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.
Leicester Comedy Festival saw the launch of the activity for D.A.N.C.E.
Kicking things off was ‘Is That Comedy?’ A panel discussion exploring comedy
and its relationship between other art forms. On the panel we had Josh from
Comedy Theatre group Sleeping Trees,
Pete Shenton from New Art Club (who
also appeared in D.A.N.C.E the following day), Chris Jenkins who started out in
live art before exploring comedy with his character ‘Top Joe’ and academic Tim
We discussed how comedy audiences in some ways were more
open to something a bit weird and unusual, with both Josh and Pete mentioning
that they moved their shows to the comedy section at the Edinburgh Fringe, but
even then that is fraught with difficulty, and wondered aloud how it would be
great if there was another section called something along the lines of ‘Comedy+’
The next day was D.A.N.C.E, in a change of venue (which is
usually the Attenborough Arts Centre) to Firebug. If you’re not aware, Firebug
is an alternative bar and music venue, which featured comedy during the
festival, it very much has a pub/bar vibe, and is fairly loud. All in All
though is great.
During the day of each of these events, I run workshops/
rehearsals with the performers, this is so they can get to know each other, the
comedians can understand what it’s like having a dancer perform with them, and
the dancer can get an understanding of their material.
It is always the start of these days where I feel most on
edge, with everyone arriving and not knowing each other or being entirely too
sure on what to expect, the day and the strict schedule does start with myself
panicking and thinking ‘we don’t have a show yet’, this eases off through the
day as the performers work together, all the same I wake up feeling quite
anxious, and that’s even before I’ve put Radio 4 on.
I always feel really constrained by time when running the
event, performers often react when I tell them that they’ll be needed for an 8
hour day by asking ‘am I needed the whole time?’ and the answer is yes, in fact
I wish there was more time, but I think condensing everything down in one day
is best for peoples diary’s. And the reason that a whole day is needed is,
there’s a lot to process;
-the performers need to get to know each other
-we need to showcase everyone’s sets and give an example of
dancing so that all the performers know the basics of what they’re working with
- Time needs to be given in running exercises that explores
-the performers need time to rehearse and workshop the
comedian doing the set and the dancer improvising and reacting to it on stage
-then there’s the swap element where the comedians does some
dancing and the dancer does stand up. This material might be a story that the
dancer has had, or another piece of stand up material.
-a dress run
Plus breaks. When you break it down it’s not really any time
These warm up games, come in the form of interviewing each
and understanding about each other’s industries, in the past everyone has split
off into pairs and done this, however due to having money to throw around now,
James Hissett is recording the interview for the documentary coming out early
next year. Both the comedian and the
dancer get taken off into a room and are filmed for 45 minutes interviewing
each, asking questions that relate and include terminology of their specific industries (e.g. the comedian asks the dancer
‘do you ever bomb on stage’). I haven’t been privy to this footage yet at the
time of writing, what I can say is though each time the performers come out
they had transformed, they had created a bond. Watching some of the performers
come out of the room last time, all smiley and happy, made me start to wonder
if they had taken something.
But it’s important that this is done, with stand up there is
a level of vulnerability that comes from sharing your material with someone,
this set routine that you’ve honed that’s part of your identity, in this event
another performer has been invited to change what that looks like and in
essence the stand up then has to share a part of themselves that they wouldn’t
usually do. Likewise for the dancer, it’s quite a daunting task to come into
this space, and re-interpret this text to add to the meaning of it without
changing its purpose. Or maybe it should change the purpose, and the original
meanings of the text are thrown out to be remoulded in a different way. I don’t
know i’m thinking aloud, what I do know is I want to encourage a focus on the
performers creating a collaborative performance, rather than one performer
outweighing the other.
What was really nice to see throughout the day, everyone
breaking out into discussion about the concept, acknowledging the difficulty of
the individual’s art forms for the other performers to try.
The show itself was a success, taking place at Firebug for
the first time, the show sold out (also a first but whose counting). In this
kind of environment where dance wouldn’t usually take place. It was great at
engaging with a comedy audience, that wouldn’t usually go out to see dance and
exposing them to it, where as it became apparent that dance audiences would
travel and go to any venue to see dance. Comedy audiences don’t on the other
hand seem as committed to going out of their way (what a sweeping statement
that is). Is this a comment on the disposable nature of comedy? (woah what a
thing to say there), in the way that once you hear a joke, you’ve heard it then
and doesn’t have the same replay value that playing an track or a cd
(specifically David Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’) has. Perhaps this comment of a disposable
nature comes from the feeling that there is lot of comedy that’s available and accessible
to watch and view, but that quantity isn’t the same in dance?
Mere thoughts, I’m not trying to come to a conclusion (which
in itself I had to conclude that) but I think it’s interesting the nature of
these different audiences, as with performers and what parallels and common
ground can be drawn.
The next event is on the 2nd of April at the
Attenborough Arts Centre, if you’re interested you can buy tickets here: https://uk.patronbase.com/_AttenboroughArts/Productions/W766/Performances
Thanks for reading
The Performers that took part in D.A.N.C.E in Leicester Comedy Festival 2017 were:
Jack Campbell, Fern Chubb, Pete Shenton, Sarah Keyworth, Andrew Mcburney, Scarlett Turner, Jack Britton and Lewys Holt