Gaia Ma: making people laugh is a serious task

Busker Gaia Ma at BuskerBus Festival
Gaia Ma photo Joanna Dryjańska-Pluta

Gaia Matulli aka Gaia Ma on being a clown, performing in the street, and if her real life and stage persona are the same.  

The clown begins with a human being with his imperfections and defects. What makes people laugh are the failures of a clown. People laugh because they can identify with them. Failures are a part of our life.

Gaia Ma

Ciao Gaia! How are you?

Hi! I’m very well, thanks. Despite the pandemic I continue to create and train, in short, I do what I like.

What is your background?  

I started working in the street in 2009 as part of a group, and with my first one-woman show in 2013. Since 2009 I’ve been studying clownery with different teachers, In 2012 I graduated from a physical theatre school in Turin. Then I lived in Barcelona for a couple of years where I was learning swing dance and tap dance.

Gaia, you have so many solo shows and projects! Can you please tell me more about them?

I have my solo show project “Hit My Heart!” and  I also have two short performances for cabaret: “Hether” and  “Gaia Ma Orkestra”.

“Hit My Heart” promo recorded when people could gather
“Hether” – promo video
Gaia Ma Orkestra – promo video

In 2019 I founded a theatre company of 7 women called “Le Clownesse”. It’s a female clown project. Together with the co-founder, I also formed a duo this year called Duo Jenga. Our show is still in a work in progress, but here you can see a small video of what we are creating.

This project is very stimulating for me because I use different skills from my solo show. I play the accordion and walk on the bottles.

Do you take on a different persona when you perform or are you shows about various adventures of your character Gaia Ma?

Gaia Ma is my alter ego and I usually use this character when I perform solo on stage or in the street.

Now I am working on a new show where my character is very different.

Is it easy to break character? How would you describe yourself in private life?

Hahaha! Good question!

More than breaking the character I feel that I change with the seasons.

Gaia Ma

During the summer when I travel and perform I am a very outgoing person, I love staying around people. In winter I become more lonely. I like to be quiet, I do yoga, read, draw, and cook.

In my private life, I am certainly quieter.

Busker Gaia Ma performing at BuskerBus Festival
Gaia Ma at BuskerBus Festival in Zielona Góra photo Małgosia

Some artists say that one show is enough for them. You continuously develop new skills and create new shows.

Yes, I love the creation process, so I enjoy working on my new shows.

Before “Hit My Heart” I had another show. It worked well, but I felt that something was missing. I wanted to do something original with a message of love. The idea came to me in 2018 and next year I created “Hit My Heart”.

My creation process is based on imagination and drawing. This helps me a lot to find new ideas. I also write a lot. In the next stage, I close myself in a room with the objects that I’m planning to use. I play like a child. When I’m ready and satisfied, I go to the street, so see how the audience reacts to my show. Their reactions help me understand better what works and what I need to change.

Due to Covid, I  had to re-adapt the show. I had to change all the sequences where there was physical contact with the people. I replaced them with some magic numbers.

I love this show, and I’ll never stop thinking about how to make it better!

An updated promo video of “Hit My Heart” the new promo video, with the Covid safety rules included

How would you say your acts have changed since you started?

I started with a classic street show with the three torches at the end and a lot of talking. Over time I was using fewer words, and now I almost don’t speak. I have removed the three torches and I have found my style.

Performing works like medicine

Everyone has a bad day sometimes. Do you choose not to busk if you’re in a bad mood? How do you overcome it where you are for example at the festival and have to perform?

Yes, it happens to me sometimes that I have to perform and make people laugh although I am in a bad mood. It always seems impossible even to get started. However, the minute I start, I switch off my brain, and I transform my energy. It’s amazing! Performing works like medicine!

Is it hard to make people laugh?

Sometimes yes! But it’s my mission.

How would you describe the sense of humour of Italians versus other nations where you have performed?

By using body language instead of words, I have realised that comedy is universal. I don’t feel a big difference.

What I have noticed is that me “being Italian” is sometimes fun itself so I play with it: I use a lot of hand gestures and my Italian accent when I speak English.

Many people think of a clown as a performer with a red nose who entertains kids. How would you explain to them modern clownery? What kind of training do you require to become a clown? 

