The Bouffon Tragedy Project

At the Traverse this month comes manipulate Visual Theatre Festival, produced by Puppet Animation Scotland. The aim of the festival is to provide a platform of engagement for visual theatre and animation, for audiences and Scottish-based artists. As well as a variety of fully developed shows running throughout the week, part of the manipulate programme is a series of ‘Snapshots: Artists @ Work’, which are short talks and small performances from projects still in the development stage of work – described as “an arena for sharing experience”.


One of these Snapshots is ‘The Bouffon Tragedy Project’, brought to the festival by Judith Milligan and Al Seed. Milligan and Seed are exploring a relationship between two theatrical styles – Tragedy, drama based on human suffering, and Bouffon, a modern French theatre style re-coined by Le Coq, which is described as ‘the art of mockery’.


The project sprung from the pairs work as physical theatre teachers. With Milligan’s interest in exploration of space and choral work, and Seed’s focus on physical theatre in relation to tragedy and themes of grotesquery, they realised that there seemed to be a need from their students to explore physical tragedy and Bouffon together. It was discovered that using the two forms simultaneously actually enriched their physical work, and opened up more questions. They “didn’t just want to teach skill sets anymore” – and thus the ‘Bouffon Tragedy Project’ was born.


The work of the project is still, as described by Milligan, “embryonic”. The mixing of theatre forms isn’t a new concept, but Milligan highlights that is what is interesting: the new concepts that each different merging produces. Essentially the merging of tragedy and Bouffon seems to be about bringing physical theatre back to its original beginning. Originally, tragedy was a showing of human suffering which acts as cathartic to society. Coupling this with Bouffon brings out the “filth and absurdity” already in tragedy, and shows that side of it fully. Bouffon-Tragedy breaks down social and moral taboos – by taking the idea of human suffering at its roots, looking at it closely, and mocking it; “through humour and lightness undercutting the sacred”.


Milligan and Seed are now looking to develop these ideas and applying them to text. They want to distance themselves from the Ancient Greek tragedy tradition, and find a place in modern drama for a tragic-comic style.


It will be very exciting to see what emerges from the project. This merging of forms is something which could create an extremely interesting piece, exploring physicality, tragedy and absurdity. It seems to be that combining the two would have great impact on audiences, and allow both tragedy and Bouffon to have as much an effect as possible. Seed ends the talk with a thought that sticks, and fully highlights the beauty of combining the tragic and the grotesque – “Bouffon is there to take heaviness, and let tragedy fly and soar”.


Keep an eye out for the next staging of ‘The Bouffon Tragedy Project” – if their fledging ideas and work are anything to go by, Milligan and Seed’s creation will be intense, enriching, innovative and entertaining.

By Grace Lyle-Condon

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Grace Lyle-Condon

Studying Philosophy and Theology at the University of Edinburgh. I hope to get into creative management or venue managing after I graduate. I like writing, clouds, bagels and gin&tonic

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