The Accademia dell’Arte is celebrating 10 beautiful years in 2014! What better way to celebrate than with 10 great Alumni Spotlights. We are kicking this year off with the two founders of ClownMa in California. Jeremy Hohn and Alex Makardish have taken the art of Clowning to a totally new level using their commedia and physical theatre training from the ADA. They took a moment to speak with me about their latest and greatest accomplishments.
When did you attend the Accademia?
Summer of 2011. End of July through August. Gorgeous summer…
What did you study there?
The ever-surprising commedia dell’Arte.
What University were you coming from?
University of California, Irvine
What was your favorite thing about the program?
Alex: First I’ll state the obvious, it’s the location. Being in Tuscany, it allowed us, or rather forced us to deeply immerse ourselves into the foreign environment and culture. Arrezo is not as overpopulated as Rome and Florence were, therefore not as many English speaking tourists in proxy. The city, besides our little “US” bubble at the villa, mostly spoke strictly Italian (or bilingual…putting us Americans in momentary shame), which inherently was a space of unknown qualities and temperaments, therefore it was the perfect “clean slate” for growing artists to develop unconventional works. Not only unconventional or culturally diverse from the US, literally, but also supported by an extremely intelligent and fruitful faculty/community that ultimately sparked the artist’s NEED for purpose in their investigations. (As well as it’s absence)
Jeremy: I loved being removed from all that was familiar to me. Not only are you introduced to new sights, ideas, and people each day, but in having the sanctuary for creation that is the Accademia to come home to – I was, and I think all the students who shared in that experience were, allowed the opportunity to deeply explore their creative interests and both discover and develop their artistic discipline.
Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom?
Alex: Cinque Terre. Too many stories to express there. However, one I will tell is both mine and Jeremy’s last night in Arezzo. If you ever stay at the Accademia, do NOT ignore the beauty of the town at night, specifically on top of the teatrino. After a long day of packing and watching other classmates gradually trickle out to head home, Jeremy and I thought we had one last night to spend in this momentary dream we came to call home. But ALAS!!! The last train to Rome was at 1030pm that night and we had to make a flight around 8:30am the next morning (the next train would leave at 600 in the morning. So we had very little time, and unexpectedly to say goodbye to everything we cared for so dear: friends, faculty, landmarks etc. and we had only one hour. So one thing you must know about the two of us together is, well, we aren’t bad people, in fact we have immensly sincere intentions in most of what we do, but we also are a bit, impulsive. This entire trip proved that, immersing ourselves into completely foreign social situations, cliff diving, exploring “unexplored” areas, rooming with complete strangers etc.
So we are on the train to Rome just passing the first stop after Arezzo, and I was filming an action blog expressing our discontent and odd feeling of immediate loss from leaving so abruptly. Until Jeremy and I finally look at each other and automatically get on the same wavelength. We both immediately grabbed our things and rushed off the train at the 2nd stop. We had NO idea where the hell we were, or what the hell we were doing and what the hell we were going to do. An empty train station and 2 homesick (of Arezzo) Americans. I remember being so excited and proud we did what we did, yet with the coinciding thought of “you idiots.” Luckily we spotted someone else who was being picked up by a car, and we built up the courage to ask with our broken Italian for a ride. They took us all the way back to Arezzo and wouldn’t take our offerings.
The look on our friends faces when we returned in the plaza was priceless, and worth every ounce of stupidity. We spent the rest of the night up on the teatrino truly breathing the glory of the entire experience, playing live music and sharing stories and theories. We watched people trickle out even more and it came time for us to figure out how to solve the predicament of getting home… Well…this is getting long enough. So let’s just say, we made it, just on time…..wasted an hour trying to catch a cab, nearly collapsed a lung, jumped off a moving train, shivered in the cold, squeezed face to body with complete strangers and loved every minute of it.
Jeremy: Cinque Terre comes to mind, I’ll never forget that place. I really couldn’t pick just one, but my favorite memory of dinner, in Arezzo, was at a german restaurant. There were five of us together that night. The husband and wife who ran the shop were incredibly hospitable and the servings were so big I couldn’t muscle through finishing the plate. It was called Stinco. The most tender of beefs on a leg bone bigger than my face. We all stumbled home and welcomed the oncoming food coma.
Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo?
Alex: Definitely. But I wish I could remember the names and specific locations to advise the reader more clearly. You can never go wrong with the Gelato shop next to the statue of Saint Francis de Assisi. You’ll find a few gelato spots in the town, but this always simply seemed the most quaint option. There is also amazing, small, family run restaurants all over the town as well as unique places to wet your whistle. Oh!!….got 10 euro to spend? On what, you ask? Well, how about thirteen liters of vino straight from the vineyard up the road from the villa. Trust me, it’s worth it. Also, go visit the main plaza of the town, there’s always something musical and sociable to experience.
