Just Joking: A Theatrical Vignette in One Act
Imagine, dear readers, that you are sitting in the audience for this theatrical vignette. As the curtain rises, KERR is stage left, intently typing on the laptop and thinking out loud as he does.
KERR: In Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, the Joker is the intermediary between the audience and the actors . . . they ask questions, instigate dialogue, provoke . . . the Joker is the Wild Card, or as Boal would say, the “difficultator.”
As he types, the spotlight comes up stage right and we see JOKER there. This is not the theoretical JOKER of KERR’s imagining, however, but a living breathing character on the stage. JOKER is of ambiguous gender, dressed in wildly flamboyant colours, and is wearing tap shoes. They are deeply focused on attempting a basic tap dancing move, muttering the names of the moves while attempting – loudly, and rather badly – to execute them. KERR is oblivious to JOKER’s presence.
JOKER: Fuh-lap ball change. Fuh-lap ball change. Fuh-lap . . .
JOKER stumbles a bit, laughs, and tries again. Despite JOKER’s noisily awkward dance attempts, KERR continues working, unaware of their presence.
KERR: Rereading what he wrote. Yeah, that’s not bad. And then maybe we move from here into a warmup game . . .
JOKER crosses stage left, circling around behind KERR with a whole lot of clackety clacking, and, loudly “sneaking up” from behind, taps KERR on the shoulder.
JOKER: Kerr!!! My old friend! Let’s dance!
KERR startles, looks up, and notices JOKER for the first time. He takes a beat to register JOKER’s presence. The observant audience member will notice a brief flash of irritation cross KERR’s face before he schools his face into a more neutral expression.
KERR: Joker. Hey! It’s . . . um . . . it’s been awhile.
JOKER: Disproportionately enthusiastic in comparison to KERR’s lukewarm greeting. I know, right!? I’ve missed you! I mean we did all that work with your book chapters and articles and dissertation . . . Remembering . . . that was a whole lot of academese!
KERR: I know, Joker . . . and I really appreciate it. But right now I kind of need to get back to . . .
JOKER: Interrupts. Listen! I’ve been reviewing these old tap moves from musical theatre school! They start roughly tap dancing again. Look! Shows KERR. Fuh-lap-ball-change . . . Fuh-lap-ball change . . . JOKER pauses and tries to pull KERR by the hand up from his chair, but KERR won’t budge. C’mon! Let’s DANCE!
KERR: Laughs, running his hands through his hair. Oh, Joker, I love your energy. I really do. But right now is not the time. I’ve got this workshop tomorrow and I really have to get it ready. Besides which, theatre school was more than 25 years ago. I don’t even remember how to tap anymore.
JOKER: Seeing they’re not getting through to KERR, they try a different tack. What are you working on?
KERR: Happy to talk about this part of his work. It’s an online workshop: Joy as Resistance. It’s for activists and spiritual leaders and educators . . .
JOKER: Sounds fun!
KERR: Yeah . . . it’s about the power of joy, laughter, and play to help us recharge our batteries so that we can continue our work in the world. I’m introducing them to some Theatre of the Oppressed stuff . . .
JOKER: Nice. Like, getting everyone relaxing and laughing a bit in community?
KERR: Exactly. It’s been such a hard year. And so many activists I know are worn out.
JOKER: Yeah. Sounds like this might be a good pause for them.
KERR: Totally. A chance to lighten up a bit, to play . . .
JOKER: To dance?
KERR: Sure. I mean if that’s where the spirit moves them, I mean –
Catches himself, looks at JOKER, who is smiling gently with one eyebrow cocked.
KERR: Okay, okay, I take your point. But seriously, I really can’t right now. I’ve got so much work to do. The world is on fire, you know?
JOKER: Kerr, you just said yourself that my job is to ask questions, to difficultate . . .
Pauses, walks around and sits on the edge of KERR’s desk, facing KERR. Why are you so scared of me?
KERR: Sighs in exasperation. Joker, look, I’m not scared . . . I’m annoyed. You drop in at this critical time when I’m getting ready to do a big launch event and you want me to stop what I’m doing and F-ing tap dance! Your timing sucks!
JOKER: Even more directly. But Kerr, you just said yourself that play and rest and laughter is important for activists . . .
KERR: Visibly annoyed now and speaking rapidly. That’s different. I’m way more comfortable facilitating that for other people than I am experiencing it myself – KERR catches himself, hearing what he just said.
JOKER: Says this out loud – Meaningful pause. Looks at KERR again with that same quirky smile, one eyebrow cocked.
KERR: Slowing down a bit now. You know, Joker? It’s just – it’s hard. I’m more than comfortable facilitating experiences of joy and play and relaxation for other folks. But I just don’t know how to do that for myself. It feels hard to let go, to breathe that deeply . . . to unclench a bit, you know?
JOKER: Yeah. Looks at KERR intently, echoes KERR’s earlier statement. It’s been a really hard year.
KERR: It has. I mean, tap dancing? I’ll make a fool of myself in front of all these people. Motions out to the audience. And moving into play, into joy . . . somehow it almost feels a bit painful. Does that make any sense?
JOKER: I think it does. I think joy and grief are often intertwined. And we need them both.
KERR: Exhales a loud out breath. You just said a lot there, my friend.
JOKER nods. They both pause, looking directly at each other. An extended and comfortable silence ensues, during which KERR gets up from his chair, approaches JOKER centre stage.
KERR: Tentatively, quietly, maybe even shyly. So . . . um . . . what was the move?
JOKER: With that same characteristic exuberant eagerness, demonstrating the moves as they speak them. Fuh-lap ball change! Fuh-lap ball change! Fuh-lap fuh-lap fuh-lap ball change!
JOKER continues repeating the words and the moves. KERR joins them under the centre stage spotlight and very tentatively attempts the same moves. Slowly, very slowly, they begin to synchronize their moves until both of them are executing a simple repeating tap step. They look at each other, enjoying the moment, smiling. Confidence growing, they speed up a bit, and then a bit more, and then – KERR stumbles, loses his footing, and falls flat on his behind. A very loaded pause where JOKER, audience, and KERR himself all wait to see what KERR’s own reaction will be. And then –
KERR: Laughing. Crap. Ouch. Looks at audience, shrugs his shoulders. Yeah. That just happened. Laughing more. JOKER is laughing too now, and plunks themself down on the floor beside KERR. Both of them are laughing now, hard. And at some point, KERR’s laughter shifts, gently, to tears. JOKER moves a bit closer, places a hand on KERR’s shoulder, and the curtain slowly descends as we . . .
Kerr Mesner is a spiritual director, consultant, and facilitator, as well as a queer/transgender contemplative Christian, performing artist, and activist. In his spare time, he enjoys writing songs and playing in his garden.