We all have voices in our head. Rather than suppressing them and keeping them quiet, Beyond the Ridiculous bring them out to play. Last Sunday evening I watched Beyond The Ridiculous' monthly performance at The Wardrobe Theatre, in Bristol.
Beyond the Ridiculous is a group of people exploring the art of Fooling - an incredibly versatile form of solo improvisation - to connect with and share their inner dialogue on stage. Each performance is a beautiful account of the human experience.
"It was a relief to hear/see people being honest on stage about how ridiculous and hard it is to be human, sometimes", said an audience member.
Fool Shaman, Holly Stoppit, facilitates each Fool whilst they are on stage. Having Holly on the sidelines whispering, "stay with this", or, "how does this end?", added another reminder of the vulnerability of what was happening. I was witnessing a live, unprepared, exploration and insight into someones mind, rather than a prepared show.
The first Fool to play on stage was Ed Rapley - a ginger BFG. Ed's ability to normalise the human experience is incredible. With comical movement, he animatedly expressed what happened when he heard that his brother is having another child. "It's inspiring and crushing at the same time!", he shouts as he crumples to the floor. "He's younger than me! He's 29!" I laughed uncontrollably as Ed continued to share his crisis of comparison that sounded all too familiar to my own dialogue and that of my friends.
He later went on to share a hilarious and accurate account of what I imagine to be the inner dialogue of almost every performer or creative. "It's great to live your dreams, but if they aren't well paid, it's tough... If they're well paid, it's great!"
Next up was a "mini Fool" interlude from Simon Panrucker, who squeaked his way through a 2 minutes of silliness on stage. Off the stage, Simon helped Holly with the sound that accompanied each Fool, with Matt Whittle doing the lighting. The music and lighting added hilarity and intensity to each Fool's performance, and brilliantly magnified the moments a Fool switched between their inner voices whilst on stage.
The audience was often in full light, which initially felt weird, but as time went on I noticed I felt part of the performance, rather than just a spectator. "It was absolutely incredible. You laugh and cry, and feel very connected to the performer on stage", explained an audience member.
"It took me on an emotional rollercoaster, but through someone else's journey so it didn't feel so intense and overwhelming", described another. "It gave me a gentle nod and poke to my own stuff."
Naomi Smyth, strutted her way onto stage to share her journey of pregnancy so far. Initially she had us in hysterics with ridiculous poses, noises, and facial expressions, but then exclaimed that she was annoyed: "I wasn't going to do a funny one!" she yelled.
Her performance was both incredibly funny and incredibly moving. I cried, she cried, other people cried. Holly called on the other Fools (sat beside the stage) to surround her with a group embrace.
"It makes me want to be vulnerable in a safe place", described someone in the audience. The vulnerability and the collective holding of each Fool was beautiful and contagious. It highlighted the need for me to create more spaces like that in my life, too.
Holly called the other Fools to join Katie Storer on stage, too. Instead of comfort, they brought her stress. It was as though each rogue Fool represented the voice/s trying to distract/bully/bring her down. It was sidesplittingly funny, as well as so transparently real. I felt like they were acting out what happens in my head during moments/days I feel swamped with shame, fear, or self-criticism/judgment. Katie expressed (through actions and noises) the familiar frustration of desperately trying to push these voices away, and to not let the voices of self-hatred take over.
"You're not afraid to talk about the deep stuff", said an audience member. "This kind of performance is very useful to help break down the barriers - it connects us! It's powerful", said another.
Adam Blake acted out a comical shoot-out between an assassin and a few other characters, all of whom (with help from the audience) we discovered to be parts of himself. He danced between intense psychological analysis, brilliant humour, and eloquent openness.
I was really struck by what happened when Adam held a funeral for the assassin. It was hilarious, but it also became incredibly moving. A woman in the audience left in tears (but returned after the show had ended to chat with the Fools), but rather than this becoming awkward or derailing Adam confidence-wise, Adam and Holly saw this as a gift - an opportunity to deepen Adam's performance further. Which it did.
"It showed me the crazy in others, which makes it easier to accept the crazy in me", explained someone in the audience. I felt an increased compassion and warmth towards parts of myself that I often try to suppress, or run and hide from, because of my fear of being unlovable. But noticing how I had nothing but love and respect for the performers and their vulnerability, gave me the much-needed reminder that this is how people react when I am vulnerable with them (and if they don't, they are not worth opening up to!).
Holly created a wonderfully held space for both the audience and the Fools throughout the evening, giving a nurturing farewell by telling audience members to, "Go and do one nourishing thing for yourself when you get home."
If you do one nourishing thing for yourself this month, book yourself tickets to see Beyond the Ridiculous.
Beyond the Ridiculous will be playing on 6th November and 4th December at The Wardrobe Theatre, in Bristol.
Fool Shaman: Holly Stoppit
Fools: Ed Rapley, Naomi Smyth, Simon Panrucker, Katie Storer, Dominique Fester, Adam Blake
Lighting: Matt Whittle
Photo Credit: Amani Omejer