As she yelled at her boyfriend through an imaginary cell phone, Princess Mildred, a clown created and played by Marisol Rosa-Shapiro, pulled at her puffy, pink floral dress. Rosa-Shapiro pretended to hurl the phone away, stomping around the stage in flamingo-pink tights, striped socks, a pink, cone-shaped hat, massive black boots and a red nose.
Rosa-Shapiro, a guest artist, performed her one-woman physical theater show in the Theatre Classroom last Friday night. Physical theater relies on the actors’ hand gestures, body language and other physical characteristics. Rosa-Shapiro specializes in red-nose clowning, a form of physical theater in which actors create an alternate persona that only comes out when the actor puts on a red nose. Rosa-Shapiro learned this style of clowning in Italy at the Helikos International School of Theatre Creation under the instruction of Giovanni Fusetti, a world-renowned clown.
“The clown that comes out of this kind of training with Giovanni is very much about exaggerating, emphasizing, highlighting elements of a person’s personality, especially the form and the shape of the body and also the voice,” said Rosa-Shapiro in an interview with The Phillipian. “[Princess Mildred] came about as a collaboration between me, Giovanni and another one of my classmates who helped me by imitating the way that I moved through space. With Giovanni’s help, I found her spirit more and more and found her voice.”
Rosa-Shapiro was brought to campus by an Abbot Grant proposed by Kieto Mahaniah ’16 during fall term.
“Before bringing her to campus, I was like, ‘I want to bring this to campus because it’s really cool, it’s a different type of performance,’” said Mahaniah. “But there’s a serious stigma against clowns in our school and in our society. But seeing a performance like this provides a different view of what a clown is than most people are used to. And that’s sort of what I like about it, that you can see a new form of theater, a new form of creation, a new form of social phenomenon that you haven’t seen before.”
The show focused on a day in Princess Mildred’s life. Events such as planning a party, breaking up with a significant other and falling asleep allowed Rosa-Shapiro to perform a wide range of emotions that constructed her character’s personality.
“I loved how quirky [Rosa-Shapiro’s] character was,” said Lydia Paris ’17, who attended the performance. “It was just so crazy. You could tell that she put so much thought into her character… She would move her jaw and move her hands a certain way, and that made me start thinking about how to maintain a character and the little things you can do with your body to make things funny.”
The idea of home was a central theme in the show. Throughout the play, Mildred tried to find a home for herself, a search that gained greater significance after she broke up with her significant other.
“[While I was writing this show], this question of home was a really big question for me, because I’d just been home a few months from Italy, where I’d lived for three years. I was in New York, which is where I’m from, but it didn’t really feel like home for me anymore. I, as an artist and as a person, was looking for home and also experiencing the joys and terrors of that search and feeling really lonely without my creative community that I’d built in Italy that is now scattered all over the world,” said Rosa-Shapiro.
Rosa-Shapiro also used the tone of her voice to express Princess Mildred’s personality. Squeaky and slightly shrill, the voice gave Mildred an innocent character, which added to the persona that Rosa-Shapiro created to transform herself into her character.
“I would say, in the simplest terms, physical theater’s about space and ‘mask,’” she said. “A mask can be a thing that you put on your face, but mask is also about [the] style or shape or form of a piece of theater. The thing you put on your face is a mask, a costume is a mask, a voice is a mask, a set is a mask, music is a mask – all of these things that inform the nature of the world of the show.”
Although the show had a predetermined narrative, Rosa-Shapiro also interacted with audience members. In one scene, she pretended that the audience was a garden of flowers that she planted, pointing at each audience member and calling them a daisy, a tulip or a rose.
Paris said, “I think it was good that it was just a small audience, because then she could interact with us a lot and talk to us, which just made it more funny because we could watch people’s reaction to [the performance] and how some people got into it and some people didn’t.”
In addition to the one-woman show, Rosa-Shapiro led four workshops centered around physical theater over the course of the week. The workshops focused on melodrama, grotesque animals and fantastical creatures, Shakespeare reading and red-nose clown performance.
“My favorite thing about the workshop was how positive the ambiance of the environment was. In the spirit of ‘wellness,’ I felt totally calm, totally rested, totally safe with the workshop leader and the workshop attendees. It was an awesome and fairly rare feeling,” wrote Justice Robinson ’18, who attended a workshop on Tuesday, in an email to The Phillipian.