Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Chapter 179: On Shakespeare and Sonnets: Yes! Because...

"Puck and Titania rolled into one" (Ira Seidenstein)
Photo credit: Jane Hobson ( - click here)

Yes! Because...
After an exhausting world tour, and not a little jet-lagged Dame June Bloom, semi-retired Shakespearean scholar and actor extraordinaire, touches down in London this April, ready to give one of her renowned lectures on performing the Bard. Using Shakespeare as her Touchstone Yes! Because... will take you on the rocky road trip of Dame June's life as touring actor, daughter and mother, accompanied by a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous, and a ukulele for good measure for measure...

Dame June is the creation of Australian-born Flloyd Kennedy, a seasoned actor who really has performed all over the world, including London, Brisbane, Glasgow, New York, Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Threshold Festival in Liverpool. Flloyd has two grown-up children and two grandchildren, and has been living in Scotland, on and off, since the 1970s. Training as an actor originally, with a passion for musical theatre and Shakespeare, Flloyd came into comedy and clowning later in life, through meeting Cirque de Soleil and Slava's Snowshow clown Ira Seidenstein (see blog post  Clowning Around - click here  on the workshop I went on with Ira), who directed the show. Dame June, who likes nothing more than a sonnet and a song, draws on all of that, as well as Flloyd's experience of family life. I am looking forward to seeing Dame June in full bloom next month, and in the meantime had a few questions for Flloyd:

When did you start clowning around, and how did you meet Ira?
Master clown Ira Seidenstein came into my life around 14 years ago, when he arrived in Brisbane to do a PhD on Actor Training and I was a member of the fledgling Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble while also studying at the University of Queensland. They invited Ira to run a workshop and then direct a production of Pericles. I was in my late 50s, thinking my chance at an acting career was well past, and I was astonished to find that he was able to engender such unspeakable joy in me with his clown approach to performance. 

I’ve continued to work with Ira ever since then, he is my best friend and my mentor.  I had no ambition to be ‘a clown’ as such, just a better actor (we call ourselves actors in Australia, there’s no genderisation of the profession). But over the years I’ve gradually accepted Ira’s insistence that I am, indeed, a clown. And I’ve slowly but surely recognised that I always have been, from a very small child.  All that messing about as a kid that got me into trouble, all the various attempts over the years to set up little companies so that I could muck about on stage with some pals, all my ongoing resistance to directors who give line readings, and block – Oh how I detest blocking!

Where did Dame June come from?
I took a slight detour around 2007 and decided to do a PhD myself, to research and write about how the actor’s voice actually functions in the process of performing, especially performing Shakespeare. But I couldn’t let go of my life as a theatre maker, so I insisted on having practice as research as part of it. Dame June entered my life pretty much as Ira had done, a happy coincidence. I needed a creative, theatrical way to bring my thesis to life in performance, and after struggling with a total blank mind for days, weeks, months, the idea came to me of Doing what I was talking about. Being a character who actually demonstrated in a fictional scenario what the actor’s voice sounds like when it is working effectively, and when it’s not – or at least when the actor is communicating her own insecurities and fears, rather than the character’s. 

When the PhD was finally done and dusted, I decided to take the advice of friends and colleagues who just loved the character, Dame June Bloom, and created a solo performance piece for her that could be easily transported. It still had to be entertaining, informative about some aspect of Shakespearean performance, and also bring more aspects of June to the fore.  I had a bunch of songs and poems I’d written over the years, kept in a folder in the bottom of a drawer, so I dug them out and lo and behold, they fitted June to a T!

When did you start learning ukulele?
Flloyd Kennedy at the Brisbane Festival
My father taught me three chords on the ukulele when I was seven, and I never forgot them.  I picked them up again three years ago, when I realised Dame June wanted to actually sing her songs, and I’ve been working hard ever since to extend those three chords. We’re up to about eight, not bad, eh?

Has Dame June ever crossed paths with that other Grande Dame, Edna?! 
Dame June has met a lot of famous people in her lifetime – she’s actually famous, a legend in her own mind, but I don’t believe Dame Edna features among them. She’s worked with Stanley Baxter though, and Rikki Fulton, two of Scotland’s most glorious clowns.

Who makes you laugh? 
My grand-dog, a Burmese mountain dog Maisie Blue, she's hilarious! I like actors who have something of the variety show about them, a quality you very often find that music hall quality in Scottish comic actors; the very dry humour of Scot Susan Calmen who you very often see on news quiz panels, and Billy Connolly's rough and sophisticated humour. I love watching Sheila Hancock, comedians Maureen Lipman, Joyce Grenfell, and of course Lucille Ball. 

What drives you to perform?
There have been times in my life when I've backed away from performing, but then I found myself as a nanny holding the children's hands watching from the wings, or as a dresser backstage, thinking "I could do that!" I think Anthony Hopkins put it so well when he spoke about performing and said "It's not something you do, it's something you are."

Yes! Because... is at The Bread And Roses Theatre (nearest tube Clapham Common on Northern Line) 4-8 April. Visit (click here) to book tickets or phone 020 8050 3025.

Postscript: for the wonderful review of opening night by theatre critic Si├ón Rowland of London Pub Theatres click here

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