creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Fooling: Profile on April Hava Shenkman

photo by Marilyn Shenkman
The month of April is coming to a close, but this week profiles another April, who spreads her Happy Happy celebrations all year round: April Hava Shenkman! It’s a wonderful way to introduce a subject matter Your Begin will continue to explore: the multitude of meanings and insights to be found in the archetype of the Fool! So if there is anyone familiar to being an April Fool - it's this leading lady of comedy!

Often seen in her take on white clown-face, April spins the charms of vaudeville, old Broadway, and classic Hollywood with a contemporary approach, that rather deconstructs and reassembles the way we typically view those iconic styles.  April has a very keen eye for visuals that she employs in all of her costumes and props. She’s known for the way she can talk quickly, like some kind of auctioneer gone wild, and speaking in a hilarious gibberish that mixes different languages together. Of course one of the first thing everyone notices, is her signature hair-style: the little bundles of spiky hair (see her comments about them below). All of these elements and more come together to spread the cause of happiness.

April with her cast of merrymakers on April 1, 2010 - photo by Trevor Eyster
April currently pours her talents into “The Happy Happy Show,” which began as a live theatre cabaret event around Los Angeles and has now transitioned into an online web series.  Comedy it seems, runs in the family: her parents are often seen in her work, especially  “Pappy” as a very funny sidekick in hobo clown make-up and a tutu on “The Happy Happy Show,” and her brother is an accomplished comic with his own series of productions. They inevitably help each other, creating an unusual family dynamic that enjoys clowning around for the good of all (more about that below)!

When I first met April in the workshops of Los Angeles’ Cultural Treasure, Rachel Rosenthal, she had already developed her own style that fit well with the performance techniques we were honing. She and I had a connection over the fact that we share the same birthdays - December 29th - Capricorns!  For several years we worked on group and collaborative pieces, where she employed her comic timing and skill to great affect. One of my favorites was an asburdly dark comic piece we did together called “Sunscreen & Tomatoes." It starts out as with a clownish couple arriving to a beach. I'm being a totally disgusting "dude" while April does this very manically wonderful thing with a bunch of tomatoes, poking and squishing them with her fingers as if taking out her frustrations on them. It was so bizarre, and had the audience in stitches. She has a remarkable ability to reach such intensity with her performance, it inspires those next to her to go for it too.

April and I in "Sunscreen & Tomatoes" - video still
I asked April to answer a few questions about her art & process:

1. How do you describe yourself as an artist?
I am a performance artist: creating & performing new avant-garde comedy performance works in stage & film.

2. What does “Happy, Happy” mean to you?
Happy Happy, is happiness, for the sake of happiness. Without needing a cause or reason to be happy, HAPPY HAPPY promotes the inner core being, at liberty in bliss. Happy Happy = celebrating the holiday of LIFE.
photo by Jason Jenn
3. How is clowning/fooling important to you in your life and society?
The clown, is ageless, timeless & completely universal. The make-up exposes the cracks, as well as the illustrious glow, held in the human heart. Becoming the "clown" is becoming the ultimate me - that is a mega version of who I am as a person, it gives me permission to be bigger then life & completely, "show-up." Showing-up promotes "waking-up." And sometimes, the smile needs a nudge to remember it's been there all the while. The clown / the fool, is the free spirit, the liberated human. The clown teaches me, how I want to live my life... Happy & Free.

4. What and who have been major influences and inspirations for your work?
Federico Fellini , Charlie Chaplin, Rachel Rosenthal, Richard Foreman, Old Hollywood, Old Broadway Musicals, Vaudeville, Surrealism, Japanese Theatre, European travels - travel in general, love, romance , My Family, Holidays & cultural celebrations around the world
displaying old Hollywood glamor - photo by Leslie Moon
5. You have some very strong visual themes (like cakes, pigs, Chinese elements, etc.), can you explain a bit about their meaning and use? 
Each performance has it's own visual significance.  I've always been into symbolism, signs & colors, choosing a particular pallet per piece. Usually when I become obsessed with visual, as I did once with cake, I can't help but use it... I'm still obsessed with cakes. The Pig, well, I like pigs, but the pig choose me. But really, it's what ever calls to me, as the stimuli of the piece. I think visually first.

April wrangles her pigs in "Orange" - photo by Mark
6. You have strong family connections and involvement in your work. How does family factor in to your work?
My family has always been a great source of inspiration for me. I've always gotten a "kick" out of my own family. I've always been very close friends with my family, and have really allowed myself to be in awe of where I come from. My family has always been top supporters & fans of my work, and it organically evolved into collaborations, and working together.
My father, Chickster Shenkman, was the first entertainer I was awe inspired by. Since childhood, he's impressed me with his impersonations & voices - he's a creative genius. When I started creating my own shows, it only seemed natural to put him in. "April Fools Pig!" was the first show of mine, that I wrote my father in as, "Pappy." Which has evolved into him being my co-star in my webisode, The Happy Happy Show. I've also been blessed with Adam, my brother who is a comedy performance artist, who I collaborate with often. We've grown-up together as artists, living together & sharing pursuits, we've been able to act as great supporters to each other's worlds. And now, I'm happy to have my mother, the "shy one," in some of my webisodes, who is no longer shy. She's been exposed to the theatre for  so many years, that it's only natural for her too, to come & play. We've been noted as The modern Vaudevillian family of Hollywood; which is somewhat of a rarity in modern times. A great gift it is, to work with my family.

April and "Pappy" - photo by Paul Zollo
7. So, just what is with the hair? ;-)
I call it the "tree-swan-kewpie."
I like funny hair. I let my hair be funny.

8. What’s next for you?
My current project & focus, is THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW. I have 7 episodes released, and more to come.
My theatre has metamorphosed into film, by this show. And I am excited to create more HAPPY HAPPY - making the world happy again, one smile at a time.
I hope to bring The Happy Happy Show to TV soon!

And so does Your ReBegin!
Check out more of April's work at these links:

photo by Marilyn Shenkman

A graphic design we collaborated on for one of her past shows
April in a masked versions of herself - photo by Leslie Moon

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