Being at the ADA for an entire school year was truly a blessing. Other than the MFAs, Caleb Murphy and I were the first to spend two semesters living and training at the villa. Our first semester was spent in the undergrad courses offered, while our second semester was a program that the three of us – we were joined by a third person in our track for the latter half of the year, Leslie Miller – worked together with the faculty to create a working process for the future cohorts in the BFA Physical Theater program. While I could boast for days about how wonderful first semester and the undergrad program were, I would like to focus on the second semester.
We were privileged to have Michele Bottini as our mentor and coach through the process of creating our final project; we were to present a sort of showcase project at the end of the semester. We returned to the ADA at the end of January after a winter break back in the USA, and arrived with the concept of producing one-man shows. We wanted to be able to leave with something we could use in the real world, considering the other seniors at our home college Coastal Carolina University were leaving with monologue and song books. This of course met the assumption of the ADA head-on when we were suggested to create a three-person show. We spend weeks trying to come up with concepts, having trials and failures, and working on one-man shows on the side in our spare time. I personally had absolutely no clue to what I wanted for a solo show, until I had a terrible case of the flu and was bed-ridden for a week. I could do nothing but watch movies I had on my computer, do research, or sleep. I found being removed from the work gave me my best ideas. Towards the downfall of my illness, I simply woke up one morning with a clear idea and wrote a 4-page solo show in detail from start to finish.
I was so excited to get back up on my feet and begin working on it, but I came to find that though it was an incredible idea in my head, it didn’t work so well in reality. We have limitations, and we must recognize and work with them, despite how much we want to defy them. Needless to say, I scrapped the idea; I had to give my child to the orphanage. However, I was left with a spark: A box. As simple as it is. What do I do with a box? Move it, stand on it, sit on it, and bang on it. With the help of Michele, Caleb, and Leslie, I began to work in class and in studio time – free time to work on what you wish. I used exercises Michele offered us to figure out the most practical and interesting ways to move a box, climb on a box, stand on a box, sit on a box, and bang on the box. After another month and a half of fine-tuning, I had a 10-minute on-man show in which I literally do nothing but push a box, climb on it, and climb off it, and so far it has survived the condemning test of the audience.
While I was working on this, my two partners were developing their own astonishing pieces, and we also worked on a couple of two-person pieces. At the end of the semester, we combined our 5 pieces, sewed it together with simple transitions, and created an hour-long show of 100% original material. Clown Town currently has made a European and American debut, and is already set to tour the South East of the USA in the next year, and by South East I mean South Carolina, North Carolina, and possibly New Orleans. We had the idea about halfway through the semester that we wanted to be able to perform this in other places. Why should we break something up if it has potential to be successful? We have discovered a chemistry that is very rare, I think, and we don’t want to throw away a years worth of work. Due to the idea of creating a troupe, eventually a company, and touring our cabaret-style clown-esque show, we decided we needed to keep everything as simple as possible. Minimal lights, adaptable entrances and exits, at the most three boxes (possible with one), a hula-hoop, and 6 juggling balls. We designed our show to be performed virtually anywhere, to have pieces taken out, added in, or rearranged.
Now, enough of the business. Throughout both semesters, I have met some of the best and a couple of the lesser people in my life. I have also been able to make a distinction between students in specific colleges and regions by how they are universally trained. Wonderful connections have been made, mostly in second semester as we introduced Clown Town as our future.
Caleb and I had minimal classes our second semester; we took a couple of workshops, and one full class that was spread out throughout the semester. As nice as the free-time was, it also seemed very intimidating at times. Two of the workshops we took were that of Leather Mask Making – in which we left with each a mask, and then figured out how to make leather clown noses – and Clown – taught by the wonderful Barry Lubin.
The only thing that I wish to have done is to spend more time in town, or traveling. I wish I spent more time with the culture, but if you don’t bleed for your art, then you’re not putting enough of yourself in it. That is a discussion for another time.
To be quite honest, I had no idea what to expect. I arrived with an open-mind, and I left with one even more open to the world.
– Richie Schiraldi