Butt Kapinski – not your children’s clown
Deanna Fleysher as private eye Butt Kapinski. (photo from Deanna Fleysher)
Think you’re going to go sit and watch Butt Kapinski at the Cultch next month? Think again. You’re going to be an integral part of the show.
An award-winning hit at last year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival, Deanna Fleysher is returning to Vancouver with her alter ego, Elmer Fudd-meets-Philip Marlowe private eye Butt Kapinski. It is funny, raunchy, unpredictable humor that involves the audience. In her expert hands, they become a crime boss, a femme fatale, a prostitute, all participating in the telling of a unique-every-time murder mystery.
“We humans crave that feeling of spontaneity, of witnessing and being part of something that has never happened quite this way before and will never happen quite this way again,” Fleysher told the Independent about her preferred type of performance.
“I am convinced that theatre will become increasingly interactive, as theatre practitioners realize that the best way to entice people to put on pants and leave their homes is to include them in the experience somehow. We can’t let flat screens and underwear win the war!”
Fleysher is on the front lines, so to speak, having made interactive theatre a focus of her career. In addition to performing as a clown, in improv and in other capacities, Fleysher is a teacher, writer and director. Among the interactive and clown/bouffon shows she has created or co-created is the erotic production Foreplay, which ran for a year at the People’s Improv Theatre in New York City, as well as at the Chicago Improv Festival, and she created, produced and performed in Kill Me Loudly: A Clown Noir, and directed and co-wrote Red Bastard. She started the Naked Comedy Lab, in which participants learn how to perform interactive comedy and clown/bouffon, and she teaches labs in Los Angeles and around North America.
“My parents are both creative people, although they did not pursue the arts specifically,” shared Fleysher about her background. “Nonetheless, I was in theatre classes from probably 6 years old onwards. My sister is also a performing artist and teacher, specializing in Middle Eastern dance. So, two nice Jewish people ended up with a belly dancer and a clown for children. So it goes.”
Butt Kapinski, however, is not for children. The character is described as a “noir-loving, gender-troubled little fellow-gal who wears a trench coat and a streetlight strapped to his/her back and goes into crowds and solves mysteries.” He/she has appeared in previous Fleysher creations.
“I found Butt Kapinski on a street corner in the East Village, but also, Butt has been with me my whole life,” explained Fleysher about his/her origins. “I used to have many speech impediments as a child, so speaking that way is very natural for me. Also, I am a huge film noir buff, a lover of Raymond Chandler novels and spontaneous poetry and trench coats. Butt is just me without my ‘Normal Disguise.’
“I used to wear a nose, partly because I was worried about being too ‘pretty’ or ‘normal’ (or, hell, ‘feminine’) without it. But Butt is quite different than the me everyone sees, and losing the nose [that Butt used to sport] was the best choice I could have made.
“The streetlight that I wear came into the act once I decided to go solo. What I wanted was a true interactive experience with the audience, but I do not like when performers bring people up on stage. My light lets me take the show right into the audience, where everyone can stay comfortable, and still be a part of things.”
Asked about what attracts her to Kapinski, to the private-eye genre in general, Fleysher responded, “I have always delighted in the dark side. Butt allows me to share that delight with others, to make a community ritual out of a usually private kind of fetish for the sicker shit in life.”
In a 2012 interview with LAFF! (Ladies Are Funny Festival), Fleysher is quoted as saying she once heard Fran Lebowitz say, “Every Jewish woman wants to be a private eye.” About that comment, Fleysher explained to the Independent, “My mother found the first guy I ever slow danced with on JDate. How did she even remember his name? I went steady with him at sleep-away camp for about a week, and she found out all about who he is now … you know … just in case. That is a kind of sleuthing I tip my hat to.
“Fran Lebowitz was introducing some mystery/crime fiction writers at a reading in N.Y. many years ago, when she said, ‘Every Jewish woman wants to be a private eye.’ In that moment, my mother’s passionate curiosity was united with my noir world.”
Fleysher has always been a writer/actor at heart. “I was always more interested in creating my own theatre rather than reading/interpreting someone else’s words,” she said. “It’s not my thing to sell hand soap or be Battered Wife #3 in a cop drama. All of this means that I’d much rather be poor and creatively empowered than poor and at the mercy of casting agents.”
As for her interest in physical comedy/theatre versus more “serious” fare, Fleysher said, “My first theatre teacher was a clown, and I think I always had a strong bent toward comedy. Of course, the root of comedy is despair – so you get two for the price of one!”
Butt Kapinski is at the Cultch from Sept. 30-Oct. 11. For tickets, visit tickets.thecultch.com.