The clown begins with a human being with his imperfections and defects. What makes people laugh are the failures of a clown. People laugh because they can identify with them. Failures are a part of our life.

I believe that to be a clown, one must have a big heart, empathy and indeed, years and years of studies. The best clowns are old because you have to learn all your life.

Making people laugh is actually a very serious task!

Busker Gaia Ma during street show at the International Festival of Street Art BuskerBus
Gaia Ma at BuskerBus in Zielona Góra

In your skillset, we have clownery, tap dancing, hat manipulation, and rolla bolla. Did I miss something? What are your favourite routines to perform?

Yes, I play the accordion too, haha! I am also learning balance on bottles. I like doing many things because the same thing bores me after a while. My favourite skill is always doing clownery.

How big part of the show do make-up and costumes play?

A big one! It would help if you have make-up and a costume that make you feel comfortable, and that allows you to perform. I use very simple make-up and costumes, but it wasn’t easy to choose them.

What does your typical day look like (in the non-pandemic world)? Do you like having routines?

I love having routines. Before the pandemic, I used to wake up, have a hearty breakfast, go to train in centres with other friends who are artists. Go home, do some work, have dinner with friends or stay quiet at home to play or read a book.

Now in Italy, we are confined again, and I really miss training with other people.

There are not so many female circus artists performing solo. How would you encourage other girls to follow your steps?

There are not, but we are already more than 10 years ago.

Let’s go girls!!! Leave all judgments and fears aside, just express who you are! Women are stronger than they think they are, and there is a need for female power in art.

Gaia Ma
Gaia Ma performing in the street in Krotoszyn
Gaia Ma performing in Krotoszyn

Uncertainty is pure adrenaline

What is your busking experience, and why do you perform in the street?

I love performing in the street because it’s everyone’s street.

There is a kind of natural magic in the street performing that I cannot find in other places. Making a circle is like a ritual. It is possible to unite very different people who went for a walk and instead found themselves seeing and participating in a show.

Every day the audience is different, you feel different and unexpected things happen… Uncertainty is pure adrenaline.

Gaia Ma

What are your favourite and the most challenging places to busk?

The small tourist villages by the sea are my favourite. I love the quiet and intimate squares. The coast of northern Italy is perfect. There are many foreign tourists there and I enjoy working for an international audience. 

I don’t like working in big cities.

What shows make you stop and stay in the street?  

The musicians who play with the heart always strike me. Or the clowns who make a show with nothing. The silent shows “that fit in a briefcase” are the ones I love the most.

Who are your favourite buskers/best shows you have ever seen?

It’s hard to say which of the street artists are my favourite. I really respect and love the work of many of them. Among those that have most impressed me are Antony LivingSpace and Costrini. But the best show I’ve ever seen is “Silencis” by Claire Ducreux.

What tips do you have for beginners? 

Do not be discouraged, and try, try, try…

The only way to learn how to make a street show is to do a street show. Having fun is the key!

Gaia Ma

What are your plans and dreams?

My dream is to have a land with a yurt, fruit trees and a vegetable garden, and then travel all over the world with my show.

Sounds great! Hope one day you will invite me there for a delicious Italian dinner!

About Gaia Matulli

Gaia Matulli, aka Gaia Ma, is a multi-disciplinary artist from Italy. Her first passion was painting, but in 2009 she discovered the clownery and decided to follow her path as a performer. 

Over the years, she attended various workshops and graduated from Philip Radice’s Physical Theater Atelier in Turin. She took courses in theatre, acrobatics, diction, text study, voice, stage fighting, contemporary dance, tip-tap, manipulation of objects, and contemporary dance. Gaia is also a self-taught juggler. Since 2010 she has focused on the manipulation of hats. In Barcelona, she studied contemporary dance and attended the Swing Cats school where she studied charleston, tip-tap and body percussion. Today she continues learning tip-tap and playing the accordion. 

Gaia Matulli has collaborated with different companies, and since 2013 she has developed her solo shows: “SwinAt”, “Boero” the cabaret number “Hether”,  “Gaia Ma Orkestra”, and her newest clown show “Hit my Heart”. In 2019 she also founded the theatrical project “Cabaret Clownesse” together with six other women.

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