Celebrated female clown Gardi Hutter is to receive the Swiss Cabaret Prize - another accolade in a 20-year career that has been devoted to making people laugh.
In an interview with swissinfo ahead of the ceremony on April 20, Hutter talks about her latest show, humour, and whether the Swiss laugh enough.
The SFr10,000 ($8,364) prize will be awarded in Thun on the first day of Swiss Performing Arts Exchange, a four-day event where independent theatre troupes, directors and producers meet to showcase their new productions.
Hutter has been honoured for creating a series of memorable characters which have led to her being described as a "comic phenomenon" both in Switzerland and abroad.
For many years, the German-speaking Swiss has lived in Arzo, a village nestling in the Mendrisiotto hills, in the southern part of Ticino.
She has just returned from Germany, where she has been touring with her new production The Prompter.
swissinfo: You have been awarded many prizes in the course of your career. What is special about this one?
Gardi Hutter: It is the most democratic and the most broadly based prize. All the independent theatres - and there are about 400 of them - nominate ten artists. Then a jury is appointed to choose the winner from this shortlist.
Since I am a member of the jury, I withdrew as soon as I was shortlisted to avoid embarrassing my colleagues. In the end, it was me that was chosen. And it came as a pleasant surprise. What carried the most weight with the jury was my most recent production, The Prompter.
swissinfo: Tell us more about The Prompter.
G.H.: Producing The Prompter was difficult, but I am very satisfied with the result. Audiences regard it as my finest show. And nothing encourages an artist so much as knowing that her latest show is her best one.
The prompter loves her job. She supports the actors, but she is definitely not one for the limelight. She lives under the stage, her workplace transformed into a charming little house, furnished with stage props.
Then the powers-that-be decide to close the theatre and open a new one. And no one thinks to inform the prompter, who is meanwhile preparing for the next production - a performance destined never to take place. Suddenly the prompter is excluded from society.
This is a situation experienced by so many people when they lose their jobs. All at once you realise, or people tell you, that your occupation no longer has any value. Everything you have done is worthless, no longer related to the world around you.
swissinfo: A sad story...
G.H.: Of course, but for me a clown is always a tragi-comic figure. Everything is so sad, so terribly dramatic, that in the end the clown changes everything into laughter – as if totally reversing or overturning the way we feel.
swissinfo: You have been described in many ways and have even been referred to as a female version of [Italian clown] Toto. What do you think of that?
G.H.: I like Toto, he makes me laugh and he has always retained his dignity, even when playing the most abject characters. I have also been compared with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, with whom I actually identify more closely.
The clown is the type of person who weeps while making others laugh. And clowns are both awe-inspiring and very ordinary, like all of us.
swissinfo: What is humour, in your view?
G.H.: It is a survival strategy. Each of us faces at some time life’s suffering. If humour is the outcome of working through pain and suffering, then it is something truly liberating.
A sense of humour enables you to achieve detachment. And when you can laugh at a thing or a situation, you have achieved freedom.
swissinfo: Do you think Swiss people laugh enough?
G.H.: Within my circle of friends we laugh and joke a great deal. Of course, we also cry sometimes and have arguments - but that is all part of life.
I do not see or experience Switzerland as a sad, austere country, where people are not able to laugh. Maybe the people who are not in my circle are less sunny in their outlook. But, all in all, I think laughter is a part of popular culture. Certainly, laughter is the best medicine!
swissinfo, Françoise Gehring
Gardi Hutter’s career:
Three years at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zurich and three years at clown school in Milan.
Tours of 21 countries and a total of 2,600 performances.
Eight prizes in Switzerland, France and Germany.
Radio and television performances in 13 countries.
Gardi Hutter is a well-known figure in Switzerland. Students even choose her as the subject for their degree theses.
She has given the Swiss parliament a good telling-off, acting as court jester during the celebrations marking the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation.
Critics speak of her as a "comic phenomenon" and number her among the "very greatest".
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