#3 - The Clown Diaries - Autocour, Massage Parlours and Turd-Sticks.
It's Wednesday afternoon. Ryan has departed to Abs Club with the final words "Your fashion sense reminds me of Topman circa 2007". I don't know what this means, but it's made me really crave listening to The Klaxons. This is also a rare sentence from Ryan as usually we only talk to eachother entirely in Bring It On references, which is a small sign of how Ecole Gaulier is slowly turning us mad. As perhaps evidenced by this week's blog post. Enjoy.
LAST FRIDAY'S AUTOCOUR
As a second year Clown student and fellow comedian John-Luke said to me afterwards as I nursed a large glass of wine at the local bar, "Well, you did look incredibly glamorous. Then you started walking...."
In short, I was a disaster at last Friday's Autocour.
The challenge, as mentioned in blog #2, was for each first year to be 'glamorous' and 'elegant' whilst advertising a product.
In fairness, I was almost elegant as I came out on stage in front of all the first years and second years. I stood up straight, kept eye contact, looked clean.... then the music started and I forgot where my feet were, tripped over them and went bright red.
But, c'est la vie. It is the experience that counts and as Gaulier says often: it's about getting up after you have 'flopped' and trying again. Many failed, receiving 'double zeros' and 'horribles', but many were beautiful and elegant. The point was, we were all doing it together.
The second year autocour for Clown was equally if not more intimidating and exhiliarating to watch.
Gaulier shouts to one group "If you are not funny in the first ten seconds you have to leave the stage" before gonging them off after they burst three packs of flour over the stage floor, another group he ends their performance by turning off the theatre lights in less than a minute and one clown he keeps on stage for fifteen minutes, antagonizing her to the point her temper bursts shouting "I WANTED TO EXPLORE MY FEMINITY, PHILIPPE. I AM A FEMINIST. INSTEAD I AM DRESSED AS A GNOME. IN ETAMPES". After this declartion Gaulier pauses, turns to all the students in the audience and says "We love her when she is angry, no? She is funny, yes?". We all nod. He is right. It's incredibly funny. "Not bad" he then says, banging his drum.
This is where it's hard to write down what happens at Ecole Philippe Gaulier. The closest visual way to picture it is imagine if Wes Anderson, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet teamed up to make a film about a drama school. On a usual day the second years run around in bizarre costumes and red noses in the downstairs theatre space, hitting eachother, shouting, wheeling eachother around in suitcases, whilst in the upstairs theatre space you hear the whoops, animal calls and physical work of the first years practising greek chorous. It's organised madness.
One key thing which I believe is at the heart of the school is that Gaulier does not allow anyone outside of the school to enter to watch our Autocours on Friday, or come in at all to observe our lessons or classes. His reasoning being that spectators from outside of the school will not understand what we are doing or judge it fairly. We should be allowed to 'flop' (as he calls it) as many times as we have to in front of our fellow students in a safe space, free from judgement, in order to discover our true pleasure and find our clown. Because of this, it creates a firm sense of cohesion and being a part of a collective amongst all the students. We all understand (sort of) what is going on, even if none of our family or friends do when we try to explain it on the phone afterwards.....
Outside of school, trips to Paris are our only opportunity to escape the intensity of class and keep our sanity and cabin fever in check.
On Saturday mornings in Etampes there is a huge market that spreads all over the town. The square by our house becomes flooded with stalls selling DVDS, CDS, polyester jumpers and knickers in all ranges of neon and flammability. It's colourful, lively and typically french.
But after we do our food shop at the market and practise our duolingo french it is on the first fast train at 1.36pm to Paris we jump. For those living in Etampes only at the weekends do we get to remember that we are living in one of the coolest capital cities in the world.
If you have not been to Paris, it's far smaller than you imagine, and in truth, you don't really need to take the metro to travel around it. You can walk through the central of Paris, past key sights such as the Notre Dame, Musee d'Orsay and up to the Sacre Coeur in less than 90 minutes if you are wearing suitable footwear.
However, with walking in Paris comes two risks. The first huge one: DOG POO. The parisians seem to love the stuff, as they have decorated almost every street with it. I assume this is why you don't see too many Parisians walking around the streets on their smartphone - they know the risk is too great that you will potentially step and slip in something sticky.
The second one is the key difference between being a Parisian and a tourist. In order to be a proper Parisian you need to learn the art of avoiding being concussed by the SS. In other words: The SELFIE-STICK OWNERS - the second greatest health risk in Paris. Besides a love for baguettes you will develop nothing more powerful in Paris than an absolute hatred for smart-phone-selfie-stick taking people.
They are everywhere. Imagine swarms of pigeons with instagram filters and a complete lack of spacial awareness.
Selfie Sticks are waved around Paris like turgid metal vain penises. Getting in front of every lovely view that you have an opportunity to look at and hitting you over the head at least once on a busy Saturday. The worst place to see them is at the Sacre Coeur where due to the beautiful view, the church is swarmed by the cacophony of clicks and flashes.
Wondering around Paris at the weekend will make you long for the days of the Nokia 3310.
The only way to conquer it, is by becoming an expert photo bomber. Or, just by avoiding anywhere that you think someone would want to document and share on Tumblr. But whilst trying to avoid tourist hotspots you will learn quickly that certain stereotypes about Paris do remain true... one being the certain 'seedy' element of it.
Unlike the overt red light district of Amsterdam, or the secret brothels of Soho in London, the sex shops of Paris suddenly lurch in front of you. With one accidental wrong turn you can end up somewhere very unexpected.
This was evidenced most recently last Sunday when I travelled up to Paris to help second year John-Luke Roberts find his costume for Clown. He needed to acquire a toy rocking horse so we'd found an address for a childrens' toy shop.
We walked along a long wide street dotted with cafes, restaurants and fashion stores. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Then the shops started to disappear... it started getting quieter...
"Are you sure it's here?" I asked.
"Yes" he replied
"There are a lot of massage parlours"
"Like... loads of massage parlours."
"Everyone seems to be wearing a lot of leather don't they?"
"Have you noticed there are only women on this street?"
It was at this point we nearly walked head first into a leather chapped woman with her breasts out, smoking a cigarette on the street corner.
It was Sunday at 2pm.
We continued walking. All I could think was "Who visits a brothel on a Sunday afternoon?"
There were some nice cafes nearby though***
Until next week.
Love Elf xxxx
**One interesting thing to observe in Paris is that many sex shop licenses are no longer being renewed so if you walk down a street full of sex shops you will notice that there is often a REALLY nice cafe or restaurant next door to each massage parlour or sex shop - evidence of a recent closure of a shop leading to a new opening of something more 'gentrified'...