James & Jamesy in 2 for Tea. Photo by Kathy Knowles.
James & Jamesy in 2 for Tea. Photo by Kathy Knowles.

James & Jamesy are back. And for those familiar with the duo’s unique blend of theatre and physical comedy, their latest show does indeed have something to do with tea.

In James & Jamesy in High Tea, the comedy duo find themselves trying to keep afloat after a catastrophic disaster floods the world in tea. In true James & Jamesy style, the audience will play pivotal roles as the show unfolds, invoking other well-known maritime adventures such as Noah’s Ark, Jaws, and Titanic.

Together for four years, James & Jamesy are embodied by Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles. In this Q&A we find out more about the two performers, their alter-egos and the upcoming show.

How did you meet?

Aaron and I met, like really met, at 2 am walking down a farm road in rural Ontario. We were both studying bouffon with Karen Hines and John Turner, gurus in the clown world. It was the eve of our final performances and we were both struggling to memorize scripts we had written and second guessing the substance of the scenes we had created. “You struggling?” “Yep.” “You?” “Yep.” Together we turned and went back to the studio, an old decrepit barn, where we spent until sunrise playing and roaring with laughter as we created two ridiculous sketches. We’ve worked together ever since.

How did you land on your blend of theatre and physical comedy?

The foundation of our training has been with clown/mime/dance phenom David MacMurray Smith. He’s like a yoda of performance who has a ten page resume of his training, performance, and directing history. His school, Fantastic Space Enterprises, is a performance lab that emphasizes performance honesty and play to strengthen the connection between performer and audience. Since we’ve begun touring, we’ve been fortunate to be exposed to a huge number of contemporary theatre and when we encounter techniques that intrigue us, we are like a sponge to water. Since 2013, we’ve each seen over 200 shows.

Audience participation is key to every James & Jamesy show
Audience participation is key to every James & Jamesy show. Photo by Richard Gilmore.

You both studied at UBC but for very different professions – did you ever use your degrees to do what you went to school for?

Alastair: I completed a business degree, but when I began clowning it was clear that it was unlikely I would experience the thrills of that work in a corporate setting. All was not lost as I’ve been able to apply my business skills to theatre. I also studied visual art. I hope you like our graphic design, costumes, and production aesthetic.

Aaron: I have biology and education degrees and I taught biology in high school for a couple years, and went on to teaching English literature, drama, and video production. All this shifted once I met Alastair and performance became a focus.

Why did you choose to study one thing and move on to something so radically different?

Aaron: As I was growing up, I was pressured to pursue an education and career clearly linked to financial stability. I found myself in various jobs, but I was never particularly happy. The child in me had atrophied, and I wanted it back. It was in a clowning course that I gained the confidence to perform, and I started seeking out opportunities. I quit my day job and was determined to make my life work through play and performance. Now, that’s what I do, I’m passionate about it, and I’ve never been happier.

How have your degrees in business and science helped with James & Jamesy?

We treat James & Jamesy like a company. A most ridiculous and fun company, but one nonetheless. Our skills at treating it as such has given us a huge boost in making what we do financially, and energetically, sustainable. We have even begun lecturing at theatre programs on how it’s possible to make independent theatre profitable.

Tea figures prominently in each James & Jamesy show. Photo by Jonathan Dy.
Tea figures prominently in each James & Jamesy show. Photo by Jonathan Dy.

Where do the names James & Jamesy come from?

Our names were actually the focal point of our very first improvised interactions with these characters. Aaron entered the scene by opening a mimed door and we greeted each other like old friends. “Jamesy.” Aaron said. and I responded “Jamesy.” and he corrected me, “Jamesy, you know my name is James. Can you call me James.” Here I responded “That’s a bit difficult for me to say.” and thus the charming absurdity began.

Along with your shows you also do workshops – what do you teach in your workshops?

We teach skills that are fundamental to our style of theatrical clowning, all of which is geared towards helping people find freedom in self expression. In our workshops, students embrace their inner critics, develop impulse fluency, explore emotions through embodiment, and learn to share themselves honestly from the stage.

Do you do the workshops as James & Jamesy or Alastair and Aaron?

We have street versions of James & Jamesy, whom we become when promoting and teaching; they are a hybrid of James & Jamesy from the show and Aaron & Alastair. When we drop our British accents and reveal ourselves as Aaron and Alastair at the end of workshops, it blows their minds. Life is for playing and it’s delightful to show them how far you can take performing.

You’ve done James & Jamesy make … tea, 2 for Tea, and now James & Jamesy in High Tea – what’s with all the tea?

Who doesn’t like tea? Certainly Brits love it, at least the stereotypical ones do. That guided the impulses of our first improvised sketch with the James & Jamesy characters. Two oddball friends coming together over a cuppa. As 10 minutes became 25, then 60, then more shows formed, we’ve used their weekly tea parties as the backbone of our story structures. There’s something about a tea party in that it exists outside of the hustle and bustle of day to day living. With James & Jamesy, the spaciousness and simplicity of this event is the launch pad for our imaginative adventures.

James & Jamesy in High Tea plays the Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery St, Vancouver) May 18-24. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets. Visit http://jamesandjamesy.com for more information.