Welcome to the world of Fruithead

Tara Bradbury
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Sara Tilley offers her ‘ultimate clown’ … and fruit … and balloons … and more in new show at the Hall

Sara Tilley in character as Fruithead, her “ultimate clown” creation which hits the stage at the LSPU Hall starting Wednesday night.  — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

When it comes to describing her new show, Sara Tilley has a bit of trouble. It’s fun, funny, weird, raunchy, sometimes sad and dark, sometimes sexual. There’s fruit, balloons, the Adam and Eve story played out in one body — a body which started out as a fruit.

There are also no words. No English words, anyway, though there are plenty of sounds and perhaps some gibberish cursing.

Welcome to the world of Fruithead, a character Tilley’s been working on for the past five years. Fruithead started out as an improvised clown that would now and again go outside into the real world and interact with the people there, but Tilley never organized a specific performance involving the character until now: she’s presenting “Fruithead” for five nights next week at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s.

She called Fruithead her “ultimate clown,” the most complicated type of clown work you can do in Tilley’s preferred method.

Tilley is trained in the Pochinko method of clowning, which was developed by Canadian clown trainer Richard Pochinko in the 1960s. The form of theatre production is based on the performer’s natural emotions and impulses, which he/she structures into a performance.

“You make masks of your internal archetypes,” Tilley explained of the Pochinko method, also referred to as clown through mask. “This clown came out of that process for me and is actually six masks put together, which is why I say it’s the ultimate clown. When you get to the performing stage, you replace the full face mask with your red nose, which is known as the smallest mask in the world.”

Along with a red nose, Fruithead sports, well, a fruit head, complete with large pineapple. In the show, the character begins as a weird, bumpy orange fruit, eventually growing limbs and a consciousness, then becoming a female being, then a male being.

It’s a life cycle within a microcosm, on a red velvet island with one floppy palm tree and one flower.

“I really wanted it to be a story of a consciousness coming into life and gradually leaving life,” Tilley said. “It also deals with themes of environmental destruction and how we deal with other people. Big, big themes in a really kind of silly, off-the-wall, surprising kind of way.”

That’s the beauty of a clown, said Tilley, who is also an award-winning author and playwright. One of the reasons she chose to express some of the darker themes in the play, like violence and drugs, is because the licence clowning gives an audience to laugh at things that aren’t funny in real life.

It provokes thought and discussion in a way that is inviting, she said, and quite cathartic.

“I love turning things upside-down in terms of taking something which is traditionally talked about in a very serious way and, because I’m adding this element of ridiculousness and humour to it, we are allowed to look at it from a different angle. I think that’s actually very healing and it’s important to be able to laugh at the darkness of who we are and where we are at this time in the world, because I think things are pretty bleak right now in a lot of ways. In order to kind of shake up that energy, we have to be able to laugh at it and maybe poke a few holes in it. There’s power in laughter.”

“Fruithead” has no script and no English dialogue, though the character is a motormouth, Tilley said, and is constantly making sounds.

Tilley and co-creator and performer Mark White have been developing the show during the past year by videotaping Tilley improvising in the Fruithead character, exploring specific themes. They’d watch the tape and make notes about what they wanted to keep in the show, then structured that into an order for the plot.

The resulting script is more of an interior monologue, Tilley explained, and although it’s a very set, rehearsed play, there’s quite a bit of surprise involved, both for the audience and Tilley herself.

Fruithead’s costume and set are filled with 100 balloons that randomly pop, and there are squeaky toys buried under the velvet that make the stage a sort of landmine for her as a performer.

“It forces me to be in the moment and deal with things that I don’t know when they’re going to happen,” she said. “I think it gives (the play) a sense of tension, and it should be really fun.”

Though Fruithead uses the balloons to create different things, the character is alone on the island. Fruithead has to learn what the environment is all about and how to take care of it, but doesn’t do a good job, and everything cherished eventually gets destroyed.

There are stop-motion animations created by Jason Sellers, and a sound track by Ben Jackson which sounds like music but is made of manipulated sounds from Fruithead’s voice. Tilley said the music gives the show an eerie, magical feeling where everything relates back to Fruithead’s little island, even when it goes far into the imagination.

“Fruithead” is not circus and is not for children, Tilley stressed, given the subject matter and activities involving balloons. She hopes her audiences will leave the show with a new perspective of certain things in life.

“I’d love it if, at least once, something touched a nerve and they felt a little uncomfortable because it went a little too close to something they recognize,” she said. “I would love to hear a lot of people laughing at once. I want people to come and really, really enjoy themselves.”

The show will be Tilley’s last performance before she leaves for Alberta, where she will take up a 10-month position at writer-in-residence at University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program.

“Fruithead” opens Wednesday and will run until July 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 regular admission and $15 for students and seniors, with a special $10 Thursday deal: all tickets for the July 18 show are $10. There will be a post-show reception on opening night, and a discussion with Tilley and White following the July 20 performance.

Tickets are available at the LSPU Hall box office, by calling 753-4531, and online at rca.nf.ca.


tbradbury@thetelegram.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: LSPU Hall, University of Calgary

Geographic location: Alberta

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