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In conversation with Tommy Misa: "Working Class Clown" at Sydney Biennale 2024

Step into the world of "Working Class Clown," a site-specific one-person-play that explores the transcultural figure of the 'town fool' through the lens of Samoan political satire and the irreverent spirit of comedy. Inspired by his father's joyful approach to life and the tradition of Fale Aitu, performance artist Tommy Misa invites audiences on a journey of laughter, reflection, and communal catharsis.

Headshot: Tommy Misa. Image: Sally Flegg
Headshot: Tommy Misa. Image: Sally Flegg

Set within the cavernous walls of the White Bay Power Station, this bold and unconventional production promises to challenge perceptions, spark conversation, and celebrate the resilience of working-class communities. With elements of comedy, clowning, and community building at its core, "Working Class Clown" invites audiences to engage with social issues in a way that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Theatre Thoughts recently heard from Misa about bringing this particular production to life for the Sydney Biennale which on until the 10th June 2024. Read our full interview below.


Theatre Thoughts Interview

TT: What inspired you to create "Working Class Clown" and explore the transcultural figure of the 'town fool'?

Tommy: Many things but mostly my dad. He was a working class man, a comedian, a big hearted big life living person who could look at anything and see the spark of joyful magic that existed in it. This show is in laughing memory of him.

Tommy Misa in 'Working Class Clown'. Credit Joseph Mayers
Tommy Misa in 'Working Class Clown'. Credit Joseph Mayers

TT: Can you tell us more about the Samoan political satire tradition of Fale Aitu and how it influenced the themes of your play?

Tommy: Fale Aitu is a form of Samoan comedy in which a person is possessed by aitu (spirits) and acts as a form of a court jester, questioning village heirachies and holding up a mirror to the community. It is slap sticky, absurd at times and contemporised and adapted in the diaspora. Youtube ‘Laughing with Samoans’ for a great example of performers who use it in a type of standup/sketch style. Fale Aitu influenced the work I would say mostly in the loose framework used to take a problem or an observation and flip it on it’s head and look at it from different angles, like the pigeon poo in the White Bay Power Station, what does that say about the erasure of working class communities and how can that turn into something else. 

TT: What can audiences expect from the performance in terms of engaging with the community and addressing social issues?

Tommy: Something I have been thinking about recently is the idea of communion vs community. How do we observe communion with others who perhaps share different ways of experiencing the world? Communion through art and collective performance making. What happens when an audience is made up of people who vote in different ways but are experiencing a show together and then doing something in unison, like creating simple body precussion. I’m interested in how we allow architecture, sound, laughter, clapping etc to look at uncomfortable things. 

Tommy Misa in 'Working Class Clown'. Credit Joseph Mayers
Tommy Misa in 'Working Class Clown'. Credit Joseph Mayers

TT: How do you incorporate elements of comedy, clowning, and community building into your work as a performance artist?

Tommy: I start with the problem or observation, then write it out in text form, then play with it, absurd it, move it around my body and the White Bay Power Station and what remains often in the residue is the joke or the punchline. Maybe its a gesture or a haha punchline or maybe it’s tears that turn into a song. 

TT: What message or experience do you hope audiences will take away from "Working Class Clown"?

Tommy: I hope they experience a release. I like to work with catharsis and how to facilitate that in a show. When you make work outside of your own communities that is in spaces for everyone it can be a challenge to push a message. I work alot in Queer spaces and that can be beautiful and also be an echo chamber, so working outside of those spaces brings new challenges. I hope there are parts where we all laugh together. That happens less and less but that’s the magic of the clown, they bring the permission to just laugh for the sake of laughing. 

TT: What challenges or opportunities did you encounter in creating a site-specific one-person-play, and how did you address them?

Tommy: The challenge and opportunity is the space itself. The White Bay Power Station is HUGE. The spaces feel cavernous and sometimes claustrophobic. It has meant re-writing and killing my darlings as they say to make a work that honours and works with the space, it is really the star of the show I have found beautiful archways, stairways and little nooks where the story will be told in dialogue with the space. It feels like such a privilege to perform in there and I’ve been spending lots of time walking around the space and figuring it all out. 

Tommy Misa in 'Working Class Clown'. Credit Joseph Mayers
Tommy Misa in 'Working Class Clown'. Credit Joseph Mayers

As we reflect on the insights shared by Tommy Misa, the creative force behind Working Class Clown, we can see the anticipation that has built for the immersive journey that awaits audiences within the walls of the White Bay Power Station. Misa's exploration of the transcultural figure of the 'town fool,' inspired by his father's irreverent spirit and the tradition of Fale Aitu, promises to be a thought-provoking and entertaining experience.

Don't miss the chance to be part of "Working Class Clown" – a celebration of resilience, joy, and the enduring spirit of human connection. Book tickets here.


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