One of the final intensives in our Summer Physical Theatre Program was the Cirque and Clown Performance intensive co-taught by Stefan Haves and Jon Kellam.
Stefan Haves is an acclaimed director, creator and producer of Circus, theater and film whose
Jon Kellam, has over 30 years combined theatre experience as a performing artist, director, project creator, and teacher. Jon is a co-founder and artistic director of BÄMSEMBLE, a new theatre company based in Italy. He developed a system of performance, training and devising, called Superdrama and is currently training the company. He served as co-artistic director and co-founder of Zoo District Theatre (Los Angeles), was previously a resident director, member, and director of education at The Actors’ Gang (Los Angeles), is a member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre West (Los Angeles), and served as director of the Get Lit Players (Los Angeles) in 2012.
Jon is in the process of developing, directing, and co-devising (with BÄMSEMBLE) a liberal adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes classic interlude, El Retablo De Las Maravillas (The Marvelous Puppet Show) entitled SALT. SALT will premiere at Cavallerizza Reale, in Torino, Italy in November 2017 and perform at Teatro C’Art in Castelfiorentino, Italy, in winter 2018.Some of Jon’s most notable directorial credits include Brecht’s Drums In The Night, David Ball’s adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe (toured in the U.S.), and The Exonerated, by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen (toured in the U.S.), and Daniel Berrigan, The Trial of the Ca
tonsville Nine (toured in the U.S. and Brisbane, Australia as a featured production with the International Brisbane Theatre Festival, in 2009) all produced by The Actors’ Gang. Also with The Actors’ Gang, Jon assisted Simon Abkarian on the critically acclaimed production of Love’s, Labour’s, Lost. At Zoo District, Jon directed and co-created the award winning production of Nosferatu…Angel of the Final Hour, and co-directed Home; the Search for the Lost Tablet of Ur. Other notable directing credits include, Death…A Very Serious Comedy, performed at the Ebell theater in Los Angeles, Shape of A Girl (Co-director) and The Ass (by Parviz Sayyad) both presented by The Edge of the World Theatre Festival at L.A.T.C. Also directed The Raven – ‘Poe Time’ (adapted from Edgar Allen Poe) presented by Get Lit at The Actors’ Gang, Helena Modjeska – The Artist’s Dream co-developed and directed in Krakow, Poland and performed in Chicago at the Chopin theatre and at the Bowers museum in Orange County CA. In January 2014, he co-directed a development workshop of The House is Black, at the Freud Theatre produced by Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA (previously UCLA Live) directed, created, and performed by Sussan Deyhim.
Independently, Jon has taught numerous physical theatre workshops nationally and internationally. Teaching credits include Commedia dell’ Arte at Playwrights’ Horizons professional actor training program in New York City, and The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. He served as Co-Chair of Theatre at Champs Charter Multimedia and Performing Arts High School, and was a lead teacher for The Actors’ Gang at the California State University Summer Arts Festival in Monterey Bay, 2012. In 2008-9 he served as adjunct professor and teaching artist at California State University Los Angeles, where he directed Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid. Jon contributes regularly as a teaching artist for the University of Texas summer abroad program, in Florence, Italy. He is currently teaching Superdrama and directing Il Malato Immaginario in Torino, Italy at Atelier Teatro Fisico. He was consulting director for Retro Gold, which performed at the Pennabilli International Theatre Festival and is presently consulting on the Kung Fu Project in Torino. He lead a Superdrama training and devising workshop at HERE Festival at Cavallerizza Reale, in Torino in May 2017, and is a guest teaching artist at Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy.
Jon’s acting credits include the Tony nominated production of Wilder, Wilder, Wilder, the national tour of Embedded by Tim Robbins at the Actors’ Gang, and the world premiere of The Exonerated written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. His Film and TV credits include, Flags of Our Fathers (dir. Clint Eastwood), Tangled, Brain Dead, The Homecoming of Jimmy Whitecloud, Portal, Judging Amy, and West Wing, and a part in the upcoming production, Bent, (filming in Rome, Spring, 2017) written and directed by Bobby Moresco.
In 2008 Jon was the recipient of the Surdna Fellowship to study clown based on the pedagogy of Jacque Lecoq and Yves Lebreton, with Philip Radice of Atelier Teatro Fisico and Andre Casaca, Teatro C’Art, in Torino, and Castelfiorentino, Italy.
We sat down with both Stefan and Jon to hear about how their work differs and connects, and what they’ve been creating with our students.
Has anything surprised you about the students, in your time with them so far?
