Howard Gayton has worked for over 30 years as a theatre director, performer and scholar specializing in Commedia dell'Arte and other forms of mask theatre, as well as puppetry, foolery, and dark clowning. His work is inspired by all manner of mythic tricksters, zanni figures, fools, jesters and sacred clowns, as well as by the use of masks in drama, myth, magic and sacred rituals the world over.
"Commedia, dark clowning, and fooling," he says, "through their structured use of archetype and metaphor, are the perfect forms for re-enchanting contemporary theatre, and exploring themes of crisis, healing, and transformation. This kind of theatre is more important than ever in our fractured world."
Why this fund-raiser?
Howard has been accepted to the Nomadic Academy for Fooling (NOA), a year long deep-dive into this ancient art with a world master of the form: Jonathan Kay. Howard is one of a group of eight performers selected from across Europe to train intensively with Jonathan and other Fool-inspired dramatists -- working in two-week blocks throughout the year in cities and towns across Europe.
This is a deeply exciting endeavor -- but we can't send Howard to NOA without community support. Even a small donation will help get this man on the road to creating magic!
In this video, Howard and I discuss his life-long passion for clowning and foolery -- which took him from Europe to the tribal lands of Arizona, and back again. (And there's a cameo appearance by our dog Tilly at the very end.)
What the funds will be used for:
The Nomadic Academy for Fools tuition: £2500.
Any funds raised over this amount will be applied to travel and accommodation costs for these 6 NOA training periods:
Helsinki, Finland: 19 Oct - 1 Nov, 2019
Montpellier, France: 7 - 16 Dec, 2019
Madrid, Spain: 1 - 14 Feb, 2010
Berlin, Germany: 14 - 27 March, 2020
Dublin, Ireland: 16 - 19 May, 2020
Frome, England: 4 - 17 July, 2020
And what supporters will receive in return:
In August 2020, Howard will make a video reflecting on his year-long NOA experience, with clips of his Fooling practice and performance as it has evolved. You'll receive a link to this video (for supporters only), first notice of public performances...and the heartfelt thanks of a Fool (and his wife).
More about Howard and his work...
In its earliest form (in 16th century Italy), Commedia dell'Arte married the rough entertainments of traveling street peddlers with the classicism of Greco-Roman drama and the masks of Venetian Carnival -- using stock characters to create a vibrant, slap-stick, highly physical (and often subversively political) form of comedy theatre. Performed outdoors on high trestle stages in busy piazzas and market squares, Commedia was beloved by audiences all across medieval and Renaissance Europe. Its themes can be found time and time again in the works of Shakespeare, Moliere and other great European dramatists.
In 1990, Howard co-founded The Ophaboom Theatre Company in partnership with Geoff Beale. Drawing on medieval theatre, and Commedia's origins in Italy and France, they set out to create a uniquely British style of Commedia that would resonate with modern audiences. Working in four languages (sometimes all in the same show!), they spent the better part of two decades touring extensively all across Europe, and as far afield as North America and Southeast Asia, establishing themselves as Britain's premier Commedia company.
The Columbina Theatre Company:
In 2016, Howard co-founded his new company, Columbina Theatre, with playwright Peter Oswald (The Globe Theatre, The National Theatre, Bristol Old Vic). This boundary-breaking company is dedicated to exploring new forms of Verse and Mask Theatre -- showing that these classic forms of drama, stretching back to the very beginnings of culture, are still powerful, meaningful, and relevant to modern life.
Recent productions include 'Egil', a collision of Viking slam poetry and rock music, delving into the essence of language itself; and Sleep Cycle, a trance-inducing evening of 'extreme poetry' with Oxford Professor of Poetry Alice Oswald. The company has two new comedies in development: 'Two Towers' and 'Theatre is Dead', inspired by Commedia, Bouffant and dark clowning, but addressing contemporary themes of gender, class, power dynamics, and the place of art in the modern world.
Howard has devised, directed and performed in numerous puppet shows for Little Angel Theatre in London and Norwich Puppet Theatre in Norfolk -- including popular versions of 'The Musicians of Bremen', 'The Selkie Bride', 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'King Arthur'. He is currently the mask & puppet director for Hedgespoken Traveling Theatre; he teaches at The Curious School of Puppetry; and he is developing a Commedia-inspired show with puppets designed by Little Angel's Lyndie Wright.
Howard is also a Punch & Judy professor, touring his anarchic Punch show to festivals and other venues -- including a summer seaside pitch on the south Devon coast, with Tony Liddington of Promenade Productions.
And there's more!
In addition to the work above, Howard teaches Commedia, mask work, and movement at acting schools and universities in Britain and abroad, whilst also conducting historic and studio-based research into the Esoteric Art of the Fool. He is commited to creating accessible theatre, re-working mythic stories for a modern age, and recovering the ancient power of theatre to enchant and transform the world we live in.
Although he's often on the road with his work, Howard is based in England's West Country, where he lives in a house filled with puppets and books in the mythic landscape of Dartmoor -- with his writer/folklorist wife (that's me ), our daughter, and a much-loved hound.
"I've been profoundly inspired by Jonathan Kay and his deep, esoteric, multi-dimensional approach to fooling. It is Jonathan's belief that 'playing in the archetypal world of the fool' lets you enter an added dimension that has been lost to traditional theatre. My goal is to bring this added dimension to my theatre directing, performing, and teaching -- and also to establish an international network of fooling/clowning collaborators. This seems especially important now, when Brexit is making creative co-operation across borders and cultures so much the harder."
Thank you so much for considering supporting our "Funding for Foolery" campaign.
- Terri Windling, Myth & Moor
Credits: The fooling photographs above depict Howard's work with the Daughters of Elvin troupe directed by Katy Marchant. The costume was designed by Katy. Howard's Punch & Judy booth was painted by the award-winning book illustrator David Wyatt. The "Doctore" Commedia mask in the last photograph was made by Ninnian Kinnear-Wilson.