Life With Avner

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Spent two weeks in June at the Celebration Barn in South Paris, Maine studying performance and clown techniques with Avner Eisenberg, known around the world as Avner the Eccentric. That’s him in the middle of the picture! He’s known for playing the title role in the action comedy romance The Jewel of the Nile and for his wordless, solo comedy show Exceptions to Gravity.

Avner is a truly gifted performer and an incredibly giving teacher. We had sessions during the morning, afternoon and evening Tuesday through Friday, with a session on Saturday morning, that incorporated his Eccentric Principles. Performers who read them will get them intellectually. But they are very often difficult to keep going.

We spent hours working on simply entering the space and creating and maintaining rapport with the audience through eye contact and an inhalation of breath. This is what he calls having rapport with the audience. So easy when you see it done correctly. Very difficult to do with consistency.

It’s the difference of when a real musician sits down to play an instrument. You know the moment they start that they know what they are doing and you relax around them. You are probably not aware that is what’s happening.

The kind of performance he was teaching was perhaps the most pure I’ve experienced. There was nothing to hide behind. No script or character. Frequently no words or even mime. Just being present with the people in the audience.

He gave me some bits of wisdom I hope to continue to put to use. When people were having a tough time, he would tell us that it didn’t matter what we were doing there. What was important was how we would use it in the years to come.

–Don’t step out of your comfort zone. That’s a bad idea. Make your comfort zone bigger. The sweet spot is your being saying, “I’m comfortable with you watching me.”

–Honest is what we look for, not funny. Many times the audience and the performer have the same thought in their head, which is, “I hope this doesn’t suck.” Humans crave rapport. The performer’s job is to create and maintain rapport.

–Every time you breathe, you move the rapport ten yards down the road. When you stop breathing, the audience doesn’t know what is happening.

–Clever is a way of telling your partner (or the audience) that you’re smarter than they are.

–Laughter in an interruption, not a goal. People laugh for completion.

–How do we know your body knows you have completed your task or solved your problem? When you let out an exhalation. Be sensitive to when you’re not breathing.

–Every movement tells a story.

–You do the work on stage. The audience feels it in their hearts and minds.

–Be interested, not interesting. Honestly try to solve a problem. In life we seize up when we face a problem and try to make it go away. The clown encounters a problem and thinks, “Interesting. I know what I’ll do.” “Interesting” is the platform on which the clown lives.

–It’s very simple to be complicated. It’s complicated to be simple. The clown does extraordinary things in simple way and simple things in extraordinary ways.

–The question before going on stage is “Am I going to like them?” And the answer, of course, is, “Yes!”

–There’s no failure, only feedback.

We were also treated to a performance of “Exceptions to Gravity” at the end of our first week. He is still amazing. He still falls to the ground, balances a ladder on his chin, does slight of hand tricks, and a number of gags that still feel fresh. It is rare for me to have “that’s what I want to be when I grow up” thoughts but I had them a number of times in his workshop and during his show.

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