STEFAN: The nice thing about working with this particular group was that they were such a great ensemble. They showed such enthusiasm for learning about the subject matter that we were teaching them. Usually I don’t like to talk to the students particularly afterwards, but these guys were so guilous and inquisitive that they kind of disarmed me, and I really loved hanging out with them because there was never any moment of a discipline problem or any moment where they acted like the kids that they are. So I really felt that I was working with equals and I was working with people who were interested in the inquiry
JON: They’re amazing. They’re disciplined, on time, a joy to work with, intuitive, and inquisitive. They’re picking things up very quickly. They get along well which is obviously important. They respect us and they take the initiative as well. So we’re both very pleased with the group.
How has co-teaching the course between the two of you and your separate expertise been going? Are the students finding it easy to make connections between the cirque and superdrama?
STEFAN: It was wonderful working with Jon in superdrama because the students were able to see the difference between someone who is form oriented and someone who is content oriented. He brought to the table content of characters and content and content from a certain point of view where we could park amazing choreography which was character generated in the middle of the show. So where I would be mining for their skills and how I could exploit their talents and make entertainment worthy little gems, Jon brought to the table something that was more of a laboratory. So that juxtaposition was really fun. The other thing that was fascinating about collaborating with Jon, because I haven’t before, is that we actually are incredibly homogenous between us because he really loves costume and music and that’s the crack cocaine for him and for me the crack cocaine is overall story and how frozen pictures put together make a whole show, so his attention to detail in the auditory field and visual field really augmented the overall story that I was crafting.
JON: There is an element of experimentation in this because though Stefan and I have known each other for years and we’re both directors and teachers and we have complementary but different philosophies. We are getting along great and ur friendship is building as well as our colleagueship. I feel like the students are really getting it. What’s interesting to me is the work I do in the super drama has been morphing a little bit more into ensemble and choreographic elements which is good but a little bit unexpected. Stefan’s work is more towards the individual work on the actor and the clown, which is also morphing into being pillars of the show were’ making. So my work is in a sense helping with the in betweens and transitions and the ensemble choreography and his work is sort of putting it all together. The gist of his class is the clown training and directing the show because it’s important, we believe, that there’s there one voice on the final decisions. I think that his work in circus and clown and cabaret is better suited to putting it all together. It’s been good, but it is experimental and once in awhile we have a glitch and I think the students would talk about that if they were asked. I think the common language is helping all of us. It’s really linking a philosophy that for me in the past has been distinctive. And that’s the linking of the language of clown and the language of expressionism and commedia dell’arte which is what superdrama has a mixture of. It’s exciting. I’m learning, we’re stealing from each other. It’s also interesting because Stefan worked with the company that I learned superdrama from so we do both have an understanding of that language.
STEFAN: The most important thing is to take all the edifice away. Take away all the notion that you’re playing a character, you don’t have a script with lines. The thing that clowning does it it strips away all those things. It’s the most difficult art form, where as an actor you can hide behind a script or even given circumstances. With clown you have to win the audience over on who you are and how humble you are and enthusiastic you are. Not in a fake way because the second you push the audience hates you. There are only two kinds of clowns, there are brilliant clowns and there are bad clowns. How do you become a great clown? By actually becoming the bridge with the audience, when they see you up there your vulnerability and your openness is what is paramount. The performer’s instrument: body voice speech and imagination is the foundation of my work, and breathing within that. Then imagination can be played out but it has to be played out with someone who is not a slave to adrenaline, so we have to deal with the adrenaline that comes in, which is possible public humiliation and in that moment instead of pushing or going to your bag of tricks, how do I just show up with the audience. So it doesn’t matter what i’m coaching, it’s all the same thing, which is, I have to land as a human here which is accept me and want me to win as opposed to show me what you can do. Americans start doing this stuff when they were 18 so we better be human and have so much enthusiasm for physical theatre that our love and joy of this art from is what is infectious to the public.
JON: The key to successful clown and superdrama to take away is the truth. We’re storytellers, but the way we have to tell a story is through receiving the audience. Only by and through receiving the audience, receiving the public and o ur own creativity can we then give back or tell or produce authentic honest storytelling, and I think the common denominator with all of our work is that we are seeking the truth. So I hope when they leave they can take the elements of both clown and superdrama and they can find a cohesiveness together in the name of truth. Both in clown and the characters in the superdrama, if they’re not authentic and sincere and if the actors aren’t finding that intense connection then it doesn’t work. In superdrama we call it the theatre of enormous intimacy. We are doing a crash two week course and 3 or 6 hours a day for a little while isn’t really enough, it’s just a taste.
Stefan, what is your favorite thing about working and living at the villa?
STEFAN: My favorite thing is that everybody goes through the rhythm of the summer together. We all have to whether the heat through the day, feel the vibrancy of the morning and wake up at dusk. In the future I would love to have more circus equipment so our down time could be more structured and everyone going in and unicycling or juggling or passing clubs around. But it’s really beautiful to see the nature of where we are influences all of our behaviors.