LilyBlog 10/10/12 – This is Getting…Ridiculous

OCT 10, 2012

Charles Ludlam was an entertainer, an actor, a playwright, a director, an occasional designer, and a jack-all-trades theatre artist whose grand influence is still present in contemporary theatre. His use of drag, the “extraordinary” and grand storytelling garnered him and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company awards and praise, and he was one of the original fathers of queer theatre. His style and work has inspired Taylor Mac as a performer and influenced The Lily’s Revenge.

Ludlam graduated from Hofstra University with a BA in theatre and began performing in drag. After his early forays into drag acting, he never cast a play where someone was not in the role of the opposite sex. He felt that drag was supercharged with theatricality and was a hallmark of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

Ludlam believed that an actor’s gender did not necessarily matter; if a male actor was right for the part of a woman, he would be cast as such and if a male were right for a male part he would likewise be cast as such. He said that if an actor had a “flare for playing females” it would be a travesty to shy away from it. To Ludlam, actors needed to be androgynous in order to understand human emotions.

Prior to Ludlam’s success, drag was not considered a high art form. He stated that, “I pioneered serious acting in drag.” He believed that drag was a reevaluation of “unfortunate sexual prejudices” and that it “validated the homosexual.” Ludlam said that, “Ridiculous is a great concept, because it frees one from having to conform,” which is the foundation of his drag acting.  Ludlam’s Manifesto of the Ridiculous sharply carves out the tenets of his particular brand of camp:

The Ridiculous style steps away from naturalism, although Ludlam did give credit to older styles that shaped it. It is about making small moments big– and big moments bigger– in a genuine, but campy way. For example, one day in rehearsal for The Lily’s Revenge, one actor had a Ridiculous tutorial where a moment of his was broken up into defined moments, or beats. First there was a beat of recognition as to what just happened to his character that was one of joy, then recognition as to what really happened to him (something grotesque that you’ll have to wait and see!), then a moment of absolute horror.

The first two moments were fairly small, but a lot of weight was put into them and the third was one of shrieking and running off-stage. The important thing about each of those clearly defined moments was that each one of them had to be grounded in truth. While that moment may be seen as extremely (and ridiculously?) campy, the actor experiences them sincerely.

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