Tag: Pierrot

Pierrot in Popular Culture

Pierrot in Popular Culture

People often give me blank looks if I say my books are about the Commedia dell’Arte. Italian Renaissance improvised theatre is not well known today. Those who have done theatre studies or drama are likely to know about it, but most don’t. Audiences might remember seeing Commedia-style plays like A Servant of Two Masters and the hilarious musical The Venetian Twins, by Australian playwright Nick Enright.

However, if I mention my books are about Pierrot, Harlequin and Columbine, sometimes people’s eyes light up. Pierrot, more than any other character, still has name recognition. This is ironic, because the character was originally very minor. But there is something about his pathos and romantic adoration of Columbine that touches people. Not only that, but the image of Pierrot is iconic.

Mirano Fujita and the Sad Clown

For anyone of my era, feminised versions of Pierrot are very familiar. During the 1980s these images were everywhere. In my early teens I received a birthday gift of a tin with two soaps and a facewasher inside. All had one of Mira Fujita’s sad clowns on them.  The soaps are long gone, but I still treasure the tin.

Fujita was the daughter of a calligrapher. After studying at art school in Japan, she began doing illustrations for a girl’s magazine. Her work stood out because the characters seemed willful rather than meek. With the growth of manga over traditional storytelling in Japan, Fujita moved to Europe. There her style was considered novel and mysterious.

A Parisian poster company commissioned Fujita to do a series of images of clowns and Harlequins. These were extraordinarily popular and soon sold as prints and on various household goods. A large number of teenage girls in the 1980s had a Pierrot poster on their wall as a result!

Who was Pierrot?

There is an early (1547) reference to a Piero in Commedia history but the character seemed to disappear for decades. In the 1570s it reappeared as Pagliaccio, then Pedrolino. Pedrolino was very low-status, usually played by the youngest son in family player troupes. His early name derived from pagliaio, meaning a pile of straw, since the youngest often slept in the barn with the animals. Around 1665, as the Commedia grew in popularity in France, Pedrolino took on a French name: Pierrotto. This was ultimately shortened to Pierrot.

Pierrot wears baggy clothes because he is the youngest, and only receives hand-me-downs. Unlike other Commedia characters, he doesn’t wear a mask. Instead, he paints his face with white flour. This means the actor can be far more expressive. Perhaps this is why people remember Pierrot, more than other Commedia characters, for his big heart and sad expressions. He is highly sensitive, conscientious and totally honest. In writing the Tales of Tarya these seemed to me to be the perfect characteristics of a hero. In my fantasy series Luka not only plays Pierrot, he bears many of the characteristics of this iconic character.

Other Pop-Culture References

Pierrot has inspired many artists. One of the most obvious is David Bowie. For the video of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ he wore a Pierrot costume. He also wore one on the sleeve of the album Scary Monsters. The Seekers’ song ‘The carnival is over’, features the line: ‘but the joys of love are fleeting/for Pierrot and Columbine’. Musicians from Brazil to Italy to Japan have written songs or albums featuring the sad clown. There was even a Japanese rock band named Pierrot.

It’s still possible to find Pierrot (and Harlequin) themed decorative items. Generally the best place to look is in op shops. The Commedia dell’Arte may be mostly forgotten. But the sad clown lives on and can still evoke a sense of romance, pathos and gentleness.


Sometimes an ending comes as a surprise

Sometimes an ending comes as a surprise

Sometimes writers play games with their own minds. They set up little rules. They have superstitions. As I came close to writing the ending of Pierrot’s Song I made a decision. I would write everything but the epilogue. Then I would go back and read all three books again. Only then would I think about writing the epilogue. I wanted to do it justice, and to make sure I wrapped up everything properly.

Photo by ATUL MAURYA from Pexels

Clearly my mind had other ideas. I woke up this morning, far too early, and I could hear the voice of one of my characters in my head. The three books of the Tales of Tarya series are written in the third person. Only the prologue to each book is in the first person. Normally when my characters speak, it is in scenes and dialogue. But this was different. This character had something to say, and I had to get out of bed and write it down immediately.

Avoiding the ending

I’ve been reluctant to write the end of this series. Writing three books is a long journey to undertake. You immerse yourself in a world of your own creation for a long time. It starts to feel as familiar as the real world. My characters are as alive to me as my friends. I know them in that intuitive way where I understand how they will act, without having to think too hard about it.

So I didn’t want to leave them. Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things to do in this life. Especially when you know it is permanent. I remember the agony of farewelling a friend I had met while travelling, not knowing if I would ever see her again since we lived on opposite sides of the world. Of leaving my father’s hospital room for the last time to fly home and go back to work, knowing there wouldn’t be time to come back before he passed away.

