James Donlon spent 40 years as an international theater arts teacher and professional performing artist before moving to Ashland in 2011 with his Flying Actor Studio. There, he teaches the great world theater traditions of physical expression, mask, neo-classic clown and mime. I spoke with James about this weekend's Lunacy Festival in which he is heavily involved.
JG: James, a series of events brought you to a career in neoclassical clowning, pantomime and mime?
JD: I grew up an only child in a small California farm town between sea and mountains. These immense seascapes and landscapes filled my imagination with curiosity, space and time. I was an accomplished athlete, helping me to understand my physical self. The merging of my experiences in nature, physical joy and the social/cultural dynamics of the '60s created a sense of artistic expression. Without the hinderance of language, my opportunity to tour internationally polished and educated my art.
JG: How do you feel the need for the absurd in theater correlates with the state of the world today?
JD: Are humans rational or irrational? For every rational behavior throughout history, there is an irrational behavior. Absurdity! Theater that plays with the "absurd" expresses the zany, dark, mysterious, passionate core of the human fabric. People ponder, discuss, reflect and entertain through the absurd. Absurdity is a hallmark of good comedy. Absurdity causes one to search for the truth. Absurdity is rampant today. Art, driven to care for the health of the planet, usually flourishes in times of absurdity.
JG: Tell us how the Lunacy Festival came about and what it will entail.
JD: I offer an international workshop in Ashland drawing students from all points with an interest in physical comedy, circus arts and devised theater. Lunacy Festival is an opportunity to present fresh vibrant theater for the Rouge Valley that makes audiences feel good, reflect and enjoy being alive. The style of the Lunacy Festival speaks to all ages. There is something for everybody. Guest artists from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and the Rogue Valley will perform a colorful lineup of circus arts, cabaret, physical comedy and zany antics. Programing will include performances for the family, general audiences and a late-night cabaret for adults only. Come enjoy silly humor, aerial wonder and playful mystery.
JG: What do you feel is the best way to provide for continuity of your art form, or any classic art form, as the world continues to exist in a "quick fix" entertainment environment and the age of the selfie?
JD: I spent a weekend with the iconic French mime Marcel Marceau a few months before his death in 2007. Marceau was a genius of live performance, presenting his magical work throughout the entire world for over 60 years, utilizing nothing more than an empty stage. Alone he would captivate his audiences with physical gesture and character in 2-hour plus performances. When asked what advice he had for young performers, he simply answered, "Be good." Quality breeds longevity. Live performance is about truth, courage, energy, transformation and the imagination. Audiences will always respond to these elements.
James Donlon's "Lunacy Festival" will continue its run until Sept. 30 at Le Cirque Center, 280 East Hersey St. in Ashland. More bio information about James Donlon can be found at www.jamesdonlon.com.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.