Jeremy: If in Arezzo, you must see the monthly swap meet/vendor fair! I’ll never forget something Scott McGehee told us once over lunch. He said, “You know, one month in this place will never be enough for you to fully understand or grasp the Italian culture. You’d have to stay a year, years even! But what it does allow time for, is for you, the student, to get an entirely new perspective on the places that you all come from, wherever it may be. And you’ll carry that with you to each new place you go.” (I’m not sure how accurate that quote is.. but it’s close.) If you have a chance to see the fair which sets up for one weekend a month in Arezzo, GO! It is one of the best ways to see the eclectic nature of Italian culture and their interests.
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
Alex: The freedom and outstretched possibilities our meaning making minds can conceive or comprehend. The Accademia shows no fear, nor limitations to what the actor/human can call upon him or herself through a type of law of attraction…making the student an independent dreamer and most of all, DO’er. Simplicity is the name of the game. True brilliance comes from not the invention of something new, but the reinvigoration of something tired and worn.
Jeremy: There are many, but the biggest is, commedia dell’Arte, no doubt. Working with Michele opened up my instrument in ways I had never extended to imagine before. What he taught us about improvisation, technical approaches to performance, and the possibilities that can be discovered in all that surrounds us, be it the space, the others in space or yourself; I’ve used the techniques I learned that summer in every performance since, and I continue to be surprised by my body and my words (and my wit!) when I simply listen to the symphony that is already there in the silence.
What have you been up to since the Accademia?
Alex: The Accademia truly has no clue the impact it has had on my every dying day. I am currently in my final year at the University of California Irvine with my BA in DRAMA AND DIRECTING. The Accademia had tapped an extraordinary place in my well of spiritual imagination. I have continued my work in the commedia, clown, physical and devised theater, under great masters and minds on the west coast (but from around the Globe): John Achorn of Blue Lake, Donovan Scott, cirque du Soleil’s John Gilkey and Joshua Zehner, UCI’s Eli Simon and The lovely Annie Louie, Ursula Endlincher, Antoinette Lafarge …etc. I also performed for Cirque du Soleil’s Krista Monson (Casting Director) and am in their Clown Casting data base. I am also in collaboration with Emmy award winner Brian Bernhard and Blight Productions (media based). I’ve used the time after Accademia to find out my functionality in this greater existence.
The most notable development I must say, aside form the utilization of these skills and happenings in my everyday life, is the Clown Troupe/production company I founded with Jeremy Hohn. ClownMa dell’Arte. DogMa StigMa KarMa. We are an absurdist collective who specializes in devised storytelling and ritualistic, live performance. We strive to reclaim the word clown as the powerful idea it truly is and offers the world. One step at a time. We have had almost 2 years of success and prolific experimentations ranging from social experiments and structured performances like the Hollywood Fringe Festival with one our Original shows “The 0%.” ( Reminiscent of the Occupy Wallstreet phenomenon built with a fusion of the commedia dell’Arte and silent red nose clown) We are now being hired for larger corporations (recently Google!) to create original work and keep looking for the future to truly discover our sincere purpose in all of this we are doing.
Jeremy: So much. Too much? Hmm, no, I echo Alex’s sentiment, ADA and commedia moved me in ways that I never expected and that continue to inspire every new day. It’s likely that our Tuscan experience together linked Alex and I, connected our work, our thoughts, even our stars (if you believe in that sort of thing). I echo many of his recent works. I too am about to graduate from UC Irvine, and both with Alex, and individually have sought out the commedia and clown masters here in California and played in their shows and workshops. I’m continually amazed at the interconnection of these arts and the wonderful people around the world that want it to prosper. One of the first people we met after our return was Jon Monastero of Ten West and Studio Zanni. Before long we were performing with them and expanding our knowledge of the commedia. ClownMa dell’Arte soon manifested in the summer of 2011 and our opportunity to share commedia with world exploded. Since leaving the villa, I’ve been developing the skills shared with me, and passing the language on to the audiences here. I’ve been searching for balance, relishing in romance, pushing to sustain development, and planning, lots of planning to build ClownMa, a system for my comrades and I to thrive within, once we’ve all left the protective blanket of educational theater which has kept us so warm these last 8 years.
Do you stay in touch with anyone from your class?
Alex: Indubitably. And I intend to see them very soon in person. This experience can introduce you to the most impressionable minds and hearts that can follow the rest of your personal and professional life…and I hope that remains accurate.
Jeremy: Oh yes! I can’t speak for other years, but I feel kindred to the students in my class. I wasn’t able to create that family-like bond with all the students but it’s rare that a week goes by without checking in with one of my colleagues from ADA. It’s hard to believe, but five weeks in the villa cemented life-long friendships that I look forward to developing further.
Can you tell us about how you began working together? What was your motivation to start ClownMa?
