Oop-La! Theatre Company met in 2017 on the MA Advanced Theatre Practice course at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Their work attempts to break down boundaries between different forms of performance with a specific focus on clowning and drag.
Their love of clowning was sparked early on during the MA where they worked together in the Performer Practices unit which, while not dealing with clown explicitly, introduced some key concepts as well as focusing heavily on the training of Jaques Lecoq. They were also drawn together through a love of making people laugh, a love of play and their silliness as performers. Between them they have trained with eminent clown masters on workshops led by Philippe Gaulier and Jon Davison. These experiences coloured their practice and allowed them to create an aesthetic together when they began work on the show which would eventually become Encore, Encore!
Oop-La! have developed a style of performance that revolves largely around the art of lip-synching. Their work takes disparate elements and places them side-by-side to discover what new meanings can be created. They are cultural magpies selecting material from music, film and popular culture and mashing them together in a wild and chaotic fashion with the intention always being to amuse, to entertain and to question the nature of theatrical traditions. The choice to lip-synch was born from its associations with the world of drag performance and because it offers a wealth of opportunities to disrupt and subvert the audience’s expectations in a clown-y way.
In terms of the way they work together, the company’s focus on specific practitioners who are currently working and researching in the fields of clown allowed them to really home in on the aesthetic they wished to create. Through digging into the research of John Wright, Jon Davison, and Lynne Kendrick and applying their theories practically through rehearsal they were able to develop an individual style that reflected and rejected some of the concepts they had discovered through their research. The company also undertook a detailed exploration into drag practices and how they might fit into the work of the clown. The company’s aim is to create work that mixes the two artforms together rather than confronting one with the other.
The company regularly seeks out work to inspire them and has found it in the likes of Ruben Kaye, The Tigerlillies and Taylor Mac, to name but a few. They look for performers who are working in ways that defy genre and smash down boundaries. Often, they are to be found in cabarets, circus and music halls as well as traditional theatres. Oop-La! also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the performer Dickie Beau whose generous mentorship continues to help guide and develop the company’s work. Their process is inspired by a post-1968 way of working where the performers train while creating and where creation and research are merged together. They found inspiration for this model in the workings of Peter Brook, Ariane Mnushkin, and the Grande Magic Circus (Jermone Savary).
The strength of the company rests in the fact that, while good friends and collaborators, they are three individuals with different backgrounds, skill-sets and even hair colours! They each bring something different to the mix and this has been of extreme benefit to the way Oop-La! works together and why they hope to continue working together for years to come.