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Interview: The Pianist's Thomas Monckton

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Interview: The Pianist's Thomas Monckton

The Pianist is a solo comic contemporary circus piece by Thomas Monckton (Moving Stationery) and Circo Aereo (Finland). Centred around a grand piano, The Pianist sees Monckton as the hapless concert pianist who is so focused on performing a "perfect" recital that before he realises it things have gotten out of control. Combining classical clowning with contemporary circus, the 2014 season of The Pianist sold out, and is currently touring New Zealand, with upcoming shows in Dunedin, Auckland, Upper Hutt and Taupo. Don't miss it the second time around! We caught up with Monckton for a quick chat.

Where did the initial idea for The Pianist come from?
It came from looking at the old upright piano at my parent’s house I used to practice on not very frequently as a child and thinking what alternative ideas I could do with it to give it some life. I came up with lots of ideas and pitched some of them to Sanna from Circo Aereo. She liked them and then we used a different piano.

What did you look to for inspiration as you were developing The Pianist?
One major form of inspiration was going to see a symphony orchestra at a fancy music hall. I was the only one out of about 1000 who clapped after the first piece. You don’t do that with classical music apparently.

I had a friend in the orchestra and it was his job to turn the page for the pianist. He sat on a special seat just behind the pianist and was immaculately dressed and every so often he would carefully creep up behind the pianist as if he believed he was invisible and turned the page and then wafted back to his seat. The drummer who was meant to bang his drum maybe once during the two hours lost his drumstick and tried to look for it whilst not appearing like he was looking for it. The whole experience for me as an outsider in the world of classical music was borderline absurd and utterly beautiful from a comics perspective.

How does The Pianist fit in with the rest of your work? Is there a continuation of themes explored or does it stand alone?
Accidentilism is a term that I like which was coined by an 8 year old boy after seeing The Pianist in New Plymouth and sums up the content of a lot of my work.

How do you train for a role like this?
1 minute each holding a press up position, holding body weight with one arm plank position right side, holding body weight with one arm plank position on left side, holding reverse press up position, abdominal hold, side crunch hold right side, side crunch hold left side, back arch hold, handstand.

2 minutes suspended on pull-up or tapeze bar both hands
2 minute hanging off pull-up or trapeze bar left hand then right hand
20 x pull-throughs (skin the cat)
20 x front lever side to side 
5 x back planche hold 10 seconds 
3 x back lever left and right side hold 5 -10 seconds
20 - 30 press ups x 3 sets
8 – 10 pull ups x 3 sets

Repeat 5 – 6 days on 1 – 2 days off per week.

Are there any clown actors you admire or are inspired by?
Chickens. Chickens and roosters are amazing clowns and a total inspiration to watch.

What forms of clowning or physical theatre are you currently experimenting with for your upcoming productions?
Aside from clowning I’m experimenting with body isolation, popping, liquid dance, eccentric movement, absurd, grotesque.

The Pianist
Wellington - Saturday 7th-Saturday 21st MarchCirca Theatre
Upper Hutt - Wednesday 27th MarchExpressions Arts and Entertainment Centre
Auckland - Wednesday 8th-Saturday 18th AprilHerald Theatre
Dunedin - Friday 1st MayRegent Theatre