Interview: Vagabond, by Duncan Cameron

by Ottawa Fringe

June 19, 2011

by Andrew Alexander

“I feel like in my own life, I’m feeling like a vagabond,” says Duncan Cameron, an elf-like young man dressed in one of the most colourful vests I’ve ever seen. “I just graduated from high school, I’m moving to France to continue studying, I feel like I don’t really have a home. I’m willing to just jump from house to house to house, I like travelling.”

Such is the life of the creator and performer of the show, Vagabond, playing on the front lawn of the downtown Ottawa Youth Hostel weeknights at 7:30. Duncan has experienced his own amount of “move along, please” in the context of the show, being vacated from his original venue, the Hostel’s parking lot. “The day before I went up, they kicked me out of my BYOV. The Haunted Walks were there, and [the Hostel staff] didn’t tell me that they were coming. I got a phone call – somebody from the Haunted Walks – saying, you can’t be there, unless you’re down with a thousand people walking through your venue.” Undeterred, Duncan relocated to the front lawn of the Hostel. “It’s a wicked little venue, it would have been really cool. But, got kicked out. So I moved to their front lawn. Actually, I’m quite happy with what I got.”

The show has very much been a lemons-into-lemonade affair, as Duncan has had to contend with two cast changes – the last of which happened just one week before the show was scheduled to start. “I originally had a few different actors come through, and they’ve all dropped out on me. One of which dropped out last week. And then I had my oldest brother’s wedding this weekend, and when I got back I had three days to write and create my show. And basically in those three days I put it together, created my set, and I found some musicians to work off of me. So I mean it’s not my optimal work, I’d love to say, but it’s just a fun show. It ended up being a fun process, three days, what are you going to do. I just gave myself ample time to work, lots of energy drinks.”

You can see the energy bubbling over in Duncan as he talks, and it’s hard not to get drawn into his personality. I can imagine him making a very entertaining clown, with his shock of red hair and huge green eyes. I ask him what his show looks like to an audience. “It’s a thirty-minute physical comedy. It turned into a two-character sketch piece, I’ve based it off of a lot of clown and comedia del’ arte that I’ve learned in the past: so I took a lot of workshops and things that I’ve learned, stripped it to the bare minimum, and kind of played with those ideas.”

The actual show is slightly different than what’s presented in the program – mostly because of the continual moving target of actually getting the show together. “I made these posters before my actress dropped out on me, so the poster and the name, don’t really make sense any more. I just hope that people don’t go in there with a preconception. It ended up being a character who’s on welfare, who’s sort of like a bum, a freeloader. The welfare office takes all of his stuff, so he’s got to go find all of his stuff. The welfare office guy is represented by this Spanish character – I play all the characters, and I’ve created a few puppets and heads that I interact with. So it’s kind of an interaction between these two characters. They meet in this one scene and all hell breaks loose.”

In addition to the character portrayal, Duncan goes in for extreme physical theatre, rolling around in the dirt and getting sweaty. There are also musicians accompanying his performance. “If I start playing, they start playing. They do music before and after; they have their own set they do. During the show, I just have a guitarist. The singer I moved to my stage manager, at the last moment.”

While Duncan originally wanted to incorporate the local homeless population into the mechanics of the show, the idea didn’t make it to the final iteration of the show. “One of the ideas was, I was going to try to get some of the local guys to hang out. I have a few dudes that I sort of know, loosely. It would have been a fun experience to come in, but my actress wasn’t so interested in doing that, then she backed out, and I kind of had to drop that idea. The show was originally about soul-searching in a wacky sort of way, and then I had to wittle it down.”

The development of the show may come across as rushed, but as far as Duncan’s professional development is concerned, it’s anything but. He’s already spent a year in France studying with clown-slash-bouffon expert Philippe Gaulier, and has worked the last year saving up for another year at the school. “He is my theatre school. I feel like I’m going into a specialized theatre: I’m looking at Ryerson, Concordia, NYU – all my friends have gone to these schools, and are telling me what they’ve learned in those places. And it doesn’t feel like it applies to me. I want to learn theatre, but they’re teaching me this, and this, and history, and there’s a lot of boring stuff right now – that’s not my life right now. Right now, Phillipe is the proclaimed master of clown and bouffon, so I might as well go right there. My brother Jessie [Buck] told me what his teaching style was, and I thought, ‘this is what applies to me right now,’ this is what I want.”

So what does Duncan hope the audience will take away from the show? “I’m not brow-beating them with any metaphorical meaning, obviously: it’s just a physical comedy. I like the fact that people come in, and enjoy what I’ve done. If I can make a few people laugh, I’m happy. From what I’ve seen, a lot of artists, they’re starting off with a thematic statement that they want to say, and then they write something off of that. The rudiments of clown and bouffon, really are saying something powerful, but it’s also a lot of fun and farce. As long as I can get the audience in, make them laugh, I’m happy.”

Vagabond plays on the Front Lawn of the Ottawa Youth Hostel, near the Club SAW entrance, weeknights from Tuesday at 7:30.