it's not too often i see an array of undamaged posters for an event that hasn't already happened. That's because bars only allow postering downstairs by the toilets, so it costs at least the price of a beer to go look at them.
It's down by the loo that I'm seduced by the words "Joy Of Failure," the title of a Galli Method clown workshop. When I ring the number on the poster, I'm informed that the next Wednesday-night Joy Of Failure session will be special, due to the appearance of Johannes Galli himself, founder of several clown schools in Germany.
I picture myself fitting in at a clown workshop about as well as I would on a golf course. That is to say, not. I'm bound to fail. Perfect!
The Galli Event Agency is upstairs in an office/light industry/call-security- if-you-see-a-stranger building at Spadina and Adelaide. I hear a familiar voice coming from inside the clown office.
Tony Molesworth, who has decades of professional fooling to his credit, has also come to check out this $10 evening that serves as an introduction to a $220 weekend workshop.
More than 20 people are seated on chairs under the fluorescent lights when a well-fed, middle-aged man in black and bright green introduces himself as Johannes Galli.
One reason he has come to Toronto, he charmingly informs us, is to improve his English. Perhaps it's easier to pick up here than from his associates at the Galli outfits in Austin, Texas, and Seattle.
Everyone is eager to help teach the teacher, but since they are clowns and not linguists, the words they offer are often less succinct than those he chooses himself.
He tells us that after his father financed his study of German literature, he presented his father with the diploma for which he had paid and went out to become a clown (though he's still Johannes Galli MA on the flyer). He studied with a Czechoslovakian clown and developed a piece called Amanda about a fellow waiting for a date who never shows -- "He is making mistakes for one hour" -- that he has played for over 20 years.
Money came easily, from 1,000 marks (or dollars) for one show to 4,000 for a workshop. At 40, he had "power and success.' At 50, he's looking for people who can act, train and organize (you must be able to handle all three) to staff the various Galli enterprises, including the Galli Motivational Theatre for corporate clients such as Dow Chemicals, BP Oil and Hewlett Packard. He already has a deal with a Canadian corporation.
Um, excuse me, can we just skip to the failure part?
"A clown must be a loser. Otherwise, he or she is not a clown."
In our own lives we must manage our failures. "Otherwise, we have no chance to succeed." There's that word again! "If you fail, do it with joy.'
If you admit a mistake, you learn and you don't do it again. Unless you're a clown: then you do endless variations on the mistake because it's your job.
My mulling is interrupted by the group decision, "Let's do the warm-up!' We stand. Red rubber noses are distributed, and a few seconds of various tracks from a Galli CD are played as we're instructed to act stupid, aggressive, proud, always falling in love, etc.
Galli says all the interpretations are OK except for stupid. He understands why a guy might not want to play dumb onstage, especially when there's a beautiful woman in the second row.
He says the clown must always seem stupider than the audience for the audience to feel better. He's against the idea of clowns who pretend to fail, then exhibit obvious skill -- say, in juggling. People love a clown because s/he is "in no dimension better than me." Tony brings up the case of Cirque du Soleil, which eschews this theory, and asks: if clowning is fantasy, what if failure isn't part of the fantasy?
Galli invites people to name their problems, which they will act out with words, then with only noise and noses, after which he will give his interpretation.
One young woman is in a quandary over whether to marry the boy to whom she is engaged. She must select a man -- the class is half-and-half, unlike in Germany, where it's mostly women -- to act as her fiance in the scene. They play it very convincingly. She takes the ring but does not put it on. In the clown version, she accepts him wholeheartedly.
According to Galli, this is because the man showed weakness by falling on the floor, and her real fiance needs to show weakness. "What if he is only weak and does nothing but lie on the floor?" I wonder. This, I suspect, is closer to the truth.
Continuing the theme, the next young woman announces her problem, "I pity weak men.' "That's how they get dates," I mutter. Typically, she has no such sympathy for women, but this angle is not pursued. In what is becoming a cross between fortune-telling and a therapy session for heterosexuals, Galli probes her family life and determines that these weak men are surrogates for the children she doesn't have.
Again a call goes out for a clown of the masculine gender. After their entertaining improvisation, Galli decides that her problem is that she likes "situations where you have to pity men, because then you don't have to establish erotical power."
Those interested in the nitty-gritty of becoming full-fledged members of Team Galli are invited to stay. I see Thursday's class will be all about success. Galli quotes the clown motto: "I do nothing. I earn nothing. But I am still alive." Am I the only one who takes it seriously? *