By Chelsea Thaler
Editor’s note: Tickets are now on sale for the 2023 Capital Fringe Festival (July 12 to 23), and DC Theater Arts has offered space to ten Fringe producers to describe their shows in their own words. Check back for more 2023 Capital Fringe previews!
In This Is What You Look Like, six societal outcasts, the “bouffon,” form a band and begin to share their mockery, through songs, games, and stories. They do not discriminate against who or what to mock — they mock everything. But particularly, those with power.
The desire of the bouffon is to play with what society is trying to keep hidden. The bouffon do not believe in anything — only in mockery, satire, and the true power of a quick wit. Bouffon are grotesque, beautiful beings. Grotesque, meaning “comically or repulsively distorted,” is a term that comes from the word “grotto,” in Italian meaning, literally, “of a cave.” The bouffon are beings that are born from the caves, the grottos, the underbellies of society.
This form of physical comedy, originating in France in the teachings of Jacques Lecoq, has a poetic element as well. Bouffon are deeply connected to mystery, and to the fantastical. Bouffon understand things that others might not — they have “seen the end of the world” and have come to speak of it to the masses. They seem at once to be fools but are actually much more than that. In older times, the king or queen would bring a creature from the grotto to tell stories to the high court and entertain them. The court would laugh at the creatures and be awed by their tales, and it would please the king. Until eventually, the king or queen might realize the tale was actually a mockery! And, unbeknownst to them, the bouffon were making fun of the king or queen the whole time! If the bouffon were sly, or apologized, they could get away with it. These are the roots of the style of performance present in This Is What You Look Like.
Why perform bouffon today? To acknowledge the tragedies and the comedies we all share, to shine a light on shame, to take everything a little less seriously, and to celebrate the beauty of accepting who we truly are. This is a cultural moment made for bouffon — a moment where we could all benefit from acknowledging the grotesqueness of our absurd world.
And so, the bouffon emerge from the grottos, and from the empty office buildings of ritzy Georgetown, to show the higher classes of society what they really look like. The bouffon enjoy this immensely. They are about play, pleasure, and fun. By exposing what is truly absurd and grotesque about our world through play, the bouffon speak truth to power. The bouffon put a mirror up to each and every one of us. And by doing so, the bouffon invite you to laugh, to cry, to see, and to be seen.
The poetic dexterity and play that the bouffon find onstage is a perfect metaphor for this messy moment in America, and the world. There are seemingly endless ways that capitalism tries to make our existence on this planet into something truly grotesque. So why not eat (or rather, mock) the rich? What do we have to lose? Why not take a punch at the people and systems who hold power and influence in our society, like Taylor Swift, or Vladimir Putin, or religious cults, or the Q’Anon Shaman?
No one and nothing will be left unmocked in this show. The bouffon have arrived in Washington, DC, to show you: this is what you look like.
Running Time: 55 minutes.
Chelsea Thaler is co-artistic director of mimebaby theater co. / explode the form productions.
Performed and created by: Brian Bowyer, Heather Hosford, MK Korbisch, Connor McAndrews, Chelsea Thaler, Rose Weiss
Thanks to mimebaby theater co., and special thanks to Giovanni Fusetti, Adam Lazarus, Quinn Bauriedel, Sarah Sanford, the Pig Iron School, and Dody DiSanto at the Center for Movement Theater in DC.
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.
SEE ALSO: 2023 Capital Fringe Festival to pop up in Georgetown and Dupont (news story, April 28, 2023)