Saturday, March 15, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions

Compiled and answered by John Towsen. If you have more, send them to

What exactly is very physical comedy?
Good question. "Physical comedy" is one of those terms, like "love" or "clown," that gets used a lot, as if we all meant exactly the same thing by it — when of course we don't. When I think of physical comedy, I think of comedians such as Buster Keaton and Lupino Lane and Bill Irwin, but also of dance companies such as Pilobolus and Momix, and of thousands of bits of business that show up regularly in tv shows, commercials, and movies. Physical comedy is not the same as clown. A lot of clowns use physical comedy in their shows, but some don't. And a lot of non-clown performers — dancers, mimes, actors, street and circus artists — incorporate physical comedy into their work.

There are degrees of physical comedy, which is why I called this project The (Very) Physical Comedy Institute. Any comedic show or workshop that emphasizes movement, that is not predominantly verbal,  that plays imaginatively with props, puppets, etc. can proudly call itself physical comedy. My specific interest includes all of this, but I threw in the adjective very because I gravitate toward physical comedy that is perhaps even more kinetic, more electric, more akin to dance and circus and silent film comedy, to contact improv and parkour. I like to see bodies, lots of them, in motion, bouncing off one another. I like to see entire environments transformed. I like ensemble work and, when done well and for a reason, I like slapstick.

How experienced do I have to be? How young? How in shape?
This is a professional workshop aimed at those with at least an intermediate level of experience and who above all are serious about working hard. There is no absolute age restriction and you don't have to be an acrobat or dancer to participate, but you should have a reasonably fit body that is willing to be challenged. If you have any injuries or other physical problems, please explain in the application.

Is it dangerous?
It is important to recognize that any physical activity involving tumbling and related skills requires caution. We will emphasize safe techniques for performing and spotting tricks, and will never push you to do something you're not comfortable with. We are working on effective comedy here and not on daredevil stunts. You won't be diving out of windows and we won't be trying to turn you into gymnasts overnight.  That being said, each student will be required to sign a liability waiver in order to participate.

How many students will be participating?
There will be a maximum of 20 students overall. Since each teacher will teach two sections of their course, that means a maximum of 10 per class. Every student will study with all of the teachers listed, most for five days each. We are contractually obligated to the Barn not to exceed twenty students and five faculty at a time, so this number will remain firm. If and when we're full, then we're full; even if you're an old friend, we will not be able to squeeze you in. Sorry!

Is the food plan required?
No, but it is highly recommended. Veterans of the barn say the food is plentiful and quite good. Vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores will all have their needs met. Because of a very full schedule, having someone else do the cooking will make things easier for everyone and, besides, we're out in the country — no delis next door! There will be kitchen / dining room clean-up work crews and everyone will be expected to participate, even little old moi.

Are there scholarships? Work-study? Deferred payment plans?
Sorry, but in a word, no, no, and no. Why not? Because your tuition has already been discounted. Our budget is totally bare-bones. We are offering nine or ten teachers (from four countries) for the price of one. I'm doing administration and teaching for free and the teachers I hired will be there for much less than their usual rate. Even at that, to have any chance of breaking even, we need twenty full-paying students.

Can I come for just part of the time?
Probably not. If we get close to the start date and still have open slots, we would consider that, but until then we will only be accepting students who can do the whole two weeks. The work from the first week will feed into the weekend Rube Goldberg projects and into the second-week performance projects (Performance Lab; DIY Silent Film), so the continuity is important.

What will the weather be like?
With climate change, the weather is far less predictable these days, but according to this chart on, the average high in South Paris in June is 73℉ and the average low 51℉.

Is there wifi?

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