Aqueous Humour has been creating playfully surreal characters for the past 10 years. Our interactive “Bouffons” produce commentaries on the social environment in which they find themselves, disrupting the behavioural norm within any given location. Our characters are not just a visual image to be used as ornamentation on the edge of an event. They are performer-led, three-dimensional, rounded characters brought to life by trained professional performers.
We create modern Bouffons characters that aim to challenge and inspire the audience in a fun and exciting way. Our characters are perceived to be unpredictable, chaotic even, and where appropriate, give the audience (as an interactive participant) the illusion of danger. “The Bouffons” character sees the world with the wonder and excitement of a four-year-old child, discovering everything for the very first time. They try to be like the beautiful people (the power holders in society, politics, religion, science, etc) but it is clear that they are in some way disconnected from social normality. The classic clown is blind to their outsider status, where as the Bouffons clown is fully aware of his/her disconnection. In our street performances they are clearly marked as outsiders and not part of the real world.
In creating our work, design plays an essential role in the development of our characters. The visual perception of the character is important as the first encounter opens the dialogue with the audience. What is seen from a distance can conflict with the image you are faced with up close, creating surprise and astonishment in the viewer. We use this element of the visually unexpected to grab the observer’s attention, enabling us to then charm and delight our audiences with fun and foolish capers.
Aqueous and the audience
It is very important that the audience can feel safe when they interact with an Aqueous Humour character. Usually our characters are in public spaces where people are likely to be going about their daily business. The unspoken contract between performer and audience has to be agreed- the Bouffon must first seek the individual’s permission to play. They begin with just a small interaction that audience members can enjoy, even if they are feeling a little shy. From there they can negotiate how the interaction will play out, offering members of the public the opportunity to join in with the frolics, enabling them to enter a parallel world of fantasy and fun.
The safety of performers and audience is at the basis of all the Aqueous Humour training. The Bouffons are always in awe of their audience as their greatest threat but their warmest friend. If the audience do not love the character, the character is ‘dead’, as without the suspended disbelief of the audience he/she does not exist.
The performers’ interactions with the public have to be honest from the beginning or we risk the audience feeling duped by the character. The Bouffon performer’s skill is to allow the audience to fall in love with them, while pointing a satirical finger at a social construct that we abide by whether we are aware of it or not. Due to this, the Bouffon is given licence to transgress social norms like the jester in the Royal court.
Aqueous’ performance style
Aqueous Humour develops work from an improvised, play-based structure derived from the Gaulier and Lecoq traditions. Over the past 10 years Tom Hogan has guided the company towards it’s own style, developing it’s own unique interpretations of those original teachings.
“Our performances are created from the feelings experienced by the performer when interacting with their audience. Aqueous Humour characters create an alternative reality of fun and nonsense with an edge of parody. Our characters are fantastically excited about everything and everyone they come into contact with. They may misunderstand or misread situations and they may not afford you the status you are used to, but they will do anything to please you”. (Tom Hogan, Aqueous Humour, 2011)
Our characters break down into two types:
The Ugly – Characters who are grounded, have a reality to them and comment on the world with innocence. They are aware of their low status and are unaffected and unashamed by it. These characters have no understanding of social rules and have the complete freedom to play and explore what is around them. The Oozebogs, for example, are “ugly” characters and we would categorise them as such for character development purposes.
The Beautiful – Parody characters represent the social constructions that establish meaning and boundaries within society. They have a keen sense of social rules and divergent ethical codes, yet are sometimes so desperate to uphold the codes they are focused on, they do it at the expense of normal behaviour. In fact, they create chaos. The Bouffon performer plays with social normality, creating parody and satire with hilarious results. You can find examples of this type of character in The Sky Muffins and Bushpig.
Aqueous Humour Performer
When training the Aqueous Humour performer we examine the processes of socialisation. In any culture we are a product of our environment, social status, conditioning, and education. The interactive performer has to be self aware, socially dynamic and have a high level of emotional intelligence.
We explore the fun of rule breaking through characters that appear not to know the rule, or those who are so fixated on not breaking one rule that they manage to break all of the others, smashing through various social taboos along the way.
The audience as accomplice:
The interactive performer will encourage the audience to be a part of their minor social transgression by offering them the role of “The Goader”. The Goader is the accomplice- they give the character permission to overstep the line where childish behaviour should end and adult behaviour should begin.
The Puddle Analogy-
Said puddle, approx medium to large in size, sits between Performer (P) and Audience Member (AM). P looks at puddle then at AM. AM lifts an eyebrow, suggesting that P should jump in making a large splash. P looks at AM, surprised and unsure. AM gives a reassuring twitch. P says “Ok, I’ll jump in if you want me to” really loudly just at the point of hitting the puddle, splashing its contents everywhere.
The point in this analogy is to describe the basic nature from which we draw our inspiration- simplicity and fun. The audience member that is caught up in the interaction experiences feelings of either elation at being involved in the transgression, or slight embarrassment at their complicity. Either way, the interaction provides delight for all other bystanders, as they recognise the childish familiarity of the game.