I could see the end of my series, drawing closer and closer. And I didn’t want it to arrive.

The unexpected magic of writing

I’m definitely a plotter, not a pantser. Mina’s story is one where secrets are uncovered. There is a puzzle at the heart of Mina’s quest, and only when she solves that can she do what she must. To create a puzzle, you need to plan in advance, planting seeds throughout the books. To uncover secrets you need to hide them, sometimes in plain sight. So I have always known where my final book would end. But writing is not entirely a logical process. Sometimes, perhaps the best of times, the intuitive brain kicks in. You may know what needs to happen, but not the fine detail of how it will happen. I love it when this occurs. But not at 6am!

But there is a story within a story in my trilogy. This is the tale of muses – the inspiration for all creative types. So when the muse tapped me on the shoulder and told me to wake up, I couldn’t really say no.

Finding flow and finding the ending

Photo by Monica Silvestre from Pexels.

So I sat down with a notebook and pen. I didn’t even grab a coffee, because I wanted to capture the words before they dissolved in the morning light. And I wrote. The words ran across the page, paragraph after paragraph. It felt like magic. I knew what I needed to say. I didn’t have to give it any thought. And the ending of my series wrote itself. The voice in my head kept speaking until I had everything I needed written down. And then I was able to get up and start my day.

By doing this I broke my own rule. I still have two scenes left to write in the lead up to the epilogue. But maybe it’s better this way. Because if I had written these words after everything else was complete, I think I’d be feeling terribly bereft now. This is the end of the story after all. The curtain is about to close on the travelling players. But when your central character is a storyteller, I guess you learn some things about storytelling. And one of those things is that a story is a living thing. Sometimes it chooses how it should be told.



What is the Commedia dell’Arte?

What is the Commedia dell’Arte?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Harlequin, Columbine and Pierrot so it always comes as a surprise to me when people look blank when I say ‘Harlequin’s Riddle is about the Commedia dell’Arte’. I’m not clear when I first became aware of these wonderful characters, but it was probably when my great-aunt gave me a tin with Pierrot on the lid. Inside was a facewasher and two soaps, also with different Pierrot images. Anyone who grew up in the 70s is probably very familiar with the classic images by Mira Fujita. The Pierrot in them is feminised, the face expressive. These designs were everywhere: on posters, on toiletries, on notebook covers. And Pierrot is the perfect icon for teenage girls – too sensitive for the world, and always yearning for something just out of reach (the beautiful Columbine).

Fujita’s images may be the reason that Pierrot is the most remembered of the Commedia characters today, but in fact he was a late addition to the line-up, and a minor character usually played by the youngest son, since player troupes were often families.  Harlequin too has survived, perhaps because tricksters have enormous appeal – just look at the current wave of interest in Loki in the Avengers movies.  Other characters are less well known now. But in their time they were adored by the public for whom they performed.

The Commedia dell’Arte is essentially improvised theatre that was usually performed in public spaces, in contrast to the Commedia Erudita, which was scripted and performed on private indoor stages. It appeared in Italy in the mid to late 1500s and its features, including slapstick humour and music, probably developed in order to compete with the noise of the marketplace. Those who look at the history of the Commedia suggest it grew from the antics of charlatans trying to sell their wares through any means possible.

Although Commedia performances were improvised, they had a clear framework from which performances grew. There were core characters, including the old men, Pantalone and Il Dottore, the lovers, the servants (known as zanni), Il Capitano (the Captain) and Columbina. Then there were secondary characters such as Pulcinella (later Pierrot), Scaramuccia and others. Harlequin, or Arlecchino as he was originally known, was one of the servants.

Each character was distinguished by a particular costume, status, posture and walk and particularly by their mask. This meant that when they appeared on stage the audience knew immediately who they were, and the function they would serve in the story. There were also set scenarios, or outlines of the events to be performed. Then, within the scenes, characters had set passages that they might recite, a repertoire of sight-gags the audience would expect from them, and particular ways of interacting with other characters. This means the improvisation actually occurred within very specific boundaries.  Much as Hollywood movies now follow certain tropes and patterns, Commedia audiences expected to see familiar characters, events and actions.

As with any popular form of entertainment, Commedia has changed over the centuries since its birth. Whilst there are still troupes today who try to maintain its original framework and characters, its influence can be seen in Punch and Judy shows, Cirque de Soleil and even musical theatre, which grew from the Commedia-like vaudeville performances of the early 20th Century. And, even removed from their Commedia roots, characters like Harlequin, the trickster, Pierrot, the sensitive, and Columbina, the unattainable beauty, still resonate with modern sensibilities.  For me, these enduring characters, and the magic that can emerge from improvised theatre, sparked my imagination, offering a world of possibilities that I explore in Harlequin’s Riddle.