Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Cheeky Dramaturgy: Lee Minora @ Edfringe 2017

Written & performed by Lee Minora
Directed by OBIE AWARD winning Scott Sheppard

Lady Elizabeth Edwards has been making art in solitude. You are the first people she’s seen in a decade, and you are a complete disappointment!

This is Cheeks: a brutal clown show, that melds contemporary stand-up, bouffon clown and hands-on audience play. Laugh through your fear while this one-woman beast sucks the marrow from your funny bone all while taking on the tropes of our most revered female artists.

No one is safe in this weapons-grade comedy, where everything is up for grabs – except her p*ssy!

Cheeks by Lee Minora
Directed by Obie Award Winning Scott Sheppard

Venue: Silk (Venue 444)    
Date: August 5th - 26th  (No Show Monday the 14th)    
Time: 18:20 (6:20pm)
Show runs 50 minutes

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Cheeks began as a dare for me, the performer and ended up a dare for you, the viewer.

In the summer of 2016, my co-collaborator Brad Wrenn proposed a dare, that we each make a solo show for The Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

We had just finished creating It’s So Learning with The Berserker Residents: an interactive, bouffon take on the American school system. And I was hungry for more of this style called: bouffon clown. Never one to back down from a dare, I accepted and began making CHEEKS with only the bouffon clown in mind.

The word Bouffon comes from the Latin verb buffare meaning to puff or fill the cheeks with air; the practice of making oneself grotesque to provoke laughter.

The bouffon clown is corporeal and merciless, using mockery and aggression to illuminate hypocrisy and pulverize reverence. Personally, I always had a way with mockery and aggression but little chance to display that gift. As a woman, I had tried to soften those aspects of myself -perhaps unsuccessfully but nonetheless- I tried!

As a bouffon, I not only got to sharpen my comedic knife, but twist it to boot! In this form, I began to find my place as female artist and lose it simultaneously. Bouffon has a way of exposing that type of complicated truth. As I played in the bouffon style, I found a freedom in my body and an immense pleasure in my performance. A pleasure and freedom, that I realized had, at times, been missing from my practice.

As a bouffon, I was embracing all of the fleshy, carnal realities of my body and the aggressive, confrontational, aspects of my intellect. I was weaponized, grotesque and funny as hell! But while I could embrace this pleasure alone, in a lab, once exposed it quickly fell under the scrutiny of society, cultural norms and gender roles.

These became the questions of CHEEKS: can an artist make work for only herself? In isolation? Or does an artist need a viewer? Can she expunge the need for approval? Can she be the keeper of her pleasure? And even her pain?

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

Oh, I ask myself that all the time. I think theater is most effective when it uses the superpowers of theater; therefore I create original comedic performances that capitalize on the liveness of theater performance. The work I am most drawn to is dangerous, funny, irreverent and challenging.

My litmus test as a creator is: “Could I watch this on TV?” If the answer is yes, why go to the theater? I aim to embrace and elevate the exchange between audience and performer, 4th wall be damned! No one is safe. I expunge passive viewership. Clown work in particular, deftly employs these principles. To me, the excitement that clown and its many sub-styles, capture is based in its huge capacity for failure.

The more I invite the audience to be active viewers the more I open myself to great risk and in that space is the necessity of theatre and that’s a reason to join other people in a room together. That’s something you can’t watch on TV.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I studied theater at Temple University in the United States. When I became a theater major at 18 year old, I didn't realize I could create my own work . Then I began working with a MFA directing candidate studying there named Felipe Vergara and he was the first person to ask me to create something myself from the ground up.

I continued to work with him after graduating and found an immense freedom in creating my own work. When I make my own work I can ask the questions I most interested in, I’m no longer beholden to old plays with problematic female characters, I get to follow my impulses and bring to life my own vision.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

CHEEKS is immensely interactive. I always want my audience to feel like they are in good hands, even when I’m creating a feeling of danger in the piece.

The first piece I created for CHEEKS was called “The Slap”. Part of my pallette for the show was my pleasure and my pain as a female artist. I wanted to examine if I ever have ownership of my pain or violence directed towards me. I was curious if I could get someone from the audience to agree to slap me and if I could implicate the viewer in this act of violence with their own laughter.

And the answer is yes, people find this very funny and to be fair it is wrapped in some hilarious content. But there is a certain treatment required for such a request; caring for the viewer is an important part of my approach.

Additionally, I was asking a lot of questions about my pleasure as performer while making the piece and I tried to make the process match the content. My rehearsal room has a keen
sense of play and pleasure. I’m always trying to find the game in the room, trying to make my director break, trying to let the show get ahead of me in a joyful way.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

CHEEKS is my first solo show so I can't really say if it fits with my style as a solo artist. I typically creates work with an ensemble.

I can see that the proposals I make in group collaborations are part of the same family as my solo work but in CHEEKS these proposals are undiluted. CHEEKS is my usual work on steroids.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Well it’s a comedy so I hope people get to laugh, firstly. When they leave the show, I hope that it keeps ringing out like a bell after it’s been struck, that it reverberates in their minds and makes them ask some questions about what we agreed to laugh at and why it was funny.

That they have had an experience of being pulled between the pleasure of the comedy and the pain of what made it funny.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The entire show is audience experience therefore they are always at the forefront of my mind. As I said above, making sure the audience feel that they are in good hands is of paramount importance to me. I need them to settle in so that they can let their guards down.

Comedy is a great scalpel for opening people up to receive a critique. So I make sure the show has a way of easing you into the participation like a warm bath except it’s filled with sharks. Ha ha.

“Fun, ridiculous and absurdly grotesque. Lee Minora’s show Cheeks is everything I love about comedy!”
- Red Bastard (Eric Davis)

Philadelphia-based artist Lee Minora, makes its international debut at Silk with PBH Free Fringe. Cheeks is directed by Scott Sheppard. Sheppard is the co-creator of Underground Railroad Game, for which he won an OBIE award for Best New American Work.


Lee Minora is a Philadelphia-based, performer, creator, and stand-up comedian.

Lee has created original work with The Berserker Residents, Applied Mechanics, New Paradise Laboratories, Pig Iron and Found Theater Company where she was a founding member.

Regionally, she has appeared with EgoPo Classic Theatre, The Lantern Theater, Quintessence Theatre Group, The Scranton Shakespeare Festival and Renegade Theater.  

Scott Sheppard- is an OBIE Award winning theater artist living in Philadelphia. As Co-Director of the Philadelphia-based theater company Lightning Rod Special, he has been a creator/performer for all of their productions.

Scott is a member of the inaugural class at Pig Iron’s School for Advanced Performance Training (2011-2013) and was a creator/performer for Pig Iron Theatre Company’s 99 Breakups and a performer in PITC’s Gentlemen Volunteers (2015-16 remount). Recent credits: co-creator/performer in Underground Railroad Game (Ars Nova 2016, FringeArts 2015, 2016), co-creator/performer in Holden (Ice Factory, NYC and FringeArts, Philadelphia) and Sans Everything (AS220, Providence and Charlestown Working Theater, Boston) and Barrymore nominated performer in The Stinky Cheeseman (Arden Theatre Co., Philadelphia). Scott is also a 2016 recipient of the Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Performing Arts and a 2017 OBIE Award winner for Best New American Theater Work (Underground Railroad Game).

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