Interview: The Weird Sisters

weird sisters 1

L-R: Lucy McGreal, Suzie Ferguson and Diane Thornton

Good and bad omens alike seem to come in threes- so who knows where The Weird Sisters sit? They straddle genres; clown, comedy, and performance art. They reveal and conceal truth, under the bizarre personas of white witch like figures. I caught up with the ‘leader’, Suzie Ferguson, to find out about their world.

Where did the original concept for The Weird Sisters originate? It
seems quite pagan, atavistic and yet psychedelic and other.

The original concept came from a conversation with Fergus Dunnet, the
designer, who had researched the Delphic Oracle and The Fates for a
different (serious!) project. He also has a general interest in Horror
and clowning and how they can come together. His sources are wide and
wonderful – It is worth looking at his blog as he writes about it
there: http://fergus-dunnet.weebly.com/blog/the-good-kind-of-weird

The Fates are seen as having a deeper, magical connection to life, as
life-givers and as part of a mystical Sisterhood who ‘see’ the
mysteries of life. Of course, the term Sisterhood not only describes
the relationship of siblings, but also the sense of solidarity between
women and the Feminist idea of universal experience amongst women.
While Witches are often used to portray male fears and anxieties about
women, the Weird Sisters are a positive and powerful symbol of female
autonomy and sisterly kinship.

As soon as Fergus talked to Tenterhooks about all of this we
immediately saw potential for these three idiot weird sisters to be a
street theatre piece – not only becasue of our interest as female
clowns in ‘taking up space’ in the public domain, but becasue The
Fates present a lovely clown conceit – the higher their status and the
more firmly held the belief in their powers, the further The Weird
Sisters have to fall, and the funnier it is. We humans have an
ingrained compulsion to retain dignity – to stand up quickly after we
trip and pretend it hasn’t happened. It is funny when we see this
dignity compromised in clowning because we recognise it so strongly in
ourselves.

RDP_Clown Cabaret Scratch Night_201804280288

From a personal point of view, I was also interested in exploring
working in a trio and using voice – something I had never done before.
Diane and I had made a silent trio piece last year, Werewomen, with
Tenterhooks and as Therapeutic Clowns at Hearts & Minds we work in
duos, but a speaking trio. This was new territory for us, and an
exciting clown challenge.

https://www.facebook.com/werewomen
www.heartsminds.org.uk
https://www.facebook.com/alltheworldsaplayground/

 

How have people responded out on the street to the characters? It’s
obviously a very different performance outdoors, with a different
energy.

You are right that it is quite different outdoors. We had a really
positive response in Greenock for the Galoshans Festival. Even though
we are clearly shamsters (especially once we open our mouths!) people
are still really excited to hear their Past and Future told to them –
it really captures people’s imaginations, somehow. It has a good
amount of ‘indirect’ performance – so that people can watch passively
and get a sense of what we are about before committing to coming
closer. We use more song and choral singing as we move about, and
really try to create a spectacle, generate curiosity. In the street it
is more important than ever to be visually clear, and subtlety doesn’t
really read, so it was fun making it as big and dramatic as possible.
It was a great professional challenge to try to create that sense of
high tension and drama without the lighting and dry ice, in order to
rupture it with our idiocy and make people laugh.  In a street
setting, with so many other distractions, that is tough, but it seemed
to work really well.

You’ve got very disparate character personas- how much of the
sisters’ quirks are based on you all?!(Not that Lucy is goofy, Diane
is ethereal and Suzie is scary!)

The characters totally came from us – our responses are all honest and
authentic with the volume turned way up. Lucy is the goofiest person I
know! 😉 That is where the clowning comes in – it is about tapping
into those honest parts of yourself to serve the moment or character.
The basic outlines and dynamic of how the three of us would be
together was immediately obvious, and the devising and rehearsal
process was about refining that to make sure it was clear and
unambiguous. It was also clear from the start that while the ‘Scary’
sister is in charge, she loves her sisters, and knows that she needs
them. We didn’t want it to be mean or cynical in any way. We wanted
the audience to always feel secure and know what they were getting,
even though the piece involves a lot of improvisation. If the audience
is uncertain or worried at all, they can’t laugh.

weird sisters 1

Photos: Rich Dyson Photography

You absolutely blew everyone away at the recent Clown Cabaret Scratch
Night. What are your plans for future performances?

Thank you! We had an absolute blast performing it. It was a luxury to
perform to a captive audience with dry ice and lights! The idea of the
cabaret was to further refine and pin down the act to take it back out
onto the streets – it can take a long time to do that outdoors as
feedback isn’t so immediate. But you know…now we have a taste for
the bright lights of Broadway…

Finally, Melanie Jordan aided with direction. How much
collaboration  do you have? Is it evenly split, in terms of ideas?

The making process is really collaborative. Fergus Dunnet’s design
really influenced the piece as the costumes came really early on – we
had to live up to those masks and wigs! Melanie came in for a day as
an outside eye to help us to see what was working, bring out things
that we might have felt were incidental, or not realised how funny
they could be if framed in the right way. That was so useful. You get
to a point making clown pieces where you need an audience – even if
that is just one person – to make sure you are not completely mad. And
as far as creating characters, the movement, how each segment came
about – that all emerged from the three of us playing together and
feeling what worked. We get on really well, so there is no issue with
getting rid of stuff that wasn’t working and moving on to the good
stuff.

(Lorna Irvine)

To find out more about the Clown Cabaret, and The Weird Sisters, head to:

http://www.clowncabaretnight.com

http://www.plutotlavie.org.uk/

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