Alex: High School. Yup. High school. I was a senior, he was a junior. I was in the arts, he wanted to be a biologist. Classic Chaplin and Keaton duo. We both were obviously underdeveloped at that time, but still had a mutual, self possessed ambition that led to our foolery being produced. We seemed to be specifically drawn to independently devised works, although still open to an array of established and standard mediums to ensure ourselves of societal justification. We wrote songs, parodies and our occasional attempts at “legitimate” song-writing, which naturally became parody anyways…I would set up themed events for my friends and family to enjoy, sometimes for the simplest of occasions; ie. The Series Finale of our favorite television show at that time, with music, lighting, and interactive elements that would involve the “audience” in the full celebration of this strange ritual. This led to actual theatrical events produced by Jeremy and myself and commissioned and supported by our colleagues and growing supporters. This continued for years, two completely different people with very similar and almost parallel developmental timelines. We eventually both ended up transferring to UCI the same year and studied at the Accademia. Our motivation for ClownMa was mutually out of the need to have an outlet where we always had the excuse, or justification to experiment our projects, concerns, and theories. What theories? Literally, whatever life has personally presented to us at that moment and of our past, hopefully leading to a much more purposeful future. I believe in a sort of Karmic retribution, and in the value of the state of Clown (a curiosity and abrasive response to the world we are forced into). ClownMa, is an idea, and I am not exactly sure what that idea specifically entails yet besides everything we have done so far, but that is the point of us wanting to offer something unique and pragmatically useful for whoever wishes to get an ideal across or heard. Only time will tell, as well as those we choose to work with in the future.
Jeremy: Alex and I actually started working together back in high school. We put together a series of interstitials for the multi-medium show with “Total” theater; even then, the clowns within us were peaking out their heads. It was largely coincidence that we ended up transferring to UC Irvine the same year and when I told Alex that there was an opportunity to see and study in Italy, we started making the calls and raising the funds.
At the time, in August 2012, our motivation to organize ClownMa was out of a desire to take the work further. After our first production The 0%, before collecting under the name ClownMa dell’Arte, we knew we were only scratching the surface of something beautiful, but knew as well that it was simply a beginning. Almost two years have past.
What difficulties and triumphs have you encountered in your work?
Alex: uitwaaien – (v.) to take a break to clear one’s head; lit. “to walk in the wind”
The triumphs exist mostly in the deliciousness of the passing moment. ClownMa and I have contributed to the community in ways the public will never know or could possibly ever understand… For the timing was fleeting and the audience were non-coincidental; the beauty of live performance and its systematic deterioration.
Jeremy: Well, although we continue to develop our understanding of commedia, our public performances thus far have primarily been in a red-nose clown style; so, a large difficulty we’ve run into being located in southern california is the Choloraphobia, the fear of clowns. It’s widespread, and in my opinion, it lacks validity but has a strong foundation. What are people really afraid of? The nose? The wig? I think it’s more of a bandwagon effect than the idea of clown. It’s difficult, people don’t actually know what clown is, but they think they do, thank you Hollywood.
What kind of person might be interested in similar work and how might they go about pursuing this?
Jeremy: Contact the greats. People you admire, artist’s whose work you love. Ask them where they studied, request an interview or a lunch. In my experience, this community, of clown, circus, commedia, physical artists are extremely open people and generally want to support the sharing of these ideas. Clown is helpful for life. Humans benefit from it. Because humans benefit from vulnerability & contact…
Alex: ….Us… firstname.lastname@example.org … CONTACT US .. instagram, facebook .. twitter .. (Seriously though, the clowning world in particular really starts with you knowing one clown, it will multiply after that)
How has the Accademia helped shape who you are as a clown/artist/creator?
Jeremy: It changed my life.
Alex: Through physical conditioning tools that completely altered my immediate control over my “instrument” (my body). I feel free and fearless to explore the more esoteric and absurd side of performance and creation (for that is all our perceptions are made of…A compilation of absurd light, shapes, sounds and matter.) When you are able to look at something established in this way, you DISCOVER innovative, alternative uses or views of it; therefore expanding the artists consciousness and involvement with their art. Ownership of what you offer in this short time on earth.
What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
Alex: Don’t be afraid of loans… You’re going to die anyways, might as well make life worth it.
Jeremy: What he said.
In your opinion who is a good candidate to get a lot out of the program?
Alex: Artists who seem stuck in a Stigma or Dogmatic way of thinking, therefore doing. First they must be open, then allow their curiosities to flow, and never stop flowing… When you think you are done and have learned everything you need to know, you don’t belong here, I’m not sure exactly where you belong… But it’s not here.
Jeremy: Artists who find themselves struggling to differentiate characters within the stories they tell & those who have a desire to reinvigorate their perspective on life and play.
Anything else you want to add?
Alex: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you ACCADEMIA DELL’ARTE. Your name deserves to be shouted across the Tuscan skies. Thank you to my support team and those who inspire me to keep living, as if I were to step into a deep pit of piranhas …
Jeremy: Yes. I’d like to give a shout out to the cooks at ADA — food no longer compares. Also, Kevin Brouder, and Sam Mcgehee — two incredible gentlemen, and fools, who deserve an article of their own. You inspired me, pushed me, pulled me, but never let me fall. Well, that’s not entirely true. I fell a lot learning that headstand. And it only made me stronger.