St. Catharines’ raised Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott (clownlife.org), the Gaulier & Patchenko trained clown, returns home to perform a series of workshops and performances this March. Her show, Don’t Do It, Don’t Do It, Do It “explores what it is to be pushed off the straight and narrow into the frontiers of womanhood. Embark on a ridiculous journey of Self Empowerment, Curiosity, Body positivity, Consent, Loss and Rebellion to find out what happens when she does it.” We had the opportunity to talk with Zuma.
So to start on Don’t Do It… How did the concept / or motivation for the show come into fruition? I believe I read an article that featured you that said you were planning on doing it with four women, am I correct on this? Or, was it simply, ‘I want to write a one-person show, and this is how I’m going to do it’?
In all actuality, this show came about as a response to a couple different life events. For one, I had just finished the Clown Through mask training with Sue Morrison in Toronto and after all of my Gaulier European style training, this way of working with Clown was completely different to anything I had ever trained or experienced with Clown in the past. After the course I asked Sue: “How does one go about creating a show from the Pochinko masks?” Her response was: “Ultimately there is no one way, just make a show and find out.” As a theatre/comic creator whose made a number of shows largely influenced by my studies and aesthetics of European Clown, theatre and comedy, I felt I was at a total loss. I understood the work of Pochinko (Sue Morrison’s Training), but to create a show in this way, was — for me — embarking on the total unknown. In conclusion, I’m not sure the show could classify as a Pochinko show but it certainly gave me some form to jump off of at the very beginning.
The following week, the London Clown Festival got in touch with me and offered me a slot in their upcoming season. Then, as chance happens, a theatre in Bristol got in touch with me and offered me a paid 30 minute spot to showcase a new development of my work. I felt there was some sort of sign, so I called my friend and director Dan Lees and asked him if he would work with me, which he was more than happy to.
On our first meeting he asked me what I had to work with or present. I stared at him and said “nothing, I’ve got some gigs coming up, that’s it.” He replied “Well you have to have some sort of idea as to what you want to create, no?” I said “ Well, I know I want to make a show that is initially informed by my Clown Through Mask recent studies.” It was also the time of the #Metoomovement and I had seen so much courage pouring out of my community and also the backlash – by those who felt they were personally to blame or being attacked for another’s honesty in admitting something terrible had happened to them.
So, I told Dan:
“I’d like it to be a feminist piece, something that’s raw and vulnerable and close to my heart. I’d like the show to be an advocate for change, I’d like it not to be threatening, I’d like it to take down the barriers between the sexes. A show that everyone can see and identify or empathize and say #metoo.”
In this unraveling I came closer and closer to the heart of my show. It is not about being a victim of sexual harassment or abuse, it is about the system that we as women also adhere to when we adopt the voice of the patriarchy as our own and perpetuate the abuse in our own lives through self shaming.
From what I’ve read it’s a multidisciplinary performance, and you, as a versatile actress moves between characters and genres seamlessly. After coming up with the concept, what steps did you take to go about creating and writing the show?
I think my concept was quite minimal really to begin with. I improvised with my director and every week took whatever I found in the rehearsal room and tested it in front of live audiences on the London Comedy and Theatre Circuit. We kept the best and continued to develop the worst, until we had a show that worked. This show is less of a written show, as in: the script is literally ten pages, if that. It’s a show that is largely influenced by its audience and I guess I would describe it more as an unraveling, which is certainly a reflection of how its come about. As the show developed, I’d get inspired and want to try this or that, delving in to my performance studies and skill sets.
After about six months of working on the show and performing it a couple times, I felt it needed a dramaturge. Someone who’s good with story and feminist theory. So we asked Gyllian Raby (Proffesor at Brock University) and who is funnily enough also my mother, to come and work with us on the show. She was doing research into Luce Irigaray at the time, so it couldn’t have been better timing in relation to her research. Fortunately for us, we were able to work with her and develop the show into a closer version of what it is today. It’s thanks to her that the show takes the audience into the world of a kind of mythic odyssey.
I think I work in quite an unusual way in comparison to most theatre practitioners, maybe it’s a London Comic syndrome. Perhaps it comes from having a number of regular weekly nights that I can try material out at which has made me perhaps a bit lazy in the rehearsal room and active on the circuit. I generally write material and then try it and change it every night until it works. I’ve been known to completely re-write and even throw a show away and come up with something entirely different the next day until It’s the way I want it to be. It was great to work with Gyllian because she brought more form to the table, more discipline, which is certainly something I was lacking and I think ultimately has massively improved the show especially when combined with persistent gigging.
What has been your favourite part about working on and performing this production?
My favourite part about working on this production is that I love performing it, I love every scene, I can’t wait for the next. I feel as though I’m a child with a million magic tricks in my pocket and the audience has no idea what they’re in for and are surprised every time. I love that I get to be funny and playful but also honest and raw, and I also show some extremely vulnerable parts of myself too. I love that this show feels like a ritual every time I perform it. I feel as though I’m healing my own trauma and coming closer to genuinely loving my sexuality, body and life… It’s a liberating show to perform and I love that it has that kind of effect on it’s audience. I feel it’s the perfect expression of what I facilitate in my workshops, my own pedagogy and research is in constant development and study with the development and performance of this show.
I read that you performed in The Crucible at the Shaw Festival as a young actress, everyone loves a local story, so what was that experience like for you. Do you think you’d be where you are today without that experience?
This makes me blush, yes I did, it feels like a lifetime ago, a very lucky audition led me to have the opportunity to perform with Shaw at 16/17 years old. I have no idea if I would be here or there or anywhere from that experience. I’m a firm believer that every experience you have in life shapes who you become, so whose to say if i would be where I am today without it. It was an incredible time in my life, a total dream to have performed with the Shaw. That experience and training has added so much to my tool belt. I used to sit on the side of the stage and watch legendary actors transform a room day after day, I got all the professional training a person could ask for and they even honoured me with a scholarship which in turn paid for me to attend the world renowned Theatre school L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier (Paris, France) the following year, for which I’m forever grateful.
I would follow my favourite actors around like a little nerd asking all the questions I could muster, fortunately for me the brilliant Charlotte Gowdy and Wendy Thatcher took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. To be honest I would say it’s more the influence these two women had on me that transformed my life to what it has become. Their adventurous spirit, play, sense of humour, timing and their philosophies of theatre and life hugely influenced me and now I see a strong link between that time and my pedagogy and practice in performance today. They became very close friends of mine for quite some time, and when I think back to those moments I think very fondly of them and how lucky I was to have attracted such incredible mentors in my life, a skill I have certainly maintained to this day. For any new theatre creator out there, I highly recommend finding yourself some mentors, keep them close and learn from them. Life has all the training you could ask for and then some.
Don’t Do It, Don’t Do It, Do It is presented by Essential Collective Theatre at the Oddfellows Hall, located at 36 James St. in St. Catharines, from March 26-29. Tickets can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com