how to be a Fool

Jonathan Kay is a professional Fool. "I am not an actor. I am not a clown. A Fool's job is to frighten people, it's to encourage danger. It's to whistle while you're taking people to the cliff edge."

In his entirely improvised one-man shows, he does just that, leaving his audiences dizzy. And in his fooling workshops, he subjects his students to even more. He has supporters who follow his techniques with almost messianic zeal, as well as detractors who emerge somewhat emotionally disturbed. Below, we hear both sides of the story from people who took part in Kay's two-day workshop, "Who's Fooling Who?" at the University of Plymouth.

Steve: As a participant I was apparently meant to "confront the perceived limits of my potential". I was not told I was going to be scared witless.

Gwyn: The underlying theory is that everybody has two people inside of them. One is the Dictator and the other, the Fool. It was explained that the Dictator is the person inside who says "don't" or "can't", "shouldn't" or "mustn't". To play the Fool we must get rid of the Dictator and work with our own impulses, instantaneous actions and reactions.

Dan: Jonathan Kay is a tall, spindly man with a mop of curly hair. He looks fairly normal. That is until he becomes the teacher. Our first shock came from his aggression, yet this is his most productive tool.

Malc: In one exercise he sat on a chair about 20 feet away and we had to walk towards him, talking to him or acting, but basically taking a risk through fear of embarrassment. He would "kill" us by clicking his fingers if we bored him. We were encouraged to become bigger, exaggerate everything.

James: His philosophy was the most interesting aspect of the workshop. He believes that the fool is a catalyst for an audience to visit parts of their own imagination, memory and minds which are rarely accessed.

Imogen: At the end of the day, I was left feeling quite destroyed, although I feel this was not Jonathan Kay's fault since I was already quite low at the time. The exercises we did were designed to make us discard our inhibitions. I feel that "acting" is taking on other characteristics, to mask your own self, and protecting yourself in this manner is crucial.

Dan: All this reduced me to an emotional wreck. I felt that perhaps I don't take risks. I felt pathetic compared to the others, and he kept telling us to look inwards. He helped us along with astute comments about our characters via our body language.

Steve: Day two, and suddenly there's only six of us left. So we all had to grope each other for the first 20 minutes.

Nicola: We began telling stories and learned to digress. For example when I enacted a story about a chip-pan fire, I not only became the chips in the pan, but the little flames dancing around and the curtains the flame attacked.

Steve: The hardest exercise was the last because we had to become emotional. He put a coat on a table and told me it was my dead baby. The rest of the group were the other relatives who went into the "room" first. I had to enter and see my child stretched out in front of me. Unfortunately, I could not stop seeing a lifeless coat on a table (my Dictator suppressing me, I suppose). I was, luckily, able to work off the other's emotions, who appeared genuinely upset. Our eyes went red and blotchy. So Mr Kay cuddled us and then left to catch a train to go and upset some more people.


Jonathan Kay is currently touring with his shows 'Fool', 'Sarajevo' and 'Last Man on the Beach'

Bookings are being taken for a residential workshop at Laurieston Hall, Scotland in May. Further information: 01962 863966

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