers and how to effective manage the time needed to get the show
There is only two more shows left of the project, we have
one coming up in a couple of weeks at the Attenborough Arts Centre (Leicester),
which will be disability focused, and feature comedians and dancers who
identify themselves as having a disability, and the final event of the year
will be taking place at Dance4 in Nottingham as part of Nottingham Comedy
Tickets for shows can be bought here:
Over view of the day
The show on April the 2nd was one of the smoothest
running events of D.A.N.C.E i’ve ran, which is a credit to the performers and
maybe I’m getting the hang of this a bit more. I was thrilled to see how much
everyone put into it.
We started off with a discussion, about our expectations for
the day (as well as discussing our favourite animal –Dancer Ian Dolan chose a
seagull, make of that what you will) it lasted well over 30 minutes, and in
fact could have gone for longer as we discussed the elements of play that is
involved within the performance and the importance of status – it’s difficult
because due to the comedian speaking inherently they have a higher status and
focus, how do you manage that? How do you create a balance between the two
performers without their being more weight than the other? I’m still not sure
but it’s interesting to explore, maybe by the end of this project I’ll have a
focused answer for you. Or i’ll be applying for more funding to continue
close to the audience
One of the main things I noticed in trying to address this
balance is staging. Where each of the performers stands on stage. I’ve noticed increasingly that the comedians
tend to stand very central and in some cases stand as close to the edge of the
stage as possible. This i’ve realised is natural for any comedian to want to
do, of course the comedian will want to stand as close to the edge as possible
as that’s what they are used to, what they are doing is having a conversation
with the audience, it’s a dialogue so naturally they will want to be as close
as they can to the receivers of this dialogue so both parties are engaged in
the relationship they are having.
However in the context of this event, this can hinder the
performance, it draws attention away from the dancer behind them, who in turn
is in danger of looking like a ‘backing dancer’ to the performance, which is
absolutely not the aim of the event. Is
it better for the comedian and the dancers to have their own ’boxes’ one each
side of the stage for them to perform in? Or should the comedian be off stage
in the corner so the focus is on what the audience is hearing and all they are
seeing is the dancer interpret that. This may be a task that I try for next
time, however that in itself brings about its own problems, it leaves little
room for interaction between the two performers.
And that interaction is important and key to the development
of this concept; this was encouraged further in this event, with some dancers
interrupting the comedians set entirely with dialogue, which was great to see.
Other interactions included contact between the two performers, with dancer
being gestural towards the physicality’s of what the comedian was doing.
One of the main things I noticed was eye contact, at times
there seemed to be very little eye contact between the two performers (in some
cases this was deliberate), it’s interesting because in many ways the comedian directs
the audience attention, it’s important for them then to understand their
responsibility to the dancer, and ensuring they are acknowledged throughout the
performance, by looking at them or drawing attention to them. If the dancer is
ignored, then is there still an element of collaboration here?
Highlight of the day
For a large part, this blog post seems to be focused on what
the comedian is doing, Apologies for this, it’s perhaps because I’m a comedian
myself and understand the thought process around this more, and I’m still
waiting to hear feedback from the dancers.
There was a couple of real highlights for me this time
round, one being where we were getting the chorography together for Jack
Brittons ensemble pieces, there were two in total, and although it didn’t plan
to go this way, the comedians directed and choreographed one piece, where all
the dancers were performing and the dancers directed and choreographed the
other with the comedians dancing. It was a magnificent moment of collaboration,
and hope for this to continue in future events.
The other real highlight for me was #MarbleFeedback
Evaluations can be really boring (although I find them fun,
but then that might be due to the satisfaction of ticking boxes), however (and
thanks to Richard Fletcher for the idea) I’ve got a new fun way, ladies and
gentlemen I present to you #marblefeedback.
A little context first, this project as I may have mentioned
is about tracking audiences perceptions of dance and comedy, and whether the
event can change their views on it. At the start of the night audience members
are asked to fill out a form monitoring what they think of both art forms
currently, and is there anything that puts them off attending these events.
They are then given two marbles, a white and green one, and not told what they
At the end of the event I explained that each of these
marbles represents comedy and dance, they were then asked to put them in one of
two boxes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with the question being ‘Has this event made you think
differently about comedy or dance’. Excitingly the majority of the audience put
both marbles in the yes box. Which proves that this event is actually doing
something to change views.