A Master of His Art

October 30, 2018
by Caspar Schjelbred Minute Read
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My fore­word to Ira Sei­den­stein’s book Clown Secret – you can order it via your local book­store or on amazon.


The first time I met Ira was in spring 2008 at La Four­mi, a café sit­u­at­ed right on the edge of Mont­martre and the more main­stream ninth arrondisse­ment of Paris. We had e‑mailed briefly the day before. I was curi­ous about what he had sug­gest­ed to us at the Impro­fes­sion­als, the impro­vi­sa­tion­al the­atre com­pa­ny I was part of: a pot­pour­ri of work­shops on phys­i­cal act­ing, slap­stick and clown.

I hard­ly knew any­thing about either of those things then. But there was some­thing about the way Ira pre­sent­ed his work on his web site that intrigued me. It was very upfront. Not some­one try­ing to sell him­self. Here was real intel­lec­tu­al and thought pro­vok­ing con­tent clear­ly based on a long and var­ied career.

With­in a minute from sit­ting down with Ira at the café I had a strong impres­sion that I was in front of a man who real­ly knew what he was talk­ing about. Like for real. And those are two words that are worth empha­sis­ing when it comes to Ira and his work: for real.

I can not remem­ber what we talked about. He most cer­tain­ly asked me more ques­tions than I asked of him. We must have talked about impro­vi­sa­tion. I thought I knew some­thing about it. Which I did. But a week or so lat­er, after a first intro­duc­to­ry work­shop with Ira, I clear­ly under­stood that know­ing about some­thing is not at all the same as know­ing it.

In that short three-hour ses­sion my mind reached down and touched base. It was like stand­ing on sol­id ground after being at sea. I final­ly knew what impro­vi­sa­tion was. Ira spelled it out: make a pause, and in that pause there is a bina­ry choice. Either con­tin­ue what you were doing or make an adjust­ment. It’s one or the oth­er.

That blew my mind. It was so incred­i­bly sim­ple and obvi­ous. No one else had told me that before. None of the act­ing or impro­vi­sa­tion teach­ers I had met. Nor was it writ­ten in any of the many books on impro­vi­sa­tion­al the­atre I had read. I sur­mised that either they did not know it or they did not care to explain it – and I did not know which was worse.

At any rate, I knew for sure that this Ira Sei­den­stein knew some­thing fun­da­men­tal. I felt cer­tain that he was teach­ing us some­thing he real­ly knew. There was no pre­tend­ing. No mys­ti­fi­ca­tion. No para­dox­i­cal teach­ing. No bull­shit. Here was some­one who laid all the cards on the table right from the start. Some­one who cared about what was true. Here was some­one I could trust.

I fol­lowed my intu­ition that I need­ed to learn more from this man. And so I began organ­is­ing work­shops for him in Paris when­ev­er the occa­sion arose. I still had no idea what I was in for or who I was work­ing with. All I knew was: he knows more than I do and there is some­thing very spe­cial about the way he works.

It was not until Jan­u­ary 2010, at the end of the first Quan­tum Clown Res­i­den­cy in Bris­bane, that I under­stood why I had invest­ed myself in Ira’s work and indeed gone all the way to Aus­tralia on the oth­er side of the plan­et to attend a prop­er three-week work­shop with him. It was to hon­our my own cre­ativ­i­ty. As sim­ple as that. As dif­fi­cult as that.

For what does it actu­al­ly mean to hon­our one’s own cre­ativ­i­ty? It is some­thing that goes way beyond and deep­er than sim­ply being cre­ative. Com­ing up with stuff is not enough. Resolv­ing prob­lems is not evolv­ing. Not as a human being. What I have come to under­stand after ten years of invest­ment in Ira’s work is that hon­our­ing my own cre­ativ­i­ty means cre­at­ing – or recre­at­ing – myself. It means becom­ing whole. Not being whole (holy), but becom­ing whole, and as such, being of a piece, being of the world, being whol­ly in the world as it is, being as one is becom­ing in the world.

I remem­ber those sum­mer morn­ings in West End, Bris­bane, 2010. The ear­ly light, the exot­ic sounds, the warm and humid air, the unusu­al smells. But most of all the feel­ing that I did not want to get out of bed and go to the work­shop. I was afraid. Each and every morn­ing. Because I knew that once I stepped into that space there would be noth­ing to hide behind. Or at least there would be no point in try­ing to. Because Ira sees every­thing. Noth­ing in the work­space escapes him.

For those of us used to main­tain­ing our façades it is very desta­bil­is­ing when some­one sees right through them all. I was cer­tain­ly not used to being tru­ly seen. Well of course! When I had nev­er actu­al­ly shown myself except by chance or mis­take. I had a very clear feel­ing of being at a thresh­old. I patent­ly knew that there was only one way to go. For­ward. I had to get up there and stand before the eyes of the world with noth­ing but myself. I had to face myself. I did not want to. But I did it any­way. Every day.

I returned to Bris­bane in Jan­u­ary the next four years and Ira would come to Paris once or twice per year. I had begun prac­tis­ing his exer­cis­es reg­u­lar­ly and even­tu­al­ly cre­at­ed my own solo show to try it out in pub­lic. It was dur­ing that peri­od he became my men­tor. Today I am proud to be his main asso­ciate and hap­py to also call him my friend. My under­stand­ing of his work now is that if you real­ly invest your­self ful­ly in it, then it is not his any more, it is yours.

Over the years, I have observed how not just what Ira does, but what he is, scares some peo­ple and makes oth­ers angry. As a teacher and direc­tor – and often even just as a per­son – he offers more than most of us are able or will­ing to deal with: an oppor­tu­ni­ty to deal with our­selves. To feel and to see the world we are in. And to see oth­ers in this world as feel­ing and see­ing: see­ing and feel­ing us.

Apart from being excep­tion­al­ly curi­ous and knowl­edge­able about both the prac­tise and the tra­di­tions of the­atre, clown, cir­cus, and whether it be as teacher, men­tor, asso­ciate, friend – or as here: author – Ira is a remark­able and very fun­ny storyteller.

Enjoy read­ing! You just might learn some­thing.

Cas­par Schjel­bred
Malmö, August 2018

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