In our year 10 drama classes this year, we have been studying the play ‘Scaramouche Jones’ by Justin Butcher as part of our GCSE course. Throughout this time, we have read, discussed, and developed our own ideas of how we could portray certain parts of the play. We did this by experimenting with using various different performance techniques, strategies and skills, which helped us to appreciate and earn a deeper understanding of the piece through the exploration of these creative skills. Before we read the play, we did a number of tasks and short character pieces as an introduction to the text, so that we were fully prepared and had some insight to what the play and the character Scaramouche himself was like.
The very first skill we looked at was human scenery. Our teacher told us that this strategy would help us greatly throughout our Scaramouche Jones project, as there were many opportunities for us to use it creatively. We were put into groups of four, and were told to think of four still objects that we could make with our bodies in a creative way. Our group chose to make a sun, a canoe, a TV, and a flower. We came up with these very literal ideas and explored how we could portray these objects through our bodies. As we had chosen very literal objects, we found that we could only form them with our bodies in very simple ways.
For example, when our group made the TV set, two people created the frame with their bodies and the other two were inside that frame in an embrace of what would be a love scene on a television programme. When we got our feedback for our objects we realised that we could have chose much less literal objects, which would have enabled us to be more creative and use our bodies in a much more diverse way. For example one group formed a flame with their bodies which was extremely effective. They used different levels, low, medium and high.
All of the bodies were in a wave shape as if the flame was flickering. The different levels created the impression of fire rising which I felt was very well thought out. After seeing how imaginative this group was with their ideas, I realised that I did not have to take the words human scenery so literally which I had always done previously. I should not go for the obvious objects and try to create something a bit more abstract to develop my creative thinking further. This will help me in my future performances when I have an opportunity to use this explorative strategy.
In order to really get a feel of the clowning world, we were told to perform a clown act in pairs. The act had to have a soundtrack, include most of the classic clown slapstick routines, but had to have a darker and grotesque side to it. To start with my partner and I found the slapstick idea relatively easy but somewhat difficult to contrast from that to the grotesque and darker side of clowning. We thought about how we could do this and came up with many ideas; some of these were freeze frames and marking the moment on the darker parts. We finally decided that as we had a soundtrack we should use music to communicate the darker and more grotesque side of clowning. We found some very eerie circus music and decided that this would work best.
Then we chose two completely contrasting different pieces of circus music to that of the grotesque music for the slapstick parts of the act. For example when we were performing the slapstick tight rope routine, the music that was playing was extremely happy and over the top, but when one clown was pushed off of the rope violently by the other, we used the eerie music as a theme for these violent moments in the act to show that what appears to be funny could actually be very serious. We both got extremely positive feedback for this piece which we were very pleased with. By exploring the different ways to portray the darker side we learnt that using music as a main focus for a piece can be extremely effective and work very well. In my future work I will definitely try to make the most of the soundtrack as I feel that it gives a very important element to a performance.
Getting to know Scaramouche
Before we read the play our teacher wanted us to have some form of an introduction to the character. So he gave us a brief insight of what Scaramouche Jones was like. He told us briefly of his past ans how he came to be a clown. After this short introduction to the character we were asked using the information we had been given, to imagine ourselves as Scaramouche Jones and portray what we thought he would have been like off stage and on stage. We experimented with the change between the persona off stage and on stage and distinguishing and contrasting between the two personas.
We did this multiple times until we had all gained an understanding that the clown that is seen on stage was completely different to the one on stage. When I was in character as Scaramouche I really tried to distinguish the differences between the different sides of Scaramouche. I feel that through this exercise I developed a deeper understanding of the character and was able for the first time to focus on this character and put myself through some of the emotions that he went through during the play.
The Birth of Scaramouche
We finally started to read the script. My first impressions were very positive. I thought that the play was extremely gripping and had massive potential for us to use the text creatively and effectively. I looked forward to doing so. Our very first task was to perform the scene of the birth of Scaramouche. We were put into groups of three, and were told to think about using physical theatre in the piece, but include lines from the scene. My group decided to focus on creating this scene with the idea of abstract. We chose the words oozing and amniotic fluid and repeated these over and over. This created a gross effect and really made the audience think about those words.
We thought about birth and the pain it involves, and decided to show that pain through tight locks of the body and high pitched screams. We also showed the contractions of the mother’s muscles by linking arms in a tight circle and moving in an inward outward motion. We then thought about how we could show the setting of the scene, and the dreadful conditions Scaramouche was born into. We came up with the idea that because the mother had no medical attention with her, that Scaramouche would have no care when he entered the world and would probably be hurt when I came out. We showed this by falling to the floor rapidly and thudding our fists against the floor as if the baby Scaramouche was falling from his mother’s womb which would have been a place of tranquillity and coming suddenly into this harsh and dark world that he had no place in.
These were the exercises that I thought helped me to really think about the play and the characters and the ways in which I could bring the story to life. We did many more exercises that also helped, but these were either my strongest, or the ones that if I did not do so well, helped me to realise what I could have done better. By using the different explorative strategies I gained a deeper understanding of the play and discovered how I could use these in my final 10 minute extract performance of Scaramouche Jones.