Interview: uncategorisable Fringe 2013 performer Red Bastard
Red Bastard is a charming, thrilling, terrifying mix of comedian, performance artist and clown
This article is from 2013.
Caught in the corner of the stage, a stray audience member is pinned down by an impossible logic problem. Another audience member is invited to explore the performer’s costume, discovering hard cash in a soft place. When Red Bastard hit Glasgow as part of the Conflux festival in 2010, even the hardened fans of live art were captivated by his ferocity, wit and charisma. His unique combination of humour, savage intelligence and absurdist physical theatre makes him a strong candidate for this year’s surprise Fringe success.
‘The audience is the action in my show,’ he says. ‘You will be intricately and intimately involved. But do not fear being destroyed.’ Mixing up smart one liners and a philosophy that advocates a bold approach to life’s problems, Red Bastard may look like a clown, but his intention is far more serious.
‘You may feel you were taken apart,’ he warns enigmatically. ‘But you will be brought back from the underworld with a new awareness, in one piece. Those who do not follow the chaotic rules of my realm will be thrown out on their arse (with grace and charm of course).’
Although his show is positioned in the comedy section, Red Bastard is a counterblast to lazy observational humour, and to the dry intellectualism of much contemporary performance art. He is as likely to thrill enthusiasts of live art as he is comedy fans – although Red Bastard in full flow against leery hecklers is likely to end in a curb-stomp victory for the Bastard. His upbringing has made him tough.
‘Much of my formative life as an artist was spent in New York City. It’s a tough town,’ he says. ‘You get angry. You get smart. Red Bastard is a product of compression. Press enough dirty coal together and eventually you’ll get a cool, hard diamond – razor-sharp.’ His precision strikes on vanity, weakness and pretension, revealing a ruthless, witty and feral intelligence, one that tackles big ideas with an earthy immediacy.
‘The philosophical concepts are universal. They are things I wondered about. Is it possible for me to be who I want? Why am I so scared? Where does authority come from?’ Yet his shows never decay into self-referential ponderings, or self-indulgence. And for Red Bastard, one of a growing number of performers at this year’s festival working in physical theatre, the body communicates as much as the mouth.
His practice goes back to the big names of European clowning: ‘I studied with people who taught at Lecoq: Ron and Ludvika Popenhagen and Philippe Gaulier.’ The style of the show fits in with that French approach: he is a bouffon, the traditional antagonist to the clown who, rather than evoking sympathy by presenting a naive vulnerability, makes the audience feel vulnerable and challenges their assumptions. Indeed, one of the highlights of the show is the ‘find a clown’ session, in which he pursues the clowns hidden in the audience with the focus of a velociraptor hunting down errant Hollywood stars.
‘I also studied with Sue Morrison, who did not go to Lecoq, but was a student of Gaulier and Richard Pochinko – a Canadian who also attended the school and went on to combine the European Lecoq style with native American clowning practices.’
The last influence is telling: far from being the childish interlude in circus entertainment – as in Europe, even though Lecoq and others have reintroduced a more artistic version – the clown has a sacred place in native American ritual, representing the Trickster God. This God, who often manifests as a coyote, is neither good nor evil: through his amoral antics, he frequently drives the development of creation and human society. He is not necessarily friendly or welcome, but he is vital to evolution and has a wicked sense of humour.
Red Bastard has the qualities of the Trickster God – sometimes evil, sometimes benign, but really far beyond such petty definitions of morality. In particular, Red Bastard is evangelical about the joy of being a Bastard. By the end of his show, he presents the audience with a stark choice: embrace your inner Bastard, or remain a frightened coward. ‘In moments of ecstasy, rage, jubilation or enlightenment – you know what it is to be a Bastard,’ he insists. ‘All else is chickenshit.’
It’s inevitable that the stage is not enough for Red Bastard: rumours of happenings and a mysterious busker dressed in red escaping the scene of the crime have been filtering through from festivals around the world. Suitably for a man who wants to change the world, question authority and confront lazy assumptions, Red Bastard is taking it to the street. ‘It is possible you may see me prowling around in George Square,’ he smiles. ‘Come say hello. There’s no avoiding our meeting.’
Red Bastard, Assembly George Square, 623 3030, 3–26 Aug (not 7, 14), 4.40pm, £11–£13 (£10–£12). Previews 1 & 2 Aug, £7.