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Category Archives: Theatre

Source: The Jewish Chronicle, September 12, 2012 (read full article)

Heard the one about the six clowns that get put on a train to a concentration camp? No? So, the first clown says to second clown… In fact, in the award-winning Holoclownsto, nobody says a word. You will soon be able to find this out for yourselves. Troupp Pas D’Argent, an acclaimed theatre company from Brazil, is bringing its clown show about the Holocaust to London. (…) It is a completely wordless piece that works for all ages. In short, it is a great piece of theatre.

So far so good. And yet, whenever I tell people we are presenting a clown show about the Holocaust, I tend to get one of two reactions. The first is confused nervous laughter followed by a pause and possibly the expectation (or hope) that I will say that I am only joking. The second is confused anger that manifests itself in a barrage of questions or, worse, a sad shake of the head. The shake of the head is near impossible to deal with. The person’s mind is made up and will not be changed. The barrage of questions, however, is really interesting: how dare they do a clown show about the Holocaust?; is the Holocaust something to laugh about?; what do they know about the Holocaust? Are they even Jewish?

Each one of these questions raises yet more questions about the nature of taboos — how far one can go on certain subjects, what is permissible and what isn’t. (…) Stand-up comic David Schneider has been mulling over the idea of humour within the context of the Holocaust for some time. When I ask him what makes one joke about the Holocaust funny and another simply offensive, he is fully aware of the volatile nature of the subject but suggests there are perhaps two basic rules — you have to be able to defend it, and it must have truth. After that, getting a joke right is all about context — who is telling the joke, who is the audience and where and why the joke is being told. In the right context and handled right, jokes on even the most taboo subjects can break down barriers and change the way we think for good. Of course, get it wrong and it will blow up in your face.

(…) And yet the most profound tragedy has invited the most profound response from artists from all genres. I will never forget sitting in a cinema for 10 hours watching Shoah. I will never forget reading Primo Levi’s If This is a Man and I will never forget laughing for the first half and crying for the second half of Roberto Benigni’s film comedy, Life is BeautifulHoloclownsto is not disrespectful or distasteful. Troupp Pas D’Argent has simply created a show that continues in the tradition of Benigni and Primo Levi in holding up a light to the darkness. It is a work of intelligence and compassion that highlights the experiences of all the Nazis’ victims.

It is not a show about pratfalls (though there are great pratfalls) and it is not a show about balloons (though there are balloons) and it is not a show about acrobatics or silly music, though they are present too. But it works precisely because it is a clown show. As Troupp Pas D’Argent itself says: “The story we tell isn’t less tragic because we tell it as clowns. It is the contrast between the innocence of our characters and the terrible nature of what happens to them that makes it a story that cannot be forgotten. The clown exists to present the folly and stupidity of mankind and make it recognisable to the audience.”

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Pictures from Kamp, by the Dutch theater group Hotel Modern. The performance, which premiered in 2005, mixes theater, music, video, sculpture and puppetry to portray Auschwitz. Despite some perplexed reactions, mostly revolving around the opportunity of representing the Holocaust through puppets, the performance has met with an overall positive reception in the many countries where it has been shown. The website of Hotel Modern presents “Kamp” with these words:

An enormous scale model of Auschwitz fills the stage. Overcrowded barracks, a railway track, a gateway with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei”. Hotel Modern attempts to imagine the unimaginable: the greatest mass murder in history, committed in a purpose-built city.
The model of the camp is brought to life on stage: thousands of 8 centimeter tall handmade puppets represent the prisoners and their executioners. The actors move through the set like giant war reporters, filming the horrific events with miniature cameras; the audience becomes the witness.

The performance can be seen on the Hotel Modern’s YouTube channel: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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Puppets of Nazi leaders were largely used in the highly theatrical film Our Hitler (Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland, 1978) by German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. The seven-hour film can be watched in its complete version on Syberberg’s website (German with English subtitles).